THEATRE REVIEWS 2024

Coming Soon:

Madagascar the Musical - Theatre Royal, Nottingham - July 24th 2024

An Officer and a Gentleman - Theatre Royal, Nottingham - July 29th 2024

The Wizard Of Oz

RMTC The MOB

Majestic Theatre Retford

July 14th 2024

What a treat it was on Sunday afternoon to be whisked magically to the Land of Oz by 57 young performers in the Majestic Theatre at Retford. No need for Sunday dinner, this was a majestic feast that left the audience full – full of admiration and joy. Yes, 57 in the cast, and yes, it was magical – a wonderful spectacular that showcased not just the talents of these enthusiastic and hardworking young performers, but those who teach and direct them, too. The magic from the performers was enhanced by puppetry, aerial flying, splendid lighting and sound effects, and some wonderfully effective projections. Wow! Add to those an inspired directorial decision to fill the auditorium with bubbles at some points and the awe and wonder is obvious. The small boy next to me remained enthralled and vocally excited for over two hours of performance time; praise indeed.

Many of us are familiar with the story from Sunday afternoons in front of the tele watching Judy Garland in the 1939 film version, but also from the newer incarnations: the Andrew Lloyd Webber version and the recent touring one with The Vivienne.

Dorothy is swept away from Kansas during a tornado and finds herself among some helpful Munchkins in the Land of Oz. After advice from the Good Witch Glinda, she sets out along the Yellow Brick Road in some snazzy red slippers, to find the Wizard of Oz. The all powerful wizard can not only get Dorothy back to Kansas, but grant the wishes of some new friends she meets along the way, too. If the Wicked Witch of the West doesn’t scupper their plans…

The magic begins with the tornado, the drab and rather oppressive Kansas landscape is thrillingly replaced with the colourful Land of Oz and the absolutely spectacular first ensemble number, featuring the Munchkins. So much to see here, a stage packed with performers, but so well choreographed that it’s never less than a visual delight and the singing is glorious. Many performers took the eye here and every one was putting their heart and soul into their part and creating their own little character. Congratulations to the Musical Director Pete Lack, who conducted the 11 piece band and who must have worked very hard with the cast to produce not just ensemble pieces of such high quality, but some wonderful solos too, such as the iconic Over The Rainbow. Other great songs which really get the feet tapping and put smiles on faces are Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead, The Lullaby League / The Lollipop Guild, Follow The Yellow Brick Road, We're Off To See The Wizard and There's No Place Like Home. Great stuff.

Choreography by Becca White shines throughout, there are not just crowd scenes to manage, but some set piece movement sequences and varied dances including some lovely tap and ballet style numbers. Rehearsals must have been fun, but very hard work!

The ensemble have so many opportunities to shine and cameo roles, such as the charming Munchkin officials; Fraser Duffy as the Winkie General, Louisa Merrion, Chloe Veitch and Jasper Whitworth as the crows; Bethany Bailey, Elisha Lucas and Adwyn Roberts as the very cool apple trees and the flying monkeys led by Katrina Fenton, are confidently performed. The Jitterbug scene, which shows off the dancing talents of Isla Merrills and Mya Hill is a joy to watch and the Poppies are enchanting. Each one is wearing a striking Poppy headdress; a mention here to Carolyn White and her sewing assistants and to the make up team of Grace Baron and Trinity Searles. Both costumes and make up were perfect throughout the show and made a huge impact to the production as a whole.

Nine performers get the chance to star as principals and they certainly make the most of it. It’s not surprising to read in the programme (one of the best I’ve seen), that many of these young performers go on to professional training after their thorough grounding in theatre skills with The Mob. It was lovely to read the dedications of their justifiably proud families.

I saw Cast Wiz and was treated to Daisy Brammall’s lovely voice as Dorothy, a Dorothy she understands, making her heart rendingly vulnerable and quietly serious. Over the Rainbow was beautifully and wistfully performed. Dorothy needs light relief and she finds it when she meets up with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion. Toby Cupit’s Scarecrow is a joy, not just the nuance in his delivery, but the physical acting that brings the character literally to life. Hermione Hunt is a talented actor who makes every one of her Tin Man’s lines count and Charlie Buxton has the comic timing and sense of slapstick that makes the Lion so endearing. The four of them create something magical together. And they can all dance and sing, too!

