Theatre Reviews 2023

Dick Whittington

Nottingham Theatre Royal

December 10th 2023

Dick Whittington defeats Queen Rat and gets to be Mayor of London in a glittering spectacle that lasts just two hours, just the right length for a family audience. It’s a fabulous song and dance extravaganza that’s relentlessly entertaining, with some truly special effects. Within the first few minutes jaws are dropping as the dastardly cackle of Queen Rat introduces us to her King. Visible shrinking back in seats!

Pantoland is a magical place and Crossroads Pantomimes invest a huge amount of time, money and effort into creating that magic in the theatre. The medieval battlements of London form the sides of the proscenium, the bells swing aloft; we’re transported from the sewers; back up to the streets of London to a delectable sweetshop; to sail on the ocean, then down to the seabed. The first act closes with another breathtaking effect that seemingly defies gravity. Magical indeed.

Dick Whittington might be Mayor of London, but Shane Richie is King of this show; he’s rarely off the stage and his easy going charisma and natural humour endear him immediately to the audience. It’s impossible to tell which are the ad libs in the immensely funny script, but his jokes and asides come thick and fast and every one of them hits the spot.

The most is made of the character’s name, someone in the audience is gently picked on, there are mishaps with the set and the usual ‘soundbites’ and tricky tongue twisters routines. All performed with irresistible energy and an infectious sense of fun. The performance of another set piece by four of the characters that has been given a new twist, involves the audience, and then an unexpected and hilarious curtain fall. It was at this stage I realised I had tears of laughter on my cheeks; for someone who would put pantomime at the bottom of a list of favourite theatre genres, this is praise indeed.

An audience favourite is always the Dame and Iain Stuart Robertson gives us the garishly glamorous cook, Sarah, who rustles up some great one liners of her own. Her fabulous costumes are works of art – not many people can carry off a lighthouse atop a stormy sea on their heads, but she does so with ease. She also holds her own in with the tongue twisters - until she pips slup - much to the delight of the audience.

Alice Fitzwarren played by Emily Beth Harrington delights the audience too, not just with her beautiful singing, but in the feisty way she tackles Queen Rat and her retinue of rascally rodents. No dashing hero needed here, today’s pantomime princesses brook no unsolicited kisses and fight their own battles. Cheers all round.

Anne Smith plays the baddie with rat like relish, a wonderfully rich delivery with fabulous vocal characterisation. She looks and sounds the part so convincingly that the children in the audience had no hesitation when they got the opportunity to decide her fate. She was flushed with success, but not quite how she was hoping…

All pantomimes need a friendly spirit to oversee the magic and Doctor Ranj ditches the white coat and stethoscope for the sparkling tunic and silver wand of the Spirit of Bow Bells. Ranj gets to show off some of the great dance moves he learnt on Strictly, as well as impressing with his expressive acting and tuneful voice.

Great dance moves are there aplenty in this production, particularly from the young ensemble who add so much character and interest to many of the scenes. Hard to believe these eight performers are still training at Laine Theatre Arts, as they are highly accomplished and expressive dancers. They have to do it in a range of fabulous but sometimes bulky costumes too, including giant sweets; they look simply wonderful.

There’s more than dance to appreciate too, as we get to see the astonishing gymnastic ability of Kenan-Lewis Smith, who plays Kitty Cat. Very convincing cat like moves, plus a whole lot more and, for those of us close enough to see, a range of fabulously feline facial expressions.

All the glitz, glamour and goings on are beautifully lit, with a few flashes and bangs for good measure and the sound is glorious, every word whether spoken or sung can be clearly heard. Even Dick’s cheeky asides to the stage crew.

Plenty of opportunity to join in with the fun in this panto and even the chance to get up to sing and dance at the end. Wands waving, hands clapping, feet stomping, roof raising and everybody with a huge smile on their face.

We’re lucky to have so many wonderful pantomimes to go and see in the East Midlands and this one is an absolute gem, a must see.


Mother Goose

Little Wolf Entertainment

Derby Arena

December 9th 2023

Last night's performance of "Mother Goose" at the Derby Arena exceeded all expectations, but then again, that's what we've come to expect from Morgan Brind's Little Wolf Productions. From the moment Fairy Charity, portrayed by the enchanting Dialenga Scott, enters stage left, the audience is transported into a magical world filled with laughter, excitement, and some heart-warming moments.

Demon Vanity, played with menacing charm by the former Coronation Street bad boy Todd Boyce, quickly established himself as this year's pantomime villain. His red outfit and horned head added to the intimidation, eliciting boos and hisses even from the youngest members of the audience. The clash between good and evil is there from the opening of Act 1.

The narrative, steeped in tradition, unfolds with a challenge between Demon Vanity and Fairy Charity, involving Mother Goose, her family, and a delightful adventure follows. This features a goose named Shelly Bassey, portrayed expertly by Ben Tanner and many other colourful characters. The storyline weaves together golden eggs, a quest for true beauty, friendship and love.

This production masterfully blends old tropes with some new, fresh ones, delivering clever jokes that resonate with both children and adults alike. An immersive experience is created by the actors, turning the show into a lively, interactive party.

The excellent cast is led by Morgan Brind as Mother Goose. His sumptuous costumes, witty one-liners, and effortless audience interactions have everyone captivated from the start. He showcases his talents as a comedian, actor, singer, and dancer, holding the audience in the palm of his hand.

Kristian Cunningham, last year's fabulous Aladdin, takes on the role of Benedict, Mother Goose's son. His boundless energy and adept audience engagement keeps the momentum high throughout the performance. Nicola Martinus-Smith, plays Rosemary, Benedict's love interest and has a lovely singing voice and excellent chemistry with Benedict. Roddy Peters plays Baron Wasteland, Rosemary's father, with dynamic energy, never standing still for long.

The show features topical and local jokes, delivered with impeccable timing, including humorous references to a place called "Somewhere on the Costa-Del-Living-Crisis."

The ensemble cast, includes a vibrant dancing team plus a talented youth group. They are all great to watch and I was impressed by their abilities. The set design, taking us from Mother Goose's village to magical realms, is creative and visually stunning, enhanced by bright and colourful costumes.

While there were minor sound issues and sporadic challenges with moving spots, these did not overshadow the overall brilliance of the production.

The catchy music from the live band directed by Andy Booth, had the audience tapping their feet and humming along.

What makes "Mother Goose" truly special is its universal appeal. Children revelled in the funny characters and engaging story, while adults appreciated the clever humour and references. The show culminates in a joyous spectacle with both children and adults dancing in the aisles.

Mother Goose delivers a magical night at the Arena with outstanding acting, a humorous script, captivating visuals, and infectious music. Whether you're a seasoned panto enthusiast or a first-timer, "Mother Goose" is a must-see show this Christmas, playing until December 31st.

As for me I am already looking forward to next year's production which is Morgan Brind's production of Cinderella. Get your tickets now!


Beauty and The Beast


Bingham Arena

December 7th 2023

Another pantomime and another Beauty! No sleeping possible in this one though, as Bingham Arena was full of the sound of clapping, laughing, booing and shouting from a very appreciative audience. A home grown pantomime, with a script by Ben Bradley and Emily Hudson, it’s an original take on the traditional story that plays to the strengths of the cast. Fun characters, topical jokes, slapstick routines, wonderful dancing and some great songs, plus a lovely family atmosphere in the venue – just right for a Christmas production.

Prince Fernando (Fernando!), is a bit of a right royal pain in the neck as he leaves his castle to try to get to know some of his lowly subjects in the village. Sam Middleton has him to a T: a Hooray Henry with a touch of Boris and almost certainly Made in Chelsea, he makes a big mistake when he gets on the wrong side of Beatrix, sister of the beautiful Belle. Sam uses facial expression to great effect in his first few scenes, establishing the character before his face magically disappears!

Beatrix is the ‘baddie’, but it’s a slow burn, she starts off being at bit miffed that the prince likes her sister, then with the aid of a book of spells, develops into full blown malevolence. Emma Robinson really makes the most of this transformation and convincingly becomes the character the audience love to hate. Her jubilant ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, with a wonderfully witchy ensemble, is beautifully costumed, choreographed and performed.

Belle is played by Eloise Lowe with all the charm and grace that a traditional fairy tale heroine needs. She looks and sounds the part, showing off her lovely voice in duets with the Prince and in the emotional and beautifully phrased solo, ‘I Know I Have a Heart’.

In contrast and boy, what a contrast, we have two more sisters, who seem to have wandered in from Cinderella and made themselves completely at home. The gorgeously awful Britney and Barbie, played by Caroline Morley and Paul Green look absolutely splendid in their garishly over the top costumes. Nothing too over the top about their performances though, Caroline makes the most of Britney’s sly jibes and Paul plays Barbie absolutely straight, which makes the character even funnier. They get to show off their ability to really perform songs too, during the very entertaining ‘Big Spender’ and ‘Shotgun’ routines.

You have to feel sorry for their mother, Marinara, having produced only one normal daughter out of four – until she reveals her own awfulness. Mandy Simons makes her warmly flirty yet shrewdly ambitious, determined to do whatever it takes to get into the Palace. She later gets to show a talent for physical comedy too and, like everybody in this happy show, she always has a smile on her face.

Big smiles from a most natural entertainer – James Sikora, who returns to the musical theatre stage after a ten year gap, to play Silly Billy. This is the cheeky character who gets to interact with the audience and James’ warmth, comic timing and seemingly totally relaxed persona is a big hit. As expected, Silly Billy gets to roll around, get wet and generally have fun and James is obviously having a ball. It’s no mean feat to stand alone in front of a big audience in a huge arena and try not only to make them laugh, but to get them to join in, which we most certainly did!

Another natural on the stage is Vicki Goodwin, who shows a talent for characterisation and some fine acting, in her portrayal of Frederick, the patient, rather world weary Prince’s Aide. She puts up with the tactless comments of her boss in a style that is rather reminiscent of Nigel Hawthorne’s wonderful portrayal of civil servant Humphrey Appleby, in Yes Minister. Great expression, timing and projection and thoroughly entertaining. Nothing wooden about this performance…until the second act, when Vicki makes a virtue out of that too!

The hapless cook, who is forced to jump into the frying pan if not the fire, is played with gusto by Alicia Richardson, who gets all the comic potential out of both her lines, her dancing and her magnificent costume.

The costumes in this pantomime are fabulous and help to turn it into a glittering, colourful spectacle; excellent attention to detail and impact from designer Amanda Warriner and her assistant, Shevawn Green. I was close enough to appreciate that detail and also the make up by Sarah Vinter, not just the splendid exaggeration of the Sister’s slap, but the subtle highlighting of the faces of the ensemble.

The ensemble are certainly one of the highlights of this show and Jennifer Reckless’ expressive and creative choregraphy gives them a chance to absolutely shine. They enhance every scene they are in with a range of steps, none of which are missed; hours of hard work and rehearsal must have gone in to such fluent and visually pleasing routines. The adult dancers, Vicki Reckless, Lynsey Osbourne, Katie Lister, Sophie Wallis and Annabelle Black are complemented by the delightful children’s ensemble of Beatrice, Alisia, Ellie, Olivis, Georgia, Scarlett, Ebony and Tegan. Even more beaming smiles here!

Writer and Director Ben Bradley has made sure to include some of the old pantomime favourites here and has kept the pace fast; only one slight lag between scenes at this first night performance and one scene (the Alexa one), that I felt went on too long. The ghost scene was nicely performed and got a huge response from the children in the audience, who kept us all entertained throughout with some impromptu comments that were clearly appreciated by the cast, too. Another pantomime staple is a wonderful routine towards the end which I have seen performed by professionals with deliberate mistiming and some rehearsed corpsing. None of that here, just a very entertaining set piece that is full of fun and deserved the big round of applause.

Always tempting to say that the lighting was ‘spot on’, but James Bennett’s design did add a bit of magic and the spot really was just where it should be, when required. The cast missed none of their cues on the backing track, operated by Dom Mills, and some early problems with the volume were sorted out quickly. Although I could hear all the dialogue and singing, I would have preferred more depth and projection from the voices; some tweaks with the balance may still be required.

All of the creative team and cast deserve a big round of applause for the considerable effort that must have gone into this production that is complete with some clever pyrotechnics and a colourful, fairy tale set. Every audience member will have noticed the warm welcome from the front of house staff and been glad of the range of snacks and drinks too, ensuring a really good night out.

This production is sold out, the people of the area clearly love this group and support them – the lovely, positive comments from those around me confirmed this. Their next production is ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ at the Bingham Arena on the 24th & 25th May, 2024. Get your tickets early.


Sleeping Beauty

Amanda Hall

In association withNottingham Arts Theatre

Saturday December 2nd 2023

If you’re not quite in the festive spirit yet, then get yourself along to this cracker of a show – you’ll come out full of the joys of the season, ready to hotfoot it down to the Christmas Market for a glass of mulled wine.

Written by the Director Amanda Hall and Matt Wesson, it has all the Hallmarks of a great pantomime, pulled together in their usual sparkling and witty script. You don’t have to wait for the word play, jokes, puns or gentle innuendo, they come thick and fast. You might groan a bit (when you’re not shouting or booing), but you’ll be grinning throughout. There’s a traditional fairy story with some cheeky topical references, catchy tunes, great dancing, knockabout humour, engaging characters and audience participation. All flawlessly performed by a talented company – even at this first performance- with huge energy and enthusiasm. Beaming smiles all round.

In this version Princess Aurora is being brought up by her Grandparents, King Patrick & Queen Esme, a well meaning but completely dotty pair brought deliciously to life by Mike Newbold and Joe Butler. Mike describes his character as another ‘pompous English twit’, but that sells his wonderfully warm performance short: his portrayal of good natured bumbling with perfect comic timing is thoroughly entertaining. And he’s not afraid to really let go at times; he really comes up trumps. Joe’s hilariously haughty Queen Esme also has that perfect comic timing coupled with engaging warmth; this pair are a great double act. Some of their verbal meandering and misunderstanding is reminiscent of The Two Ronnies: clever writing beautifully delivered.

Burping baby Aurora emerges from her pram eighteen years later as the delightfully bouncy and utterly charming Princess, played by Naomi Hills. Naomi has a naturally fluent and expressive delivery which endears her to the audience, especially when she also gets to show off her considerable vocal and dancing talent. Another double act to enjoy here too, when she’s joined by the dashing Prince Christian, played by Louis Chadburn with an impressive and very amusing self mockery. It would be easy to go over the top with this character, but Louis pitches it perfectly, matching the timing of his lines with some great physical acting. His singing is perfectly pitched too, especially during a knockout duet with Stitch the handyman, played by Patrick McChrystal. Just wow.

Patrick is also the Musical Director and his credentials speak for themselves, not only in the high level of vocal delivery from the whole cast, but in his own, multi skilled performance. Stitch is the cheeky chappie character who gets the audience onside, gets us laughing and shouting, yet provides a bit of pathos in his unrequited love. His rousing ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’ is a vocal highlight among the many great crowd pleasing songs in this show. You’ll be tapping your feet throughout.

All pantos need a Dame, a Diva, a Doyenne - and Mike Pearson yet again delivers in the form of Nannie Pearl. Now this is a character that should be over the top and Mike’s accomplished performance shows just how it should be done. Resplendent in a variety of beautifully detailed garish costumes and wigs, he delights in the delivery of some saucy one liners, topical jokes and a lovely set of tongue twisters. If, like me, you love a bit of low brow humour, you’ll appreciate the Queens who felt smart.

All pantos need a villain too and Cliff Hart’s Fairy Nightshade is the perfect baddie for a pantomime set in Notty Noll, that well known medieval village in the East Midlands. With a reassuring local accent, but just the right amount of mealy mouthed malevolence, he’s the character the audience love to hate. It’s the evil swagger and the steely resolve that make the impact in this performance rather than the usual exaggerated vocal delivery and threat; a very individual and engaging interpretation.

Keeping the audience engaged is something Amanda Hall and Matt Wesson are skilled at and their choice to begin this panto with the characters Thorn and Thistle – another great double act – rather than a big group number, is an excellent creative choice. We’re straight into the story, laughing at the jokes and eager for more. Such impressive acting from Laura Ellis as Thorn and Luca Smith as Thistle, natural fluent delivery and great comic timing, not a line is wasted. As a couple of potty henchmen they are comically engaging, yet naughty enough to satisfy the children.

It's impossible to over estimate the role of dance in this vibrant production and the part played by the adult ensemble (Amy Burgoyne, Amy Flatman, Jess Henley-Marshall & Sinead Trenowicz), the senior ensemble (Emily Box, Olivia Finch & Erin Mills) and the children’s ensemble. Choreographers Charlotte Barrington and Megan Leahy have come up with a range of movement and dance styles that really enhance many of the scenes, there are some lovely set dances, some great bopping around and some beautifully danced lyrical pieces.

The delightful fairies – Rose (Daisy Donoghue), Marigold (Mason Hart), Buttercup (Tilly Wishart), Olive (Alannah Hills), Cornflower (Lucy Horton) and Lavender (Hemi Lewis), also dance their gossamer socks off, as well as giving us some lovely cameo character acting and some accomplished solo singing.

The children’s ensemble are a delight to watch, everyone of them focussed, well rehearsed, step perfect and enjoying it all so much – one little performer’s beaming smile never left her face. A credit to their teachers as well as themselves. At Saturday afternoon’s performance they were Evie Andrew, Ruby Armstrong, Orla Donohoe, Poppy Fawcett, Grace Moroziuk, Jenson Sims, Betty Stevens & Tilly Thompson.

Congratulations to all the creative and backstage team who ensured that sound and lighting were spot on and that scene changes went so smoothly. When you don’t particularly notice these things separately, you’re just aware that you’re enjoying a lovely, fabulously costumed, beautifully lit spectacle that you can hear perfectly, you know those essential jobs have been done well.

There must have been lots of smiles and laughter when Amanda and Matt were writing this piece and it’s that which is carried forward by the performers and gifted to the audience. The themes of friendship, love and forgiveness and a bit of unexpected redemption prevail: just the right messages at Christmas time.

It’s worth braving the weather to get into the city to enjoy the festive atmosphere and a visit to this wonderful pantomime would be an absolute treat for the whole family.



Derby Theatre

Christmas 2023

November 28th, 2023

This year's Christmas production at Derby Theatre is a captivating reimagining of the timeless tale. The writer, Annie Siddons, brings a fresh and sparkling perspective to this classic fairy tale, resulting in an uplifting production filled with heart, joy, and laughter.

As usual, there is a talented ensemble of actor-musicians who weave the narrative with original live music and song. This is not in the traditional panto style, but is an enchanting theatrical journey through the picturesque Derbyshire countryside. Here, Cinderella, the spirited and values-driven heroine, takes centre stage.

Amidst the backdrop of her stepmother and stepsister's extravagant habits, Cinderella remains resilient, finding inspiration in the enchanting new world around her. As the clock strikes midnight and time hangs in suspense, Cinderella begins her quest for truth and finds out if an elusive slipper will be returned to its rightful owner.

The cast is led by Aine O’Neill-Mason, who plays the part of Cinderella/Gabriella. She is a very down-to-earth Cinderella who does not take anything for granted and has definite opinions of everything that happens in the story. Unlike the traditional panto character, she is not browbeaten by her stepsisters, knows exactly what she wants and is determined to get it. Aine has a lovely singing voice and dominates the stage whenever she appears; she also has an authentic Derbyshire accent!

The rest of the cast are incredible performers, most of whom play multiple roles, sing, dance, and play musical instruments to a very high standard. The talent on display throughout the show is quite incredible.

Roxana Bartle and Charlotte Rutherfoord are superb as the manic stepsisters, and when performing, especially with Shelley Atkinson, who played the stepmother, they are simply brilliant. What a trio! Charlotte also plays at least three other parts, including a large puppet character. Talking of puppets, there were some very nicely operated smaller creatures that impressed the audience.

There were also great performances from Jonathan Markwood as Sir Thaddeus Obadiah, Maddox and John, Purvi Parmar as Dorcus and Igor, Nicholas Shaw as Joseph and Matthew, and Jason Yeboa as Micah.

There is also a young company who were well-used throughout, and tonight (there are three teams) it was the Kinderscout Team, comprising Eesha Chohan, Evan Gore, Henry Peapell, Nevaya Davidson, Maisie Naylor, and Georgina Salwey. As far as I could see, they didn’t put a foot wrong. Great talents for the future, I have no doubt.

The composite set by Kevin Jenkins (who also designed the costumes) was very attractive and used to great effect by all the performers.

The songs by composer SuRie were very good to listen to and were very appropriate for the production. All the music was played by the cast, who often shared different instruments depending on who was available. The Musical Director, Jack Quarton, has been at the theatre for the past four Christmas productions, and given the standard of music and singing, that is not surprising.

Lighting by Rachel Cleary and the sound by Hannah Griffiths were superb and combined with the brilliant direction of Bryn Holding made this such an enjoyable experience tonight at the theatre.

This production of Cinderella is more than just a show; it's a delightful celebration of daring to dream, making it the perfect festive experience for the entire family to share. I enjoyed it immensely, and thanks to the writer Annie Siddons, it certainly gave me a completely different perspective on a show I have seen many times before. If you think you know this story too well to see it again, think again. This is somewhat different.

Don't miss out on this fantastic production that I am sure will enchant audiences of all ages. It really must be on your list of Christmas activities this year.


"The Woman in Black"

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

November 27th, 2023

What an experience at the Theatre Royal tonight! A show I've been eager to see for a while and it did not disappoint.

"The Woman in Black" is a chilling thriller that delivers a spine-tingling experience. The play's success lies in its ability to create a palpable atmosphere of suspense and horror through ingenious storytelling and minimalistic staging. The clever use of a small cast and a few props intensifies the experience, allowing the audience's imagination to play a significant role in the unfolding terror.

It's a gothic horror written by Susan Hill and adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt. The story revolves around Arthur Kipps, a solicitor haunted by a traumatic event from his past. To exorcise his demons, he hires an actor to help him re-enact and narrate the harrowing events at Eel Marsh House, a remote and eerie estate.

As the re-enactment unfolds, the boundaries between fiction and reality begin to blur slowly, pulling the audience into it. By the interval, there's a real sense of foreboding in the theatre. A malevolent presence, becoming a terrifying force that lingers in the shadows, leaving the audience in suspenseful anticipation.

The carefully crafted sound by Sebastian Frost and lighting design by Kevin Sleep contribute further to the eerie atmosphere, making every creak and whisper resonate with significance. Throughout, we're never quite sure where the sound is coming from, including the auditorium as well as the stage area. The narrative cleverly moves between the present and the haunting events of the past, building tension with each passing moment. Michael Holt’s design and Robin Herford's direction combine to add layer upon layer of mystery, fear, and the inevitable sudden shocks.

The performance of the two actors is outstanding. Malcolm James plays Arthur Kipps, while Mark Hawkins portrays "the actor." Through their skilful acting both convey fear, desperation, and the possible unravelling of their sanity. The chemistry between them adds a human element to the supernatural narrative, allowing us to connect emotionally with the unfolding horror. There is a third member of the cast, Ishbek Cumming, whose role needs to be seen and not described.

"The Woman in Black" is a triumph in horror drama, successfully delivering the impression of a nightmarish journey that lingers after the play ends. It proves that sometimes the most terrifying stories simply galvanise the imagination, and this play does so with finesse.


‘Gypsy – A Musical Fable’

Blind Eye Productions

Duchess Theatre

Long Eaton

November 22nd 2023

‘Let me Entertain You’, sings Baby June in this sparkling musical which is based on the memoirs of the famous burlesque artist, Gypsy Rose Lee. Entertain us is just what Blind Eye productions do in this fast paced show that is absolutely packed with wonderful toe tapping tunes by Jule Styne & Stephen Sondheim, some great characters and a well told story that has a lot of heart. It’s nearly three hours long, but tight direction by Beth Duffy, assisted by Adam Chapman, plus some very speedily achieved scene changes keep the action pacy and the time flying.

Baby June and her younger sister Louise (who becomes Gypsy Rose) are dragged around the Vaudeville circuit by their pushy Stage Mother, Rose. Rose has unfilled ambitions of her own and a desire to see her girls lead an exciting, glamorous life; she’ll do anything to find them fame, including lying about their ages and ignoring their weary protests. Rose is a huge character, she drives the action throughout, gets to express herself through some belting solos and has an indomitable spirit. She knows and we know that ‘Momma knows best’!

Lindsey Hemingway rises to the challenge of this iconic part - which has been played by among others, Ethel Merman, Imelda Staunton and Patti Lu Pone - and makes it her own. She invests the character with so much warmth and cheerful optimism that it’s easy to overlook the destructiveness of her obsessive drive that excludes the feelings of others. Lindsey convincingly portrays the dogged determination that sees Rose bounce back from any setback, even a broken heart. She takes this strength and passion into her songs, including the defiantly jubilant ‘Everything's Coming Up Roses’ and the wistful ‘Some People’. A lovely nuanced and charismatic performance.

Rose’s love interest is Herbie, a confectionary salesman who is so beguiled by this ‘pioneer woman without a frontier’, that he agrees to act as an agent for Baby June’s act, which includes a reluctant Louise as the front half of a cow. Herbie is played by Sam Howard, with a lovely, measured seriousness, he’s an honourable and devoted partner, who gets little from Rose in return. It’s a real surprise when he lashes out in anger and a shock that is tinged with sadness when he realises that his relationship with Rose just isn’t enough. The wonderfully lyrical ‘Small World’, the upbeat ‘Together Wherever We Go’ & the catchy ‘You'll Never Get Away From Me’, give Sam the chance to show off his great voice, too.

A clever strobe sequence sees Rose’s girls metamorphosise into young women (despite her determination that they will remain forever 10 years old), but before that we get the pleasure of seeing the infant performers, played so nicely by Olivia Thomason-Vardy as Louise and Caitlin Rodgers as June. Both are terrific and they are joined by two other talented young performers: Lexie Rodgers as a Ballerina and a Newsboy) and Evan Thomason-Vardy as a very flexible Acrobat and a Newsboy. Blind Eye Productions have some more stars in the making!

Baby June grows into Dainty June, played by Emme Gunn, looking reluctantly sweet in her blonde curls, smocked frocks and bobby sox. Emme gets to play cute in the toe curling act with the Newsboys, but shows her growing maturity in a beautifully sung duet with Louise, when they bemoan the fact that their mother won’t settle down: ‘If Momma Was Married’.

It’s satisfying to hear that June ultimately escapes her mother’s ambition and manages to pursue her love of acting, by eloping with Tulsa, one of her ensemble. Tulsa is played by JJ McCormack with loads of youthful energy in a lovely scene where he admits his ambitions and sings a touching duet with an awestruck Louise.

A very accomplished performance from Emily Hudson as Louise, who takes the biggest journey in the story: from a gauche, under appreciated child with no confidence, to a consummate performer on the most exposing stage of all! Emily has a lovely voice and she knows how to hold an audience: this skill is always put to good use and her burlesque act at the end of the show is beautifully performed.

Louise learns her new skills from three strippers at a Variety Theatre where Rose’s troupe have ended up by mistake. A glorious scene, played by Pippa Ward as Miss Mazeppa, Ashleigh Wilkinson as Miss Electra and Ann Colgan as Tessie Tura. The sublime ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’ delighted the audience, it’s funny, it’s audacious and it’s slickly performed.

Ann Colgan is also the choreographer and it’s not only this scene where she shows her mastery of dancing styles, there are loads to be appreciated throughout this show, including some great tap dancing. All the cast and production team, including Musical Director David Hails (who has worked with the performers to sing to a backing track), must have worked very hard to bring all this together. That, plus the skill of the set builders – a nifty pair of sliding flats – and the speed of the stage crew team achieves a polished performance. Some occasional dipping of the sound at the performance I saw, maybe mics a little off, especially on Rose, but all could still be heard.

The sense of time and place is evoked, not just by the set and lovely costumes, but also by the black and white captions projected on a screen at the back of the stage. This is also used to play old film footage before the show starts and during the interval. Unfortunately, some of it features performing horses, monkeys and elephants, which my modern sensibilities found rather upsetting. Maybe that was the point.

This is a big cast in a big show: others playing essential smaller parts and amusing cameos are Gill Cook (Miss Cratchitt), Kay Thomason-Vardy (L.A.), Danielle Rodgers (Agnes), Beth Duffy (Marjorie May), Gabrielle Tilley (The Balloon Girl/ Newsboy/ Farmboy/ Toreadorable), Eloise Chamberlain (Clarissa The Clarinet Girl/ Newsboy/ A Farmboy/ Toreadorable), Michelle Beecroft (Renee/ Showgirl), Paul Duffy (Uncle Jocko, Weber, Kringelein/Phil), Kevin Jones (Pop/Cigar) and Steve Webb (Mr Goldstone/Bourgeron-Cochon).

Blind Eye Productions recognises the strong link between positive mental well being and theatre and work to promote its benefits; there are some moving testimonies from members in the foyer of the Duchess Theatre. They also raise awareness and funds for the mental well-being charity Mind. A great accomplishment to produce a show as enjoyable as this while working towards those very worthwhile ends.


Carumba’s Revenge

Riverside Drama Company

Duchess Theatre Long Eaton

November 17th 2023

What could be nicer than four old friends moving in together to pool resources, share the chores and keep each other company? Well, probably almost anything, as this particular co-operative are prepared to do whatever it takes to improve their lifestyle and stay financially afloat. Even if it involves breaking the law.

Violet, Lottie, Marge and Doris are the intrepid pensioners who rub along quite nicely together until Violet – the rent book holder – is mugged and subsequently dies. Not wanting to involve the authorities and lose Violet’s pension and the house, the others simply cut the tags out of her clothes and leave her body in a cemetery. All seems well, Lottie continues writing her lurid detective fiction, Marge cooks up a storm in the kitchen and Doris does what she can to fund her next drink. However, the arrival from Australia of Ronnie, Violet’s niece, puts the cat among Lottie’s stool pigeons and puts the wind up them all. Ronnie asks some awkward questions - and so too does Inspector Grubb who arrives later, investigating a murder that took place several miles away. It will take a lot of co-operation and maybe a few drastic measures to get out of this one…

This is a delightfully dark comedy, laden with clever one liners, innuendo and the cheerful juxtaposition of ordinariness with the comically bizarre. Lottie, Marge and Doris in their shabbily floral sitting room, with the old furniture and embroidered tablecloth (a beautifully detailed set) might appear to be respectable, but they all have an almost total lack of moral compass. It’s great fun to see what that leads to.

Lizzie Norris plays Lottie, the writer of hard boiled fiction that she regales the others with, complete with the squeaky American drawl of her heroine, Vanda Lane. Lottie drives the action, inspired by her characters it’s her who comes up with the ideas and attempts to manipulate the others. A lovely characterisation from Lizzie, excellent fluency, diction and projection and she somehow makes this bossy and rather reprehensible character funny and engaging.

Marge, played by Liz Turner has a lovely line in dry wit and manages to hold her own with Lizzie, yet not to pay much attention to the odd twinge of conscience, as she happily joins in with some shady shenanigans. Marge keeps the further education centre in business as she embarks on course after course; Liz relishes this part and the delivery of some sparkling lines and funny anecdotes. She also appears to get an impressive amount of intarsia knitting done!

Diana Edwards plays Doris, who is led astray by one too many drinks and is not averse to fiddling the books to finance her habit. Diana has a real twinkle in her eye, particularly when Rum and Blackcurrant is mentioned: she visibly perks up and makes it easy to see how her dependency could lead this character to be easily manipulated.