Some real magic comes from Glinda, the Good Witch, who flies into Oz to help Dorothy and does her best to put things right. Well done to Naomi Earl, who also plays Aunt Em, for flying so high and lighting up the stage. Aunt Em’s lovely husband Uncle Henry is played convincingly by Jack Hilditch. For contrast, the Wicked Witch of the West (and the formidable Miss Gulch) are played with delicious malevolence by Scarlett Parkin. Fine acting, characterisation and projection from Scarlett make these characters truly horrible! More accomplished character acting that really impressed me from Victoria Needham as Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz. Acting of the non verbal kind from Theodore Smith, who along with Ava Softly-Robins, trained with Bryony McCombie-Smith to operate her custom made Toto puppet. Theodore became Toto and there was never a moment when Toto didn’t react to events like a real dog; so skilfully brought to life and much appreciated by the audience.

The director Keri Duffy and her assistant Sarah Mitchell have definitely created something magical: insisting on such high production values and using the talents of Vinnie Hemmings on Lighting, Adam Bright on the very atmospheric Sound, Flying First Class and Cinematic Theatre Productions, has really paid off. Little touches like the bubbles, the peeping Munchkins and the clear direction to the cast to not only be in the right place, but to always react to events convincingly (while singing and dancing up a storm!), have given this production professional polish. The complicated but seamless scene changes of Proscenium’s wonderful set added to this immeasurably: Stage Manager Richard Concannon and his team of seven nailed it. A huge effort and a huge success.

I look forward to The Mob’s next production which is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Majestic Theatre Retford, from 10th -12th July 2025.

 

Here You Come Again

Theatre Royal Nottingham

July 9th 2024

It’s 2020 and would be comedian Kevin is living in a loft bedroom in his parents’ house in Halifax – trapped during lockdown and alone with his despair. Frustrated at his inability to both kickstart his career and face up to the reality of his failing relationship, Kevin’s only succour comes from the music of his idol, Dolly Parton. What follows from this introduction – set in the most beautifully styled and detailed loft - is a fantasy, where Dolly bursts through a poster to entertain, support and encourage Kevin to make the decisions that will change his life. A fantasy, but one grounded in the reality of Dolly’s glorious music and the grit of her no-nonsense advice.

This is a rollicking couple of hours packed with wit, humour, flawlessly performed songs and some great character acting; it’s warmly funny and ultimately joyous, yet often sensitive and sometimes heart rending.

What gives the story emotional depth is not just the skilled writing of Bruce Vilanch and Gabriel Barre (who also directs) and Tricia Pauluccio (who also stars), but a brilliant character portrayal by Steven Webb. His Kevin is immediately likeable, self deprecating, full of wit - which is delivered with impeccable timing - and completely open about his fears and failings. We root for him immediately, marvel at his ability to perform a song (his “Jolene” is show stopping) and become fully engaged in his claustrophobic, yet animated, life in the loft and his dealings with Dolly. Much of the humour comes from the additional material by Jonathan Harvey (Gimme Gimme Gimme) who gives Kevin the dry, British wit and familiar references we all know and love.

Dolly is captured with sequined, sparking precision by Tricia Pauluccio (she’s already taken this show across the US) and her performance of Dolly’s songs is absolutely wonderful. The big ones are here: “9 to 5”, “Two Doors Down”, “I Will Always Love You”, “Islands in the Stream” and “Jolene” – alongside the gentler “Little Sparrow”, “Love is Like a Butterfly” and a couple of less familiar ones. Dolly’s Tennessee twang, along with her intonation and ability to infuse even barbed comments with warmth, are all perfectly captured. Like many who seek solace in her music, Kevin takes onboard the message of hope, never giving up and finding the beauty in life.