It’s Ronnie, Violet’s niece who initially does some leading astray, as she susses what’s happening and wants a piece of the action. A great performance from Jane Harris, who not only has the accent spot on, but gives us another completely convincing and likeable character, who is utterly devoid of scruples. She’s a bright and charming girl who effortlessly fits into the house and is then prepared to use her charisma ruthlessly to achieve her ends.

Inspector Grubb comes under Ronnie’s influence as he attempts to investigate a crime and John Sully makes him believable: he’s bright enough to work out what might be happening, yet perhaps too weak to resist the promised rewards of ignoring it.

It’s when another possible housemate arrives that the mystery deepens; Celia Billau plays Rose, a cheerful Cockney shoplifter. Celia has mastered both the accent and the apparently none too bright insouciance that makes Rose an ideal new member of the co-operative. But is she all she seems and does her sad tale of her husband’s death have any significance?

It’s only when George, Rose’s friend arrives – a lovely cameo by Rob Osmond - that we begin to understand who Carumba is and what the Revenge is all about…

Director Jenni Wright has recognised that this is a wordy play and keeping up the pace is essential, so she has done just that. Scene changes are swift and the addition of some cheekily appropriate songs keep them lively. The cast work hard to keep the dialogue fluent and a lot of thought has gone into their placing on the stage – the potentially static scenes around the table are effectively varied. Sound and Lighting by Dave Martin play their part, certainly in the last scene when the amusingly morbid nature of this black comedy is literally highlighted.

An enjoyable evening in the theatre and another successful production from Riverside Drama that is really worth seeing.


Sunshine On Leith

LEOS Musical Theatre Company

May Hall

November 4th 2023

First produced by Dundee rep in 2007, Sunshine on Leith tells the story of Davy & Ally, who leave the army after serving in Afghanistan to return to civilian life in Scotland. Ally resumes his relationship with Liz, Davy’s sister and Davy begins a new one with her friend, nurse Yvonne. These two love stories are told alongside a third: that of Davy and Liz’s parents, Rab & Jean, who are about to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. There are plenty of trials and tribulations along the way for all three couples and it’s all gloriously told through the irresistibly catchy songs of The Proclaimers. It’s a hard ask for a local group, as most of the characters speak and sing in a strong Scottish accent, but LEOS rise to the challenge magnificently. Aye, that they do.

Director Adam Guest sets the scene and provides a strong contrast between a life of military conflict and the domestic setting of Leith, by stationing soldiers in the auditorium as the audience arrive. Using the auditorium as part of the performance space continues at various points in the show, effectively immersing the audience in the action. There are a lot of scenes and the action moves quickly from one to the next, this is skilfully achieved by a versatile set, the use of lighting, split scenes and allowing the audience to use their imaginations. Brave direction that pays off.

The initial sense of unease is broken by the rousing opening number, but it’s with some relief we see Davy & Ally arrive back home, ready to begin a new life. A large ensemble creates the atmosphere of Leith in wonderfully vibrant pub scene, where Davy meets Yvonne for the first time and the contagious song Over And Done With tells some engaging stories. Feet are tapping by now and they don’t stop much throughout this show – apart from the times when it takes some effort to not sway gently to the lovely, emotional ballads.

The 20 strong ensemble work hard throughout and are given a lot to do by both the musical director (Ryan Latham) and the choreographer (Emma Lamont). There is some lovely group singing and dancing here, the unique mix of folk, pop, country and Celtic music that the Proclaimers developed is beautifully arranged and performed; the Scottish inspired choreography is a joy to watch. The ensemble don’t just fling themselves about in a few jigs though, they have mastered a range of dance styles and even have to get stuck into a carefully choreographed, but convincingly nasty brawl, when a party gets out of hand.

The ensemble take us to Leith and show us the people living there, but it’s the six main characters who provide the story that, soap opera style, keeps us engaged and invested. Ally, played by Matt McAuley goes on an emotional journey, from cheerful ex soldier with his life more or less mapped out, to a more mature character who has to rethink his expectations. Matt portrays this very effectively, he shows the development of the character through both his delivery and his body language and invests some of his later scenes with huge, heartfelt emotion. He shows off his singing skills particularly in the painful and angst ridden ‘Hate My Love’ and ‘Life With You’. The person next to me in the audience muttered ‘Oh, lovely voice’.

Another lovely voice and great performance from Simon Parker as Rab, Davy’s father. Rab’s cosy life of fried breakfasts, plenty of beer and no exercise is rudely disrupted by a surprise visitor and some shocking consequences that force him to make a difficult choice. Simon has mastered the Scottish accent and gone on to nail the character, finding dry humour alongside some heartbreaking self reflection. Watching him sing Life Without You with so much expression showed how he truly inhabits the part.

There’s a lovely naturalistic performance from Amy Parker, who is so convincing as the rather weary Yvonne, who wants to trust her new relationship with Davy, but has been burnt before. Seeing his seemingly violent participation in the party brawl and unable to get a true expression of commitment from him, she wants to end it. The gentle ballad Then I Met You (stop that swaying) is performed beautifully by both performers and Davy’s final declaration of his true love is gloriously expressed by the iconic ‘500 Miles’ (stop that stomping).

Davy takes to civilian life more readily than Ally and Rhodri Denton captures the rather complacent character who is forced to face some uncomfortable events and take responsibility for his decisions. He shows warm camaraderie with Ally and sensitively portrays finally facing up to his responsibilities as both a son and a partner; lovely vocals, too.

Liz, played by Rebekah Dean, breaks Ally’s heart, but in doing so, stays true to her own. She is such a strong character, any feminists in the audience were quietly whooping their approval, as she follows her own dreams. Rebekah makes this part her own, she obviously loves and understands the character and expresses her so beautifully in the song ‘What Do You Do?’. A great performance.

Another great performance of another strong female character from Liz Wooley as Jean. Jean has to cope with a shocking revelation that threatens her marriage and her happiness, but when the marriage is even more severely threatened she learns to value it and find forgiveness. A lot of emotions to capture, particularly as Jean is introduced as a jovial and contented character. Liz covers it all with gravitas and her performance of the title song which sums all her feelings up, is deeply heartfelt.

Becky Morley gives another natural performance (all these actors must have worked so hard with the director to develop such convincing characterisations), as Eilidh, the surprise visitor.

It's not just heartbreak, revelations and relationships, there is a lot of humour in this piece, scenes at the call centre where Davy and Ally find work, a book signing and the support of Jean’s work colleagues all add amusing light relief. Cameos are played by members of the ensemble: Ali Langton is the Busker, Emma Collins is the Training Instructor and also gets to sing the lovely ‘Simple Things’ as the wedding singer, Jack Warburton is the jovial barman and Jack Woolley is the exasperated Celebrity Chef.

Lighting by David Price plays a big part in enhancing and moving on the action, especially the lovely light boxes that are at the back of the stage and seem to express the mood of each scene. Sound (Sam Lenord) was very clear, but a speaker to the right of my seat dominated and meant that both singing and dialogue appeared not to be coming from the stage; the singing was also a little separated from the accompaniment. Breath sounds and mumbled asides were sometimes picked up, which was a little distracting. Maybe worth checking either the volume of the mics or that particular speaker.

Impossible to resist the foot stomping in the final glorious rendition of ‘500 Miles’ and a joyous finale that had the audience clapping and singing and generally signalling their approval. We all love a bit of love, laughter, revelation and redemption and few can resist the wonderful music of The Proclaimers.

Well done to all at LEOS.


A Christmas Carol

Nottingham Playhouse

November 1st 2023

Mark Gatiss’ adaptation of Dickens’ 1843 ghostly novella lifts the story from the page, bringing the thrills and chills very vividly to life, yet retaining the spirit (and spirits) of the original. Wonderful to hear the sparkling genius of some of Dickens’ original prose, spoken with a convincing Cockney twang by the narrator (Geoffrey Beevers). This adaptation is very true to the original, omitting very little and even managing, with a very talented cast of only thirteen performers, to portray over fifty characters in thirty vivid scenes.

At first it’s the spirits who dominate the action, those of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come, who materialise to warn the ‘covetous old sinner’, Ebenezer Scrooge, that he needs to change his ways. Dickens’ imagery was superb of course, but director Adam Penford has more than just words at his disposal, and boy, does he make the most of those opportunities. Using video, illusion, sound, lighting and puppetry, the hauntings provide some genuinely startling moments. Look at the doorknocker…what’s happening in the background?... what’s that noise?...where have those ghouls behind me come from? No wonder Scrooge is terrified.

Keith Allen is the curmudgeonly old usurer, lending money to the poor, having no pity when they can’t pay back immediately, bad tempered, unkind and generally loathsome. His performance takes Scrooge on his path to redemption, terrified but doubting, nostalgic but disengaged and finally truly repentant and able to feel joy. It’s a very wordy part in the hands of an accomplished actor who can show changes in his demeanour (he slowly and visibly relaxes) as well as in the variety and richness of his spoken words.

There is so much variety and richness in this production : it’s chilling and creepy, yet has a lot of warmth at its heart and some typical Mark Gattiss humour that provides some light relief. He also provides his own twist at the end of the play that Dickens would surely have appreciated; he liked to leave his audience pleasantly surprised and nodding in approval, too.

It’s the joyous crowd scenes that provide the most warmth and variety and the clever set design by Paul Wills take us seamlessly into these. The claustrophobic mustiness of Scrooge & Marley’s office with its skyscraper filing cabinets are smoothly removed to reveal a Victorian street where the poor beg, in a beautifully choreographed movement sequence. More imaginative and skilfully performed choreography (by Georgina Lamb) in a spirited dance at Mr Fezziwig’s house, when Scrooge is taken back to his youth and later a convincingly busy game of Blind Man’s Buff. Perhaps the very best is the Christmas dinner at the Cratchitt’s house, where the loving family make the most of what they have - they have real food, including a jug of custard (hurray), but express the joy of eating together in creative, stylised mime.

It's a beautifully costumed and vividly created Victorian world, yet with a keen awareness of poverty and the strong presence of the ghastly supernatural. It’s immediately engaging, but of course it’s the performances that keep you hooked and the versatility of these actors is a joy to watch. So much to appreciate, from the strong characterisations and superb diction of Peter Forbes (Jacob Marley), Bettrys Jones (Ghost of Christmas Past) and Rebecca Trehearn (Mrs Cratchitt), to the charming and characterful younger performers: Madison Spencer-Ogiorumua as Grace and Charlie Westlake as Edwin. All of the actors take lots of different parts and make it easy for us to identify their characters: Edward Harrison is the downtrodden but relentlessly cheerful Bob Cratchitt; Joe Shires is an arrogant and wryly amused Ghost of Christmas Present, yet also a desperate and poverty stricken debtor; Ryan Weston is the tragic Tiny Tim, yet also the money obsessed younger Marley. The many other parts are played equally convincingly by Leona Allen, James Backway and Angelina Chudi.

Dickens had a message and it’s one that Mark Gatiss has taken and expressed in a thrilling and evocative way for a modern audience. Be kind to others, share what you have and make the most of the present; act now to ensure a brighter future. The production has lots of spooky Hallowe’en chills, yet finishes with a rousing Christian carol, striking a note of redemption and hopefulness. It’s an engaging, entertaining and uplifting show, which would be a great start to theatre going for a younger audience.


The Full Monty

Theatre Royal Nottingham

30th October 2023

The Full Monty is one of the most acclaimed British films ever and certainly one of my favourites, so when offered the chance to see the stage version, I was extremely excited!

The show is a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, laughs and heartbreaks and along with superb acting, a witty script by Simon Beaufoy and glorious songs by Donna Summer, Hot Chocolate and Tom Jones - it does not disappoint!

As per the smash hit 1997 film, the story focusses on six out of work friends, hit hard by the closure of the steelworks in Sheffield. Desperate to earn money and with nothing to lose, they decide to fight back and bare a little more than they ever thought they would! For one night only, Gerald, Horse, Gaz, Dave, Lomper and Guy become ‘Bums of Steel’ and put on a unforgettable show in the local working mens’ club.

The entire cast in this production is simply brilliant. In the principal cast, Danny Hatchard and Neil Hurst play Gaz and Dave and they work seamlessly together; their on stage friendship is warmly evident throughout. Jake Quickenden, Bill Ward, Ben Onwukwe and Nicholas Prasad give very strong performances as Guy, Gerald, Horse and Lomper. Cass Dempsey plays Gaz’s son Nathan and gives an outstanding performance for his young years.The supporting cast were also very good: it is made up of Oliver Joseph Brooke, Katy Dean, Laura Matthews, Danny Mellor, Adam Porter Smith, Suzanne Procter, Alice Schofield, Leyon Stolz-Hunter and Jacki Van Holloway.

There are lots of laughs in this show, but also moments of real emotion and poignancy. It can make you laugh and cry in the same scene. A real testament, to not just the skilful writing and lively direction, but the brilliance of all the actors involved.

The Full Monty is definitely a show you should see if you can. It continues at The Theatre Royal until Saturday 4th November.


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Nottingham Operatic Society

Theatre Royal Nottingham

October 26th 2023

Nottingham Operatic Society have gone full throttle to stage this spectacular production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for their 130th anniversary and it’s a rip roaring success. Based on Ian Fleming’s novel and the 1968 film, the musical tells the story of Caractacus Potts, an eccentric inventor, who sets about restoring an old race car from a scrap heap with the help of his children, Jeremy and Jemima. They soon discover the car has magical properties, including the ability to float and take flight. Trouble occurs when the evil Baron Bomburst from Vulgaria desires the magic car for himself and sends two hapless Vulgarian spies to find it. The family joins forces with Truly Scrumptious and Grandpa Potts to outwit the dastardly Baron and Baroness and their villainous henchman, the Child Catcher…

This production is full of life and laughter and some thrilling special effects that have the audience clapping and cheering in admiration, feeling truly taken on a magical ride alongside some charming and often hilarious characters. The huge cast – 21 named characters plus a 29 strong adult ensemble and a children’s ensemble of 18, fill the stage, but careful direction by Andrew Miller and exciting choreography by Justine Lee mean the stage never seems over crowded, it just buzzes with fun and interest.

Crowd scenes are packed with colourful detail - like the pages of a picture book coming to life - and the set piece dances such as ‘Toot Sweets’, ‘Me Ol’ Bamboo’ and ‘The Bombie Samba’ are beautifully choreographed and performed. So much to go wrong here, as each performer has a huge amount to remember: the steps, their positioning, some group and partner work - and all the while being gloriously in character, but they have nailed it. Watching the children’s ensemble is a joy, so many little characters who are fully immersed in what they are doing, dancing up a storm and enjoying every moment on that grand stage. It’s absolutely splendid.

The director and cast have got every bit of entertainment out of the gentle pace of the early story setting scenes too, to keep the audience fully engaged. Fully engaged and waiting for Chitty to be restored of course – it’s well worth the wait, as it’s not only spirits that soar at the end of the first act. Congratulations to the stage crew and tech team, who must have aimed high and then worked very hard in a short space of time, to get everything running so smoothly.

It's a show packed with lovely catchy tunes, sweet solos, amusing duets and rousing chorus numbers and Gareth Wynne has obviously invested much time, effort and love into making them all as entertaining as possible. His 12 piece orchestra do a splendid job.

It takes talent to bring these all-singing, all-dancing characters convincingly to life and this team of performers (I saw Yellow Team), have that in abundance. Mark Coffey-Bainbridge is a cheerfully cockney Caractacus, full of genuine warmth and cheeky humour. Mark gets to show off not just his acting skills, but his vocal and dance talents, too. From the moving lullaby ‘Hushabye Mountain’ to the rousing ‘Teamwork’, followed by his lovely movement work as a puppet during the reprise of ‘Truly Scrumptious’, he thoroughly entertains.

It's always wonderful to see the stars of the future on the amateur stage and Freddie Vokes as Jeremy and Daisy Hamilton as Jemima are just that. Both seem so at home on the stage, convincing and charming characterisations, fluent and expressive delivery and lovely vocal and movement performances. It’s obvious that Freddie loves musical theatre and it’s certainly true, as it says in the programme, that Daisy shows she has natural talent. Both will surely go far.

Making Truly Scrumptious more than just a love interest is Louise Grantham, looking splendid in her 1920s costume (the costumes are sumptuous and many straight from the pages of that picture book) and showing plenty of spirit. Many chances to show off her voice, including in her eponymous song and in the beautifully tender ‘Lovely, Lonely Man’, to which she lends huge depth. One of the final scenes in the show sees her as a doll on a music box, which is beautifully performed.

Every fairy tale needs its villains and they are here aplenty, providing a little bit of threat but mostly a whole load of laughs: wonderful comic characters that the director and performers fully exploit. Baron Bomburst is brilliantly captured by Simon Theobald as a repellent man-child who demands that his every whim is catered for, including a need for elaborate toys. He’s indulged yet controlled by his glamorous but grotesque child-hating Baroness, played by Kate Williams. These two have a ball on stage, creating a wonderfully entertaining double act, relishing the accents and performing a particularly hilarious duet when they declare their passion for each other, ‘Chu-Chi Face’. The comic timing and physical humour from both is awesome.

Yet another wonderfully entertaining double act is found in the bumbling Vulgarian spies, Boris, played by Nathan Curzon and Goran, played in the Yellow team by Linda Croston. Some inspired casting here for the latter character, as it subverts expectations and adds an extra dimension to the partnership. More fun with the accent here and more perfect comic timing as the two are continually thwarted in their search for Chitty and confounded by English mores. The very clever ‘Act English’ is performed beautifully and is a highlight of Act One.

A bit more of a threat comes from ‘The Childcatcher’, the stuff of nightmares in his gothic inspired costume, complete with large butterfly net, ready to capture children and throw them in the back of his circus cage. No real worry for the younger members of the audience here, James Ellison gives him just the right amount of swaggering menace to create a frisson of pantomime level evil.

Caractacus Potts might be a bit batty, but his father ‘Grandpa Potts’ is completely potty, needing frequent visits to the laboratory and many imagined trips overseas, complete with all the gear. Shaun Hanrahan makes him completely believable and endearing, a real sweetie of a character who shows his positivity in the fabulous ‘Roses of Success’, performed with a team of stumped inventors. Another imaginatively created scene – the wigs, the costumes, the props, the choreography and the singing all coming together to delight the audience.

There’s more charm from Paul McPherson as the kindly toymaker who helps the family when they are on a quest to find Grandpa, very reminiscent of Benny Hill’s portrayal in the film and another lovely contrast with the villainy of the Vulgarian Court.

There’s loads for children here, but plenty to entertain the adults, as apart from the spectacle, the singing, the dancing and the fine acting, there are some crafty bits of adult humour, slipped in just below the children’s radar, as in pantomime. Great fun.

Adding immeasurably to the creation of this piece is the sound and lighting, by Michael Donoghue and Tom Mowatt; clear sound and some lovely lighting effects to help conjure up the magic. All the backstage crew and of course the production team, should be proud of the production values on display here, rightly earning the show the description of ‘spectacular’.

It’s well worth stepping on the gas and getting along to the Theatre Royal for a bit of half term family fun.


The King and I

Directed by Bartlett Sher

Nottingham Theatre Royal

October 17th 20323

In 1862, Anna Leonowens accepted an offer made by the consul in Singapore to teach the wives and children of Mongkut, King of Siam. The king wished to give his 39 wives and concubines and 82 children a modern Western education on scientific secular lines, which earlier missionaries' wives had not provided. A fictionalised account of Anna’s experiences in Siam was written by Margaret Landon in 1944 and it was on this that Rodgers and Hammerstein based ‘The King & I’. Originally conceived as a vehicle for the great Gertrude Lawrence, it was hugely successful on Broadway in 1951 and went on to win several awards and has had many tours and revivals.

It's easy to see why this musical is so dear to so many – particularly those of us of a certain age who grew up with the great songs – ‘Whistle a Happy Tune’, ‘Getting to Know You’ and ‘Shall We Dance?’, among many. This lavish and sparkling production with a company of over 50 world-class performers and a full scale orchestra does more than justice to the genius of Rodgers and Hammerstein, hopefully bringing the golden age of musicals to a younger audience, too.

Anna is played by Maria Coyne in a wonderfully nuanced way, capturing the primness of a Victorian teacher determined to uphold her Christian principles, yet gradually revealing a feisty and romantic feminist who not only charms the King, but manages to reform his thinking. Such a beautiful voice full of the emotion that ‘Hello, Young Lovers’ deserves, yet bursting with joy in ‘Getting to Know You’ and the delightful duet with the King ‘Shall We Dance?’ This Anna grows on the audience just like she grew on the King, Maria Coyne has the character spot on.

There’s an embarrassment of musical richness in this production and so many vocal highlights, if you only go for the songs you’ll get your money’s worth. There’s the striking operatic voice of Cezarah Bonner, who plays Lady Thiang, the King’s favourite wife and mother of the Crown Prince Chulalongkorn. Her solo ‘Something Wonderful’ is sublime, a beautiful tune with beautiful words out of which she wrings every last bit of heartfelt meaning. The tune lingers cleverly in the background and becomes an emotional hook – you’ll be humming it as you leave the theatre. The lush orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett and the sound produced by Christopher Mundy’s 14 piece orchestra, managed by Scott Lehrer, fill the theatre and your heart with joy.

Rodgers gave the music an exotic flavour, using unusual keys, and represents Thai speech by musical sounds made by the orchestra; in this production the sights and sounds of the Far East are there aplenty. For the King's style of speech, Hammerstein wrote an abrupt, emphatic way of talking in a forceful style, so effectively used by the imposing Darren Lee. A hard character to play this one, as the King is a disagreeable despot who expects all around him to prostrate themselves and always keep their heads below his. Anna has something to say about that. Darren Lee brings out his doubts, warmth and humour too, showing a ruler keen to educate and reform and overwhelmed by the threats to his kingdom. His cleverly phrased and amusing song ‘A Puzzlement’, is delivered perfectly.

Light relief is needed in this musical as there are some difficult themes which are even more uncomfortable for a modern audience than they would have been in the Fifties. Princess Tuptim, played by Marienella Phillips is given as a gift to the King by the King of Burma. Alongside the other wives, she is a victim of sexual slavery and becomes (as Western wives also were at the time), the property of her husband. Her unhappiness and bid to escape with her lover, Lun Tha (Dean John-Wilson), is expressed in the ballet sequence The Small House of Uncle Thomas, in which Rodgers and Hammerstein also highlight slavery.

Ballet sequences are always the bit I wish I could fast forward, as they can be tedious, as in Carousel, where the dream dance on the beach seems to go on forever, for no good reason. Fortunately, the wonderful choreography by Christopher Gattelli (based on Jerome Robbins original) is enough to fully engage and enchant. The whole ballet is sumptuous - the costumes, the set, the tearfully faltering narration by Tuptim, it’s gorgeous; no fast forward needed.

The decision made by Anna to present the King as a reformer (and not a barbarian), by staging a ball with his wives in Western dress is another uncomfortable theme, presenting Western culture as superior. The issue is tackled with humour as the wives struggle with their crinoline cages and Lady Thiang sums it all up in the wry ‘Western People Funny’; Rodgers and Hammerstein always recognised and renounced racism.

The costumes (Catherine Zuber) and set (Michael Yeargan) are as much stars of the show as the performers - Anna’s wonderfully rich satin crinolines and the colourful array of Eastern dress, including ornate headdresses, all add to the sense of time and place against the backdrop of a convincing set. The bow of the docked ship gives way to a busy street scene that melts into the Royal Palace, we’re taken through the blossoms of a Hanging Garden; the striking image of a huge Golden Buddha is later replaced by a stairway to heaven, topped with a real life tiny Buddha.

The tiny people are so important in this production, the seven young children perform impeccably and the iconic ‘The March of the Siamese Children’, is delightful. This is a production that so often puts a smile on your face, yet takes you through a range of other emotions, too. Anna’s son Louis is responsible for some of those smiles, an endearing character played so convincingly at this performance with excellent expression and diction, by Charlie McGuire. The same must be said of Caleb Lagayan as the Prince, who brilliantly conveys the uptight angst of a teenager weighed down by responsibility, who needs to find the confidence to challenge his father’s beliefs.

The wonderful choreography captures not just the developing relationship between the King and Anna through dance, but the precise movements of the Court, the subservience of some and the superiority of others; ably expressed by the ensemble of 16 talented performers. Kok-Hwa Lie as Kralahome is never less than stiff, resolute and scornful of Anna’s intentions; some shade in contrast to the light she brings.

Light and shade are essential to the production of course and the lighting (Donald Holder) effectively creates the opulence of the Royal court; the light play on the velveteen curtain at the beginning of the show is gorgeous.

Well, that’s twice I’ve used the word ‘gorgeous’ and that probably sums this production up for me. If you’re a long standing fan of Rodgers & Hammerstein and grew up with the tunes - or watching the film on a Sunday afternoon - you’ll love it. If you’re too young for that, then still give it a try: it’s one of the finest scores ever written and as well perfomed as this, is a theatrical experience not to be missed.


Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Mischief Theatre

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

October 10th 2023

Written by Mischief’s celebrated writing trio, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is a physical comedy packed with finely tuned farce and Buster Keaton inspired slapstick, delivered with split-second timing. The play sees the ‘Cornley Drama Society’ back on stage battling technical hitches, flying mishaps and cast disputes as they attempt to present J.M. Barrie’s much-loved tale.

The show is an absolute delight from start to finish! Hilarious and brilliantly executed, it is a testament to the talent of the cast and crew who bring it to life. The show starts before the lights go down as preparations are underway and the audience become involved, which builds up the atmosphere of chaos and comical confusion; this also continues during the interval.

The concept of "Peter Pan Goes Wrong" takes the well loved classic, "Peter Pan," and introduces a series of mishaps, accidents, and comedic disasters that occur during the performance. From missed cues to falling set pieces and actors struggling to keep a straight face, every moment is a funny one.

The cast's impeccable timing and physical comedy skills are outstanding. They effortlessly blend slapstick humour with clever wordplay, inviting the audience to laugh at their antics.

This touring production reunites some of the original Mischief cast members with some sparkling newcomers.

Jack Michael Stacey, not only plays Mr. Darling and Captain Hook but also directs the fictional play. He masterfully juggles these roles while navigating the unfolding disasters. Matthew Howell, as his over-ambitious assistant director Robert, provides a brilliant and humorous counterpoint, as he also takes on the roles of Nana the Dog, Peter's Shadow, and Starkey. He delights in not doing as he is told by the director.

Jean-Luke Worrell, portraying Francis the Narrator, takes "keeping the show on track" to a hilariously chaotic new level, much to the annoyance of those insisting this is a serious drama, not a pantomime. His throwing of fairy dust in the air every time he comes on stage disproves that!

Jake Burgum, the bumbling stage manager, Trevor, repeatedly fails in his attempts to remain invisible, leading to more delightful disasters and comedic moments. His impromptu takeover of the role of Peter Pan, complete with a revealing upside-down position, provides an unexpected, and uproarious highlight. The audience were delighted, of course!

Ciara Morris shines as the hilarious and musically talented Wendy Darling. Theo Toksvig-Stewart and Clark Devlin vividly portray her brothers Michael and John Darling, with Clark's prompted lines through headphones adding an extra layer of hilarity.

Jamie Birkett’s manic performances as Mrs Darling, Lisa the Maid and Tinkerbell are delightful. She has many quick changes and accents which of course don’t always go according to plan, if indeed there is a plan!

Gareth Tempest plays Peter Pan, who unfortunately has to fly across the stage! Not a good idea as you can imagine but his comic timing and physical prowess is admirable. Why he is not now in intensive care, I am not sure!

Rosemarie Akwafo playing Tootles is a great crowd pleaser. She has terrible stage fright and must be persuaded, often violently, to stay on the stage. However, watch out for her at the end.

And then for Cornley Youth Theatre (or against them) is Romeo Mika, Claire Noy, Consuela Rolle and Phil Yarrow.

The set design and production values are sky high. The way they seamlessly incorporate technical glitches and set malfunctions into the narrative is brilliant. The attention to detail in recreating the magic of Neverland, despite all the "mishaps," is impressive.

The set is a star of the show, too. The design by Simon Scullion is phenomenal. You need to see the show to know why but let’s just say it provides the audience not only with many laughs but frequent gasps of amazement, or is it terror? It needed to be carefully constructed and operated with absolute precision, which it was throughout.

The real Director, Adam Meggido, certainly made sure that the action was precise too – again you need to see it for yourself. Lighting and sound by Matt Haskins and Ella Wahlström were perfect as well and again impeccable timing is the order of the day.

The final scene of the show involving the fast-moving revolving stage needs to be seen to believed. Certainly, one of the best pieces of physical comedy I have seen on a stage.

Overall, this is a side-splitting, feel-good experience that left me with tears of laughter in my eyes. If you're looking for a night of pure entertainment and want to escape into a world of hilarity, this show is an absolute must-see. I can't recommend it highly enough – it's a comedy masterpiece that will keep you smiling for a long while afterwards.


Review of Funny Girl by Kev Castle.

Reposted by permission.

"Funny Girl"

Erewash Musical Society.

Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.

October 4th 2023

The film, which starred Barbra Streisand was made 55 years ago with the original stage version opening on Broadway on 26 March 1964.

The musical is semi-biographical, based on the life and career of Broadway star, film actress and comedienne Fanny Brice; The Greatest Star, the ultimate people's person. Her rise from her own dream world of being a star to being "The Greatest Star" who allows no one to rain on her parade!

After meeting Nick Arnstein, a handsome and charismatic gambling man with a gentle side, Fanny immediately falls in love. And with her big break in the Ziegfeld Follies on the horizon, the stardom she has always longed for is within her grasp. Her only problem… the elusive Nick Arnstein, ignorant of her affection, is always leaving town on some “business” venture.

After a romantic meeting in Baltimore, Nick and Fanny finally confess their feelings, and Fanny boldly abandons the Follies to follow Nick across the ocean.

When Nick wins a bankroll, the newly-wealthy couple get married. No honeymoon lasts forever, though, and Fanny has to choose between the brilliant show business career she loves, or the adored husband who increasingly resents her success.

Megan O'sullivan takes on the role of Fanny who says “That’s where I live, on stage” and how true is that one sentence because Megan comes alive on stage in this role. You could physically see the transformation from the young fame-hungry girl all the way through to the successful star, not only in the way she looked but in the whole attitude. But what really strikes you is Megan's voice. the gentleness of "People" and then the song that closed the first act, "Don't Rain On My Parade" was like a boxer punching his opponent. There was power, punch and purpose in the delivery and gave me my first tingles of the night. Fanny "isn't pretty", well this Fanny is.

Phil Deakin is gambler and con artist Nick Arnstein. Phil has a wonderful voice for classic musicals; he also has a look that fits in so well with period pieces like this. For me, Phil brings a certain vulnerability to Arnstein; the vulnerability of being in love, and seems to be torn between his gambling ways and Fanny, and the gambling won. I love the costumes for Arnstein, especially the black and grey striped suit, but all of his costumes were so well suited, if you'll pardon the pun!

Hayden Fletcher plays Eddie Ryan, and it is so good to see Hayden back on stage. Ryan is a song and dance man and Fanny's mentor, the man who taught her everything. The role was well cast with Hayden. You can see the choreographer in Hayden with the way that he turns his hands out, something some male actors forget to do, and something I always look for. Brilliant characterization and a lovely constant accent as well.

Sue Hagan played Fanny's mother, Rosa Brice. I like this character, and you know how much I like accents, and I enjoyed the softer Yiddish accent that Sue played to so well. there's always a tendency to "overdo" the accent, but not in this case.