The designer, Paul Wills is responsible for not just the wonderful set, but for Dolly’s fabulous costumes and wigs, both of which create a vivid, beautifully lit picture that perfectly complements the drama. The realistic detail of the loft - the old toys, the skeleton and the Christmas decorations- is offset by the background of chimneys and the top floor, where backing vocalists (Aidan Cutler & Charlotte Elisabeth Yorke) add not just harmony, but character voices. The on stage band rock up a storm and it matters not a jot that they have appeared in Kevin’s loft – after all what’s Dolly doing there, anyway?

What does matter – to me anyway - is the constant breaking of the fourth wall. I want to enter this imagined world, be in this beautifully detailed loft, admire Dolly’s costumes, enjoy the fabulous performances and be taken into the world of fantasy drama. When Dolly enters and says ‘Hello Nottingham’, when both she and Kevin speak directly to the audience, even inviting us to switch on our phone lights, I lose the pleasure of suspending my disbelief, of being transported into a magical place where amazing things happen (and there are some great illusions in this). I land with a thud back in the Theatre Royal, looking at a very clever set, with some very talented performers on the stage, but no longer in that very special place that theatre can create. Just a personal bugbear.

The audience last night absolutely loved this production, there was a standing ovation, a joyous finale and smiles on the faces of all those who had been not just entertained, but lifted up.

 

 

Unfortunate: The Musical
Theatre Royal Nottingham
June 25th 2024

Fresh from complete sell out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe and around the UK comes this critically acclaimed smash hit parody musical 'Unfortunate: The Musical’. Promising a tell-all tale of sex, sorcery and suckers this show does not disappoint!

A witty and irreverent retelling of the classic Disney tale, focusing on Ursula, the sea witch from "The Little Mermaid.", this musical dives deep into Ursula's backstory, offering a fresh perspective on her motivations and character. It is packed with humour, catchy songs and a lot of sass, making it a delightful experience.

The set design and costumes are visually stunning, capturing the underwater world in a whimsical and imaginative way. The use of clever puppetry is a joy and very funny to watch. The music is also a highlight, with original songs that are both memorable and fitting for the story's tone.

The cast are incredibly talented and all deliver very strong performances. Some of the cast play several different characters and move seamlessly from one to another. Shawna Hamic plays Ursula and brings a perfect blend of charisma, menace, and humour to the role. The supporting cast of River Medway (Ariel), Thomas Lowe (Triton), Allie Dart (Sebastian), Jamie Mawson (Eric), Julian Capolei (Grimsby), Corrina Buchan (Ensemble), Jack Gray (Ensemble), Jamie McKillop (Ensemble) also shine brightly and give a vibrant and energetic atmosphere to the production.

This is an entertaining and clever show that offers a new take on a beloved villain. It's a must-see for anyone who enjoys musical theatre and a great laugh. It runs until Saturday 29th June and I would urge you to join Ursula if you can, to see what really happened all those years ago under the sea.......

Eloise


Awful Auntie
Theatre Royal Nottingham
20th June 2024


How awful can an Auntie really be? Well, the protagonist of tonight’s story, Stella, was about to find out!


A stage adaptation of one of David Walliams’ best selling books, Awful Auntie, this play tells the story of Stella Saxby. The play begins with Stella waking up from a three month coma to find herself unable to move, completely wrapped in bandages. Only her Aunt Alberta can tell Stella what has happened and Stella is given the devastating news that both her parents have died in a car crash and she has broken every bone in her body.


However, Stella begins to become suspicious of Aunt Alberta and realising she’s not actually injured, just bound by the bandages, Stella attempts to escape. Unfortunately, she is caught by Auntie and her terrifying pet owl Wagner and soon she finds herself locked in the cellar. Stella realises she is now in for the fight of her life against her very own Awful Auntie! In despair, and not knowing what to do next, Stella begins to cry until friendly ghost ‘Soot’ appears. They form a friendship and together they plot to defeat Aunt Alberta and find out what really happened to her parents.
This is very funny play and although primarily aimed at children, there is humour throughout that appeals to all ages. Comically exaggerated performances led to big laughs and in typical Walliams’ style, there was plenty of toilet humour and slapstick comedy. This was particularly well received by the younger members of the audience. The play also features the use of puppetry. A very clever addition, with mini versions of Stella, Auntie, Soot and Wagner used in scenes based outside which gave the illusion of space and a was a joy to watch.


A hugely talented cast bring the book to life on the stage; Annie Cordoni (Stella Saxby), Matthew Allen (Soot), Neal Foster (Aunt Alberta), Emily Essery (Wagner), Zain Abrahams (Gibbon), Elan Retsof (Detective Straus).


Awful Auntie runs until Sunday 23rd June and I would urge you to go and see it if you can. You won’t be disappointed.


Eloise


The Little Mermaid

The Young Performers

Duchess Theatre Long Eaton

June 12th 2024

The Young Performers' production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid" is a delightful production which brings this underwater story to life with youthful energy and genuine passion. Transforming the classic animated film for the stage is no easy task, but this talented group of young actors and the production team have done it brilliantly.

Ella Charlesworth in the role of Ariel, is excellent. Her portrayal of the curious and determined mermaid is engaging and her beautiful singing charmingly captures Ariel's perseverance and determination. Her performance of "Part of Your World" is accomplished and powerful, earning a well-deserved round of enthusiastic applause.

Prince Eric is played by Finlay Boswell with depth and sincerity. His relationship with Ariel feels genuine and the expression of their budding romance is engaging. Finlay performed Her Voice and One Step Closer with strength and considerable feeling.

Theo Brewer excels as Sebastian the crab (love his accent), and the outstanding Summer McNorton plays the villainous Ursula, adding humour and menace to the show. What a voice she has, too! Her puppet helpers, Jetsam and Flotsam are energetically played by the talented pair, Neve Johnson and Izzy Pickering. Sebastian's lively version of "Under the Sea" has the audience tapping their feet, while Ursula's "Poor Unfortunate Souls" showcases Summer’s impressive vocal range and ability to sell a song.

Elijah Green as Flounder soon became a firm favourite with the audience, due in part to his frequent cheeky smiles and ability to glide across the stage. Like many others in the underwater world he was wearing shoes with wheels on. They make the characters glide around the stage seemingly effortlessly. Very effective staging.

The Director, Zak Charlesworth, has produced a show in which he clearly balances the whimsical elements of the story with moments of real emotion. The staging is creative, making excellent use of the space to create an immersive underwater world. The transitions between scenes are smooth, keeping the story's momentum going and as a consequence the audience are engaged throughout. Well done to Paul Wheedon and Kevin McDowall for their very speedy movements of set.

Other parts are played well by Will Mellor (Grimsby), Jess Henshaw (Scuttle the seagull), Lewis McDowell (King Triton), Fin Tomlinson (extremely funny Chef Louis), Will Hamilton (the Pilot), Millie Weston (Windward) and Emily Wilkins (Leeward).

I was very impressed with the group of Ariel’s Sisters who feature in several musical numbers. They are Isabella Frampton, (Adrina), Lucy Coulson-Jones (Aquata), Hattie McEwan (Arista), Amelia Forecast (Atina), Liv McEwan (Adella) and Lottie Ellis (Allana).

There is also a very hardworking ensemble. Dillan Brookes, Carly Gaunt, Kelly Rickerby, Violet Graney, A J Chamberlain, Olivia Monk, Lexi-Mae Hart, Lucie Artis, Sophie Longcroft, Emily-Mae Taylor, Sophie Dexter, Emmie Simmons, Clarissa Armitage, Molly Price, Alex Povey and Livvy Read.

The choreography, by Ellie Simmonds is energetic, exciting and well-executed. The dance numbers, especially "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl," are vibrant and visually stunning. Regular readers know that I love a good finale and this production certainly has one. I really enjoyed that and I think the cast did too!

The set design by Roydon Charlesworth is imaginative and effortlessly transports the audience from the depths of the ocean to Prince Eric's castle. The video projections are excellent and very well synced to the music. Some of the best I have seen in this theatre. They also made the space on the stage impressively large for the whole cast numbers.

The use of the extended stage walkway is brilliant, enabling various characters to get very close to the audience and provide an entry and exit to the underwater scenes. Along with the lighting effects (Dave Martin) a magical atmosphere is created. The underwater scenes are particularly well done, with flowing fabrics and bubble effects adding to the illusion of being beneath the sea. Must mention here the Young Performers Techies who helped with sound and lighting. Well done.