Mrs Strakosh, who is constantly amazed that fanny is succeeding and moving up in the world, is played by Karen Robbins. Wonderfully brash and rude, and I imagine a joy to play such a character.

John Fletcher plays Florenz Zeigfeld, a character that always seems to be shouting at first, but calms down when he gets to know Fanny better, and is also friendly with Arnstein. A good, strong powerful persona created by John.

Natalie Austen plays Emma, Fanny's right hand woman. I couldn't remember Emma having such a smoky voice, so I am assuming that Natalie may have a sore throat, or some other malady. Natalie soldiered on with the mantra of the show must go on. What an absolute trooper, and I wish you a speedy recovery. After that, wouldn't it be completely embarrassing for me if Natalie wasn't poorly and she intended for Emma to sound like Marlene Deitrich?

A speedy recovery also to Gill Cooke who should've played Mrs O Malley but was too ill. Stepping into the breach was Laurie Trott who delivered Mrs O Malley's lines as well as her own character's Mrs Meeker. What I love about Laurie is that she gives everything to a character, seeing her dance across the stage is such a joy.

There is a big ensemble, some who deliver cameo roles, so here goes.....James Christian, Martin Briggs, Laurie Fitch, Joel Dawson, Hayley Wood, Emma Barnes-Marriott, Megan Asher, Barbara Bostock, Drew Boswell, Kay Buck, Vicky Byrne, Jane Freeman, Andrea Kemish, Elise Sanders and last but not least, Louisa Ward.

The ensemble is a vital part of any musical and in "Funny Girl" this lot created the atmosphere of a theatrical setting perfectly and really made the choreographed pieces come alive.

On Directing duties is James Bowden and he made sure that the fun in this musical was evident. There was a lovely light and shade aspect which made the whole show bounce along with great pace. The first act was just a smidge under ninety minutes but with direction and pace such as seen tonight, that hour and a half flew by. There were show stopping ends to both acts which you don't often get in musicals, but James and the cast left us wanting more after the curtains closed on act one. I also loved the staging of the show, with actors entering through side doors and down the central stairs of the auditorium onto the stage via a small set of steps stage central.

Musical director for "Funny Girl" is Emma Kerrison. I remember seeing Bilborough College's "Les Miserables", which was performed in the round, if my memory serves me well, and Emma was the MD for that show. Now, eight years later, she has taken on another musical theatre classic for her debut MD role for Erewash Musical Society. The sound, and arrangements, have that classic feel about it, not only for the hauntingly beautiful "People", the massive "Don't Rain On My Parade" but also with songs like "You Are Woman, I Am Man" - the classic duet by Nick and Fanny, and the earworm of a tune "Rat Tat Tat Tat", which I still can't get out of my head.

Choreographing the show is Sophie Robbins. Now I keep using the word "classic" but everything about this musical is classic, and that includes the choreography. I love a good tap dance routine and here we had several, including the brilliant routine for the aforementioned "Rat Tat Tat Tat" and "Cornet Man". Another which really stood out for me was the choreography for "Sadie Sadie". Now I can see where Beyonce's inspiration for the choreography for "Single Ladies" came from! Some excellent group pieces, but I did feel that the choreographed piece for "You Are Woman, I Am Man" was slightly restricted, especially as the curtains were closed to allow for scene setting. It would also have been nice to see more smiles from the dancers. I saw few of the ensemble dancers looking as if they were enjoying performing the choreography because of a lack of a smile. Those that were giving it "eyes and teeth" looked gorgeous and created that Hollywood feel for me.

The sound tonight was operated by Dave Dallard and Jack Clark. People often say that I am always a bit of a Debbie Downer in this area of production, and I know that sound is not at all easy to get spot on; I acknowledge that the sound operator should be half octopus. There were a few sound cues missed, but I only missed a couple of the lines from the script. Looking at it from another angle, maybe the actors whose lines I didn't quite hear should project more! I've every respect for the sound crew in all theatres. This was opening night and I can forgive most things. A couple of missed cues does not a musical mar to me.

The lighting was the main area of my concern because the spotlights were more like search lights, searching for the actor on stage. At one point the speaker on the wall, stage right, was in the spotlight instead of the actors and several of the actors were delivering lines in the shadows. What I do know is that the Duchess Theatre has had new lighting installed, which looks amazing on stage. This may take some getting used to in operation, especially if you're not using the light operation desk on a regular basis. Even the little old lady sat next to me commented on not being able to see the actors talking! Ok, Debbie Downer is back in the box and bolted in. Apart from these lighting meanderings, the illumination of the stage, and especially the mini staircase strip lighting looked fabulous. I know that this will be all corrected for Wednesday night's performance because I have faith in Richard Chaberlain.

The Scenery Design worked well as we were taken backstage, as well as on stage and into the streets, designed by Mark Robbins.

Absolutely loved the costumes; I've already mentioned Arnstein's superb apparel. Everything is so smart, suited and booted, and of course the ladies costumes are so glamorous, including the dancing girls' outfits - totally glamorous and thanks to Triple C Costume Hire, Alex Tavener, Anna Fitzpatrick and Kathi Ludlow.

Oh no! Debbie Downer has escaped again!! There was quite a bit of noise coming from backstage with props being dropped and bangs and crashes during the show. Maybe it was just nerves for first night, I don't know, but they were audible over the stage action, and shouldn't be.

Look, as a reviewer I am programmed to pick up and notice things that other audience members may not even notice, like when Hayden missed the cue for the first line of one of his songs and came in halfway through the third lyric, they probably didn't notice, but I'm not here to rain on anyone's parade. Everything aside I loved this production, the soundtrack is wonderful, I love the campness about the show, I love the vocals, the glamour and I love the dance numbers. And you will too. No two shows, even in professional theatre, are ever the same, and first night is where the nerves are and mistakes can be made, not always. The second night is normally perfect, or as close to perfect, so go get those tickets - there were very few empty seats tonight - and be prepared to be entertained by classic musical fare.


Everybody’s talking about Jamie

National Tour

Nottingham Theatre Royal

September 25th 2023

"Everybody's Talking About Jamie" is a heart-warming and uplifting musical that follows the journey of a young boy named Jamie New, who dreams of becoming a drag queen. Set in Sheffield, the musical explores his challenges in adolescence, self-discovery, and the expectations of society.

Supported by his mother, Margaret, and a close-knit group of friends, Jamie embarks on a journey of self-acceptance and empowerment. He faces prejudice, bullies, and doubts from those around him, but remains resolute in being true to himself. Guided by his mentor, the Drag Queen Hugo (also known as Loco Chanelle), Jamie courageously pursues his dream of appearing in a dress at his high school prom.

It is a joyous production boasting exceptional performances, a clever script, infectious songs, and brilliantly choreographed dance sequences.

The principal cast and ensemble deliver dynamic performances that gloriously bring the story to life. Tom MacRae's writing, combined with Dan Gillespie Sells' music, offers witty one-liners and memorable tunes.

Ivano Turco as Jamie and John Partridge as Hugo/Loco Chanelle are fantastic. Ivano's acting, singing, and dancing abilities are remarkable, making him standout as a very talented performer. The theatre was completely silent during his powerful renditions of “The Wall in my Head”, “Ugly in this ugly world” and “You Don’t Even Know it.”

John Partridge's portrayal of both Hugo and Loco is exceptional, showcasing his acting, singing and dancing skills, along with an authentic Sheffield accent which makes the character all the more believable.

Rebecca Mckinnis as Jamie’s Mum, Margaret, is superb. Her voice is powerful and fills the theatre particularly with her two hard hitting ballads “If I Met Myself Again” and the iconic “He’s My Boy.” I almost felt she would get a standing ovation at the end of that one as it was so powerfully sung.

As always Shobna Gulati is very funny in the role of the friend Ray. She is given some great one liners and is a talented actor and singer. I always enjoyed her performances in Coronation Street and Dinner Ladies.

A pivotal role in the story is that of Jamie’s Muslim friend, Pritti played by Talia Palamathaddon. Her rendition of “It Means beautiful” is indeed, beautiful. She also brings the house down with an unexpected outburst in the final scene that was perfectly delivered and very funny.

Hayley Tamaddon's scorching performance as the teacher, Miss Hedge, is fabulously funny with brilliantly performed routines.

The trio of drag queens at the club, portrayed by Anthony Gyde, Garry Lee, and David Mcnair, add comedy alongside and touching support for Jamie's journey. Great performances from all three.

The rest of this fabulous cast are Jordan Ricketts (Dean), Akshay St Clair (Dad), Liv Ashman (Vicki), Rhiannon Bacchus (Fatimah), Geoff Berrisford (Sayid), Jessica Daugirda (Bex), Finton Flynn (Young Loco), Annabelle Laing (Becca), Luca Moscardini (Levi), Joshian Angelo Omana (Cy), Thomas Walton (Mickey), Takaiyiah Bailey (Swing), and Georgina Hagen (understudy).

The Year 11 class's impressive high energy dancing is a joy to watch. They are also involved in very swift and carefully choreographed set changes, which keeps the production moving at a very fast pace.

The music, with catchy songs like "And You Don't Even Know It" and "He's My Boy," plus Kate Prince's energetic and visually stunning choreography adds an exciting layer to the production.

The band, under the direction of Danny Belton, complements the performers well, creating a harmonious balance between music and vocals.

What truly defines "Everybody's Talking About Jamie" is its powerful message of celebrating individuality and promoting acceptance. In a world that often prioritises conformity, this musical serves as a beacon of hope for those who have ever felt like they didn't belong.

In the end, "Everybody's Talking About Jamie" is a must-see musical which reminds us to embrace our uniqueness, support those who dare to be different, and love ourselves for who we truly are. This show will have you talking about Jamie long after the final curtain call.


The Real & Imagined History of the Elephant Man

Nottingham Playhouse

September 20th 2023

Telling the story of Joseph Merrick from both biographical details and imagination, this is the European premiere of Australian playwright Tom Wright’s riveting play. This version is directed by Stephen Bailey, who won the Sir Peter Hall Directing award, enabling Nottingham Playhouse to stage the play with the help of a grant. All performers on stage and over 50% of the creative and support team are deaf, disabled and/or neurodivergent.

The tone is set by relentless circus music, foreshadowing the show where Joseph ends up as an ‘exhibit’, but we first encounter him in the streets of Leicester, becoming aware of his changing body shape. The evident love of his mother is clouded by the deeply superstitious tale of the encounter with an elephant before his birth, followed by the withdrawal of support from his father after her death. The development of growths on his legs and arm leave him unable to continue working at a cigar factory, so he is left to the mercy of the ‘freak’ shows, which have been so vividly described to us in the prologue, by baying touts.

No prosthetics used here and no reverential treatment of Dr Frederick Treves, who was lauded in the 1980 film ‘The Elephant Man’, as the saviour of Joseph Merrick, who was portrayed as something of a ‘noble savage’. This production puts Joseph at the centre and the performance of Zak Ford-Williams gives us a real person, with thoughts and feelings, demanding the right to be heard with the desperation to be understood. Zak perfectly conveys Joseph’s physicality - the gradual changing of his body and the weight he bears, not just of his condition, but of the disregard and disgust he encounters from those around him.

Ending up in the basement of a London teaching hospital, Joseph is poked, prodded and examined as a specimen (these are deeply uncomfortable scenes which are acted so brilliantly by the cast), leaving him mute. Nobody speaks to him as a person, so he sees no need to reply. This Joseph has an inner life which nobody is aware of until Nurse Willison realises, to her embarrassment that he listens and understands, so has been privy to her gossipy ramblings, a well played and very funny scene.

Nadia Nadarajah plays Nurse Willison, plus other parts with a lively and captivating mix of BSL, visual gesture and spoken English with some SSE (Sign Supported English). Sometimes the other actors become communication assistants, at other times those in the audience who need it are given access through captioning.

Joseph begins to assert himself, but he is continually let down and his final soliliquoy is a tremendously powerful and moving piece; Zak Ford-Williams excels. He’s brought this character alive, showing he is not just the person perceived and described by others, he has agency, he has a strong sense of his own, unique identity. The hurdy gurdy music has ceased, the claustrophobic walls of the hospital basement have disappeared. Sadly, Joseph Merrick’s skeleton remains in a glass box, still on private display at London’s Queen Mary University.

Joseph’s story is populated by those who loved him, those who exploited him, those who tried to help and those who befriended him, on their own terms. All of these roles are played by the other five members of the cast and such is their skill it is often hard to believe that it is the same actors.

Among many other characters the splendid Annabelle Davis plays Miss Fordham, a fellow patient who accepts Joseph with warmth and understanding and it is a surprise when we find out why she does this. Her eventual fate leads to a scene that is viscerally shocking and heavily underlines the objectification and dehumanisation that characterises this play.

Nurse Willison appears to be an ally, but along with other members of staff she lets Joseph down in a spectacular and visually stunning scene that shows breathtaking insensitivity, possibly typical of the times in which Joseph lived. Incidentally, this play is not time specific in the second act – these attitudes, this lack of understanding, this objectification can still happen now.

Joseph is visited by an actress hoping to learn a few tips about ‘monsters’, played with understated naivety and with a very natural delivery by Daneka Etchells. Joseph’s father, with his Leicester accent is played by Tim Pritchett, who plays other parts that are completely different and equally convincing; this is a skilled and versatile cast.

Killian Thomas Lefevre is the wry and detached voice of the narrator – what does he really think? – and he also wows with performances on the electric guitar. Jarring, stifling music which complements and contrasts with the circus music, setting the sinister tone.

Evocative set design by Simon Kenny, from the iron girders of industrialisation – this is a society that is focussed on mass production with little regard to the individual – to the crate in which a wild animal or freak show exhibit is housed in the circus. Swirling haze suggest the choking fog, the belching trains and lack of open spaces, while creating a sense of mystery. The audience may feel some shame that they want to find out- and gawp at-what is concealed in the crate. Later, the realistic setting of the hospital basement creates not just a sense of confinement, but of the starkly lit horror of medical investigation and treatment.

Lighting and sound – by Jai Morjaria and Nicola T Chang are vital in creating not just a sense of time and space, but of mood and conflicting emotions. The director has taken all of these elements – the cast and crew with their lived experience, plus the vision of the other creatives - and pulled everything together into a compelling piece that not just entertains, engages and shocks, but asks questions of us. Like all good plays, it lingers long after the curtain falls.

The play is approximately 2 hours long, including an interval and continues at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 7th October. An interesting interview with the Chief Executive of the Playhouse Stephanie Sirr and Zak Ford- Williams, about disabled representation in theatre, can be found at


School of Rock

Gatepost Theatre Company

Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton

September 12th 2023

Since first seeing this musical a couple of years ago it has become one of my favourite musical creations of Andrew Lloyd Webber

The story is about Dewey Finn, a down-and-out rock singer and guitarist, who impersonates a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. As he recognizes the untapped musical talents of his young students, Dewey assembles a band of fifth graders with the ambitious goal of winning an upcoming Battle of the Bands contest.

The stage show is based on a film of the same name with Webber writing 14 extra songs as there are relatively few in the film. When I first saw the musical, I expected it to be full of rock tunes. There are indeed many, but there are also more typical musical theatre songs - ballads, dance tunes and indeed some operatic sounding pieces too.

As I expected, Gatepost has assembled an incredibly strong cast led by Chris Collington as Dewey Finn. I have seen him in many shows over the years and the quality of his performances is always excellent. In this part he is exceptional. He sings, dances, is very funny but also shows the more tender and vulnerable side of the character. The part demands a good physical actor, and he is also that. He frequently throws himself across the stage.

I loved the performance of Lottie Lodge as the High School Principal. She has a versatile voice and a wide vocal range. She can sing typical Webber ballads well, but at times also reaches the height of the operatic register too. She is a great actress and is a joy to watch.

There were also strong performances from Jude Cliffman as Patty Di Marco and Gary Heap as Ned Schneebly. The rest of the adult cast who played the school staff and parents are Luke Grainger, Jordan Neary, Steve Fowkes, Sarah Knight, Jon Dawkins, Kiah Smith, Ben Gray, Rachelle Bragg, Jack Lawrence and Ellie Heap.

However, what makes this such a sensational production is the youngsters who play the school kids. They are wonderful, and I will remember their performances for a very long time. They all sing and dance with a perfection usually reserved for adult performers and some played instruments to a high standard too. Yes, as Andrew Lloyd Webber has said, they do really play the instruments. The band performers are Charlie Rogers (Zack – lead guitar), Harrison Ince (Lawrence – keys), Maddie Wheatcroft (Katie – guitar) and Liam Farrant (Freddy – drums)

I cannot praise the rest of the junior cast highly enough and at times I was just amazed at their talent. I challenge anyone who saw the show not to marvel at the power and energy they all showed while on the stage. Their enthusiasm is intoxicating. They are simply the best and are:

Bella Radford (Summer), Isobelle Walker (Tomika), Scarlett Dunn (Madison), Isla Farrell (Marcy), Felicity Holman (Shonelle), Teddy Osborn (Billy), Jake Bavin (Mason), Sally Elliott (Jane), La Kayah Jassey (Sophie) plus classmates Esmie Smith Cockayne, Joseph Ross, Gracie Smith and Brooke Foxall.

The set is well designed by Mark Green and it helps keep the action moving at a very fast pace. There are a lot of props plus school tables and chairs that are moved efficiently around by the cast. This is smooth and accurate every time. Well done to the stage crew led by John Cliff, plus many of the performers.

The lighting (Stephen Greatorex) and sound (Harry Greatorex) were first rate and despite this show’s rock content the sound was set at just the right level. Dynamic rock sound but at a comfortable level.

The show’s creative team really makes this show zing a long so well done to Chris Collington (Director), Lottie Lodge (choreographer) and Martin Lewis (Musical Director). The supporting band conducted by Martin sounded extremely good.

The show ends with a fabulous finale which I and the audience loved and not unsurprisingly led to a whole theatre standing ovation.

This is one of my favourite shows and I congratulate all involved for giving me, and I am sure the rest of the audience, such a wonderful night at the Duchess.

This is a show not to miss. If you can get a ticket I can promise you that you will come out at the end feeling uplifted as this show has it all, including some poignant moments and a joyful ending.


The Signalman

Rumpus Theatre Company

Theatre Royal Nottingham

September 11th 2023

Ooh, there are plenty of spooks and chills here! You might have to wait a bit for the most shocking – I jumped out of my seat towards the end – but there is plenty to unsettle and intrigue along the way. If you like a good ghost story well told, then this is for you.

Originally from the pen of the master storyteller, Charles Dickens, this eerie adaptation by John Goodrum tells the tale of a terrified signalman who unburdens himself to the young student who chances upon his railway cutting. He gives a chilling account of the spectre that haunts him, and the terrible disasters that follow each appearance…but what horror is the ghost trying to warn of this time? And is the young man’s visit quite so innocent as it at first appears?

Dickens was deeply affected by his involvement in the Staplehurst rail crash of 1865 and it could have been this experience that led him to write about a ghost who foretells terrible railway disasters: one of the first stories to link steam trains with the supernatural.

We’re familiar with the genre now – the billowing smoke that hides something terrible, the dark chasm of the tunnel, the thunder of wheels upon an invisible track. John Goodrum and Karen Henson (the director) take these preconceptions and ratchet them up a few notches to great, ghostly effect. Plenty to plunder the senses here – I thought I could not only hear the overwhelming din of the train, but smell the thick smoke, too! David Gilbrook’s sound design brilliantly underscores the tension with not just sound effects, but also some creepy background music that defines the mood and lends a filmic quality to some of the scenes.

Lighting (by Keith Tuttle) plays a big part, not only in swapping from the eerily dark exterior to the brightly lit interior - a beautifully detailed signalbox – but also to punctuate the action. The director cleverly cuts to darkness, just when we least expect it and hardly dare to think what might be happening when we can’t see. It’s edge of seat stuff.

John Goodrum plays Joseph Standcot, the signalman, a complex character who nevertheless could become a bit of a comic stereotype in less skilled hands. Standcot is a bit of an old moaner with a seemingly tall tale, but Dickens gave this character a compelling back story and a way with words which John Goodrum brings to life. There are moments of humour, but the overriding impression is of a deep thinker who thoroughly believes what he is saying.

Parvan Maru plays the young and idealistic Richard Brightwell, who gets a chance to tell his own intriguing story in Act Two. Parvan takes the character through a range of well expressed emotions, from polite interest, through growing fear and a final crisis of overwhelming guilt.

David Gilbrook plays the train driver, who lends an apparent voice of reason to the final scenes. All three actors have the diction, fluency and projection to be clearly heard, for which an audience is always grateful!

Tickets for this ghostly journey are available for tonight, tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow night. Don’t miss it, it’s a first class ride.


Greatest Days – The Official Take That Musical

National Tour 2023

Theatre Royal Nottingham

September 5th 2023

Greatest Days is a jukebox musical with music and lyrics by Take That and a book by Tim Firth. It is a revival with a few changes from its first incarnation which was called the “The Band’ in September 2017. This was cast through a 2017 BBC 1 reality TV show called “Let It Shine.” There was also an earlier jukebox musical based on the songs of Take That in 2008 called “Never Forget.”

The musical tells the story of five women who were best friends as teenagers and all big fans of The Band. 25 years later after losing contact four of them reunite to fulfil their dream of seeing the band perform again. Jennifer Ellison (Rachel), Holly Ashton (Zoe), Jamie-Rose Monk (Claire) and understudying at this performance Karen Jones (Heather) are all excellent in their respective roles and a joy to watch.

The story starts 25 years before with the five young school friends who want to go to the Band’s concert. They certainly lit up the stage with their performances. They were Olivia Hallett (Rachel), Kitty Harris (Heather), Hannah Brown (Zoe), Mari Mcginlay (Claire) and understudying at this performance Evangeline Jarvis Jones (Debbie).

In this new production the band is comprised of 5 male singers and dancers who perform most of the 14 Take That Hits sometimes on their own and sometimes with the rest of the cast. They are Kalifa Burton, Jamie Corner, Archie Durrant, Regan Gascoigne and Alexanda O’Reilly. They all sing well and are excellent dancers. Regan Gascogne, of course, was the winner of Dancing on Ice in 2022. They all work very hard not only singing and dancing, but they also playing other ensemble and solo roles. They are also responsible, in the main, for fast set and prop changes. However, you need to see them in action to appreciate fully what they do throughout the show.

Completing the cast was the very funny Alan Stocks as Every Dave and Keith Henderson as Jeff. (Understudy) If you are fans of Take That you will certainly enjoy the songs that accompany the story. However, I did think that particularly in the first few scenes that the sound was too loud both in terms of the music and the dialogue. The result of this was not being able to hear all the words clearly. I also do not like what appears to be becoming a trend in these types of musicals for lights on stage to be aimed directly at the audience from time to time, making it impossible to see the stage! I did however like the basic stage lighting and the use of less powerful lights around the sides of the auditorium.

The set was simple but served its purpose although I thought the boys in the band sometimes had a little difficulty moving parts of it into place due to the off-set nature of the design.

Overall, this is an enjoyable production with an excellent cast and a concept like that of Mama Mia – tell a story using a back catalogue of songs. I have to say though that for me Mama Mia has the edge.

As regular readers will know I love a good Finale and this show certainly had one which led to the inevitable standing ovation. Seeing the whole cast performing together on different stage levels was stunning and I think the cast were enjoying it as much as the audience. 10 out of 10 for that one!


Les Misérables School Edition

Zak Scott Productions

Duchess Theatre

September 1st 2023

Hard to believe that this wonderful production was staged by Zak Scott productions in one week following a summer school that took place in August. Five days? Five months preparation surely couldn’t have produced anything better. Everything about this show is first class and it’s spine tingling seeing these young performers showing off not just their vocal and acting talent, but their ability to inhabit their roles with an emotional intensity that belies their years.

After such a short rehearsal period there was almost an expectation that corners would be cut, staging and costumes would be simple and there might be a bit of shuffling around or some sags in the action. Not a bit of it, the production team of Zak Charlesworth, Ellie Simmonds and Ben Ward have thrown everything they’ve got at this production and the end result of the hard work of everyone involved is a polished, pacy and lavish production. Royden Charlesworth’s split level set with additional trucks is superb, with a versatility that takes us inside a factory, a monastery, an inn, the streets of Paris and finally on to the barricades. The costumes and props are equally impressive, no skimping here.

Director Zak Scott was hoping that this moving and intense piece would fully involve the audience and it’s thanks to his vision - and to the ability of these young performers to convey emotion - that this has been achieved. None more so than the splendid portrayal of Jean Valjean, the main protagonist, by Findlay Parker.

Jean Valjean is released from 19 years of imprisonment for a minor crime, but quickly falls foul of Inspector Javert, following a theft of silver from a monastery. We follow Javert’s single minded pursuit of Valjean over the next 17 years, as Jean turns his life around, rescues the orphan Cosette and becomes involved in the burgeoning revolution. The role of Valjean is complex and entirely sung through, a huge challenge for a young performer. Findlay not only has a lovely voice (with an impressive falsetto), but he pours bucket loads of emotion and expression into his acting. He feels everything the character feels and I certainly forgot I was watching a 14 year old – I was watching Jean Valjean; so engaging and so moving. Among his many vocal highlights are ‘Who Am I’ and ‘Bring Him Home’.

Another intense, highly polished and thoroughly engaging performance from Louis Chadburn as Javert. Louis simply owns the stage in this role, his steely composure, upright demeanour and superb vocals – what an actor and what a voice! – mean you can’t take your eyes off him. The gradual breakdown of Javert’s composure is beautifully expressed and his solos ‘Stars’ and ‘Javert’s Suicide’ are absolutely riveting.

Musical Director Ben Ward must have worked so hard with this cast in such a short time, to achieve performances of this quality, all sung and to a soundtrack, which is not easy to do. No adjustments possible and no room for error, it has to be spot on and it is! A particularly lovely musical arrangement is ‘Drink With Me’; it sounds fabulous.

More wonderful vocal performances from the three female leads – Ella Charlesworth as Fantine, Grace Kolsa as Eponine and Olivia Bonham as Cosette. Ella gently conveys the weary desperation of Cosette as she is forced into prostitution and destitution; her sweet voice makes the absolute most of the moving vocal highlight I Dreamed a Dream. Grace is a spirited but ultimately sad Eponine, a lovely performance with some excellent vocals, both ‘A Heart Full of Love and ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ are beautifully performed. The vocal treats come thick and fast; Olivia Bonham gets to show off her fabulous voice in 5 pieces and the purity and operatic quality of her performance is spine tingling.

Earlier, Isobel Pickering gives a moving performance as Little Cosette with a sweet rendition of ‘Castle on a Cloud’.

It's not all doom and gloom, the villainous innkeeper Thenardier and his wife, played by Miles Potter and Harriet Campion provide some light relief. These are gifts of parts for young performers with a talent for musical comedy and Miles and Harriet more than do them justice. There’s so much gusto, fun and unfettered expression in Miles’ performance – he has the audience in the palm of his hand. The ‘Innkeepers Song’ is a joy, very cleverly staged and with the two excellent main performers being so well supported by the ensemble, wherever I looked there was something amusing to see. Harriet throws herself into this over the top bawdy role – wonderful body language - but she’s always convincing and her expressions of humour and disgust are priceless.

Assistant Director Ellie Simonds encouraged all the ensemble performers to develop a character identity and this really shows – no corpsing here – everyone is fully present and acting their socks off. Some lovely group scenes in the factory, the inn and at the barricades give the supporting performers a chance to shine – they learnt a lot during that week!

The ensemble are: Megan Price, Heidi Parsons, Keeley Rickerby, Neve Johnson, Lottie Ellis, Sophia Tasker, Roisin Parker, Finlay Tomlinson, Alex Povey, Evie Radmore, Millie Weston, Ellie Goudge.

Quillan Parker wows as the spirited little Gavroche, such expression and projection with comic timing that captivated the audience. The romantic lead of Marius is played with huge conviction by Brogan Haynes, a few vocal highlights, but the hugely popular ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ is enchanting.

Another very engaging, enjoyable and spirited performance from James Pedrick, as Enjorlas, the revolutionary, supported by William Mellor as Courfeyrac, Lucy Coulson- Jones as Feuilly, Cecilia Diamond as Combeferre and Molly Price as Joly. It’s impossible not to feel stirred by the passion the students convey and the wonderfully evocative tunes such as ‘Do You Hear The People Sing’ and ‘Building the Barricades’. The triumphant finale is typical of this production: well managed and beautiful to watch.

Zak says in the programme that he was told beforehand that this endeavour would be ‘ambitious, bold & crazy’, but felt that if the audience was touched and moved he would consider it a success. Well, it may have been all those things, but the audience were not just touched and moved, we were impressed, amazed and delighted. A huge success; many congratulations to all of you.



Theatre Royal Nottingham

Tuesday 29th August 2023

Tonight it was time to be transported back to the 1980’s and take a visit to Westerberg High School. Heathers is the musical version of the 1989 American black comedy teen film and appears to have garnered quite the cult following, demonstrated by the wonderful cosplay within the audience tonight. The story is based around Veronica who sees herself as just another nobody and desperately wants to fit in with the popular kids. Her dreams appear to have come true when she manages to join the beautiful but impossibly cruel ‘Heathers’ and also finds herself a boyfriend - the mysterious ‘JD’. However, Veronica soon finds out everything is not quite as wonderful as it seems.

Eleanor Walsh plays the central character of Veronica Sawyer. She is a wonderful performer, has a very powerful singing voice and acts with supreme confidence. Her facial expressions and visceral reactions to the events on stage are a joy to behold; she is a talent to watch.

Jacob Fowler, a very competent actor and singer, plays the disturbed yet strangely compelling character of JD. His duets with Eleanor, with whom he has a wonderful on-stage chemistry, are superb and full of emotion.

The three Heathers played by Verity Thompson (Heather Chandler), Elise Zavou (Heather Duke) and Billie Bowman (Heather McNamara) are magnificent and they strut around the stage pouring out their vitriol to all and sundry. Their debut to the stage was greeted with great delight by the audience and a cacophony of whoops and cheers filled the theatre. When the Heathers sing you really know it and their voices are wonderful to listen to. Verity dominates the stage whenever she appears and her facial expressions are flawless. She doesn’t need to speak all the time as her face does it for her with great effect!

Alex Woodward (Kurt Kelly), Morgan Jackson (Ram Sweeney), as the two pretty but dim High School Jocks, are very funny working together as a duo. Again, they sing and dance very well and look good with or without their clothes on! Their choreographed fight scenes along with Jacob Fowler are very well done.

Maeve Byrne plays the somewhat manic Ms. Fleming, the teacher. She was brilliant in the anti-suicide scene: her rendition of “Shine a Light” was powerful and emotional. Her interaction with an audience member was also a highlight for me and extremely funny.

Kingsley Morton (Martha Dunnstock), provided a lovely contrast from the other students and you can’t help feeling sorry for her somewhat naïve view of what is happening.

Other principal parts were well played by Jay Bryce (Kurt’s Dad/Veronica’s Dad/Principle Gowan) and Conor McFarlane (Ram’s Dad/Big Bud Dean/Coach Ripper). Their duet “My Dead Gay Son” was very funny and well performed.

Completing the excellent cast in the ensemble is Markus Sodergren, Tom Dickerson, Liam Dean, Summer Priest, Eliza Bowden and Lizzie Emery.