The costumes are lovely, capturing the essence of each character while allowing the performers to move freely. Ariel's iconic mermaid costume and Ursula's evil looking tentacles are fabulous. The costumes are provided by Spotlight Theatre.

The musical accompaniment was a high-quality track which was well balanced with the performers' vocals. The musical director, Ben Ward has obviously worked hard with the cast to produce such good quality singing. The great Sound design by Harvey Tavener complemented this well.

This production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid" is a heartwarming and entertaining experience that showcases the talent and hard work of its young cast. It is a production filled with joy, creativity, and the timeless magic of Disney. Whether you are a long-time fan of the animated film or new to the story, this adaptation is sure to leave you with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

Highly recommended for audiences of all ages,

 

The Syndicate

Nottingham Theatre Royal

June 4th 2024

The Syndicate is a comedy drama based on the first series of Kay Mellor’s hit BBC show, telling the story of five supermarket workers who scoop the lottery jackpot and find their lives changed forever. With Kay Mellor’s customary flair for story telling, for creating ordinary but interesting characters and for engaging dialogue, it’s a thoroughly entertaining play.

Beginning in the supermarket, which has been imaginatively created by designer Bretta Gerecke, the action follows the everyday lives of the workers, including brothers Stuart and Jamie, who are both desperate for money.

Kay Mellor writes ensemble pieces with due regard for all her characters, but there is always one who becomes the pivot of the action, who drives the story forward. A character who gives the play heart, who has us wondering what we would do in the same situation. In this piece that character is Stuart, played so sensitively by Benedict Shaw, ably showing desperation, indecision and ultimately remorse as he struggles with the consequences of his own and his brother’s actions.

Oliver Anthony creates the flawed but powerful character of Jamie with absolute conviction; both his spoken and physical delivery are spot on. He’s an irredeemably immoral character, tainted by his upbringing, driven by self regard and willing to commit a shocking crime to get what he wants. Who knew they would win the lottery the very next day?...

Samantha Giles, unrecognisable from her well known part in Emmerdale, is the dowdy, gossipy, but warm hearted Denise, making the most of the character’s unintentionally humorous lines. Rosa Coduri-Fulford plays the gentle but elusive Leanne, who has a secret past, and the genial manager Bob, is played by William Ilkley, a wonderful example of experienced character acting. Jerome Ngonadi is the Police Inspector who cheerfully bides his time as he waits for forensics and human nature to take their course. Gaynor Faye is Kay, the Lottery rep, who not only flits around the supermarket workers, keenly exploiting their commercial potential, but unexpectedly opens the play in a way that makes the audience sit up and take notice.

The supermarket set is flanked by the manager’s office on one side and the staffroom on the other; lighting successfully takes us into these, while the action continues silently in the darkened central set, a directorial decision that works well. What didn’t work so well for me was the quick change of the staffroom into a hospital ward; too much disbelief to suspend there. Other demands on the imagination of the audience work effectively: some little surreal touches are humorous and a final fantasy scene to explain Jamie’s fate is powerful.

It's in the hospital we first encounter Amy, Stuart’s gloriously demanding girlfriend, brought vividly and glamorously to life by Brooke Vincent, late of Coronation Street. She comes even more awfully into her own in the second act, where the set and costumes richly reflect the characters’ new found wealth. It’s amongst the opulence of his mansion that Stuart finally confronts his demons, Leanne comes to terms with her previous life, Denise discovers her worth and Bob gets the potentially happy ending that he deserves. Amy is left wallowing in the glory of her yearned for wealth, but not necessarily any richer.

It was Kay Mellor’s ear for the wit and warmth of Northern dialogue and her talent for creating stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances that made her so successful. This, her final stage play, follows her other highly regarded adaptations of Fat Friends The Musical and Band of Gold and is directed in her honour by her daughter, Gaynor Faye.

 

Kipps - The New Half A Sixpence

Carlton Operatic Society

Nottingham Theatre Roya

lMay 28th 2024

‘What a triumph’ sing the cast in the Flash Bang Wallop finale of this breathtakingly good production. They’re not wrong. It’s a wonderfully entertaining show, showcasing excellent local talent and living up to the rave reviews this revamped production received when it premiered at the Chichester Festival in 2016. Such rich story telling – first from the pen of the visionary H G Wells in 1905, then retold as a vehicle for Tommy Steele in the 1963 ‘Half A Sixpence’ and finally reimagined through the wit and warmth of Julian Fellowes, in collaboration with Stiles and Drewe. No better songwriters to add their own touch with vibrantly entertaining and witty songs that constantly bring a smile to the face and get the feet tapping.

None of this means a jot though, unless the production brings talent, energy, emotion, colour and fun to the material and this is just what Carlton Operatic, through the visionary direction and choreography of Rachael Rees and some exceptional performers, has done. Time flies when you’re having fun and this show just races by; from the balmy esplanade of Folkestone to the stiff collars of Shalford’s Drapers, to the even stiffer High Society venues and back to the soggy beermats in the Hope and Anchor pub, we travel with Kipps, as he discovers that money isn’t everything. The excellent set with it’s nifty blue and filigreed flats, that serve to divide the space and the action, richly evokes the Edwardian period; we’re taken inside the authentic draper’s shop, to lady Punnet’s elegant drawing room and back to the pier, complete with a hall of mirrors and a fortune teller. Much credit should go to Vicky Johnson, Nigel Newton and Matthew Allcock for their unobtrusive and slick management of this richly detailed and complicated set, that is such a joy to see against the sympathetic background of our magnificent Theatre Royal.

So to the performers – this show was a vehicle for Tommy Steele orginally and Lu Anthony assumes that mantle with ease, energy and an enormous amount of talent. I first saw Lu in 2016 in Singin in The Rain and wrote then that I’d just seen a genuine ‘trip-le threat’, one of those rare amateur performers who can act, sing and dance equally well. It’s even more true now, as Lu gives us a warmly engaging Kipps, who is taken in by those he perceives are better than him, yet never bowed; this is a chipper, cheeky chappie. The accent is impeccably Cockney – I don’t know if a vocal coach was employed or Lu just listened to Rylan a lot, but it’s spot on. Songs such as Half A Sixpence, She’s Too Far Above Me and the joyous Flash Bang Wallop are beautifully sung; Kipps is on the stage almost constantly and a lot of that time he’s dancing, too. Lu excels at this, always a joy to watch, with some wonderful moves that complete a captivating characterisation.

Kipps is lucky enough to have two love interests, the down to earth Ann, a sweetheart from childhood to whom he gives the half sixpence, and Helen, the sweet toff, who is a reluctant pawn in her family’s scheming. Sarah Thompson and Lizzie Fenner both nail their respective accents, mangling and honing vowels to great effect. Lizzie brings real warmth to the trapped Helen, who reminds me of Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s daughter, desperate to give free reign to her artistic talents, but trapped by status and the demands of an overbearing mother. Lizzie keeps her beautifully contained yet warm and gets to show off her lovely pure voice, particularly in the wistful yet powerful Believe in Yourself.

Sarah develops her character from the naïve teenage to the humble but insightful parlour maid who sadly witnesses the change in her beau, due to his unexpected windfall. Sarah has a lovely, emotionally resonant voice and this is showcased in several songs; I particularly enjoyed her duet with Flo - the window dresser at Shalford’s Drapers - Just a Little Touch of Happiness. Both have great voices and Alison Watkins (Flo) is a wonderfully entertaining performer; this was a highlight among many during the show.

Kipps’ other friends in the drapers are Pornick, Pierce and Buggins, brought to life so engagingly by Jonathan Jaycock, James Sikora and George Young. H G Wells wrote about his own life as a draper’s assistant, he wrote social realism with the warmth and insight that comes from personal experience and with the type of engaging detail that the writers of soaps aspire to today. It’s great fun watching these characters interact and making the most of their 13 hour days serving the rich, while keeping their own dreams alive.