There is an age advisory on this production of 14 plus which I would advise is observed due to the dark nature of the story and use of colourful language throughout. However, there is an incredible energy from start to finish and together with the well written typical High School humour and fantastic cast this is definitely not one to miss.


The Rocky Horror Show

The Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

22nd August 2023

Feelings of trepidation and excitement were high for me tonight as I prepared to see the Rocky Horror Show at the Royal Concert Hall Nottingham. Although I knew a little about the production, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but wow! What an experience!

The Rocky Horror show tells the story of Brad and his fiancée Janet, who are two squeaky clean college kids. Out of the blue they meet Dr Frank’n’Furter when their car breaks down outside his house, while on their way to visit their favourite college Professor. It’s an adventure they’ll never forget, with fun, frolics, frocks and frivolity, bursting with timeless songs and outrageous outfits.

From start to finish you find yourself completely immersed in the production and the utterly bonkers world of Dr Frank’n’Furter. The costumes are dazzling and risqué, the dialogue is quick witted and funny, the songs are catchy and the acting is incredible. The whole cast are extremely talented with flawless mannerisms and characterisation. Audience interaction and participation also play a big part which I wasn’t quite prepared for at first (heckling and shouting out in a theatre!) but you soon take this in your stride. It’s clear the audience tonight had many fans, shouting the right words at the perfect moment and dressed to impress in their best cosplay!

The production features all of the famous musical numbers which have made The Rocky Horror Show such a huge hit for over forty years, including “Sweet Transvestite”, “Science Fiction/Double Feature”, “Dammit Janet” and, of course, the timeless floor-filler, “The Time-Warp.” For that, be prepared to stand up and join in!

Stephen Webb as Dr Frank’N’Furter made this production for me; he had such an engaging stage presence and his portrayal as the enigmatic doctor was simply mesmerising.

Joe McFadden gave a strong performance as the Narrator. His pantomime like delivery of the story and connection with the audience was a joy to watch and his inclusion of recent new events and stories specific to Nottingham was a lovely touch.

Richard Meek plays Brad with Helen Flaherty as Janet, Brad’s fiancée. They work very well together and have a great onstage chemistry. In Act 2, they individually find themselves in a saucy bed scene with Dr Frank, which is very funny and expertly performed by them both.

Ben Westhead as Rocky, the monster, is certainly very well cast; he can sing and dance well and with a body more like a male model than a monster, was very much appreciated by many in the audience!

The rest of the cast are great performers. Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff, who reminded me of the shows writer, Richard O’Brien, Darcy Finden as Columbia, Suzie McAdam as Magenta, and Joe Allen in the dual role of Eddie and Dr Scott. The Phantoms who danced and sang well are Reece Budin, Fionan O’Carroll, Beth Woodcock and Stefania Du Toit with Tyla Dee Nurden and Nathan Shaw as Swings.

The show, which is one not to be missed, continues at the Royal Concert Hall until Saturday 26th August. I would urge you to go and see it if you can; just like Brad and Janet, it will be one adventure you’ll never forget!



by John Goodrum – based on the Mysteries of G K Chesterton

Theatre Royal Nottingham

August 8th 2023

The second in Colin McIntyre’s Classic Thriller Season of four plays, A Crime At Christmas is a light hearted comic caper that’s not so much a thriller but a good old fashioned whodunnit. Fans of the television series ‘Father Brown’ (an early afternoon must for the old folk at Theatre Online), will be delighted to see the priest/detective hard at work in his inimitable laid back style, shrewdly observing the shenanigans and deftly reaching the right conclusion. Can we do the same? – that’s the fun of a whodunnit and this production has a lot more fun besides. No Mrs McCarthy, Bunty or Lady Felicia in this version, but diehard fans will be delighted to feel a warm glow of recognition when things get going. This Father Brown, played by the splendid John Lyons is quietly intuitive and observant, close to G K Chesterton’s original and, unlike the tv series, in the same time period as the later books.

It's Christmas in the early 1930’s and the redoubtable Mrs Adams (Susan Earnshaw) is hosting a festive get together with her daughter Ruby, a bright young thing played with just the right clipped accent and heaps of jolly gaiety by Lara Lemon. When their guests arrive it’s decided it will be enormous fun to stage an impromptu pantomime, complete with Harlequin, Clown, Columbine and Pantaloon. Their guest Father Brown watches on as things turn a trifle nasty when three exquisite diamonds - a gift to Ruby from her rich godfather, disappear during the frolics. Which of the guests can be the thief? One is their neighbour: a ‘radical socialist’ and Lara’s love interest, John Crook, (David Osmond), who bags himself an invite. Other guests are James Blount (John Goodrum) a smooth talking but jolly long lost uncle from Canada and Sir Leopold Fischer (Jeremy Lloyd Thomas), the verbose and uptight godfather. But there’s also the latecomer Florian (Pavan Muru), roped in to play the policeman and the maid (Juliette Strobel, who had access to the coats…

Hard to believe that these actors played very different characters in last week’s production of Love From A Stranger, but that’s one of the pleasures of this rep style season: actors get to really show their range. Their excellent projection (unaided by mics) and their fluency in such a short rehearsal period is to be admired. They create a lovely upper class 1930s feel with their delivery, complemented by a simple but effective set that serves as both the exterior and interior of Mrs Adam’s grand house. The transition from one to the other is a joy, accomplished by the confidence of the actors and by the complicit and willing suspension of disbelief from the audience. Many giggles were heard! The lighting is another joy: there’s a lovely Christmassy stained glass effect, three beams that suggest moonlight; bright lights from the wings are an approaching car. Sound completes the festive scene setting, we need our imaginations but there’s plenty to help us get to the right time and place.

The motive for the theft is clear, but the modus operandi is a mystery. Father Brown lets us into his thinking, ruefully reminding us that all detectives have their Moriarty and this may be an occasion when he has met his match. But before that we have the farcical fun of the pantomime – not for those who don’t enjoy a comic caper (sorry), but plenty to love for those who do. The impromptu costumes are delightful and knowing that there must be some sleight of hand taking place, has us watching carefully to see if we can spot when the theft took place.

Director Karen Henson keeps the pace so fast that we have no time to dwell on implausibility and deftly disguises the moment when our suspicions might be raised. The use of different levels of the set and the swift deployment of props by the actors is imaginative. The denouement is an ‘Aah’ moment, which had us thinking back over the action and figuring out what we should have noticed – the essence of a whodunnit. Congratulations to John Goodrum for creating a piece that puts the comedy into this season of plays and uses the talents of the company of actors so well.


Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season

Love From A Stranger

Agatha Christie & Frank Vosper

Theatre Royal Nottingham

August 1st 2023

After winning a large amount of money in a sweepstake, Cecily Harrington desperately yearns for a life of adventure, far removed from the one she currently lives. When Bruce Lovell, a handsome and charming stranger, sweeps her off her feet in a whirlwind romance, she recklessly abandons her job, friends and fiancé to settle in the remote and blissful surroundings of a country cottage…

Originally written in 1924 as a short story ‘Philomel Cottage’, Agatha Christie then rewrote it as a stage play, but it wasn’t until a further rewrite by actor Frank Vosper that Love From A Stranger took off as a theatre hit, firstly in the West End in 1936, then on Broadway a year later. Two films followed in 1937 and 1947. So it’s one of the Queen of Crime’s earlier pieces and it doesn’t have the knotty convolutions, edge of seat spooks and shoals of red herrings of her later, more well known works.

It's a real slow burner and the director has to get the atmosphere just right, to ensure that the lengthy narrative and seemingly genial characters don’t leave us feeling too cosy and a trifle disappointed that we’re not more scared. But it’s the lack of action that gradually builds the tension, waiting for a character to give something away, wondering about the significance of certain objects, odd discoveries and bizarre reactions. We might know there’s a wrong’un at work, but we’re not sure why or how; suffice it to say we’re suitably agog when we find out the answer to those questions.

There is plenty of character work for the actors in this piece and some lovely comedy to had, particularly from Celia’s Aunt, Louise Garrard, played by Susan Earnshaw and Ethel the maid, played by Juliette Strobel. Wonderful diction means Aunt Lulu’s every word is heard and the posh old battleaxe and inveterate snob gets some great one liners. In contrast Ethel is that old comedy staple, the loopy underling, complete with a lot of comic bowing and scraping and an impressive bellow.

More nicely observed character work from Sarah Wynne Kordas as the rheumatic gardener, Hodgson and Jeremy Lloyd Thomas as the genial Dr Gribble. Could any of these characters be the one we should look out for – the hidden assassin, the masked murderer? Hodgson makes a strange discovery and imparts some interesting information and Dr Gribble has an interest in true crime that he shares with Bruce Lovell, so perhaps…

But then, Celia’s ex fiancé, Nigel Lawrence, played with a wonderful stiff upper lip by Pavan Maru has plenty to be unhappy about and he does make an unexpected visit to the newlyweds, along with Mavis Wilson. Mavis, played charmingly by Kia Pope, is the pleasant and sensible friend who is very perplexed by what has happened.

Bruce Lovell and Celia Harrington are played by David Osmond and Lara Lemon, the seemingly happy couple, who have found the perfect love nest in the country, with no telephone to disturb their peace. There is a nice build up of change in these characters as they are challenged, and there appears to be some dawning realisation on both their parts. The lighting echoes this, some gradual darkening that is hardly perceptible adds to a feeling of menace. It’s the natural dialogue of believable characters in the beautifully detailed 1950s sets that gives the cosy, afternoon serial feel and lulls us…until things change. Sound plays a part in this and is an essential component of the set. A barking dog, the brring of a telephone, an approaching car, all add to the evocation of another place and another time.

The denouement of this play caused a lot of discussion at Theatre Online and brought up some questions which are still being mulled over today. Questions that begin ‘So did she?’… ‘Was he?’…and ‘How long was that happening?’... We might not have been scared, but we were intrigued.

It's lovely to see a good old fashioned two act play again at the Theatre Royal, complete with curtain falls. It’s the 36th year that the Classic Thriller Season has taken place, they have been staged by Tabs Productions since 2012 and are enduringly popular with the audiences.


The Buddy Holly Story

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

July 25th 2023

The Daily Mail once said, “It’s the show you’ll never forget” and I am certain they are right. It has been described as the World’s most famous rock musical, which is not surprising as it has been seen by over 22 million people. However, this is the first time I have seen it and I loved it!

The Buddy Holly Story is an electrifying journey through the life and legacy of a true rock 'n' roll legend. It delivers an unforgettable spectacle that has the audience tapping their feet, singing along, and cheering, not only at the end but throughout the show. Buddy Holly was, of course, one of the most influential rock musicians but only lived to be 22 years old, dying in a plane crash in 1959 after a very short career.

From the moment the curtain rises, you are transported back to the 1950s, a pivotal era in music history, where the sound of rock 'n' roll was just beginning to emerge. The show's stellar cast brings the story to life, with remarkable performances that capture the essence and charm of Buddy Holly and his band, The Crickets. A J Jenks portrayal of Buddy is outstanding, flawlessly embodying the singer's distinct voice, guitar ability and signature style. He sparkle with Buddy’s humour and zest for life.

The musical's narrative beautifully traces Buddy's journey from his early days in Lubbock, Texas, to the grand stages of New York City, showcasing the highs and lows of his remarkable career. We get a glimpse into the struggles, triumphs, and heartaches that shaped this musical pioneer. The emotional depth of the storytelling draws you in, and you can't help but feel a connection to the man behind the iconic glasses. You will also discover why the glasses became so important to his image.

Of course, no Buddy Holly Musical would be complete without the powerhouse soundtrack that made him a household name. There are unforgettable classics such as "Peggy Sue," "That'll Be the Day," "Everyday," and many more. The second Act, in particular, is really a concert showcasing Buddy’s many hits.

The musical numbers are performed with such infectious energy and enthusiasm that it's impossible not to feel the excitement. The cast is just so good that to pick out individuals is not necessary. They are all brilliant including “The Crickets”, who play the instruments and perform the many signature moves with great energy much to the delight of the audience. It was probably just like that in the original 1950’s concerts.

I will, however, mention the fabulous Thomas Mitchells who amazingly plays 6 parts including radio presenters, record producers, group managers and sings and dances in one of the backing groups. He also narrates the story.

The staging and set design are just right, recreating the era, whether it's the famous Apollo theatre or a recording studio. Each scene transports the audience clearly back in time capturing the essence of '50s rock 'n' roll. Lighting and sound were equally well designed. In terms of volume, yes, it was rock ‘n roll, but at a comfortable level.

Beyond the captivating music and mesmerising performances, the Buddy Holly Musical also serves as a poignant reminder of the artist's lasting impact on the music world. His innovative approach to song writing and his fusion of different genres laid the foundation for generations of musicians to come. This musical serves as both a celebration of his legacy and a nod to the influence he had on future rock legends.

Prepare to be transported back in time, as you laugh, cry, and groove to the timeless tunes of a true rock 'n' roll icon. This production captures the magic of Buddy Holly's music and story, leaving audiences with hearts full of joy and admiration for a musical genius whose music will live forever.


Guys And Dolls In Concert

Northern Musical Theatre Orchestra

Majestic Theatre, Retford

Sunday 23rd July 2023

Hard to believe that this fabulous production was put together in less than 6 weeks – and hard to believe that it was a concert version. It was a magnificent, fully costumed show with a huge cast of performers, backed by a wonderful 48-piece orchestra consisting of reeds, woodwind, brass, rhythm and strings. Wow!

The cast of principals and a large chorus, plus an ensemble of 14 singers, gave us a polished and imaginatively directed production that transformed the small space in front of the orchestra into Depression Era New York. Simple suggestions provided all the scenery we needed: rigged neon signs and a traffic light took us the boardwalk, the nightclubs and even to Havana. A huge cross and a lectern on some raised staging took us into the mission where Sister Sarah Brown is set on saving souls. The lavish costuming, convincing props and fast paced action plus some beautifully choreographed movement ensured our imaginations didn’t have to work too hard: we were simply transported there.

Once there, what a treat this was. The well known tunes and clever lyrics of Frank Loesser can’t fail to please - too many too mention, but highlights include If I were a Bell, A Bushel and A Peck, Luck be a Lady and I’ve Never Been In Love Before. But it was the performances that gave the most pleasure. Alice Croft who played Sarah Brown has the most powerful and beautiful voice, which, backed by the lush sound of the orchestra, filled the theatre and sent spirits soaring. A fabulous all round performance, not just thrilling with sublime vocals, but bringing the character to life with some great comic timing.

More great comic timing from Ashley Booker and Kelly Marsh as Nathan Detroit and his would-be bride of 14 years, Adelaide. Nathan is a bad boy gambler who avoids committing to Adelaide with as much enthusiasm as he pursues illegal crap games. Ashley nails the bad boy character with a genial swagger and gets to show off great performing skills, especially in the wonderful comic duet with Adelaide, Sue Me. This Adelaide doesn’t overdo the New York drawl or the sneezing but packs loads of sassy character into her solos and duets – the Lament, Sue Me, the raunchy night club piece Take Back Your Mink (lovely chorus work there, too) and the wonderful drunken duet with Sarah, Marry the Man Today, were beautifully performed. The audience last night had an embarrassment of riches, beautifully performed songs, lovely orchestration, comic set pieces even some burlesque and tap dancing, they just kept coming thick and fast.

Special mention to the thick and fast Nicely-Nicely Johnson performed by Jim Burrows. Jim has one of those wonderful stage voices that effortlessly carries to the back of the theatre and his talent for characterisation brought this character immediately and endearingly to life. His humorous observations and bits of slapstick were hugely appreciated by the large audience; the old favourite Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat (performed with the full company) was one of the best versions I’ve seen. In fact it was better than the one I saw in a full production at the Savoy Theatre a few years ago!

There’s not just comedy in this show, there’s romance too, provided by the iconic Sky Masterson, arch gambler and swindler who oozes charisma and charm. Owen Tyas does just that, quietly wooing Sister Sarah and even managing to resist a bet, apart from one last flutter at Nathan’s underground crap game. A great performance of Luck be A Lady which was so cleverly directed that you could just feel the tension in the sewer and see the shooting dice!

All the action and explanations for abridged parts of the story were described by the besuited narrator – the dapper ‘Charlie the Choreographer’ – a lovely performance by Sarah Woodwards. The narrator gets the audience onside, tips them a few knowing winks and even interacts with the characters. Sarah did just that, a very entertaining and accomplished performance.

Other characters were played by Lyndon Warnsby, Jamie Savage, Mike Pinkerton, Sarah Hensall and Richard Fletcher. The splendid ‘Hot Box Girls’ were Iona Wilson, Amy Coxhill, Sarah Davy, Jenny Plant, Sophie Lale and Cassey Brough-Savage; the Mission Band were Trudi Jackson, Kirstie Passmore and Jane Taylor. The Gangsters (some really lovely characterisation here) were Martin Thomas, Malcolm Cocking, Andrew Darkus, Ben Atkinson, Mark Thompson and David Taylor.

What a cast – 26 of them in all (plus the ensemble) – and what an amazing achievement to produce this quality of performance in such a short time, in such a small space!

The production team consists of Brady Mould, the Musical Director and Producer, who founded NMTO with friends in 2017, David Taylor and Jane Taylor the Directors, and Pete Lack the Assistant Musical Director. They must have put in hours of work to produce a piece of this standard so quickly, but it’s clear that everybody involved in this project loves theatre, loves music and loves performing, so it was definitely a labour of love.

NMTO gives amateur, semi-professional and professional musicians a chance to perform in musical theatre, as well as engaging in many projects throughout the year from their base at the Majestic Theatre in Retford. These include private Play-Throughs, Vocal Days, Masterclasses, Side-by-Side youth days, public concerts, and a combination of virtual and on-location Projects. Further details can be found on their Facebook page or website and their next production will be ‘An Evening with NMTO’ at the Majestic Theatre Retford on Sunday December 17th. One not be missed – this ‘best kept secret in Nottinghamshire’ deserves to be shared and their boundless talent enjoyed by an even larger audience.


Twelfth Night
by William Shakespeare
Nottingham Playhouse
July 20th, 2023
Hats off to those who adapted and abridged this splendidly jazzed up version of Twelfth Night that is a joy from start to finish. 80 minutes of non-stop riotous fun with spot on delivery of the original text - these actors know their Shakespeare - and a sprinkling of contemporary asides that keep the audience fully informed. But much more besides: singing, dancing, slapstick, audience participation, general all round fun, and wonderful storytelling at a cracking pace; all against a surreal background of gaudy plastic toys, a slide, a trampoline and a porthole to pop through. So hats off to designer Ella Barraclough too, it’s a visual delight, complemented by the glorious mishmash of lavish costumes and lush textures; from Olivia’s sparkly mask, Malvolio’s yellow bloomers, the bright checks, the clashing florals and the clownish stripes, to the interesting ring and quirky wedding bouquet. A feast for the senses.
Hats off and thrown in the air for the cast, four very talented actors who not only know their Shakespeare (and how to make him accessible), they know all about diction, projection, expression, characterisation and comic timing. How can 4 actors play 13 parts? I had no idea how this could be possible and imagined lots of frantic costume changing and some hefty suspension of disbelief from the audience. Not a bit of it, changes of role are achieved seamlessly, a quick exit behind the boards, some cheery music, a new hat and Sir Toby’s your uncle (well Olivia’s anyway) and you can’t believe it’s the actor you just saw playing Viola. And Cesario. That is Charlotte East; playing Olivia, Maria and Valentine is Lisa Ambalavanar, Zoë May Dales plays Sebastian, Malvolio, the Captain and the Priest and AK Golding plays Orsino, Andrew Aguecheek and a hilariously observed servant.
So much for the actors to get their teeth into in this play – and not just when Sebastian sinks his into Andrew Aguecheek – the unrequited love, the gender swap, mistaken identity, drunken antics and mischievous plotting. Orsino loves Olivia, but she’s in mourning and is sworn off suitors for seven years, until she sees Cesario -a shipwrecked Viola in disguise - who is Orsino’s new servant. (This Orisino doesn’t just idly muse on whether music is the food of love, he gets up and throws some moves while joyously singing her name, setting the tone from the start and getting the audience’s feet tapping). Meanwhile Sir Toby Belch, would be suitor Sir Andrew Aguecheek and shrewd maid Maria, plan their revenge on the killjoy steward, Malvolio. Some lovely set pieces ensue, beautifully directed by Martin Berry, with just the right amount of slapstick, audience participation and some crafty modern winks to keep all ages hooked. A child of no more than seven at the front of the audience never took her eyes off the action and remained fully engrossed. This production will be seen by hundreds of children on a schools’ tour – what a great introduction to the wonderful world of Shakespeare.
Sitting outside the Playhouse in the garden is a novel experience, the little bit of rain made no difference, it was hats on and keep watching - too good to miss anything. It’s just the right length, the story is satisfactorily told, the characters that have been cut aren’t missed (sorry Feste!) and there is enough of the original text to keep the purists happy. Joshua Goodwin’s music is a joy and the careful sound plot hinges scenes together and gives the actors unobtrusive changing time.
Elizabeth 1 probably got to see this play on Twelfth Night, but you don’t have to wait until then, it’s on in Wellington Circus until Saturday July 29th. Strongly recommended for some early evening entertainment - and if you’re lucky you might even need a sunhat.


School Of Rock
The Mob
The Majestic Theatre Retford
July 16th 2023
This afternoon I was at the Majestic Theatre in Retford, which was my first visit to both the venue and the town. I was thoroughly entertained by the incredibly talented group of youngsters who brought School of Rock to life on stage. The MOB, a group of gifted individuals aged 8-18 from the Retford area, truly showcased their exceptional skills.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical follows the story of Dewey Finn, a rock singer and guitarist who poses as a substitute teacher at an esteemed prep school. Upon discovering the musical talents of his students, Dewey forms a band of fifth graders to compete in the upcoming Battle of the Bands contest.
The stage adaptation, based on the film of the same name, features 14 additional songs penned by Webber himself. The quality of his writing was evident throughout the performance, ranging from outstanding rock tunes to typical musical theatre songs, ballads, dance numbers, and even some operatic pieces.
The cast delivered an outstanding performance, led by the remarkable Cameron Duffy in the role of Dewey Finn. Cameron's singing, dancing, and comedic skills were truly impressive, but he also showcased the character's more vulnerable and tender side. His physical acting abilities were exceptional, as he fearlessly threw himself across the stage. To call him a powerhouse of an actor would be an understatement.
Bethany Bailey, portraying the High School Principal, delivered a memorable performance. Her versatile voice and wide vocal range allowed her to masterfully sing both Webber's ballads and reach operatic heights when necessary. She was a delight to watch, demonstrating great acting prowess. Cameron and Bethany were excellently supported by Joshua Parker as Ned Schmeebly, Mia Todd as Patti and Eliza Wilson as Summer. All three were excellent in their respective roles.
However, what makes this such a sensational show is the young actors who play the school pupils. Their performances were fabulous, leaving a lasting impression on me. They displayed exceptional singing, dancing, and some instrumental skills. Their shared power and energy on stage was great and their infectious enthusiasm was captivating. Furthermore, the fact that most of them were around the right character ages added an authentic touch to their performances. I was thoroughly impressed with the attention to detail in the casting, ensuring that the actors accurately portrayed the ages of their characters.
This was very much an ensemble show featuring over 50 young performers and each of them deserves recognition for their remarkable performances.
The children of Horace Green School, who played their instruments so exceptionally well were, Isaac Braithwaite (Guitar), Darcey Parkins (Drums), Libby Larcombe (Guitar), and Nathan Bailey (Keys).
The rest of the Class of 23, who put their hearts and souls into singing and dancing, were Chloe Veitch, Theodore Smith, Cerys Pritchard, Hermione Footitt, Olly Bonser-Smith, Fraser Duffy, Charlotte Cooper, Gaia Moles, Freya Davies, Isla Merrills, Florence Hyland, Ava Myatt, Chloe Hilditch, Isla Merrills, Mya Grace Hill, Freya Davies, Evie Braithwaite, Jack Cupit, Freya Davies, Finlay Gee, and Harrison Mosley.
The performers portraying teachers and parents were equally talented, with notable performances by Naomi Earl, Charlie Buxton, Isabelle Bowler, Lydia Hamer-Mosley, Louisa Merrion, Jack Hilditch, Daisy Brammall, Jasmine Martin, Eliane Horton, Abigail Veitch, Olivia Nattriss, Toby Cupit, Hermione Hunt, Neve Bowler, Evie Adkin, Victoria Needham, Scarlett Parkin, Abigail Veitch, Charlie Buxton, Bizzy Goldacre, Jack Hilditch, Beth White, Lydia Hamer-Mosley, Naomi Earl, and Louisa Merrion.
I must also mention the opening act of the show, the band, “No Vacancy”, who delivered a fantastic rock number. They were Dionne Roberts (Guitar), Daisy Brammall (Vocals), Charlie Buxton (Bass Guitar), and Jasper Whitworth (Drums).
The set design for this production was relatively simple, yet perfectly suited the show, allowing for seamless and fast-paced action. The props, including school tables and chairs, were skilfully moved by the cast in a choreographed manner that was very impressive. The transitions were smooth and precise, enhancing the overall experience.
The lighting by Gary Kendrick, and the sound by Adam Bright, Dan Baily, and Liam Hicken, were of exceptional quality. Despite the focus on loud rock music, the sound levels were appropriately set, allowing for dynamic performances while maintaining a comfortable listening experience. The show band was also great and did not dominate the performers.
School of Rock was brilliantly directed by Beth White, with musical direction by Pete Lack and choreography by Becca White. This talented team truly brought the production to life in every aspect. The stage crew, under the direction of Richard Concannon, worked seamlessly, executing scene changes so swiftly that they were hardly noticeable.
Carolyn White's costumes were perfectly suited to the characters, accurately reflecting their respective ages.
There were numerous highlights throughout the show, but the escape scene, in particular, was exceptionally well-directed and performed. Despite the large cast, the direction was incredibly tight, ensuring that the stage never felt crowded and everyone knew their roles during the large chorus numbers. The show concluded with a fantastic finale that received a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience, including myself. It was a perfect end to a truly wonderful performance.
School of Rock is now over, unfortunately, but I urge you to remember the name of this talented group, The MOB, and watch out for their future performances. They are truly exceptional!
Their next show, The Wizard of Oz, is scheduled for July 2024, also at The Majestic Theatre in Retford.
Leaving the theatre, I felt uplifted and filled with joy. This production had it all—poignant moments, high-energy performances, and a satisfying conclusion. Congratulations to everyone involved for delivering such a remarkable afternoon at the lovely Majestic Theatre. I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to see these talented performers again in the future.

"Footloose" by Erewash Musical Society Youth Group

Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.

July 8th 2023

Review by permission of Kev Castle

Imagine living in a town that has banned dancing and you’re a teenager. Following a tragic accident, dancing has been outlawed in the town of Bolmont in the USA by Reverand Shaw Moore. Ren McCormack, who has just moved to Bolmont with his mom, feels like a stranger in an even stranger world, and some of the kids, and adults of Bomont make his move to his new home difficult, making him feel unwelcome. But Ren enjoys a good dance, but can he get the kids on his side and change the law laid down by Reverand Moore?

After watching this production, I find myself asking just how high a bar can be raised because the last Youth Group performance I saw a few weeks ago, I said that the bar had been raised; well, it's been raised again! This musical deals with a few adult issues, as well as those that effect the teenagers of Bolmont, but it was like watching an adult's version of the musical, the quality of acting and performance was so mature.

Ren, the rebel, was played magnificently by Joel Dawson. I've seen Joel before so I'm well aware of his confidence when on stage, but the energy and confidence, not to mention his ability to deliver choreography with swagger that did not look staged, and sing like I've not heard him sing like before is gob smackingly good. The falsetto parts of "Almost Paradise" had, I think, been arranged in a lower key so as not to stretch Joel's vocals too far, but he's a young man and there is plenty of time to develop that range even more. A perfect choice for a leading man.

Ariel, who is the Reverand's daughter and Ren's love interest is also perfectly cast in the shape of Bethan Moore. I love Bethan's voice, and with following these young people in shows over the years, you get to see the progression of their talents and their voices, and Bethan's vocals are so controlled and increasing in power with every show.

Reverend Shaw Moore is played by Drew Boswell, and yet again a very mature performance, playing a character quite a bit older than himself. He plays serious roles really well which means that near the end when the character softens, there is a nice light and shade experience. Drew's vocals have also come on from when I saw him perform last and he has got stronger on the vocal front.Vi, the Reverand's wife, is played by Izzy Cole. This is no easy ride playing this role because there is one section where she has to lose it with her husband, and to get that emotion into play isn't easy when the experience needed to bring that anger to the surface and project with feeling, but Izzy really impressed me with this performance. Her voice is lovely and the emotion is highlighted in her solo "Can You Find It In Your Heart"Ariel's best mates, Rusty, Urleen and Wendy-Jo are played by Katie Chamberlain, Gabriella Tilley and Livvi Hickling respectively. These three absolutely nailed the accent. They are like a visible Greek chorus supporting their best friend Ariel, and when their vocals blend, they sound almost heavenly.

Ethel, Ren's mother, is played with admirable sympathy for the situation that she has landed herself and her son in, by Sky Stacey. Playing a character quite a bit older than your own age calls for certain skills; the way you move, the way you talk and the way that you hold yourself on stage, and Sky has obviously taken in everything she has collected for this part, and given out a mature and maternal character performance.

Chuck is Ariel's boyfriend when we first meet him, but he's a bully and soon gets very jealous when he sees the attention that Ren is paying to Ariel. Chuck is played by Evan Hagan. The typical "bully" character is not known for his singing or dancing abilities but Evan delivered some very good footwork and his voice has a lovely rasp to it and is powerful. I can see Evan in something like "We Will Rock You" with his vocal technique.Willard, the "bumpkin" character is played by one of my favourite young actors - I know I shouldn't really have favourites and be unbiased - James O'Boyle. James is another one that I've seen mature on stage. He has funny bones and coming across as naturally funny is perfect for this comedic role. One of my favourite songs from this show is "Mama Said", which Willard has to sing, and to get all the comic timings for this song spot on is important, and James did. Willard can't do "it", and by "it" he means dance. One of the scenes involves Ren teaching Willard to dance. Now I know that James can dance and it is harder to do something badly when you can do it well isn't that easy. Just look at Les Dawson's piano playing for instance, Les was an expert pianist and to play incorrectly when you are good at what you do is hard. James made this scene funny.

Coach Dunbar, a nasty piece of work, is played by Toby Wykes. Although only a lesser role, the dominance we see via Toby makes the character a memorable one.Cowboy Bob, the saloon singer is played by Harry O'Boyle, again a young actor I've had the pleasure of seeing grow on stage. What I liked about this performance is that we really got to hear Harry sing solo, which hopefully we'll see more of in future productions.

Jeter is played by Elis Moore. Now I have seen Elis before but in this production, he really shone for me. There is always one or two young actors who catch your eye for whatever reason, and tonight Elis did that. What I noticed was the energy he injected into his role, the facial expressions when dancing and the obvious love for the choreography. He is a natural actor and managed to show off his ability to be comical, especially as one of the backing singers in "Mama Said" and as the cop who accosted Ren. Elis' star is on the rise and I don't think it'll be too long before we see a leading man come forth from him. I just love the vibe he gives out.