The other side of the sixpence, as it were, comes from the rich, or would be rich, as Helen’s family are somewhat reduced and looking for a way out and up. Mrs Walsingham is played by Lindsay Jaycock, ably portraying the rather sad social climber who is desperate to restore her wealth and buy a property that reflects her standing. Her equally desperate son James is played by James Ellison with a delightful mix of arrogance and oiliness, as he persuades Kipps to invest in his portfolio. A cleverly choreographed lunch (A Simple Lunch) highlights both the awkwardness of Kipps, the unease of Helen and the sheer awfulness of Mrs Walsingham and James. A hard scene to manage, but this director and these actors pull it off brilliantly.

Another toff, this time with the riches to prove it, is the beautifully mannered, aloof but gossipy Lady Punnet. With the looks and cut glass vowels of Joanna Lumley, she is played elegantly by Helen Tunnicliff.

A catalyst for plot development is Chitterlow, a would be theatre impresario who literally bumps into Kipps while out on his bike and proves to be a useful friend: one who puts Kipps resolutely on the path to riches. Dan Armstrong’s superb delivery of this flamboyant character reminded me of Tom Baker; he’s confident, over the top, warm and engaging with some great vocals. Yet another highlight.

Darren Ward plays the stiff as a starched collar draper, Mr Shalford and Claire Collishaw and Adam Collishaw play the Kipps’ warmly supportive Aunt and Uncle. There are numerous cameos, all important as they create such realism, whether it be as characters in the pub, visitors to a musical soiree, or passers by on the pier.

There are some huge numbers that the ensemble give their all to, they dance and sing up a storm, particularly in the wonderfully choreographed Pick Out A Simple Tune and that humdinger of a finale. The younger members of the ensemble – we saw Team Romney – are delightful and it’s clear all have worked very hard to bring their characters to life and be thoroughly convincing on stage.

I was pleased that the sound by Rob Kettridge was so good at this production and that every word of dialogue and song lyrics could be heard, as they are really worth listening to; loved the atmospherics too – I was at the seaside! Lighting (Jamie Vella & Tom Mowat) is excellent, particularly in the grand finale, but throughout there is unobtrusive highlighting and almost flawless spotting. Production values all round are top notch, wonderful costumes give this already stylish piece the period detail that it deserves and make it richly descriptive of the time.

Rachael Rees must have put her heart and soul into this production and been delighted with the level of performance that’s been achieved, none less than by Musical Director Chris Rees and his 14 piece orchestra, working with these talented performers. It must have been such hard work for everyone involved, but it’s paid off and this show, costing less than a quarter of West End productions to see, is of the absolute highest quality.

Back to that finale, which simply rocks and goes on for a satisfyingly long time; it follows the wonderful Flash Bang Wallop with a reprise of other great tunes, some fabulous banjo playing and some breathtaking dancing. Phew!

This show deserves packed audiences, who will be as delighted as those standing at the end of last night’s performance were;

 

Good Night Mister Tom

Bingham Musical Theatre Society

Bingham Arena

May 24th 2024

Michelle Magorian’s novel, Goodnight Mister Tom, is renowned as one of the most heart warming tales ever written. Itis brought to the stage by David Wood, who has been described as the UK’s ‘National Children’s Dramatist’ by The Times newspaper.

Set against the ominous backdrop leading up to the Second World War, Good Night Mister Tom tells the poignant story of young William Beech who when evacuated to the English countryside forms a deep and touching bond with the elderly and solitary Tom Oakley. Their idyllic life is abruptly disrupted when William receives a heart breaking summons from his mother, calling him back to London.

I have to admit that I have not seen the film or tv versions of this story, so I came to it with no preconceptions. This production by the Bingham Musical Society has a very talented cast who quite obviously have put a lot of time and effort into it.

Leading the cast as Tom Oakley is Graham Buchanan, an actor I have seen a number of times before. This for me was his finest performance to date. His characterisation of the grumpy old loner is perfection. He is on stage for most of the show and never falters either with his lines or his interpretation of the character. He is ably supported by the young actor William Curtis who plays William Beech, the boy who was at first forced upon him due to the war, but who lately called him Dad.