I love it when there's a large ensemble of named characters because it gives everyone a chance to shine. they are Rosey Malins (Bickie), Eleanor Cooper (Garvin), Eloise Chamberlain (Lori), Yasmin Aldous (Lyle), Sophie Forman (Travis), Jessie Gatehouse (Lulu), Kai Hagan (Wes), Lauren Hazeldine (Eleanor), Lowri Moore (Principal Clark), Grace Sims (Betty Blast - what a great character name by the way), Martha Smart (Susan), Jessie Jerram (Kristy and last but by no means least, Blake Hagan (Rick).

Directed by Chris Renshaw, he has given us a great fun show with some moral messages intact. This show is packed to the ceiling with energy, in fact I think the roof may be loose with the amount of energy given off on stage tonight. It's fast, it's fun and every one on stage looked like they were loving it to bits, well almost as much as the packed-out theatre audience were.

Choreographed by Hayden Fletcher, one of my favourite choreographers. I know how hard working and how much fun he is to be around and when you can get a cast to soak up the choreography with as much energy as they put in to their performance on stage, and show that they are enjoying the choreography, it doesn't seem like hard work. Hayden asks a lot from his cast and they return it, it's so obvious just by watching them. I must not forget to also mention that Abigail Lagou was the Assistant Choreographer.

The Set Design is simple but effective for what is needed and when backed with a video design for the railway and church interior scenes, you don't have to use any imagination to get all that you need from the individual scenes and settings.

The soundtrack features some great songs like “Let’s Hear It For The Boy”, “The Girl Gets Around”, “Somebody’s Eyes”, the gorgeous “Almost Paradise”, “Holding Out For A Hero” and of course the boot scootin’ title track. Every one under the expert guidance of Musical Director George Parkinson. What I especially noticed was his control of the volume of the band. there were a few sound issues - which I will come to shortly, but George obviously noticed and toned the band down a touch to make sure that we could hear the vocals from on stage. Great sounding band as well.

Lighting is by Richard Chamberlain, and an exciting and vibrant design adding that extra sheen to the show.Sound is by Dave Dallard and Jack Clark. You know that I am all over it if mics are not working or cues missed, well it became obvious in Act One that something was not right in this department. I discovered in the interval that there were technical issues, something that no one, even the most skilled sound person could have foreseen. The actors on stage must have realised something was not right but they carried on and projected. Act two after the interval saw everything sorted out and corrected. It was a technical issue but the speed that this was remedied deserves a big old pat on the back of the sound team.

Brilliant costumes all round, all sourced by EMUS Committee, friends and family.And finally, would this show have been as slick as it was without the co-ordination of the Stage Manager, Mark Robbins and his crew.

This was another show that I knew at the end of the first act that I'd be on my feet at the final bows, and I kept that promise to myself, after which we all treated to that magnificent Footloose Megamix. What a way to start the weekend!


The Bodyguard

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

July 3rd 2023

This National Tour of this highly acclaimed musical features an exceptional cast, with Pussycat Doll and multi-platinum Grammy-nominated artist Melody Thornton portraying the lead role of Rachel Marron, and Ayden Callaghan from Emmerdale and Hollyoaks as Frank Farmer.

Based on the beloved 1992 film starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, The Bodyguard musical follows the story of Rachel Marron, a renowned pop singer, and Frank Farmer, her dedicated bodyguard. When Rachel becomes the target of death threats from an unknown stalker, her management hires Frank, a former Secret Service agent, to protect her. Initially, Rachel resists having a bodyguard and clashes with Frank over his stringent security measures. However, as they spend more time together, a romantic relationship begins to blossom.

The musical delves into the complex dynamics between Rachel and Frank, exploring themes of love, trust, and personal sacrifice. The captivating plot is intertwined with Whitney Houston's iconic songs, including "I Will Always Love You," "I Have Nothing," and "Greatest Love of All," masterfully performed by the talented cast.

The show includes moments of suspense combined with powerful musical performances, bringing Whitney Houston's timeless hits to life on stage. Melody Thornton delivers a standout performance as Rachel Marron, showcasing her powerful vocals that do justice to the demanding songs. While her voice may have a higher range than Whitney Houston or Alexandra Burke, who previously played the role, Thornton handles the songs well. She also brings Rachel's character to life through her excellent acting.

Ayden Callaghan delivers a commendable portrayal of Frank Farmer, effectively complementing Thornton's performance as Rachel. He has strong acting skills and the ability to embody the character well.

Emily Mae shines in the role of Rachel's sister, delivering a fabulous rendition of "Saving All My Love for You" that was simply stunning.

The principal line-up features excellent performers, including John Macaulay as Bill Devaney, Graham Elwell as Tony, James Groom as Sy Spector, Marios Nicolaides as the Stalker, and Phil Atkinson as Ray Court. The role of Rachel’s young son Fletcher was played tonight by Ryo Appadu in Act 1 and Manasseh Mapira in Act 2, both showing their exceptional singing and dancing.

The ensemble cast, comprising Alexandros Beshonges, James Lee Harris, Kayne Gordon, Jack Hardwick, Kalisha Johnson, Kellie Rhianne, Abbie Quinnen, Charlotte Scally, Emma Jane Smith, Yiota Theo, Marco Venturini, and local performer Liam Morris (ex of Long Eaton’s Young Performers), impresses with their talent and dedication. The high-energy dance routines throughout the show, coupled with excellent choreography, add to the overall experience.

I was very pleased to say that the sound balance between the performers and the excellent orchestra was just right which was not the case when I saw the show previously at this theatre. The set and lighting are also very effectively used to tell the story.

While the reaction of the majority of the audience indicates a favourable reception of the show, I personally found it somewhat lacking in cohesion, although I enjoyed many of the songs. The show leans heavily on the strength of the musical numbers rather than a well-developed story. It attempts to blend elements of a musical, a concert, and a thriller, but the blending of these components is not seamless enough in my opinion.

However, I recognize that this is a subjective view, and I encourage others to see the show and make up their own minds. Fans of the film will most likely enjoy this stage adaptation as well.

I have to say that there is a great finale that includes more impressive dancing and a chance for the audience to join in with the songs. I am glad to say that an announcement was made at the start of the show asking people not to join in during the performance.


The Pirates of Penzance

LEOS Youth Group

Duchess Theatre

June 28th 2023

You know you’ve had a good night at the theatre when you come out grinning from ear to ear, humming some great tunes and full of admiration for the performances you’ve just seen. Well, that’s how it was tonight at the Duchess Theatre, following this wonderfully energetic, heartwarming and gloriously funny production from LEOS Youth Group. What a talented bunch of young performers - who have thrown every ounce of enthusiasm and tons of hard work into achieving a really polished production. The direction and choreography by Siobahn Parker and Claire Collishaw are some of the best I have seen, from the set piece dances and the skilful and imaginative arrangement of chorus scenes, to some visionary direction which has brought out the very best in every character.

The Pirates of Penzance JR. begins on the rocky coast of Cornwall, with a group of pirates who are celebrating the birthday of the dashing Frederic, who has reached his 21st year. Having served the length of his required time with the pirates, he decides to strike off on his own and become an upstanding citizen – which may even mean bringing the pirates to justice. This turns out to be a tricky prospect indeed, especially when Frederic's freedom is called into question!

Though the story line of the full length version is unaltered, some songs have been cut down and some eliminated, but none of the fun, frolics and foot tapping that makes Gilbert & Sullivan so enjoyable are lost. Seeing these young people take on an operetta that is over 140 years old and giving no quarter to modernism – this is a sumptuously costumed period piece – is really quite touching.

Frazer Brown plays Frederic with an impressive and good natured confidence that is highly entertaining. It’s not an easy role, there are some challenging vocals throughout this piece, but Findlay is at home on the stage. His facial expressions are a joy, but like the rest of the cast he never overdoes it. There’s a fine line between enjoying a role and getting all the humour out of it and going over the top, breaking the fourth wall. These young performers have been well trained in maintaining that line and every single one of them stays resolutely in character. Well done to them and their mentors.

Another very entertaining character is the delightfully foppish Pirate King, played with enormous presence by Findlay Parker. Findlay obviously loves playing this character and makes the most of it, getting his timing, his swagger, his facial expressions and his vocals spot on. One feels once he got in that impressive outfit, complete with cocked hat, waistcoat, frills, beard and boots he was away, ready to shine. Well done to the team who worked so hard to get all of the splendid costumes just right!

A perfect foil for a permanently perplexed Pirate King is the sensible Samuel, played beautifully by Ivan Hagar. Another example of careful character study and attention to body language and delivery. The rest of the pirates show this too – watch any of them and you see lovely little bits of reaction and character acting. No corpsing here, they are 100% focused on their performances. They are Charlotte Case, Gracie Foster, Nefeli Fryganioti, Daisy Marsh, Elizabeth Rippin, Gabe Scott, Niamh Syson, Flori Tasker, Tom Lightbrown, Quillen Parker and Francesca Squires.

Ruth is Frederic’s erstwhile nursemaid, honorary pirate and would be 47 year old lover, not a job description a young performer might relish taking on. But Grace Collishaw does exactly that – she relishes the humour in this role and absolutely delights the audience. She gets to show off not just her acting talent but her lovely voice in both solos and duets, plus a hilarious three hander with Frederic and the Pirate King, the wonderful ‘When you had left our Pirate Fold’. All three should be proud of their delivery of this.

Evie Radmore makes a lovely Mabel - Frederic’s love interest - and has a lovely voice which I hope we will be hearing more of in the future. Along with her sisters she is the perfect epitome of the innocent Victorian maid (or what Gilbert & Sullivan liked to parody), but many of their scenes are full of humour. The director puts a little bit of her magic into the scene where the maidens first encounter Frederic, their flustered shuffling is so appropriate and amusing. The sisters are played by Holly Chambers, Lucy Coulson-Jones, Emily Dexter, Lucy Gordon, Niamh Lee, Alice Whitaker, Maddison Woodland, Jess Peel, Chloe Cresswell and Kate Whitaker, plus Roisin Parker (Edith), Grace Agius (Kate) and Holly Brooks (Isabel) get to show off their lovely voices individually too, in a couple of delightful songs.

Stevie Kirkham is the very model of a modern Major General – another daunting task to take on, portraying a fusty old military man and having to perform a well loved but devilishly difficult patter song to boot! Stevie does magnificently and thoroughly convinces, his ‘I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major-General’ solo is a triumph. Much credit for these lovely vocal performances, which are not easy for young performers, must go to the Musical Director, Amelie Turner. She has fine tuned the solo performances and duets and got enormous gusto out of the chorus numbers; these young performers have been taught to perform a song, not just sing it. Very well done.

More of the director’s magic is seen in the second act when the rather unprepared and very apprehensive police force take on the pirates, led by their splendid sergeant, played captivatingly by Bella Syson. These are some of the funniest scenes in the piece, accompanied by the musical gems ‘Tarantara’ and “With Cat-Like Tread, Upon Our Prey We Steal’. Bella and the gang (Tom Lightbrown, Quillen Parker, Francesca Squires, Jess Peel, Chloe Cresswell & Kate Whitaker) are hilarious, employing some lovely individual quirks and great physical comedy. All through this production the humorous pace is maintained, there is literally not a moment throughout the 75 minutes when there is not something to keep the audience thoroughly entertained.

All of this is enhanced by a lovely set, a projected backdrop of the Cornish coastline, plus the creation of some versatile stone walling and other incidental scenery by Roydon Charlesworth and Katie Bird. Sound by Dave Dallard and Jack Clarke and lighting by Dave Martin do an effective job at keeping the attention in the right place.

What a pity that the glorious tunes, endearingly silly characters and wry humour of Gilbert & Sullivan aren’t performed more often these days. LEOS Youth Group have gone some way to redress this, absolutely delighted their audience and really done themselves proud.


Strictly Ballroom The Musical

Theatre Royal Nottingham

June 19th 2023

Tonight it was time to feel fab-u-lous at Strictly Ballroom, Theatre Royal Nottingham. This musical tells the beguiling story of Scott Hastings, a talented, arrogant and rebellious young ballroom dancer. When Scott’s radical dance moves see him fall out of favour with the Australian Federation, he finds himself dancing with Fran, a beginner with no moves at all. Inspired by one another, this unlikely pair gather the courage to defy both convention and their families – and discover that, to be winners, the steps don’t need to be strictly ballroom.

This production has it all. Glitz, glamour and just the right level of cheesiness without being too silly. It is humorous throughout but there are also some real heartwarming moments as the relationship between Scott and Fran develops. It is also a little cheeky and be aware of some colourful language in places.

The production features some iconic well known songs including Time After Time and Love Is In The Air alongside some written specifically for the show. However, as you would expect, the stand out part of this production is, without doubt, the dancing. Expertly choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood and Jason Gilkison each number is delivered with such energy and passion you cannot not fail to be memorised by it. The paso doble in the final act of part one is simply phenomenal and led flawlessly by Jose Agudo.

Kevin Clifton plays Scott Hastings. His dancing as you would expect is exceptional but his acting and vocals were also incredible. Faye Brookes plays Fran. Her vocals are magnificent and the perfect complement to Kevin Clifton. The pair work seamlessly together with a sizzling onstage chemistry.

The rest of the cast of includes: Nikki Belsher (Shirley Hastings); Mark Sangster (Doug Hastings); Kieran Cooper (Barry Fife); Quinn Patrick (Les Kendall); Oliver Brooks (JJ Silvers); Jose Agudo (Rico); Karen Mann (Abuela); Agnes Pure (Liz); Edwin Ray (Ken); Jessica Vaux (Charm); Danielle Cato (Tina Sparkle); Stylianos Thomadakis (Wayne); Maddy Ambus (Vanessa); Adam Davidson (Nathan) and Poppy Blackledge (Pam). The ensemble features Liv Alexander, Stuart Rouse, Hollie Jane Stephens and Michelle Buckley.

You do not need to be a fan of ballroom dancing to enjoy this production. It is fun, flamboyant and fabulous from start to finish and I promise you will enjoy every toe tapping moment. It's a 10 from me.


Frozen Junior

The Young Performers

The Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton

June 14th 2023

Over the years I have seen many excellent productions from the Young Performers, and tonight's Junior version of the Disney Classic is another. The young performers certainly deserve considerable praise for their excellent work.

The show is a delight to watch. It is evident that the cast members derive as much enjoyment from the performance as the audience do – smiles all round. It provides an excellent opportunity for a youth cast to shine and to delight an audience; the rendition of the classic song "Let It Go" is still resonating in my mind.

There are many other very attractive songs which come thick and fast through the show including: “A Little Bit of You,” “Love is an open door,” In Summer’” and “Colder by the Minute.” Toe tapping Disney tunes that touch the heart.

For those who, like me, have not seen this show before the story revolves around the courageous Princess Anna who joins forces with the mountaineer Kristoff and his trusty reindeer. They embark on a quest to find her sister, Snow Queen Elsa, with a mission to break Elsa's icy spell, which has plunged their kingdom into an eternal winter. On their journey, they meet mystical trolls, a lovable and comedic snowman, a large reindeer plus enchantment at every turn. Despite these obstacles, Anna and Kristoff exhibit unwavering bravery as they race against time to save their kingdom from the grip of winter. By the end there is a strong message about the importance of sisterhood and family.

Both Ella Charlesworth as Anna and Heidi Parsons as Elsa give outstanding performances, displaying exceptional singing and acting skills while fully embodying their characters. I loved their enchanting duet “For the First Time in Forever.”

Finn Boswell shines in the role of Kristoff. He is a very natural actor who knows how to bring a character to life convincingly.

Millie Weston is a very amusing snowman and Dillan Brookes as Sven the reindeer captivated the audience. Their skills not only as actors but as puppeteers are very well honed and were much appreciated by the audience.

The younger versions of Anna and Elsa played by Olivia Monk, Hattie McEwan, Olivia McEwan and Sophie Longcroft are charming and I particularly enjoyed their song “"Do You Want to Build a Snowman?"

The cast also features Lewis McDowell as Hans, Em McEwan as Bishop, Emily Wilkins as Bulda, William Mellor as King Agnarr, Summer McNorton as Queen Iduna, Lucy Coulson Jones as Oaken. Additionally, James Pedrick portrayed Pabbie, and Alex Povey portrayed Weselton. They were all excellent.

They are supported by an excellent ensemble of talented performers many of whom were part of an excellent dancing group. They are Keeley Rickerby, Remi Read, Livy Read, Clarissa Armitage, Carly Gaunt, Izzy Pickering, A J Chamberlain, Erin Gell, Isobella Frampton, Jess Henshaw, Violet Graney, Emily-Mae Taylor, Avaani Babra, Fin Tomlinson and Neve Johnson.

Using a very attractive and effective set by Roydon Charlesworth and Fiona McDowall, Director Zak Charlesworth and Assistant Directors, Ellie Simmonds and Neve Saxton plus acting coach Patricia Freer, have allowed their talented cast to shine. Vicky Byrne’s choreography is clever, fun, original and well executed. The costumes by Sarah Charlesworth and Utopia Costumes are lovely to look at.

Scene changes are impressive which moves the show on at a fast pace.

The production is enhanced by a dramatic and emotive lighting Design by Dave Martin with sound by Harvey Tavener.

Overall, this is a production in which all involved should be very proud.


The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Theatre Royal Nottingham,

Nottingham 6th June 2023

Tonight, I had the pleasure of going to see The Ocean at the End of the Lane and wow, what a fantastic experience it was! This critically acclaimed adaptation was described as a thrilling adventure of fantasy, myth and friendship blended with magic and memory and it certainly lived up to that!

The protagonist of the show is ‘Boy’ who, on the day of his twelfth birthday, meets the quirky but affable Lottie Hempstock, who warmly welcomes him into her home, Hempstock Farm. Here Boy quickly finds himself embroiled with Lottie on a magical and trepidatious adventure where not everything or everyone is quite as they seem. Together, they battle dark and unworldly forces that are threatening to destroy their world and everything they love.

The play is mesmerising from start to finish; striking staging, ambient lighting and impressive scenery together with loud, intense sound effects all combine to completely immerse you into Boy and Lottie’s world. Magical moments are executed perfectly, leaving the audience considering the possibility that maybe supernatural forces are actually at work! Impressive costumes and props give a real gravitas to the production, with the use of puppetry in Act 2 adding another dimension.

The show has real presence, although dark and frightening in places it is also funny, engaging, thrilling and heart warming. However, younger audience members may become scared at times and for that reason, I would recommend you observe the age rating of 12+.

The villain of the piece is Ursula/Skarthach, expertly portrayed by the talented Charlie Brooks. The malevolence of her character was palpable and in places she was quite simply terrifying! Keir Oglivy played Boy, together with Trevor Fox as Dad and Laurie Ogden as Sis. Millie Hikasa played Lottie Hempstock, with Kemi-Bo Jacobs and Ginnie Hempstock and Finty Williams as Old Mrs Hemstock. All are incredibly skilled and a joy to watch. A talented group of performers make up the ensemble including Emma-Jane Goodwin, Paolo Guidi, Lewis Howard, Jasmeen James, Ronnie Lee, Aimee McGoldrick, Domonic Ramsden, Joe Rawlinson-Hunt and Rishi Silvera.

The show ended tonight with a unanimous and thoroughly deserved standing ovation. It runs until Saturday 17th June 2023 and I would urge you to go and see it if you can. I promise, you will not be disappointed and you might just find yourself believing in the magic and mayhem of another world.


Ladies’ Day

The Watson Players

Shakespeare House

June 6th 2023

What a great venue for this sparkling and highly entertaining comedy by Amanda Whittington, about four Hull fish factory workers, Pearl, Jan, Shelley and Linda, who ditch the drear for a day at the races – Royal Ascot, the year it came to York.

Director Liz Woolley invites us to sit alongside these four fabulous women as they have a whale of a time, drinking, flirting and having a flutter that might just change their lives forever. The intimacy of the small theatre (60 seats) creates a connection between the cast and the audience that leads to total absorption. We’re there with them, we’re eager to eavesdrop and get to know more about them as their lives, loves and secrets are revealed. As the characters describe their surroundings, gazing so convincingly into the distance beyond the fence, we can picture the royal procession, feel the thrill of the racing and imagine the absurdity of the big hats.

It takes skill and a whole heap of confidence to perform so close to an audience (especially without a prompt!), but these actors have that in spades and have obviously worked extremely hard with Liz to perfect their splendid characterisations and fluency. Any dropped lines (were there any?) could be disguised by improvisation, because these actors know their characters so well, they know exactly what they would say. They are having a ball playing these well crafted roles and can add a few amusing ad libs, which only enhance the script. Bravo!

A beautifully choreographed and foot tapping transformation scene sees our ladies discard their quilted gilets (it’s cold in fish packing), ditch their boots and hairnets and emerge as gorgeously glamorous butterflies, ready to hit the races to celebrate Pearl’s early retirement. It’s distinctly fishy how they acquire tickets, but it’s Pearl’s ‘rainy day money’ that buys the champagne and pays for the accumulator, horses chosen because of their connection to the songs of Linda’s adored Tony Christie. Can they all win?

Pearl, played by the beautifully coiffured and perfectly made up Regina Repton, is the slightly bossy but warm hearted mother of four children, long time wife and caravan owner. But there’s more to Pearl than meets the eye and she’s not ashamed of it either, even when it shocks her best friend to the core. A lovely performance from Regina with characterisation that is absolutely spot on. By the end of the play we know Pearl, we like her and we wish her well.

Best friend Jan is played by Angela Swift with just the right amount of fussy diffidence – anxiety born from years as a single mother with no time for herself and only slowly finding the confidence to express what she really wants. Amanda Whittington’s clever writing gives all four of the main actors a special chance to shine and Angela grabs her moment with both hands – she’s one of the most realistic drunks I’ve ever seen! Having perfected the lack of diction (lovely tongue lolling) she staggers around in a thoroughly convincing way. Well done to direction and props for filling that champagne bottle by the way – the bubbles in the glasses looked most appealing!

Some of the writing is reminiscent of Victoria Wood’s brilliant ‘Dinnerladies’ and the character of Linda, played by Ciara Beighton reminded me of Anita - not very bright (idioms and word play are lost on her) and touchingly naïve. Ciara gives this character all the sweet seriousness she needs, no chance to play for laughs, but making the most of the humour in her innocence and the pathos in her home life, truly getting the audience to root for her when she’s given a chance to find happiness.

Shelley, played by Jessica Baird-Swinburn, is a broadly comic character, outrageous, outspoken, afraid of nothing and no-one - and hilarious. Jessica gets every ounce of humour out of the character, superb delivery of the lines (while, like all of them maintaining a convincing Northern accent), and some wonderful body language and facial expressions. Shelley isn’t quite as confident, as flirty or as happy as she seems and Jessica is also able to drop the brittle act and find the nuance to express bitter reality when required.

Six male parts are played by five actors, Jack Woolley gives lovely cameos as a spivvy ticket tout and a sad, drunken punter, James Ash plays Joe, the kindly fish factory foreman and Ed Watkins sensitively plays Barry, a friend of Pearl. Dave O’Neal is Jim, the rather too smooth talking racing commentator who jumps at the chance to take Shelley for a ride. Some tricky racing terms which Dave manages with ease; a lovely character performance.

Jockey Patrick is played engagingly by Ryan Barber in a short scene that fair gallops along and was hugely appreciated by the audience. Ryan establishes the character quickly and easily with a lovely Irish lilt and a warmth towards Linda that leaves everyone smiling.

The whole play leaves everyone smiling – it’s engaging, amusing and entertaining and has a feel-good ending. The quality of the performances from the Watson Players, plus attention to detail (the fish packing is convincing - loved the chink of the ice - the Royal Ascot aprons on the waiting staff, the rose bushes, the very realistic sound effects and the sympathetic lighting, even the beautifully produced programme), add up to a great production. Amanda Whittington reads all applications for licences to perform her play - she likes to know where her ladies are appearing - and I’m sure she would feel that this production has more than done her writing justice.

It's sold out, but watch out for more productions at this great little theatre and also for the two sequels to ‘Ladies’ Day’, ‘Ladies Down Under’ & ‘Ladies Unleashed’. If they are as well written and well performed as this, they will be worth a punt.


Kinky Boots

Carlton Operatic Society

Theatre Royal Nottingham

May 30th 2023

There’s plenty afoot at the Theatre Royal this week, including ‘two and a half feet of tubular irresistible sex’ – the kinky red boots of the title. “Red is for sex!” exclaims Lola, the irresistible drag queen at the centre of the story, a musical version of real-life events. Carlton Operatic bring their usual magic to the stage, giving us a fun filled song and dance extravaganza packed with strong messages about promoting tolerance, fostering understanding and finding acceptance.

A 1999 BBC documentary outlined the struggles of a family-run shoe factory in Northamptonshire, who turned things around by making fetish footwear for men.This led to a fictional version – the 2005 film Kinky Boots, which in turn inspired the Broadway stage musical, premiering in Chicago in 2012, with new music and lyrics by Cindi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein.

Charlie Price has taken over the family shoe business from his deceased father, only to find it on its uppers. Pressure from his fiancée Nicola sees him determined to hot foot it to London, rather than follow in his father’s footsteps, yet loyalty to the decades old business and a workforce that depends on him draws him back. A chance meeting with Lola, the glamorous night club entertainer gives him a brilliant idea: could they create a profitable niche market for steel reinforced high heeled boots, much needed footwear for drag queens? The partnership that follows sees Charlie grow in confidence, ditch a whole load of prejudices and stagger triumphantly to the catwalk in Milan. It’s heart-warming stuff, with foot tapping tunes, great dance numbers and fabulous costumes, plus an entertaining story to boot.

Mark Coffey-Bainbridge plays Charlie Price with charm and effortless ease, as an ordinary chap forced to re-evaluate his life and his beliefs and find a strength he didn’t know he possessed. Mark is thoroughly natural and convincing in this role and absolutely wows with his strong vocals. ‘Not My Father’s Son’ with Lola is beautifully delivered, there’s real depth of feeling in ‘Charlie’s Sad Soliloquy’ and ‘Soul of a Man’, not easy songs to perform, but Mark packs them with emotion; worth seeing this show for those alone.

Charlie’s fiancée, Nicola is played by Lizzie Fenner with just the right amount of brittle glamour; everything she says is perfectly logical and only a fool would disagree with the lifestyle choices she promotes… Lizzie believes in this unsympathetic character and makes her interesting and completely credible. I would like to see her in a drama, as she clearly has a talent for characterisation.

Another one who nails the character is Cathy Hyde as Lauren, the skilled factory worker who has a crush on Charlie and makes no bones about it. Cathy has great fun with the character with an earthy delivery of lines, a fabulous solo, and using every bit of body language to convey to the audience how she is feeling. Even in the Dress Circle we could see her facial expressions and appreciate her physicality and knockabout humour. A lovely performance.

Lovely performances abound, none more so than glorious Lola, played by Steffi Moore. Again, strong physicality (the director and this cast have really worked hard on body language) alongside strength of personality which has been hard won by this character. Lola began life as ‘Simon from Clacton’ – who found it hard to say ‘Hello’ – it’s only in drag that the real person emerges. She swaggers and sashays across the stage, accountable to no-one but herself, making us laugh and making us think - especially when she puts the feelings of others above her own. Plenty of passion and humour in the songs too, an entertaining portrayal of a complex character.

There is so much action on this stage: director Rachel Rees has gone for an almost filmic pace, scenes change very quickly, there’s some slow motion and the skilled lighting (Tom Mowat) takes us easily from Northampton factory floor to a London bar, to a flat, to a nightclub and back again. It’s a super set, a beautiful evocation of a Victorian factory façade complete with luminous stained glass windows, which slides to reveal a busy working environment. The director has kept everybody very busy indeed, plenty of machine and conveyor belt action, movement up and down the stairs to the office and loads of convincing props. Plus those boots of course, which aren’t just props, they actually have to be worn!

The dance numbers by choreographer Kristian Cunningham see those boots put into action and wow, do the cast work hard, some spectacular pieces both on the factory floor and in the more glamorous surroundings of the night club. The fabulous Lola’s Angels provide a lot of the choreographed movement and it’s worth listing their names: if you appreciate puns you’ll love them. They are Paige Turner (David Page) Ella Gance (Connor Gough) Izzy Straight (Louis Barnes-Cupit), Mannie Quinn (Mannie Gregg),Polly Amore (Mason Hart), and Uma Backhurts (Sam Turpin). What a talented bunch.

More talent in the big chorus of factory workers, lots of little vocal cameos that they make the most of and it’s clear everyone on that stage is working their socks off to make this a good show. They are Pat (Laura Ellis), Hilda (Rebekah Daley), Melanie (Daniella Anderson), Marge (Hannah Cupitt), Brenda (Celine McKeown), Daisy(Helen Tunnicliff), Jeannie (Poppy Cook), Kim (Eva Sheppard), Florence (Beth Wear), Kelly (Wendy Austin-Boulton), Pete (Elliot Deakin), Trish (Claire Collishaw), Sandra (Ella Greenwood), Tanya (Laura Thurman), Eunice Cobbs (Sarah Hill), Audrey (Kellie Lucken), Bernie (Patrick McChrystal), who also plays Harry, a fellow shoe manufacturer; James Ellison plays Richard Bailey, the property developer.

The foreman of the factory workers, George, gives Bara Erhayiem a lovely accented part to get his teeth into (hard to believe I last saw him playing Pinocchio in Shrek) and he brings warmth and character conviction to the role.

Prejudice is personified in the character of Don (Cliff Hart), who despises Lola, as he has strong views on masculinity - which are challenged and changed when she proves to be a worthy opponent in a way he didn’t expect. A thoroughly convincing character portrayal from Cliff. Well done also to James Breen and Jacob Jacques-Phillips who play the young Charlie and Lola and open the show with the lovely catchy song The Most Beautiful Thing in The World. Carlton Operatic must be rubbing their hands in glee that they have these talented young performers waiting in the wings for shows in the years to come. This engaging opening scene also sees Adam Collishaw as Mr Price Snr and Ray McLeod as Simon Snr.

We all know that Cindi Lauper just wants to have fun and she’s certainly done that with the music and lyrics in this show, it fair bursts with melody, from the big chorus numbers to the intimacy of the heartfelt duets and soul searching solos. No wonder it won six Tony Awards, including best musical and original score for Lauper in her Broadway debut. Musical director Christopher Rees produces a lovely sound from both the cast and the nine-piece orchestra and Rob Kettridge’s sound design balances it all beautifully.

Well, these boots aren’t made for walking, they’re made for strutting your stuff, being proud of who you are, putting your stamp on the world and marching towards progress. So don’t miss them, put on a pair of comfy shoes and get down to the Theatre Royal.


Julius Caesar


Theatre Royal Nottingham

May 23rd 2023

All is not well in Rome, as some members of the senate become uneasy at the popularity of Julius Caesar, a charismatic and successful general who is adored by the proletariat – the common people. Brutus is concerned that the republic will be threatened if one person becomes too powerful and Cassius, whose motives are less honourable, feeds these fears. Brutus becomes convinced that Caesar must die to save the republic and a dastardly plot is hatched…

Atri Banerjee’s production is not set in Ancient Rome, but a Rome that could be anywhere, any state beset by political unrest and murmurings of disquiet that an all powerful leader could threaten democracy. And yet this is a place in thrall to supernatural forces, where a soothsayer foretells danger, storm clouds gather, lions roam the streets, a slaughtered ox has no heart and chilling omens abound. Fate seems to rule.

The play opens with a thrilling modern dance with an incessant beat that sets the mood of the visceral, dark and intense action that follows. The cast stomp and march and even howl – this is the Festival of Lupercal which must be paid due homage. The set is a simple cube that rotates to reveal various vague places, Brutus’ house, the senate, and in the second act a graffitied street scene with a steel staircase that doubles as the resting place of the dead. Projections on one side of the cube suggest the oppressive weather, an eclipse, the stained dead body of Caesar bestrewn with lilies. Modern and very casual dress places it in contemporary times - a fellow theatre goer asked ‘where are the togas?’ – but they’re not needed here and neither are the male actors who usually play Brutus and Cassius.

This is a state led mostly by youthful politicians who probably have ideals similar to those championed by today’s modern protesters such as Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil. In fact the latter seems clearly referenced, as Julius Caesar is murdered in a stylised ritual by hands that leave not bloodstains, but the smears of a black, oil like substance. The questions seem to be ‘How far do you go to ensure the common good?’, ‘Can the sacrifice of an individual be justified?’, and most presciently, ‘If you remove the present leader will the alternative be worse?’ Questions of monarchy versus republicanism and modern comforts versus the future of the planet.

Brutus, played absolutely brilliantly by Thalissa Teixeira Is one of those youthful idealists, well respected in the state, sure of her own integrity and slightly uneasy that Caesar seems to be regarded as almost God like by the masses. It’s only when Cassius (another perfectly pitched and beautifully nuanced performance by Annabelle Baldwin) plants the suggestion that the republic and the democratic process is threatened, that she begins to believe that direct, destructive action is required and justified.

Both of these young actors have full command of the text and dialogue, so exciting and gratifying to see, as recent visits to Stratford have sometimes been disappointing - poor diction, no projection and mangled verse. Not here, the director and all of the cast have worked hard to bring meaning and passion to the delivery, every word is clear and easily understood. It matters not a jot that these male roles are not played by cis men (although referring to them as men while using female pronouns jars a little), as these actors simply become Brutus and Cassuis; they are captivating and thoroughly convincing.

Mark Anthony, Caesar’s young friend and ally, played by William Robinson, is not the grandiloquent statesman of traditional productions and his famous ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech is not delivered in the usual style of high oratory, (not one for the iambic pentameter purists this), but rather by an impassioned young man reminiscent of an angry Greta Thunberg. He loses his temper while delivering Caesar’s eulogy and gradually reveals through an increasingly sarcastic tone, that while recognising that most honourable of men, Brutus, he must also point out that Caesar was a brilliant leader who really cared about the people – and the people should make of that what they will. The splendid Soothsayer, played in red trackies and a t-shirt by Niamh Finlay, uses an Irish brogue to good effect, not just delivering matter of fact prophesies, but also responding to Anthony as members of the restless crowd, slowly being swayed by his rhetoric.

Julius Caesar, played by Nigel Barrett, is much reduced from the powerful, ruthless general who swept Rome to victory, here he is a rather benign, avuncular figure, who wouldn’t be out of place in a school staffroom. Strange choice, but perhaps showing that anybody in the right place at the right time with a determined streak can rise to be the leader of a movement. And it’s only their supporters who keep them there.

Caesar’s death is accompanied by the rather strange conceit of a digital clock that stops for two minutes and suspends the action; not sure why, possibly to suggest that this momentous moment will change the course of history. It’s all rather beautifully done though, as are all the stylised actions and mimes in this piece. For the squeamish (who have been known to close their eyes during the usual very bloody parts), it’s fine to see it expressed through visual metaphors and imagine the rest!

Mark Anthony and Octavius, Caesar’s adopted son and heir, form an alliance to topple the conspirators and civil war ensues. It’s rather glossed over in the short second half, but the pared down action is engaging enough, including a beautiful scene where a beleaguered Brutus lets her hair down and plays her ‘instrument’ (a CD player), then dances with Caesar’s ghost. Caesar may have been eliminated, but his influence extends from beyond the grave.

Lots of fine performances to enjoy here, from those already mentioned to some lovely character acting from Nadi Kemp-Sayfi as Octavius (mildly amused and rather pleased at the havoc Marc Anthony’s unleashed ‘dogs of war’ have caused), Gina Isaac as Decius Brutus (a pleasure to listen to) and Matthew Bulgo as the calculating stirrer, Casca.

Pleasing to see the RSC’s outreach into communities has continued in this production, as six influential local women, including the new Sheriff of Nottingham, Shuguftah Quddoos, were invited to form a community chorus of onlookers, perhaps representing local Romans who could help to effect social change. The hope is that the experience and learning of these new performers will be taken ‘back to their respective groups within Nottingham’s diverse and vibrant communities’. Seven other venues on the tour will have the same community participation, underlining the RSC’s commitment to being an essential national organisation.

Not to everyone’s taste, the reviews have been mixed to say the least (they bury Caesar, not praise him) and some theatre goers report not returning after the interval. Not this one, I found it a gripping and exciting piece of theatre that has looked for modern relevance while generally still respecting Shakespeare’s vibrant characters and wonderful story telling.


The Little Mermaid

Good Companions Musical Theatre

Derby Theatre

May 16th 2023

The Little Mermaid, by Good Companions Musical Theatre at Derby Theatre is a stunning production. This is the local premiere of the show and is a delightful experience from beginning to end. Following their outstanding production of Shrek last year, the company needed something extraordinary to replicate their success, and in my opinion, this surpassed all expectations. It was excellent. The production has a very talented cast, captivating sets and costumes, impeccably executed musical and dance numbers, and impressive special effects.

The Little Mermaid stage musical is a delightful and enchanting production that brings the Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale and the Disney classic to life on stage.

The story follows the adventures of Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of exploring the world above the sea. With the help of her friends, including a lovable flounder and a hilarious seagull, Ariel embarks on a journey that leads her to the human world and ultimately to her true love, Prince Eric.

Ariel is played by Helen Perry who embraces the character with warmth and charm, capturing the magic of Ariel's journey from sea to land. Helen's beautiful singing voice is a crucial element in this production, adding depth and emotion to a lovely characterisation. Her dancing skills are equally impressive.

New to this company is Joshua Sly who plays Prince Eric, the principled young royal who longs for love and adventure. This clearly resonates with Ariel and together they create heart warming chemistry: their duet Kiss the Girl is lovely.

Other main roles are well performed by Steve Dunning as the traditional royal servant, Grimsby, Lindsey Greasley as Ariels friend, Flounder, Cameron Trail as Sebastian, Jake Perry as Scuttle, Brian Counter as Windward and Phil Stanley as Leeward.

There is a very powerful performance by Chris Parkes as Ariels Father, King Triton. He has a great voice as well as very much looking the part. Come to the show to find out what I mean!

Deborah McPherson's excellent portrayal of Ursula not only dominates the stage, but also brings a clever blend of charm and wickedness. With every appearance, she exudes an alluring yet dangerous aura, making her a captivating and intriguing character. Her powerful singing voice is wonderful. Accompanied by the great performances of Tom Banks and Charlie Torry as Flotsam and Jetsam she adds a layer of amusing intrigue to the production.

There are a lot of comedy performances in this show, none more so than Chef Louis played by Martin Counter. He is hilarious in the kitchen scene where he manically sings the song Les Poisson, while wielding all kinds of dangerous kitchen implements! We all loved it.

The supporting Mersisters are excellent too and sing and dance with gusto. They are Ru Kniveton, Claire Jarman, Clementine Morley, Lisa Scott-Savage, Louise Simcox, Alison Watkins.

There is also a very large and very strong ensemble who looked and sounded wonderful. They all deserve to be mentioned and the sound of them, particularly in the excellent finale, filled the theatre and probably the rest of the Derbion Centre!

They are: Emma Chadwick, Olivia Thompson, Roxie Tucker, Cass Barrett, Heidi Hand, Angela Plant, Reema Frost, Stephen Mura, Eleanor Mallinson, Gary Rowley, Lucy Gazzard, Georgina Bateman, Ollie Hand, Charlotte Hanser, Jonty Banks, Jennifer Alton, Josh Greengrass, Kate Trail and Ross Trail.

The musical numbers are enchanting, and the stage design is wonderful. The use of very clever projections, traditional clothes, 3D sets and very effective props is a joy. The costumes are a perfect fit for the characters and are very bright and colourful. They added greatly to the show's overall charm.

The production team - Directors Phil Simcox and Helen Oldham, Musical Director Richard Hodges and the Choreographer Jackie O’Brian have done a wonderful job on this show supported by a great sound and lighting plot by Harry Greatorex and Jamie Vella. The sound balance between the music and the singers was excellent.

It was evident that this big, talented cast and crew put in a lot of hard work and dedication into this production and the results are certainly worth the effort.

The Good Companions Musical Theatre has done a phenomenal job in bringing this Disney classic tale to life on stage. It was a wonderful show, and I would highly recommend it to anyone of any age looking for an evening filled with excellent theatricality, great performances, joy and magic.

This is a 5* Production.


Titanic the Musical

National 10th Anniversary Tour

Nottingham Theatre Royal

May 15th 2023

The highly acclaimed musical Titanic has just finished at the Theatre Royal, leaving the audience on their feet with a well-deserved standing ovation. This emotionally charged production offers a powerful and gripping portrayal of the tragic sinking of the "unsinkable" ship in 1912.

With a hauntingly beautiful score and a compelling storyline, the musical delves deep into the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the passengers and crew on board, from the wealthy first-class to the impoverished third-class immigrants. It pays homage to the individuals who lost their lives in one of the most catastrophic maritime disasters in history.

One remarkable aspect of this production is that it is almost entirely sung through, with minimal dialogue. The operatic style of the songs is truly captivating, showcasing the superb vocal abilities of the soloists and ensemble alike. The opening and closing chorus number, "Godspeed Titanic," is a magnificent piece that stands out as a personal favourite.

The story follows closely the events of the black and white film, "A Night to Remember," the staging is highly imaginative and deserves to be seen first hand. The lighting and sound are superb, creating a chilling atmosphere that builds up throughout Act 2. The intensity of the action in the second half is sure to leave you on the edge of your seat, even with knowing how the story ends.

The music is simply beautiful, and the whole company's singing is emotional and stirring. It may take a little while to get into the style of the production, but favourites such as "What a Remarkable Age," "Lady's Maid," "Autumn," and "We'll Meet Tomorrow" left me with a tingle of emotion.

The fantastic cast brings the show to life in every way. This is not your typical musical theatre production; it is more operatic, with many high-quality songs and some extremely fitting recitative.

The orchestra sounded fantastic, and the balance with the performers was outstanding.

This is truly an ensemble production and featured very talented performers who brought their roles to life magnificently. To mention any in particular would take away from the whole cast.

All scene changes are performed by the cast, and the composite set is just right. The production is both enjoyable and moving, with a lot to think about at the end of the show, especially when one considers that only 705 people survived out of 2224 who were on board. The Direction by Thom Sutherland was fast passed and moving especially in Act 2 and the lighting by Howard Hudson plus the sound by Andrew Johnson was outstanding.

The musical does not shy away from the realities of that terrible night and explores some of the reasons why the ship sank and who might be responsible. "The Blame" is a song that captures this theme well. Despite the heavy subject matter, there are lighter moments and even some appropriate humour to be enjoyed as well.

It is easy to see why Titanic received 5 Tony Award nominations in 1997 and won them all, including Best Musical and Score. The production is well-written, and the performances are excellent.

Titanic the musical is a 5-star production that comes highly recommended.


Sister Act – The Divine Musical

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

May 8th 2023

This production of Sister Act at the Theatre Royal is an outstanding production filled with laughter, heart, and heavenly vocals. Based on the film starring Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith it is a zany, joyful musical comedy in which two very different worlds collide!

When nightclub diva Deloris Van Cartier witnesses a crime, the cops hide her in the last place anyone would think to look – a convent. Renamed ‘Sister Mary Clarence’, Deloris faces the fearsome Mother Superior – and the excruciating nuns’ choir. But she inspires her fellow sisters to find their voices - with a lot of sparkle and pizazz!

Lesley Joseph is brilliant as Mother Superior, delivering a powerful and very amusing performance, as you would expect from this consummate actor. She not only acts well, but also has a great singing voice.

Playing the Role of Deloris Van Cartier is the equally brilliant Sandra Marvin, who has a voice that fills both the stage and the whole of the theatre.

Another great performance is from Lizzie Bea as Sister Mary Robert, the shy postulant who ends up bringing the house down with her powerful voice.

I also enjoyed the performances of Clive Rowe as the policeman Eddie, Graham Knight as Monsignor O’Hara and Mark Goldthorp as Curtis Jackson the evil gangster.

The three inept ganster helpers are played with great energy and humour by Damian Buhagiar (Pablo), Tom Hopcroft (Joey) and Bradley Judge as TJ.

The nuns’ chorus is great and features a number of excellent cameo performances. They are very well supported by the hard working ensemble.

The songs including Take me to Heaven, It’s Good To Be A Nun, Raise Your Voice, Sunday Morning Fever, Sister Act and of course the iconic Fabulous Baby, are catchy and uplifting, while the stunning choreography by Alistair David is a joy to watch throughout this fast moving show.

The excellent set design by Tom Marshall evocatively transports the audience to the 1970s and creates a stunning visual backdrop for the production. Scene changes are very fast and keep up the pace of the production.

The show is tightly directed by Bill Buckhurst with a stunning Lighting Design by Tim Mitchell, Sound Design by Tom Marshall and Musical Supervision by Stephen Brooker.

Sister Act is a must-see production that will leave audiences feeling uplifted and full of joy. Don't miss your chance to see Lesley Joseph and the rest of the fantastic cast in action at the Theatre Royal. The whole theatre standing ovation at the end confirmed that this show is, well… simply fabulous, Baby!

Highly recommended!


The Mr Misty Mystery

The Arcade Players

Duchess Theatre Long Eaton

April 26th 2023

Abigail Jenkins is not happy with her lot in life, paying an extortionate rent for a tiny flat in London and unable to realise her dream of opening a design studio, to make full use of her degree. She hatches an ingenious and apparently fail-safe plot to finance her plans, enlisting the help of her reluctant flatmate Jess and two other friends, the vivacious Suzie & the dim and ditsy Eva. But the local police know something is up and are doing their best to outwit whoever is responsible for the outrageous goings on at a local art centre…

Writer Martin Clare hooks the audience right from the start of this clever crime caper, outlining the cunning plot immediately, getting us intrigued, wondering if it can possibly work and rather hoping it does - Ocean’s Eleven style. Events off stage and speculation by the police keep us guessing along the way, and I certainly did not anticipate the plot twist that brings events to a neat and amusing conclusion.

Hayley Wood shows once again what a versatile performer she is, confidently playing the cool and collected Abbey, who can not only plan logistically but choose just the right people to help her achieve her ends. The sparkling dialogue between Abbey and Jess (Grace Deakin) at the start of the play sets a cracking pace and is handled brilliantly by both actors. Grace has a lovely natural fluency and her convincing characterisation makes the apprehensive but spirited Jess thoroughly believable.

This is a comedy and some of the best lines go to Little Eva (Hannah Draper), who seems to be an amalgam of other delightfully dim and ditsy characters, such as Peggy in Hi-Di-Hi, Bubbles in Absolutely Fabulous and Alice in the Vicar of Dibley. Hannah has a ball with the character, not only with her well timed and perfectly pitched delivery, but also with a strong physical characterisation and some amusing mannerisms.

By contrast the patronising Suzie, played with aplomb by Miriam Deakin, has a steely self confidence and a nice line in put downs that are mostly directed at Jess. Another well developed characterisation, helped by the colourful flamboyance of her costumes – an example of the excellent attention to detail in this production.

Director Rheema Orme-Hawksley makes sure we stay interested by incorporating plenty of movement in each scene (and not just Eva’s lovely antics), skilfully positioning characters, giving them lots to do and making good use of the many carefully chosen props. Hard work for the actors, but it certainly pays off as it makes the most of the humour and really complements the dialogue.

Clever lighting (Mike Beedham) facilitates simple scene changes and the main set is beautifully detailed and really rather lovely. It might be cramped, but a design student would have a strong sense of style, which these set designers have recognised.

So do the police get their man? Or 4 women in this case? Well, it’s not for lack of trying if they don’t, as super cool Chief Constable Hogarth (a nicely measured performance by Ellen Horton) carefully directs DI Tomlinson’s investigation. Robert Byatt’s cheerful but wily cop is up against more than just crime, as he is constantly exasperated by the over enthusiasm of Constable Simmons, played by Lindsay Mould. Their well played double act is a delight, bringing added humour to some lively interrogation scenes.

I had never heard of this play with the tongue twister title and thoroughly enjoyed seeing something new produced and performed so well. It’s the perfect vehicle for The Arcade Players to showcase their talent for developing believable characters, telling a tale well and adding the polish and sparkle that guarantees success.


The Demon Dentist

]Nottingham Theatre Royal

20th April 2023

The books of David Walliams are a firm favourite in our household so when Lucas (11) and I were invited to see the stage adaptation of one of Walliams' most popular books we were very excited!

The Demon Dentist tells the story of school friends Alfie and Gabz who, following the arrival of a new dentist, discover strange and creepy happenings all over the town. Children are putting their teeth under their pillow at night hoping for a visit from the tooth fairy, but instead they have been waking up to discover gruesome gifts such as eyeballs, fox tails and slimy frogs! Alfie and Gabz are determined to get to the bottom of it but to do so means a trip to the Demon Dentist resulting in a shocking discovery!

Although not a fully-fledged musical, the production includes short songs along the way which are catchy and upbeat. The styling is gloriously silly throughout with pantomime chases and lots of toilet humour; a great hit with the younger audience members.

The staging and scenery is striking, particularly in the final scenes when Alfie and Gabz realise the true intentions of the Demon Dentist and find themselves in her lair. A dramatic finale ends with a spectacular visual feast and amazing props!

The cast of the production are all extremely talented and gave strong performances. Our favourite though was most definitely the Demon Dentist herself, Miss Root! She was wonderfully portrayed by Emily Harrigan and she struck just the right level of trepidation without being too scary.

The rest of the cast included Sam Varley as Alfie, Georgia Grant-Anderson as Gabz, James Mitchell as Alfie’s Dad, Zain Abrahams as Raj, Misha Malcolm as Winnie, Ben Eagle as PC Plant, Aaron Patel and Mia Overfield in the ensemble.

The Demon Dentist’s surgery is open until Sunday 23rd April and we would urge you make an appointment to go and see her. Don’t be afraid………


Steel Magnolias

Trafalgar Theatre Productions

Theatre Royal Nottingham

April 11th 2023

Truvy Jones runs a hair and beauty salon in a small town in the American South, a meeting point for her friends and neighbours to have a gossip, set the world to rights and share both joy and sadness. Robert Harling wrote the play as a tribute to the character and wit of his mother and sister and that of the other women he grew up with in Louisiana. He thought he’d written a drama that told their deeply affecting story, so was surprised to hear a lot of laughter at the first performance. But as he said these women ...’were really funny and sharp. Their strength, joy and laughter rang out, no matter what life threw at them’. The Steel Magnolias of the title are a reference to the strength of these colourful women, who appear fragile, yet possess enormous inner strength The play was adapted into the hugely successful film in 1989, starring Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts.

The action covers the years between 1983 and 1985, the period effectively evoked by set design, wigs and costumes, plus an occasional soundtrack from a gaudy pink radio. The starkly lit, wood panelled salon is authentically created and seasonal changes for each of the four acts of the play are accomplished remarkably swiftly, including a complete change of perspective for the second half.

It’s an immersive experience, akin to sitting in one of the salon chairs and listening to the gossip, discovering and sharing in the lives, hopes and fears of the six women. It starts slowly and not a great deal happens in the first half, but there are enough hooks to keep the audience listening and wanting more. We discover that Shelby is getting married and worried that her health will prevent her from having a baby, her mother M’Lynn is fearful for her; neighbour Ousier is grumpy and cross that her magnolia tree has been damaged by Shelby’s father’s gunshots; local wealthy bigwig Clairee is grumpy with Ousier; newcomer stylist Annelle has been taken on by the warm hearted Truvy, who is adjusting to an empty nest and a permanently disengaged husband.

It's a wordy play, full of speedy one-liners that it pays to listen to carefully, particularly until ears are attuned to the splendid Southern drawl of the leading characters. Lucy Speed, who plays Truvy, has the accent down to a T and has created a wonderfully warm, amusing and engaging character, very reminiscent of Dolly Parton in the film. If she ever needs a second job she could go into hairdressing, she creates an impressive updo for Shelby on her wedding day! It’s Truvy who utters the words that encapsulate the essence of this heart tugging play – ‘laughing through tears is my favourite emotion’. The play bravely embraces both laughter and tears and after the slower first half, the second half is worth the wait; the juxtaposition of tear jerking tragedy and tears of laughter is exquisite.

The person mainly responsible for the tears is Laura Main (Call the Midwife), who, as M’Lynn captures the poise and restraint of a Southern matriarch, alongside the empathy of an experienced social worker and ultimately the heartbreaking emotion of a bereft mother. It’s really strong stuff and Laura makes the absolute most of it, a great performance.

It’s the experienced actor Caroline Harker as Clairee who breaks the tension with her no nonsense humour - no Southern drawl here, but a measured and barbed wit as she spars with her old adversary, Ousier. At tonight’s performance Ousier was played by Claire Carpenter, who covers two other characters; huge admiration for nailing this part of the irascible but secretly kind neighbour, with complete fluency.

Newcomer to town, Annelle, is played by recent graduate Elizabeth Ayodele, who conveys the character’s development from shy ingenue through good time girl to respectable church member, admirably. Her voice changes, her demeanour alters and she embraces her natural hair – all warmly supported by the other women.

Support is key here - the women are outraged when they aren’t immediately told of Shelby’s problems, because Shelby likes to fight her own battles. Diana Vickers is stunning as Shelby, she uses not just her impressive delivery of the accent and very funny one liners, but facial expressions and body language. She conveys beautifully the frothy pink optimism that is concealing a deeply sensitive woman whose hopes are severely curtailed by ill health. Diana has made this part her own.

The play is a little glimpse into lives of some strong, funny and brave women in Louisiana in the 1980’s; Anthony Banks’ production is almost presented as a TV programme, as the set is a standalone capsule, outlined in blue light. It requires effort from the audience, to listen carefully, stick with it and above all, be prepared for a roller coaster of emotion with some whoops of joy along the way; a satisfying experience.


Sweeney Todd

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Gatepost Theatre Company
The May Hall, Trent College, Long Eaton
April 11th 2023
Last night we were transported to the dark and twisted world of Sweeney Todd with this production from Gatepost Theatre. The show, hailed as one of Sondheim's greatest works, is a big brute of a musical that demands high production values and a talented cast. And Gatepost delivers on both fronts.
The story revolves around Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd, a man who returns to London after 15 years of wrongful imprisonment to exact revenge on the judge who had him falsely accused. As his obsession deepens, he partners with Mrs. Lovett, who runs a failing pie shop, and together they commit a series of gruesome murders, using the bodies to create a new ingredient for her pies, which quickly become the talk of the town.
Chris Collington, who not only directs (drama and music) but also plays the lead role of Sweeney Todd and gives a brilliant performance. His portrayal of the tortured ex-convict is filled with a violent energy that captures the essence of a man who is relentless in his quest for revenge. His singing is beautiful and his intensity is palpable.
Lottie Lodge is equally impressive as Mrs. Lovett, the charming and quietly evil pie shop owner who partners with Sweeney in his gruesome mission. She delivers a demanding performance that requires both good singing and acting skills, along with a well-developed sense of comic timing. She has all three in abundance. She is also responsible for the excellent costumes and props.
The rest of the cast is equally talented, with standout performances from Jack Lawrence as the lovesick Anthony Hope, Kiah Smith as Todd’s daughter, Johanna, Simon Owen as the convincingly evil Judge Turpin, Luke Grainger as the very nasty Beadle, Harrison Ince as the emotionally charged Tobias Ragg, Jude Cliffman as the crazy Beggar woman, and Gary Heap as the Italian barber, Pirelli.
There is also a very polished ensemble consisting of Phil Deakin, Ben Gray, Ellie Banbury, Rachelle Bragg, Jordan Neary, Claire Rybicki, Max Wilde, Sarah Knight (Additional vocals) and Kirsty Vastenavondt. (Additional Vocals).
Sondheim’s music is well known for being incredibly difficult. The performers however cope well with this typically discordant and edgy music. Chris has obviously worked very hard with the cast to achieve such a good vocal standard throughout. This is Sondheim's most operatic work but that does not faze the cast both principals and ensemble. They performed it very well indeed.
The production values are top-notch, with a simple yet appropriate set by Mark Green, lighting and sound by Stephen Greatorex and Pete Gough that balances the orchestral track and performers well, and stage direction that is tight and engaging. The use of the stage extension is particularly interesting and adds an unexpected element to the show.
Gatepost's production of Sweeney Todd is outstanding and a must-see for any theatre-goer. This is a notoriously challenging piece of musical theatre, but the talented cast, creative team, and skilled director have delivered a high quality production.
Don't miss your chance to see it before it ends its run at Trent College on Saturday.
Highly recommended.


The Commitments

National Tour

Nottingham Theatre Royal

April 3rd 2023

The Commitments is an exhilarating musical adaptation of the well loved novel by Roddy Doyle. The story follows a group of working-class Dubliners who come together to form a soul band.

This production boasts an impressive cast, including Nigel Pivaro as Da, James Killeen as Jimmy, Ian Macintosh as Deco, Ed Thorpe as Joey, Ciara Mackey as Imelda, Michael Mahony as Outspan, Ryan Kelly as Billy, Conor Litten as Dean, Guy Freeman as Derek, Stephen O'Riain as James, Ronnie Yorke as Mickah and Ray, Eve Kitchingman as Natalie, and Sarah Gardiner as Bernie.

In this show everyone shines - the singers, musicians, and dancers are incredibly talented and work together seamlessly to create a dynamic blend of soul music, dance, and drama. The stage design and lighting also deserve recognition, with the set transporting the audience to 1980s Dublin with its graffiti-covered walls and dimly lit streets.

The lighting design, expertly crafted by Jason Taylor, creates a nostalgic yet vibrant mood that perfectly complements the music and performances and makes scene changes seamless.

The set, designed by Tim Blazdell, although atmospheric, is simple enough to allow the audience to focus on the music and movement of the show, as well as the light-hearted banter between the characters.

The music in The Commitments is undoubtedly the highlight of the production, featuring over 20 classic hits such as “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, “I heard it on the Grapevine”, “Knock on Wood”, “Papa was a Rollin’ Stone”, “Night Train”, "Mustang Sally" and "Try a Little Tenderness". The cast's powerful performances showcase their musical talents and express enormous soul and energy. The Musical Director, Alan Williams, has produced a score that is both thrilling to listen to and authentic.

One particularly impressive aspect of the show is that members of the band play their own instruments with consummate skill. The hardworking ensemble, featuring Joshua Barton, Alice Croft, James Deegan, Colm Gleeson, Maryann Lynch, Callum Martin, and Ed Thorpe, also deserve recognition for their contributions to the production.

Under the leadership of Director Andrew Linnie, the creative team has succeeded in bringing this vibrant and energetic musical to life, capturing the spirit of the source material. With an outstanding cast and unforgettable music, this production is a must-see for fans of the book, fans of soul music, and fans of musical theatre in general.

The show ends on Saturday, so make a "commitment" to yourself and get a ticket while you still can and who knows, you may leave the theatre singing and dancing all the way home!


Kiss Me, Kate

LEOS Musical Theatre Company

May Hall, Trent College

March 28th 2023

Written by Samuel and Bella Spewack with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, Kiss Me, Kate tells the backstage story of the production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It details the conflict on and off-stage between egotistical Fred Graham, the show's director who plays Petruchio and the leading lady, his narcissistic ex-wife Lilli Vanessi, who plays the Shrew, Katharine. A second romance involves Lois Lane, the actress playing Bianca, and her gambler boyfriend, Bill, who falls foul of some gangsters.

It can be a tricky one this, as The Taming of the Shrew is deeply misogynistic and expresses attitudes that are liable to make modern toes curl. It was no problem for the Elizabethan audiences of course and Kiss Me, Kate didn’t raise any eyebrows either, when it premiered on Broadway in 1948. Beating the leading lady until she couldn’t sit down was regarded by most as just a bit of fun and the musical was hugely successful, earning a string of awards.

Fortunately, for this dazzling, energetic and slick production, director Kathryn McAuley has deftly softened the misogyny and strengthened the female characters without losing any of the knockabout humour and sizzling chemistry. With a packed repertoire of fabulous songs such as Wunderbar, I Hate Men, Always True to You in My Fashion and Brush Up Your Shakespeare, plus some amazing dance routines, it’s a delight from start to finish and thoroughly entertaining.

Leading Lady Anna McAuley, who doesn’t get beaten, despite packing a few punches of her own, truly shines and captures the self-centred volatility of both Lilli and Katharine perfectly. There’s light and shade in her performance though, whether it be sweetly expressing Lilli’s dilemma of loving and hating Fred at the same time, or angrily chucking flowerpots at Bianca’s suitors. Her solo performances are a knockout - such a beautiful voice of operatic quality - the standard ‘So in Love’ is spine tingling. The delightfully vicious ‘I Hate Men’ is a complete contrast, showing Anna’s versatility; she knocks it out of the park with a masterclass in breath control and phrasing that was hugely appreciated by the audience. Cole Porter couldn’t have asked for more. Anna also gets to show how good she is at physical comedy, loads of rehearsal must have gone into timing the blows she delivers and a very neat roll onto the floor, not easy to do and very effective.

More great physical comedy from Gavin Owen who plays Fred/Petruchio and oozes macho egotism from every pore. Some actors like to get the shoes right for their character, Gavin seems to have concentrated on getting the stance right: Fred plonks himself confidently into all his scenes and there is no mistaking his huge self regard. Along with a rich vocal characterisation – and this isn’t an easy script, it’s wordy and contains a fair bit of Shakespearean dialogue – Gavin nails Fred. We love to hate him in much the same way Lilli does. Cole Porter doesn’t make the lyrics of the songs particularly easy to learn either, they are full of the most wonderfully convoluted wordplay and rhymes which shouldn’t work but do so brilliantly. Gavin gets to show off the richness of his voice in ‘I’ve come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua’ (Good gad, but what a cad you are!!) and the plaintive ‘Where is the Life that Late I Led?’

The songs come thick and fast and even if you are not of the vintage to feel the warm glow of recognition, they are so well written and so well performed here, you can’t fail to be entertained. Bianca, played by Josie Coleman, gets to lead her three suitors in the splendidly amusing ‘Tom, Dick & Harry’ which was particularly appreciated by the audience, evidenced by delighted sniggers during the chorus. Bianca is a bit wet in the original play, but Lois Lane has plenty of spirit, which Josie fully exploits. She also gets to sing the absolute corkers ‘Why Can’t You Behave’ and ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’ and gives them everything she’s got.

The three suitors are played by Oscar Gregory (Hortensio), Matthew McAuley (Gremio) and Robert McAuley (Lucentio). Robert also plays Bill, Lois’ rather sweet but dissolute boyfriend, who gets to shine in his performance of ‘Bianca’, along with the ensemble. Another great McAuley voice – Christmases around the piano in that family home must sound wonderful!

The ensemble play a big part in this production and they sing and dance their socks off. Rachel Murray, the choreographer has spared no-one, she has thrown a variety of dance styles at them and produced two eye popping spectacles at the beginning of each act that look like scenes from a film. The exciting ‘Another Op’nin, Another Show’ with great vocals from Emma Collins who plays Hattie, sets the scene. People scurry on and off, performing a variety of moves and tasks seemingly at random, but of course very carefully choreographed to create the atmosphere of a busy stage set prior to opening a new production. Great stuff from both the choreographer and the director who must have had a strong vision of how they wanted it to look and worked themselves and everybody else very hard to achieve it.

Likewise, the iconic ‘Too Darn Hot’ opens the second act with a beautifully lit and very accomplished performance from Arden Caspar-Jennison as Paul, plus more vocals from Hattie and yet more fabulous dance sequences. How the cast kept up the high energy needed to perform all those dance moves while singing their hearts out – for such a long time - is a mystery to me. Just Wow.

The ensemble are: Alice Taylder (Painter/Ensemble), Becky Morley (Painter/Ensemble), Charmian Hardy (Props/Cabbie/Beatrix/Ensemble), Eleanor Harvey (Musician/Waitress/Ensemble), Emilia Pettit (Wardrobe Assistant/Ensemble), Jack Woolley (Ralph/ Stage Manager/ Ensemble), Joanna East (Stagehand/Ensemble), Laurie Trott (Make Up Artist/Thora/Ensemble), Lilli White (Wardrobe Mistress/Ensemble), Lisa Stone (Publicist/Ensemble), Martin Orrell (Harry Trevor/Baptista Minola), Megan Fennell (Photographer/Haberdasher/Ensemble), Molly Parkinson (Dancer/Ensemble), Phil Deakin (Pops/Doorman/Inkeeper), Phoebe Jennison (Dancer/Ensemble), Rachel Spence (Dancer/Ensemble) and Victoria Palmer (Dance Captain/Ensemble).

Little cameos sequences by the dancers are charming and very well performed.

If Kathryn McAuley wanted to give agency to women in this production she made no better decision than to go for a bit of gender blind casting (perhaps influenced by her work with the RSC last year), in the form of Louise McGowen and Amy Clover as the gangsters. It works so well as these skilled actors simply become the characters, gender ceases to matter as we are charmed by their swagger, convincing Brooklyn accents and comic menace. ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ is a comic highlight, performed in front of the curtain with obvious delight from this talented pair who would really make an excellent new double act!

Kathryn also gets a nice dig in at misogyny through Dan Bates as the dreadful chauvinist General Howell, Lilli’s fiancé. Dan milks the character for every ounce of misogynistic horror, aided and abetted by Fred, as both wickedly enjoy Oscar Wilde’s assertion that certain women are like gongs and should be beaten regularly... The General gets to sing ‘From This Moment On’ with Lilli, where his discomfort at having to express emotion is a delight. Very hard to believe that I last saw Dan as a gentle Yorkshireman in Calendar Girls, what a tribute to his vocal versatility and acting range.

This production positively whizzes by due to the pace and tightness of the production: the songs, dances and humour are relentlessly entertaining and scene changes between the Taming of The Shrew and the backstage shenanigans are achieved very smoothly by the cast and crew. Great use of Roydon Charlesworth’s balcony set (often worth a look up there) and a positive rainbow of costumes makes it all very visually pleasing.

Sound by Sam Lenord is spot on, it used to be hit and miss at the May Hall, improvements (including the now splendid tiered seating which has enhanced the view enormously), mean that justice is given to the quality of the performers. Those performers include the band of course and Giles Pettit the Musical Director leads a great 9 piece band for this production that sounds wonderful. Lightning design by David Price helps immeasurably to create the atmosphere of contrasting scenes, particularly in the sultry opening to the second act.

It would be a pity if younger theatre goers thought that this is too dated for them, it’s really not, it’s enormous fun and Cole Porter’s wonderful songs can be enjoyed by anybody of any age. Just listen to the words and wonder - and try to stop humming the tunes for days afterwards! Anyway, it’s always worth seeing a local musical society put on a production of this quality, showcasing some talent that would do the professional stage justice.


Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of)

Theatre Royal Nottingham

March 27th 2023

This evening I had the pleasure of going to see Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) at the Theatre Royal Nottingham. Although familiar with the Jane Austen classic, this version of the story was described as unique and audacious, so I really didn't know what to expect!

The play begins depicting five maids who, sick of the monotony of their servitude, decide to tell their version of Austen's classic story. What follows is a joyous and comedic re-telling of the five Bennet sisters quest to find love. The production is faithful to the narrative of the book but has a modern twist, featuring a string of reimagined pop classics including Young Hearts Run Free, Will You Love Me Tomorrow and You’re So Vain. Not quite what you expect from the 1800's but it somehow works so well!

The production has the right amount of farce without being silly and although satirical in its nature, is not disparaging of Austen's work; there is a clear affection for the original story throughout.

What makes this production particularly stand out is the stellar cast of five incredibly talented actresses who between them take on all the different characters. These ladies can act, sing, dance and take on multiple roles with ease and it was a delight to see! I found myself smiling throughout with many laugh out loud moments.

The cast included Leah Jamieson as Anne, Mary Bennet, Lydia Bennet and Mrs Gardiner, Lucy Gray as Tillie, Charlotte Lucas, Charles Bingley and Miss Bingley, Emmy Stonelake as Effie and Elizabeth Bennet, Megan Louise Wilson as Clara, Jane Bennet, and Lady Catherine de Burgh, Dannie Harris as Flo, Mrs Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Laura Soper and Ruth Brotherton.

The show ended to a very well deserved standing ovation and rapturous applause. It runs until Saturday 1 April 2023 and even if you aren't a Jane Austen fan, I would urge you to go and see it if you can. I promise you won't be disappointed!



Nottingham Arts Theatre Youth Group

Nottingham Arts Theatre

March 16th 2023

Ren and his mother are forced to move to Bomont to live with his uncle. They arrive to find a town that has banned dancing, following a car accident that killed four teens. Ren finds himself at odds with most of the town, but with the help of the Ariel (the local pastor’s daughter) and Willard (a country hick who becomes his best friend), Ren tries to convince the town elders to let the teenagers dance. Footloose is a classic ‘youth against the establishment’ drama that has been played out many times, first in the original film from 1984, then the stage musical in 1998, followed by a remake of the film in 2011.

The show is full of fast moving, high energy musical numbers, ideally suited to musical theatre groups, especially Youth Groups.

As soon as this production started with the title song “Footloose”, followed by the rollicking “On any Sunday”, it was obvious this was going to be a first class show. The singing and dancing of the whole cast is fantastic and the production values are spot on. A great evening of entertainment provided by enthusiastic, dedicated and talented young performers. Absolutely joyous.

Playing the part of Ren, the boy from Chicago, is George Young. He gives an all-round polished performance: impressive acting, singing and dancing that exude skill and confidence. He fully inhabits the role, suggesting Ren’s rebellious nature and deeply held convictions, but contrasts that with thoughtfulness that makes the character engaging and sympathetic. This young actor will, I am sure feature in many shows in the future.

Ren’s friend Ariel, the preacher’s daughter, is played by Francesca Lewis. She gives a nuanced performance, successfully portraying a girl who is nursing hurt under a tough exterior. Her singing is beautiful and she also shows what a good dancer she is in several of the routines. A great all-round performance from another talented young actor with a future on the stage.

Her friends Rusty, Urleen and Wendy-Jo played by Hanna Fletcher, Freya Rhodes and Eloise Rees respectively, all do a fine job: a very strong trio who light up the stage whenever they appear.

There are excellent performances from Shantanu Bhumbra and Emily-Hope Wilkins as the Rev & Mrs Moore and Eleanor Carty as Ren’s mother Ethel. Eleanor was understudying the role tonight, in place of Jessica Henley-Marshall.

Jonathan Jaycok is well suited to the role of the bad boy, Chuck Cranston. Through skilful posturing and delivery, he brings an atmosphere of menace whenever he is on stage. The two sidekicks of Chuck, played by Jamie Adlam and Arlo Perrons are extremely good singers and dancers who show a talent for comedy.

Zach Silcock as Willard Hewitt deservedly took an encore with “Mama Says”. He has obviously worked hard on the physical mannerisms of his character, as well as making the absolute most of the comic potential. His slow, Southern drawl and measured pauses get all the humour possible out of the lines - a very endearing portrayal of the comic character.

In addition to the actors already mentioned there are also first class performances from Liam Brown (Bickle), Giles Briggs (Garvin), Charles Beckett (Jetter), Hemi Lewis (Eleanor), Louis Elliment (Wes), Caitlin Young (Lulu), Jack Kent (Coach), Preston Nash (Principal), and Brogan Haynes (Cop).

There is also the large ensemble and dancers whose energy in the big numbers was amazing. They are Kate Russell, Charlotte Fisher, Blaise Bondswell, Mya Matthews, Rachel Smith, Zoe Turton, Chloe Chapman, Scarlett Coleman-Smith, Liberty Whitehouse, Eloise Rees, Emily Holder, Olivia Bonham, Cleo Sims, Morgan Spencer, Florence Everitt, Ruby Hall, Sky Douglas, Edie McKenzie, Stephanie Booth, Edie McKenzie, Megan Holder, Jonah Williams (Understudy) and Hattie Campion (Swing in several parts tonight).

There is lots for the ensemble to do during the show, including some great numbers such as “Holding Out for A Hero,” “Mama Says,” “Still Rockin’” and of course the title song, “Footloose.”

The production team consists of The Director, Chris Mundy, Choreographer (and Production Manager) Jessica Royce, Assistant Director and Choreographer Eleanor Carty and the Musical Director, Gareth Wynne assisted by Jonah Williams. I am sure they are all very proud of this cast who achieved such a success in all areas tonight.

The direction by Chris is tight and pacey and so carefully plotted that the action moves seamlessly: the attention of the audience remains riveted throughout. Clever use of the set, plus excellent lighting by Oliver Read means that we are transported from one scene to another effortlessly.

The same attention to detail in the choreography is obvious: every dance or movement sequence is lively, appropriate, engaging and thoroughly complements the music. The band sounds great and never dominates the performers; it is wonderful to be able to hear every word and every lyric! The sound throughout was excellent under the direction of Rob Kettridge.

The whole show is very slick with swift scene changes - well done to Amy Rogers Gee, the stage crew and members of the cast which helps makes this production a delight from beginning to end.

There is an excellent finale and as if they have not done enough, a great mega mix that the cast showed obvious delight in performing. A well-deserved standing ovation ended this excellent production.

If you want a great night out which will have you clapping, tapping your feet, laughing and maybe singing along with hits like “Holding Out for a Hero,” get along to The Nottingham Arts Theatre before the show ends on Saturday.


"Calendar Girls - The Musical" by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth

Erewash Musical Society.

Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.

March 9th 2023

Review by Kev Kev Castle is reproduced here by permission

Annie's husband John dies from leukaemia at an early age. Her close friend Chris, wants to purchase a comfortable sofa for the visitors' lounge in the hospital where John was treated. She hits upon the idea of printing a calendar featuring some of the members of the Knapely branch of the Women's Institute, discreetly posing nude while engaged in traditional WI activities, such as baking cakes, making plum jam and knitting, in order to raise funds.

Her proposal is initially met with great scepticism, but she eventually convinces ten women to participate in the project with her. They enlist one of the hospital workers, an amateur photographer named Lawrence, to help them with the calendar.

Annie is played by Kathi Ludlow who puts so much passion into her vocals, especially when Annie is thinking of John. What we also see is the joy, hope and fun emit from Annie throughout, showing what an excellent actor Kathi is.

John is played by Dan Bates, or should I say the chameleonic Dan Bates, because every time I see him on stage, he seems to look really different from what he looks like off stage. This time, initially, thanks to the wig. As the first act progresses we see John deteriorate visually, and we see Dan's physical characterisation likewise.

Hayley Wood plays Chris, and again we see this fun character who, after the initial idea then goes on to have reservations after her son, Danny starts to act just as a normal teenager would act with raging hormones, and the discovery of girls! Hayley brings out both the responsible maternal side as well as the more wild side of Chris.

Chris' husband, Rod, is played by Richard Dawson. And it's good to see one of Erewash Sound's presenters back on stage, transferring his easy and natural wireless delivery to this character, who is also fun and easy-going. Perfect casting really for Richard.

Gabryl Oleshko shines as Danny, their son, and even though I've met Gabryl off stage, he still makes me believe that, on stage, he is a school boy over eager to lose his virginity to his school girl vixen, Jenny, played by Sophie Robbins. I wonder how much method acting went into the "drunken Danny" scenes?

The "school boy" pairing with Danny's best mate Tommo, played equally as sparkling by Hayden Fletcher, who I've known for absolutely ages, and still looks about thirteen, is another bout of inspired casting, especially when Tommo thinks he is being groomed by an older woman. Gabryl and Hayden bring a lot of the teenage with to this wonderful story.

Celia, the trophy wife who is extremely confident about her body, is played by Louisa Ward. One thing about this play is that each character has a share of the comedy lines and certain characteristics which women can identify with. A confident character played by a lovely confident actor.

Denis is Celia's husband, who is played by Martin Lewis, who is also the Assistant Musical Director.

Alex Tavener plays Jessie, the retired teacher, who gets to give Lawrence, the photographer a bit of a shock when he realises who she is as he looks down his lens! Always lovely to see more of Alex on stage!

Colin is played by Martin Briggs. I really enjoy Martin's voice because it's different to the other male voices on stage; there's a certain vulnerability about his voice which sets him aside from the others.

Cora, a vicar's daughter and the WI pianist, is played by Anna Fitzpatrick. I've seen Anna in several roles over the years and I love the U turn with this character, mainly due to her not wanting to rock the boat with her background, but throwing off those mental chains and the visual release was well portrayed by Anna.

Ruth is played by Megan Asher, and just like everyone else in this main ring of characters, she throws 110 % into the role.

Chrissie Oakden plays Marie, the Chairperson of the WI at Knapeley, and dead set against this particular fund raiser. Wonderfully bossy character.

The poor amateur photographer enlisted to take the photos for the calendar is Lawrence, played by James Christian, who also gets to be involved in a dance routine with the ladies, albeit seated for the majority of the routine.

A wonderful supporting cast, and I had quite forgotten just what a size the support for this show was.

Laura Dawson (Tea), Karen Robbins (Coffee), Andrea Kemish (Brenda Hulse), Tyna Burnett (Lady Cravenshore), John Fletcher (Vicar), Claire Kay (Beautician), Emma Barnes-Marriott (Police Officer), Gary Fowkes (Milkman), Laurie Fitch (Caretaker), Laurie Trott (Hairdresser), Natalie Austen and Paige Sisson (Schoolgirls), Nick Buckthorpe (Postman) and Sue Hagan (Vicar's Wife). Where would we be without superb supporting casts?

Directed by Rachel Bates, assisted by Abbi Burns, this surely had to be a labour of love because you can feel the love from the stage for this heartfelt true story, which was made into a very successful 2003 film. The inspired casting also has a lot to do with the success of this production, resulting in a complete sell out of performances. Before I saw this particular production, I had seen nothing but glowing reports, and they were all correct in their praise.

Musical Director was Peter Cook, assisted by Martin Lewis, as previously credited. The seven piece band created the perfect feel and sound for this Yorkshire based musical, recreating the sound of a brass band that you'd expect from the area. Beautifully created.

Lighting Design is by Richard Chamberlain, and there may have been just a couple of times that I noticed the spotlight not being on the character, but that could of course be that the actor was not standing on the right spot. Very minor thing that I know the rest of the audience would probably not noticed. Apart from that, beautifully lit.

Sound Design by Dave Dallard, and there's no way that I am going to critique the couple of missed cues because, with a cast this large, Dave was all over the sound, and anyway, I was enjoying this production too much to let a second late mic cue mar my love for this story and production.

The set was wonderfully created, as was the video design with the views of, I presumed a Yorkshire scene. Wouldn't matter to me if it wasn't, I believed what I saw, and that's all that matters.

Swift scene moving by the stage crew and Stage Manager, Mark Robbins.

What i also appreciated was the Yorkshire accents from everyone. I know that it's only up the road (ish) but I could hear the difference and that made me feel so much at ease with the placement of the production.

A lovely human story with some very funny lines in the script by Tim Firth. The soundtrack, by Gary Barlow, is quite forgettable but does have some catchy moments like "Yorkshire", "Scarborough", "Dare" and "I've Had A Little Work Done". That said you can really appreciate the song lyrics while the sentiment is in front of your eyes, but you may have difficulty recalling them when you leave the theatre.

"Calendar Girls The Musical" is on until Saturday 11 March but it may be worth checking first for tickets due to the sold out status. You would have to Take That chance.


Wish You Were Dead by Peter James

Theatre Royal, Nottingham

February 28th 2023

Adapted exclusively for the stage, Wish You Were Dead follows DSI Roy Grace and pathologist Cleo Grace as they take a much needed holiday in rural France with their baby and friends, Kaitlynn and Jack. They are hoping for a few days away from their dark worlds of murder and the mortuary. But their dream escape to a remote and forbidding ‘chambre d’hôte’ turns out to be the holiday from hell, as the past comes back to haunt them…

This world stage premiere of Wish You Were Dead follows five successful stage plays and the acclaimed smash-hit primetime ITV series from 2021 'Grace', which are all based on the best-selling novels by Peter James. There are 19 books in the series, including this one that is adapted from a ‘Quick Read’ novella. It was inspired by a spooky real life overnight stay in France, entertainingly described by Peter James in the programme.

The richly oak panelled set of the lobby in the once grand Chateau is impressive, complete with creaky suit of armour, dusty animal mounts and a set of shabbily carpeted stairs, which lead up to the oppressively decorated ‘bridal suite’. The action takes place both here and downstairs, sometimes simultaneously, so the audience has to adjust to the absence of the fourth wall from both places. The presence of the ‘baby’ requires further suspension of disbelief, but the actors work gamely with the rather distracting doll and the related sound effects work well enough.

This is a psychological thriller: it’s a slow burner and begins with some engaging scene and character setting, cleverly peppered with signposts that all is not as it seems. The strange chatelaine Madame L’Eveque, played brilliantly by Rebecca McKinnis, is unwilling to help Roy, Cleo and Kaitlynn as they realise they are stranded in a place that is becoming steadily weirder and unsettling. And why is Jack so late arriving?

We begin to wonder if there are supernatural forces at work, but it becomes clear that someone is out for revenge and has gone to great lengths to exact it in the most frightening and tortuous way. There weren’t any ‘jump out of your seat’ moments for me, but there is a genuinely surprising reveal and some teasing clues which put the audience a little ahead of the victims, filling us with uneasy anticipation. All explodes at the end of the first act, further revelations are made and the audience is left wondering how DSI Grace can possibly get out of this one…

Roy Grace is played with restless energy by George Rainsford, a portrayal of a seemingly ordinary family man with an obviously clever mind that is never far from work. Giovanna Fletcher is his warm and supportive wife, who is called upon to show extraordinary fortitude in a situation that would render most of us quivering wrecks. Giovanna’s high pitched delivery fits well here! There’s also strength of character from Kaitlynn, played by Gemma Stroyan with a most convincing American accent, but we don’t see too much of John (Alex Stedman), as he’s tied up elsewhere.

Wonderful character acting from Clive Mantle playing Curtis, as he manages to balance menace and sheer evil with a some nicely delivered wry humour, much appreciated by the audience. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and his son Brent, played convincingly by recent graduate Callum Sheridan-Lee, has plenty of menace of his own, yet is strangely vulnerable to psychological manipulation. Leon Stewart plays Grace’s sidekick Glenn Branson, whose appearance brought a welcome sigh of relief.

Sound by Max Pappenheim plays a big part in Jonathan O’Boyle’s production, from overhead tapping, claps of thunder, sheet rain and possibly portentous classical music – something Peter James actually experienced during the stay that inspired him! Likewise, the lighting by Jason Taylor sets the tone: making shadows, flickering ominously or disappearing altogether, working with the sound to create tension and unease.

Obviously, a stage play is different from the realism achieved by a slick, televised version, but if you enjoy a psychological thriller and the immediacy and thrill of live drama, then this could be for you.


We Will Rock You young

@partCentre Stage Theatre ArtsInters & Seniors

Landau Forte College

February 24th 2023

This is the shortened version of the hit musical adapted for younger performers, yet it’s certainly not selling anyone short – unless you count an audience leaving the auditorium wanting more! It features those well-known brilliant Queen hits including ‘Another One Bites the Dust,’ ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ ‘Killer Queen’. ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and many more. It’s well suited to a young cast as it’s about a rebellious fight for freedom, individuality and the rebirth of the age of Rock. It’s set in a globalized future where the Killer Queen, as head of the all-powerful Globalsoft company, controls both mass produced music and freedom of thought on the soulless iPlanet. Galileo and Scaramouche, two young outsiders, rebel against this; they join the underground Bohemians to embark on a search to find and reignite the power of musical instruments and Rock!

It's been described as a ‘fist-pumping, foot-stomping anthem to individuality’ and that is certainly what we got tonight from this talented cast, who were clearly enjoying themselves, belting out the songs and dancing up a storm. It’s irresistibly engaging and the audience participated fully: during the glorious title song the vibrations could be felt throughout the auditorium and the seats began to move!

Galileo, the misfit who keeps hearing songs in his head that deliver messages he can’t understand, is played beautifully by Leo Fox-White. Lovely clear delivery of the confusion and passion felt by the character and some well-timed humour in his exchanges with fellow rebel, Scaramouche. He really shines in his vocals, including the sublime Bohemian Rhapsody solo, the beautifully harmonised duets with Scaramouche and many more accompanied by the ensemble.

Young performers are often told to ‘get out there and own the stage’ and that is exactly what Poppy Harris does as Scaramouche. From her entrance it’s clear she means business and she really brings out this character’s sharp humour, sass and strength. Her duets with Galileo such as ‘I Want to Break Free’ and ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’, plus her wonderful ‘Somebody to Love’ with the Teen Queens – well, they simply rock!

The Centre Stage Team of Lucy Cadney, Paul Hudson, Louise White and Josephine Walker must have been delighted to have so much talent to cast from, as the other principal performers also deliver killer vocals. Molly Wileman as the ruthless Killer Queen belts out her solos with enormous power and she gives the character plenty of swagger and menace.

Lily Osvath plays Khashoggi, who works for the Killer Queen, getting rid of any original or creative musical thoughts and going after the Bohemians. Lily is to be commended for her complete immersion in this villainous role, right up to the end of the finale – it can’t be easy to remain uptight behind a pair of sunglasses when everybody else is rocking!

Brit and Oz, played by William Fleming and Harriet Blackwell are two of the Bohemians who are intent on discovering the secrets of live music; both young performers make the most of their roles, bringing the characters to life. William is a most affable and amusing ‘Britney Spears’ in a splendid costume and Harriet shines throughout her performance, particularly during solos. All of the principal perfomers have learnt how to perform a song rather than just sing it and are a credit to those that have taught them so well.

Apart from the principals there are some other lovely solos during bigger numbers from: Milly Adams, Lucy Cripps, Jude Grant, Bella Kiddle, Amy Loweth, Rose-Lyn Macrae, Mylie Randle, Emily Walker & Holly Watson.

Buddy, the old librarian and hippy is played in an entirely natural and convincing way by Adam Patten, with great comic timing. It’s easy to over egg such a character, but much more effective and skilful to slightly underplay and let the humour speak for itself.

Every member of the large ensemble was fully focussed, all playing interesting background characters: plus Bots, members of the Bohemians or the Gaga Kids - which included the splendid Teen Queens, played by Laura Barnfield, Esmé Basterfield, Holly Hindle, Rose-Lyn Macrae, Emily Walker and Lola Wania. (If Centre Stage ever do ‘Legally Blonde’, they have the Delta Nu sisters ready to be cast!)

The Ensemble are: Harry Bailey, Libby Bray, Isabella Brown, Matilda Clements, Maddison Cocker, Sophie Crawford, Johnny Grant, Olivia Heath, Owain Jones, Hannah Keane, Callan Minns, Arun Mistry, Thomas Murfin, Elif Sever, Molly Village, Lewis Waigand-Fishwick, Ashley Walford and Sophia Whittaker

The post-apocalyptic set with various levels and the huge digital back projections really set the mood, as do the varied costumes. Loved the starkness of the bots, the tatty chic of the Bohemians, the cloned platinum of the Ga Ga kids and the sinister brain cleansing bicycle helmets. Lots of attention to detail here.

The choreography is varied and keeps the large cast busy in time with the music, bopping, rocking and foot stomping and always visually interesting. Crowd scenes, particularly one involving a chase are very well planned and managed brilliantly by the cast. The hardworking dance troupe are Milly Adams, Maisie Gore, Holly Hindle, Ria Mistry, Lily Pearce, Emily Walker, Lola Wania and Holly Watson.

A couple of delays on music cues (opening night) showed the professional attitude of the cast – a few seconds delay can feel like minutes on the stage, but it’s to their credit that they remained unfazed.

A wonderful finale with a reprise of ‘We Will Rock You’ and the literally showstopping ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ saw the whole cast on stage beaming at the audience, who were beaming right back at them. However, it was the final song in the final scene that summed it all up: ‘We Are The Champions’. They truly are.



Nottingham Arts Theatre

February 23rd, 2023

“I'm reviewing the situation,I must quickly look up ev'ryone I know.Who can help me make a real impressive show!”

Well, tonight at the Nottingham Arts Theatre a very talented cast certainly did perform a ‘real impressive show.’ From the moment the music started and the boys and girls in the workhouse marched on to the stage singing the ever popular, “Food Glorious Food”, it was clear this was going to be a fantastic production of the well-loved show.

In front of an impressive set, the story unfolded of the orphan who is sold to an undertaker and then finds himself embroiled in the shady world of Victorian street children, eventually being reunited with his rich grandfather. Along the way he comes across an assortment of colourful characters, giving the large cast the chance to show us their impressive acting, singing and dancing skills.

There are some very big chorus numbers in this show including “Consider Yourself.” “I’d Do Anything,” “Who Will Buy,” “"Oom-Pah-Pah,” and “"You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.” These are superbly performed and are wonderful spectacles to watch.

Oliver is played beautifully by Liam Brown whose rendition of “Where is Love” was excellent. This is sung well and with feeling. He also looks the part and has just the right amount of innocence and vulnerability.

Bertie Black playing the Beadle Mr Bumble, gives a strong and very well observed performance. He adds highly amusing theatricality to a man who has few redeeming features; even managing to make us feel sorry for the bumbling bully when he gets his comeuppance. His partnership with Lyndsey Jaycock as Widow Corney is perfect: their scenes are some of the comic highlights of the show. She is great in the role and shines both as a singer and a comic actor.

There are several cameo roles in the show and they were all great. Mr Sowerberry played by Sam Howard, Mrs Sowerberry played by Pippa Ward, Noah by Jonathan Jaycock and Charlotte by Scarlet Coleman-Smith. The scene where Oliver escapes is very well performed by them all.

One of the most important roles in this show is that of the Artful Dodger, played by Jamie Adlam. He looks just right and has a constant twinkle in his eye. His characterization of the wise street boy, hardened but not demeaned by poverty, is lively and engaging. His singing in “Consider Yourself” is excellent.

Fagin is played by Shantanu Bhumbra, who portrays the old man superbly. He also sings the iconic songs very well and his movements around stage are carefully judged and sustained, which adds to his characterisation. “Reviewing the Situation” is a high point in the show.

Abby Wells makes the role of Nancy her own, convincingly portraying the strength and spirit of this abused character, as well as her warmth and compassion. Her rendition of “When He Needs Me” is beautifully sung and phrased. She is well supported by her sassy friend, Bet, played by Olivia-Rose Bonham.

Finally, JJ Gills is outstanding as the violent bully, Bill Sykes. He stomps around the stage frightening everyone and singing with considerable power. He is a very talented singer and actor, as he shows this every time he comes on stage.

Other cameo roles are well performed by Dylan Whistance as Charlie Bates, Michael Coles as Mr Brownlow, Mark Russell as Dr. Grimwig, Emily Townsend as Mrs Bedwin, Elizabeth Kenny as Nipper and the role of Old Sally shared by Alison Russell and Esther Coleman-Smith. Nancy's Girls are played by Hermione Cumbers, Sophie Benner and Nicole.

The supporting cast is outstandingly good as well. Fagin's Gang is Anna-Lucia Ward-Gonzalez, Logan Cordall, Miley Brown, Millie Thompson, Neveah Jouhal, Niamh Brown, Patrick Brannigan, Tilly Thompson, Wyatt Thurlby.

The children's ensemble is Coen Thurlby, Erin Mills, Evie Jamieson, Freya Barks, Isobela Wiley, Isla Stevens, Malikea Smith, Mia Jacks, Orla Donoghue, Rhea Parker.

The adult ensemble is Barry Hobbs, Bianca Cavalcanti, Hermione Cumbers, Isobel Munden, James Fleming, Nicole Spilsbury, Payash Raslan, Roy Smith and Sophie Benner.

The staging of this show is spot on, as the design and use of the composite set is excellent. The Director, Marie Rogers, has produced a show that moves with pace, variety and excitement. Dickens shone a light on appalling social injustice in his times, but he did so with humour and a keen sense of the absurd. Marie captures all of this in her production.

One of my biggest delights in this show was the outstanding quality of the dancing, both in terms of choreography and performance. Amy Rogers-Gee, the choreographer, has delivered varied dancing that is impressive, while being just right for the skill and various ages of the cast. All the big musical items were lovely to look at, despite being performed by a large cast. Amy was assisted by Dance Captains, Nicole Spilsbury and Hermione Cumbers.

The Musical Director, Kelvin Towes, has produced a very high standard of musicality and performance.

The Sound and Lighting plots are by Oliver Read and Jonathan Scott; they contributed immeasurably to the overall atmosphere of the show. The stage management led by Mark Russell was first class and scene changes were fast and smooth throughout.

This is yet another great all age production by the Arts Theatre. It has it all - fantastic singing and dancing coupled with outstanding individual performances and a superb ensemble. All worked very hard and were always completely focused.

This is a very popular show and tonight's fresh and vibrant production more than does it justice. Well done to all involved with this 5 star production, which I really enjoyed.


The Verdict

Theatre Royal Nottingham

Middle Ground Theatre Company

21st February 2023

Guilty or Not Guilty – it was time to find out in tonight’s performance of The Verdict. The audience is promised a gripping courtroom thriller and my goodness does this play deliver. By the end of the play we were all on tenterhooks, awaiting the outcome of the trial!

The play centres on Frank Galvin, a washed up alcoholic and veteran lawyer who finds himself presented with one last chance to redeem his career. Faced with a medical malpractice case, Frank courageously refuses an out of court settlement and instead takes on an entire system including top lawyers, a prestigious health establishment and the Catholic Church. His aim - to get justice for a young woman condemned by negligence.

The play is full of dramatic twists and turns and is captivating throughout. The dialogue is fast paced but easy to follow, particularly during the courtroom scenes; the opening and closing speeches were flawlessly delivered. There is subtle humour peppered throughout the play which nicely compliments the intense storyline.

The staging for this play is impressive and detailed, particularly in the second half of the show where the stage is spectacularly transformed into the courtroom. The audience are placed in the position of the jury meaning when the actors speak, it feels like they are speaking directly to you, immersing you into the production.

The cast is made up of a group of incredibly talented actors. Jason Merrells plays Frank Galvin and his performance is outstanding. Before the production has started proper, he treats the audience to a pre-show solo performance as Frank in which he awakes from a drunken stupor and sluggishly begins his day. This is a clever aspect, setting the scene and leaving the audience intrigued to find out more.

The rest of the cast includes Richard Walsh (Bishop Brophy), Reanne Farley (Donna St Laurent), Vincent Pirillo (Moe Katz), Nigel Barber (J. Edgar Concannon), Okon Jones (Lionel Thompson MD), Sarah Shelton (Mrs McDaid), Jason Wilson (Rexford Gilbert Towler MD), Teresa Jennings (Mary Rooney), Holly Jackson Walters (Natalie Stampanatto), James Morley (Court Bailiff), Bruce Chattan (Court Clerk), Anna Arthur (Nurse/Court Stenographer) and Dave Speck (Michael Madden).


Alice in Wonderland

by Tracy Rogers

The Watson Players

Landau Forte College

18th February 2023

I didn’t know that Alice in Wonderland was a stage play, let alone a pantomime, but what a splendid idea, as it bursts with colourful characters, a surreal story and lots of opportunities for musical comedy. I did wonder if the Queen of Hearts would be the Dame, but in this creation by Tracy Rogers we have a whole new character called Nora Knowitall, who is Alice’s governess. She follows her pupil down a rabbit hole and ends up in all sorts of trouble including a stay behind bars…

The Watson Players have a long history of pantomime productions, going back to 1970 and that pedigree, along with their experience in a range of drama, really shows. There’s panache here, delivering a range of colourful characters, pantomime set pieces and some fabulous song and dance routines. It’s a great deal of fun…packed as it is with playing cards, including the King & Queen of Hearts, the Joker and his sidekick Mr Rules. Also present and definitely correct are the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Dormouse, the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum & Tweedledee, the White Rabbit and, in this version, his sister, Bunty Bunny. Put them on a stage in a magical set continually filled with colour and interest and you truly have an experience of Wonderland.

There was such a lot of warmth in the theatre this afternoon, not just on the stage where the Watson Players clearly love what they do, but in the audience too, children (and some adults!) in their light up bunny ears, clapping along, cheering and generally joining in right from the start. A great atmosphere and a perfect introduction to the magic of theatre for children. There is no fourth wall in pantomime, the audience are invited along and encouraged by the characters to take part, particularly by the Dame, played so engagingly by Mik Horvath. Mik has great natural delivery, his fluent one-liners come thick and fast and he makes the most of every one of them; deftly throwing asides to the audience and getting the timing of the naughty double entendre just right. Fabulous costumes, wigs and make up, the creation of a warm and wonderful comic character that delights the audience.

Every pantomime has its boo hiss moments and these are provided by Ciara Beighton, giving a stand out performance as Joker. Resplendent in black and white, complete with cocked hat and facial hair (reminded me of Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen!) she commands both the stage and the audience. Great uninhibited character acting with excellent timing and projection.

Not all pantomime characters are loud and much credit goes to those who play the quieter roles which add balance. One such is Mr Rules, pitched perfectly by Gary Rowley, creating much amusement as he frustrates the Joker by constantly referring to the rulebook. Another quieter character is that of Alice, played by Danni Stringer, the voice of reason and some nicely delivered observations. Looking and sounding the part, she shines in her vocals, such as in the beautifully delivered ‘Count on Me’ and the wonderful set piece ‘Flash Bang Wallop’.

There’s lots of fun to be had from the animals in this production and once they got the very clever costumes on, the actors must have felt they could really inhabit the roles. There’s much scurrying about, waving of paws and twitching of whiskers and some lovely voice work that brings them to life. The delightful Cheshire Cat wouldn’t be out of place in Andrew Llyod Webber’s musical; Ellie Mallinson makes the part her own, creeping around and popping up unexpectedly, even getting to play with the band!

The lovely pairing of the White Rabbit (Sean Beeston) and Bunty Bunny (Liz Woolley), brings much manic mayhem and that’s continued by the bonkers tea party trio of The March Hare (Regina Repton), the Dormouse (Veronica Jones) & The Mad Hatter (Jake Perry). Some brilliant comedy from all of these, loved the ex-public school persona of the Hatter, the squeaky tones of the Dormouse and the kindly bustling of the March Hare. This is a great script and they all get some cracking one liners, so plenty for these talented actors to get their teeth into.

There are jam tarts galore to get their teeth into as well (well done to the props department for these and the other yummy creations), made for the imperious but beautifully dressed Queen of Hearts (Angela Swift) by her jolly, funny cook (Sally Tickner-Mellor). There is some lovely banter between the overbearing Queen and her equally picky sister the Duchess (Patricia Church), as they mostly ignore the poor old King of Hearts. Played by Wayne Perry, this inventor of useless objects comes into his own when he interacts with the audience; some lovely comic scenes which whipped the audience up into a typical response routine. Great stuff.

Most pantomimes have a funny double act and this comes courtesy of Lewis Carroll’s famous pair of twins, Tweedledum & Tweedledee. Played with obvious relish by Jack Woolley and Lauren Wells, they delight with their slapstick and their introductory song with the Cook and the Duchess ‘Happy’ is absolutely joyous. There’s lots of slapstick (yes, custard pies!) and physical comedy in this piece, but there are also some lovely dance routines from the choreographer, Sharon Stringer. The beautifully performed ballet sequence that opens the second act is charming and the addition of fairy lights on the costumes is inspired.

The directors, Karen Jones and Yvonne Baird have kept this long pantomime extremely tight and fast paced – no lulls or slow cues here – scenes are carefully blocked and the changes are accomplished seamlessly. Every character is well defined, evidence of the hard work that they must have put in with the cast, and the supporting characters are always fully involved in their scenes, reacting appropriately.

The supporting actors are Lisa Griffin (The Knave), John Chatterjee-Woolman (The Caterpillar), Rai Robinson (Queen of Clubs), Jade Brookes (Queen of Spades), Margaret Icely (Queen of Diamonds) plus the ensemble of James Ash, Lou Jenkins, Aaron Burge & Joe Simpson and the dancers Joanna Raisin, Jess Henshaw and Melissa Pugh.

The Musical Director is Jordan Baird who plays keyboard with the excellent band that accompanies the wide range of songs: from the irresistibly catchy ‘Muppet Song’ to the lovely ballad ‘Welcome to Wonderland’ that closes the show in the splendid finale.

Well down to the whole team that produced this show, including those who created and manged the set; it was obviously a huge team effort and this is clearly a team that work well together.


The Mansfield Operatic and Dramatic Society

9 to 5

Mansfield Palace Theatre

February 15th, 2023

There’s been no expense spared on this lavish production from Mansfield Operatic Society, and quite right too, as they have an array of talent that needs showcasing properly. The stage fair bustles with one of the largest ensembles I’ve seen (lovely incidental character acting there) and the three leading ladies light it up with their top notch performances. It’s a fun filled musical extravaganza that delighted not just me, but the whole audience who whooped and cheered enthusiastically during the joyous finale. A great night out.

The show is based on the 1980 film starring Dolly Parton and it was originally produced on Broadway in 2009. It has all the trademark Dolly fun, great tunes, a funny story well told and a variety of engaging characters.

Pushed to boiling point by the reprehensible Franklin Hart Jr and unfair working conditions, three female co-workers concoct a plan to redress the balance. In a hilarious turn of events, Violet, Judy and Doralee live out their wildest fantasy – giving their boss the boot. While Hart remains "otherwise engaged," the women give their workplace a dream makeover, taking control of the company that has always kept them down.

Helen Mumby plays Doralee, the part Dolly created for herself in the 1980 film. Helen is every inch a dang adorable Dolly, complete with an authentic Tennessee twang, tottering around on heels in her gloriously gaudy outfits. Such a warm and bubbly performance with vocals that just wow – her plaintive ‘Backwards Barbie’ and rollicking ‘Cowgirl’s Revenge’ are dazzling highlights in this show that is packed with great songs.

Amy Shaw plays Judy, the office newbie who slowly becomes empowered enough to shake off her past and start to shine. Amy’s nuanced delivery (lovely comic timing) and some subtle changes in her appearance express this beautifully, and her vocals are the icing on the cake. A splendid fantasy sequence which gives all three principals great solos, sees her sing her heart out with the spectacular ‘Dance O’Death’. Later she lets rip with the sublime ‘Get Out and Stay Out’, beautifully performed.

The target of Judy’s new found vitriol is her ex husband Dick, played with just the right amount of arrogant swagger by Matthew Bird. Men get a bit of a rough deal in this show, as it’s all about female empowerment, ditching the bigots and challenging chauvinism. However, Patricia Resnick (the writer) does balance this a bit through the (literally) supporting characters of Doralee’s lovely husband Dwayne (J J Gill) and the gently smitten Joe, played by Jamie Savage. His sweet duet ‘Let Love Grow’ with Violet is performed beautifully by both.

Carolyn Frith plays the role of Violet the capable but put-upon office manager who finds her hidden strengths through her two friends, particularly when they all go back to her joint… Another excellent all-round performance with some great comic character development, and brilliant routines with the ensemble in ‘Potion Notion’ and the fabulous “One of the Boys.”

All three principals have packed loads into their roles and must have worked very hard with Director and Choreographer Cassey Brough-Savage and Musical Director Roger Holland to produce performances of this calibre. But that is true of every person on that stage, as the fact this piece looks and sounds so good is down to their joint effort and the high production values.

The villain of the piece is Franklin Hart Jr, who describes himself succinctly as a ‘sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot’. He’s captured perfectly by Sean Curtis who rightly lends the character no charm, emphasising just how shockingly bigoted Hart is, without descending into parody. There's lots of humour to be had in the role though, especially when Hart finds himself temporarily suspended… Sean makes the most of all this and packs every bit of sleaze into his hilariously toe curling ‘Here For You’.

A blatantly comic role is that of Roz, Hart’s smitten secretary, played with absolute relish and huge skill by Jo Dewberry. A brave performance that the audience loved, as Roz reveals she is willing to take down more than just notes for her boss… A lovely comic creation and a showstopping rendition of the hilarious ‘Heart to Hart’.

Another comic role for a performer to get her teeth into is the office lush, Margaret, played with suitable tipsy totter by Tineke Fleet. There are some serious issues in this piece, but they are given a light touch and resolved satisfyingly in the end, so the tone is never less than uplifting.

There are also solid supporting performances from Verity Lee-Varley (Maria), Lauren Taylor (Kathy), Jake Calladine (Josh), Jonathan Cooper (Bob), Rebecca Wigman (Missy), Wayne Shutt (Tinsworthy) and Daniel Rayner (Detective).

The musicianship from the splendid 11-piece band and the whole cast is excellent, the dancing and movement well planned and beautifully executed, the costumes spot on. The set is large and requires some shifting, so well done to the team who managed this, as well as manoeuvre some large props and operate a hoist. The overall attention to pace, high quality performance and visual impact has really paid off in this production.


Death Drop - Back in the Habit

National Tour

Theatre Royal, Nottingham

February 14th 2023

This is a comedy thriller with an electrifying edge and is for me an unforgettable experience. I have never seen RuPaul’s Drag Race, so I was not sure what to expect, but I loved every minute of it.

It features dynamic performances by a talented cast of drag queens. The pre production publicity promised a riotous blend of comedy, drama and music and that is most certainly what you get.

The plot of Death Drop is little thin but that does not spoil the enjoyment one bit. Basically, it is set in a nunnery -the convent of St Babs - where unnatural happenings occur with shocking regularity. It has been described as “The Sound of Music meets Scary Movie”, plus many other horror movies. One of the characters is called Sister Maria Julie Andrews, alongside Sis Titis, Father Alfie Romeo and Sister Mary Berry…need I say more!

It is written by Rob Evans and directed by Jesse Jones and features some top rate and well known drag queens including some from RuPaul’s Drag Race and Drag Race UK They are all outstanding performers and keep the audience entertained with their unique mix of comedy, suspense and high energy performances.

There is a great deal of physical comedy in the show which all these performers are good at. This is especially true of Louis CYfer, who plays the hapless investigating Priest Father Alfie Romeo.

The four crazy nuns at St Babs are Victoria Scone as the Mother Superior, Kitty Scott-Claus as Sister Titus, Cheryl Hole as Sister Mary Berry and Jujubee as Sister Maria Julie Andrews. Also in the cast is Corrida Buchan who plays the Pope and Inner Voice. All these performers have what the programme describes not as a triple threat but more like a quintuple one! How very true.

There are some stunning special effects enhanced by the powerful lighting and sound designs of Rory Beaton and Beth Duke. The set is pretty dynamic too and enables the cast to enter and exit at speed, which they often do!

Death Drop Back in The Habit is a spectacular show filled with unforgettable performances, mind-blowing visuals and is a first-class production. That is why the show ended with a prolonged ovation from the audience. I did feel that many in the audience were more familiar with the Drag Race performers than I given their reaction to them when they first appeared on stage. Perhaps I need to watch more BBC 3!

You do need to have a broad sense of humour to appreciate all this show has to offer and much of the language and action is, shall we say, very adult!!

All in all, it is a thrilling and outrageously entertaining production, so don’t miss your chance to witness this incredible drag comedy drama.


Little Shop of Horrors

Cabaret Theatre Compnay

The Brewhouse, Burton

February 9th 2023

Little Shop of Horrors is always good fun, a lively mix of B-Movie sci-fi horror, delightfully kooky characters and some toe tapping, doo-wopping tunes. Put it in the hands - and voices - of a group as talented as Cabaret Theatre Company and it makes for a great night of entertainment: smiles on slightly green faces guaranteed.

Originally opening off-Broadway in 1982, the show is based on Roger Corman’s comically creepy cult film from 1960. It is the story of Seymour Krelborn, a meek and much put-upon assistant in Mr Mushnik’s Skid Row flower shop. He finds finds fame, fortune and a whole lot more, when he nurtures a strange plant with a gruesome appetite that needs more than just a few drops of Baby Bio…

The hapless Seymour is played by Daniel Carter, complete with tank top, glasses and floppy fringe, plus a lovely naivety that charms the audience. He might be a bit of a drip, but he is morally upright and has outbursts of comic indignation (think Frank Spencer) at the numerous mishaps that befall him through seemingly little fault of his own. Yet he also has moments of poignancy, such as when commiserating with Audrey in the wistful ‘Suddenly Seymour’. A thoroughly engaging and nuanced character portrayal by Daniel with some great vocals.

It's important that the characters in this piece remain slightly surreal and firmly within the realms of comic sci-fi horror, as some of the themes covered are very unpleasant and could have the audience shifting uncomfortably in their seats. No worries here, as the upbeat direction, cheerfully absurd nature of the events and the glorious 1960s pop/rock score keep us smiling.

With that proviso we can engage with the characters, but not feel too upset at their sad lives and grisly fate. This is particularly true of Audrey, Seymour’s love interest, played beautifully by Katie French. Audrey is a warm hearted dumb blonde and Katie captures this perfectly, reminiscent for me of Sarah Lancashire’s creation of Raquel in Coronation Street, many years ago. Her sweetness and vulnerability, expressed through a flawless American accent is captivating and her singing is gorgeous. The truly poignant ‘Somewhere That’s Green’, where she yearns for a fence of real chain link and to cook like Betty Crocker, is a vocal highlight.

The hardened old florist Mr Mushnik is played with enormous conviction by Phil Simcox. With a sonorous voice (another flawless accent and great projection), plus the swagger of a Thirties gangster, his scheming and general bad humour both amuse and appal. His duet with Seymour ‘Mushnik & Sons’ is very well performed, and the pair of them make the most of some lovely comic choreography.

Every comedy horror needs a villain and it’s hard to think of a more horrific one than that old comic trope, the Demon Dentist. Orin Scrivello D.D.S is a repugnant character played with great relish by Ross Harris, who brings the comically evil character vividly to life, to the huge amusement of the audience. It’s not easy to act manic laughter and it can’t be easy to act with a diving helmet on, but Ross manages it all beautifully and his final scene is a tour de force. He also gets to show off his acting chops with some lovely cameos later in the show.

There’s another villain in this piece and that’s the pernicious plant, the awful Audrey II, who takes over the florists and is, well, bloody demanding. She is voiced by Hilary Leam, who makes the most of Audrey’s hilarious bad temper, potty mouth and richly soulful vocals. The visual impact the amazing Audrey II makes in her various incarnations is huge and down to the skill of the puppeteers, Duncan Leech and Richard Everson.

Director Chris Moss has filled the performance space with fast moving action – there’s plenty of movement inside and outside the florists and some simple but convincing relocation to other scenes. The delightful ‘Greek Chorus’ of Ronette (Andrea Osborne), Crystal (Lauren Bishop) and Chiffon (Ashleigh Dudson), are thoroughly entertaining; they help to tell the story through song and dance, opening the show and setting the tone with the Prologue. They are rarely still after that, choreographer Sally Everson has brought their many numbers to life and asked a lot of them, but they have completely nailed it. Bringing further life and interest to the scenes are the supporting players of Nick Holburn, Sara Evans-Bolger, and Maisie Parkinson.

Well done to the Director and Choreographer who have given this show an edge by keeping up the comic pace, making it visually interesting and yet giving the talented cast time to shine. Congratulations also to Charlotte Daniel, the Musical Director, for the very high level of performance of both the cast and the splendid Little Shop Band. All of this hard work is enhanced by the production values: clear sound quality (Tom Berriman) and lighting that is literally spot on (Matt Bancroft).

If the idea of this fabulous horror musical has grown on you – and the thought of world domination by carnivorous plants doesn’t scare you too much - get along to The Brewhouse Burton before the production finishes with two performances tomorrow.


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

February 8th, 2023

Tonight’s performance of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was fabulous and I thoroughly enjoyed it all.

The play is a hilarious and heart-warming story of seven elderly travellers who decide to stay at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India. They are a group of British retirees, who experience a journey of cultural insights and self-discovery as they explore the country.

The characters are vivid and believable, and their struggles and triumphs are never dull. In this regard the performances of Hayley Mills as Evelyn and Rula Lenska as Madge are wonderful examples, both being consummate actors.

It is also good to see Paul Nicholas on the stage again; his performance of Douglas is excellent. He and Eileen Battye, who plays his wife Jean, work very well together. I also enjoyed the very humorous but worldly wise performance of Andy de la tour as Norman. He has some great one liners as does Marlene Sidaway who plays Muriel. Loved her characterisation.

Nishad More who plays the Hotel Manager Sonny is a powerhouse of a young actor who often rushes around the stage while firing off a lot of emotion in all directions. He is also a very good foil for his overbearing mother, played superbly by Rekha John-Cheriyan. Tiran Aakel plays the businessman Mr Gupta but also the drunken cook - a very versatile actor!

Completing the line-up of the English ladies is Richenda Carey as the rather strange Dorothy who used to work at the BBC! Another excellent performance.

Completing the cast are Shila Iqbal (as Sahani), Kerena Jagpal (as Kamila), Chris Dosanjh (Jimmy), and Anant Varman (Mohan). All these actors bring their characters beautifully to life.

The final scene involves the whole cast in Indian dancing and singing, expressing the pure joy of being together, which is one of the many themes of the play. It is an absolute joy to watch and led to an extended audience ovation.

The set design and costumes are stunning, and the play is enhanced by the incidental musical score by Kuljit Bhamra.

The story is full of humour and emotion, with some poignant moments.

The direction by Lucy Bailey is tight and the action moves quickly.

The set designed by Colin Richmond and the costumes by Chris Cahill are beautiful enhanced by Oliver Fenwick’s appropriate lighting. I really felt I was transported to India as I watched the show.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a great show for anyone looking for an evening of great entertainment. It is a wonderful production with a stellar cast


Fisherman’s Friends

The Musical

Directed by James Grieve

Theatre Royal Nottingham

January 31st 2023

Well, I fell for this one hook line and sinker, which was a pleasant surprise as I knew very little about the Fisherman’s Friends beforehand. I knew the pulling power of sea shanties, those rousing choruses designed to keep sailors working to a strict rhythm, but wasn’t prepared for the tidal wave of beautiful harmonies and perfect A capella that filled the theatre tonight.

It’s a glorious piece, packed not just with foot stomping shanties, but with snatches of traditional folk tunes, roof raising choruses and some Celtic style emotional ballads. The fabulous on-stage musicians often accompany, playing harmonicas, violins, banjos, guitars, drums, woodwind and accordion, while adding to the action with some skilfully choreographed dancing. There are 30 musical items in all, so a huge concert repertoire, with the added bonus of the engaging tale of how a group of Cornish fishermen became recording artistes and got to perform at Glastonbury.

‘Truth, respect and community’ are the bywords of the group who meet in the local pub to sing and keep the traditional music of the Cornish fishing fleet alive by giving free concerts on the ‘Platt’, the quayside in Port Isaac. Enter Danny, (played at this performance by Dominic Brewer), a smooth-talking music executive with a few skeletons in his closet, who recognises musical talent when he sees it and wants to make the most of it.

The story is a little slow to get going - who cares when you’ve got such fabulous singing to listen to - but once it does it moves along at a cracking pace, taking the action to several different places. All of this is made possible by a clever set which places the action authentically on the quayside (yes, there are seagulls!), yet inside the cosy damp of the bar at the same time. We’re even taken convincingly out to sea at a couple of points to witness both the reality of deep sea fishing and the heroism of the RNLI during a storm. We enjoy the salty humour when the group leave in a minibus for London, especially their reaction when they pass through Devon and their escapade in the Soho club with a colourful flag outside… All of this is made possible by the designer’s sleight of hand (Lucy Osborne) and swift work by the cast that fires our imaginations and allows us to create the details of the different places for ourselves.

There’s emotion in this piece – from a rather sweet Mills and Boon type love story, the plight of a couple being squeezed by financial pressure and the demands of a new baby, and the sadness of unexpected loss. The cast handle all this brilliantly, especially Parisa Shahmir who plays Alwyn, feisty daughter of Jim, the skipper of the group. She has a lovely, pure and powerful voice that is packed with emotion and is an absolute joy to listen to.

It was good to see the well known faces of James Gaddas (Vinnie in Coronation Street and Dad in Billy Elliot) playing the gravelly voiced, irascible but highly principled Jim and Susan Penhaligon (Bouquet of Barbed Wire) returning to her Cornish roots to play Maggie his mother, flying the flag for septuagenarians who don’t act their age.

There are plenty of beautiful standout solos, but this is very much an ensemble piece and it’s the ringing-in-the-rafters group songs such as ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor’, ‘Blow the Man Down’, ‘Cousin Jack’, ‘John Kanaka’ and ‘South Australia’ that stay with you and will have you humming happily for days.

Catch this one if you can, it’s a great night of entertainment.


Sleeping Beauty

National Tour

Mathew Bourne New Adventures

Theatre Royal Nottingham

January 24th2023


Matthew Bourne's "Sleeping Beauty" is a visually stunning retelling of the classic fairy tale with a modern twist.

The story follows the life of Princess Aurora, who is cursed by the wicked fairy Carabosse at her christening. The curse states that on Aurora's 18th birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. However, a kind fairy alters the curse so that Aurora will only fall into a deep sleep that can only be broken by true love's kiss.

The story then jumps forward to Aurora's 21st birthday, where she is awakened by a handsome prince named Leo, who has been sent on a quest to break the curse and awaken the princess. The two fall in love and must face the wrath of Carabosse and her army of ghosts. In the end, love conquers all and the curse is broken. The production has two acts and four scenes – 1890: The Baby Aurora – 1911 Aurora Comes of Age – 2011: Aurora Wakes and Yesterday: Aurora’s Wedding.

The choreography by Bourne is breathtaking, and the dancers bring the story to life through their incredible dancing skills. They have the finely honed ability to communicate not just the story, but the feelings of the characters, creating a truly engaging and emotional experience.

The outstanding principal cast features Ashley Shaw in the iconic role of Princess Aurora. Andrew Monaghan as Leo, the love sick gamekeeper, The fabulous Jackson Fisch as The Dark Fairy, Carabosse and her son, Caradoc. The Good Fairy, Count Lilac is played by the outstanding Dominic North, who I first saw in another of Bourne’s fabulous ballets, Car man.

The rest of the cast also play important roles in the production, providing a solid foundation for the lead dancers to build upon. The choreography is challenging and dynamic and requires the dancers to have a high level of skill and athleticism, which they all have in abundance.

The ensemble cast is Kayla Collymore (Queen Eleanor), Danny Reubens (King Benedict) Fairies: Bryony Wood, Hannah Kremer, Shoko Ito, James Lovell, Stephen Murray. Cameron Flynn (Lord Rupert), Perreira de Jesus Franque (Viscount Aubrey), Benjamin Barlow Bazeley (Archie), Ben Brown (Bertie), Jade Copas (Flossie), Sophia Hurdley (Nanny)

All the performers are top-notch and highly entertaining.

This production has a visually stunning set design. The design is gothic and opulent, with a dark and mysterious atmosphere that adds to the overall tone of the story. Most effective are two moving walkways that are used by the dancers to great effect. Very clever stuff. In comparison there is a wonderful bright and colourful outdoor scene for the birthday party of Aurora.

The costumes are also grand and extravagant, fitting with the opulent setting and adding to the aesthetic of the production. Overall, the set is visually impressive and enhances the story-telling experience.

You have to see this show to appreciate the brilliance of it; every member of the cast contributed to its magic. I have rarely been so entranced and involved in what was going on. I will remember this production for a very long time to come.

Congratulations once again to Sir Matthew and his creative team. The way he wove the traditional tale with more modern movement and ballet was incredible.


SpongeBob the Musical

The Young Performers

Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton

January 18th 2023

It’s always a pleasure to watch youth groups at this theatre; tonight it was The Young Performers, who have been producing shows here for many years.

During the show they certainly have a great time from start to finish! I have never seen it before, but quite a few of the songs are well known and the characters are from the popular Nickelodeon TV series. I got the feeling that many in the audience were familiar with the story, as there was plenty of delighted laughter and enthusiastic clapping throughout.

The story is a simple one: the stakes are high as SpongeBob and all of Bikini Bottom face the total annihilation of their undersea world. Chaos erupts. Lives hang in the balance. And just when all hope seems lost, a most unexpected hero rises up and takes centre stage. This all adds up to a very dynamic musical experience, which is suitable for all ages.

The cast is led by Finlay Tomlinson as SpongeBob – he certainly has the look and infectious laugh of the loveable TV creation! His non-stop effervescence and sparkle anchors the musical and keeps things moving.

There are other good performances, including that from Ella Charlesworth, as Squidward. She is marvellously miserable as she wallows in self-pity and I particularly liked her accomplished performance of the song “I’m Not a Loser.”

Evan Del Gaudio perfectly portrays the lug of a Starfish, Patrick, a good-natured dimwit and BFF of SpongeBob.

Neve Johnson is playfully appealing as Sandy, the no-nonsense squirrel, living among the Bikini Bottom inhabitants.

William Mellor is fiendishly inept as the diabolic Sheldon Plankton, along with his equally evil partner Karen, played by Millie Weston.

The audience were delighted by the occasional appearances of the cheeky pirate Patch, played by the irrepressible Freddie Cutts.

Also supporting well in the large ensemble were Lewis McDowall, Summer McNorton, William Mellor, Millie Weston, Drew Boswell, Louis Dexter, James Pedrick, Alex Povey, Emily Wilkins, Lucy Coulson-Jones ,Polly Snape, Sophie Dexter, Lucie Artiss, Dillan Brookes, Izzy Pickering, Sophie Longcroft, Finlay Boswell, Keeley Rickerby, Carly Gaunt, Elouise Ludlow, Avaani Babra, Erin Gell, Jess Henshaw and A J Chamberlain.

The score of the show includes original material from Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, and Panic! At the Disco. The songs are bouncy, tuneful and catchy and are sung with gusto. The use of a number of visual effects is very good.

The 12 piece orchestra sounds wonderful, in fact at first I thought it was a recorded track.

The set by Roydon Charlesworth is bright and colourful and is used well by the ensemble of assorted characters. There are some excellent special and scenic effects.

The Lighting and Sound by Dave Martin and Dave Dallard enhance the look and feel of the show.

One comment I am delighted to make is that Young Performers have 11 boys and 18 girls in the cast, which is really good news. I, like many, have been concerned that the number of boys in youth groups has declined and YPs have reversed this trend, which is fantastic.

This is quite obviously not an easy show to produce; congratulations to the production team led by YPs creative director, Zak Charlesworth for taking on the challenge.

I don’t think it matters if you are a fan of SpongeBob or not, as I am sure you will enjoy this zany musical based on the fabulous cartoon character. The wacky world of Bikini Bottom and those who live there is lovingly portrayed here at the Duchess Theatre in this production by the Young Performers.


PW Productions’ 30th Anniversary UK and Ireland Tour

Stephen Daldry’s production of JB Priestley’s AN INSPECTOR CALLS.

Theatre Royal Nottingham

17th January 2022

It’s 1945 and a small boy, alone at the front of the stage, lifts the red curtain to peer at the surreally fragile structure of an upper middle class house in 1912. So begins Stephen Daldry’s clever staging of this thought provoking, character driven play that bursts with tension and has eerily modern relevance. Priestley plays with time and so does Daldry; the play was first staged in 1945, so he reminds us of the audience then, war torn and desperate for social change, looking back with pity and disgust at Edwardian hypocrisy. We are in turn invited to view inequality, prejudice and exploitation and ponder our own society.

It’s the evening of 5th April 1912 and the wealthy Birling family are celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila to a fine young man from another rich local family. The families may be rivals in business, but they represent the same strongly capitalist ideals: work hard, get others to work hard for you, make lots of money and propel yourself to the top of society. Their celebrations come to an abrupt end when a police Inspector calls and levels accusations at all of them that shake them to the core…

Liam Brennan is Inspector Goole (or is it Ghoul?) whose rigorous interrogation style, enhanced by a crisp Scottish accent, quickly dismantles the respectability of the family and forces them to recognise the consequences of their actions. The whole play is about dismantling, the dismantling of social standing, of lies and pretence, all startlingly underlined by shocking changes in the set. No more details – it has to be seen to be appreciated!

Inspector Goole’s final speech, which is delivered with earnest feeling by Liam Brennan expresses Priestley’s strong socialist views and his hopes for a more compassionate society. The mostly young audience – this is a GCSE text, so the theatre was full of school groups – were silent at this point, responding to the relevance of a manifesto that was written nearly 80 years ago.

Jeffrey Harmer plays the rather reprehensible and morally blind Mr Birling - a ‘hard-headed businessman’ – with biting arrogance and complete self belief. His wife, played with splendid haughtiness by Christine Kavanagh is equally confident of her moral and social superiority. It remains to be pondered if these characters are redeemed by the events of the night, maybe they are just too stuck in their ways and it is with the young characters that hope resides.

The siblings Eric and Sheila Birling, played by George Rowlands and Chloe Orrock, both show some remorse for their actions and Sheila probably undergoes the most change. At the end of the play she too peers under the curtain, maybe hoping to see the social reform she now understands is needed. All of the characters have colourful back stories, not least that of Gerald Croft (Simon Cotton), led initially by compassion, but hide bound by the expectations of his class and unwilling to change.

There is no interval, just a quick curtain fall, but the rich characterisations and gripping story telling, which is both visual and spoken, hold the attention throughout. It was gratifying to hear the gasps of surprise and disbelief at various times from the young audience and to witness their enjoyment at various points of comeuppance for some characters. Stephen Daldry has taken the play quite literally out of the Edwardian drawing room and ‘released its essence’, showing how the themes and the characters are still relevant today.

This play is a great theatrical experience, enhanced by the imaginative staging and a compelling atmosphere. This is created by period detail from both 1912 and 1945, perfect costumes, lighting and sound and some great work by silent characters. The twist at the end is the icing on the cake and leaves lots to be discussed – and hopefully some great answers on the English Lit GCSE papers this year!