William reminded me of Mark Lester in the film Oliver. His ability as actor is clear; his personality developed through the play, which is not easy for a young actor to manage. Talking of Oliver, another fine young actor, Charlie Hourd, an aspiring actor and friend of William, reminded me of the Artful Dodger and together with William make a fine acting pair. I am certain both of these boys will be seen in many productions in the future.

Other children in the production played their parts well. They were Belle Black (Carrie), Holly Loran (Ginnie) and Seb Ferrar (George). There was also a hard working children’s ensemble featuring Ebony Bright, Scarlet Bright, Mia Davies, Jake Looms and Olivia Lowe. Well done all, especially in some of the incidental musical numbers.

Ellen Loran as William’s deranged mother, Mrs Beech is a very powerful actor. She certainly made me jump several times!

The dog, Sammy, was a puppet operated very well by Katie Lister. Not only did she move the dog, but her face showed her to be right into the action and responding to what Mister Tom was saying to Sammy. The lovely puppet is by Phillipa Buchannan.

There is a large and hard working supporting cast whose costumes are evocatively authentic thanks to Amanda Warriner. Playing the other roles are Anthony Alldread (Charlie Ruddles), Becky Morley (Mrs Fletcher), Simon Hawkins (Doctor Little), Eloise Lowe (Annie Hartridge), Sam Middleton (David Hartridge / Mr Stelton), Fran Bonner (Miss Thorne), Paul Green (Mr Miller), Ben Bradley (The Vicar), Vicki Goodwin (Miss Miller and others), Caroline Morley (Arp Warden), Gill Cook (Glad), Emma Robinson (Police Woman)/Billeting Officer), Anjali Pancholi (Nurse), Mandy Simons (Sister) and Jenny Branson (Londoner).

The Director, Emily Hudson and her production team of Alison Blackmore (ass. Director), Jen Reckless (choreographer), Emma Robinson (Musical Director), Katie Brougham (Stage Manager), Karen Richards (props) did a wonderful job bringing this often dark and emotional story to life. Scene changes were on the whole swift and unnoticed, which given the limitations of the stage is excellent.

The set by Nik Hudson, the lighting by Nick Elliot, the sound by Ben Bradley are very appropriate for the story.

I like the use of appropriate incidental music, some of which is original and others sung by members of the cast. While this is not a full on musical which would be inappropriate, this does enhance the story telling. There is some well choreographed and performed dancing too.

Overall, I really enjoyed this production, but I have to say that this was a little affected by the limitations of the seating in the venue. I was unable to see everything happening due to people in front of me. This excellent venue is in my opinion crying out for tiered seating, which is a must these days for all theatrical spaces of this kind.

Having said that, it was obvious that all involved have worked very hard to bring this touching story to life and I say well done to all.

 

Cluedo 2 – The Next Chapter

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

May 21st 2024

Cluedo 2 continues the thrilling, comic mystery from the original Cluedo play. Set in a grand mansion, the play revolves around a group of colourful characters who are invited to a dinner party that quickly turns into a whodunit as a murder occurs.

As the night progresses, the guests must work together, despite their distrust of one another, to solve the crime and uncover the identity of the murderer among them. Clues are discovered, alibis are tested, and red herrings abound, all while the characters navigate a series of twists and turns. Staying close to the boardgame we also need to discover “who, where and with what” as the action proceeds. With sharp dialogue, witty repartee, and a fast-paced plot, Cluedo 2 keeps us guessing until the final and unexpected conclusion. I can say no more about that!

The play blends elements of classic murder mysteries with farce, madness and mayhem, creating an engaging and entertaining experience that pays great respect to the beloved board game while offering new surprises and many laughs.

I enjoyed Cluedo 1 when it was here in February 2022 and I enjoyed this one just as much. Not surprising really as it was written by the award winning writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran famous for such tv hits as Birds of a Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart and the musical, Dreamboats and Petticoats, among many other well loved productions.

The cast is great with Ellie Leach as Miss Scarlet, Jason Durr as Col. Mustard, Jack Bennett as Wadsworth, Hannah Boyce as Mrs Peacock, Dawn Buckland as Mrs White, Liam Horrigan as Mr Black and others, Edward Howells as Professor Plum, Gabriel Paul as The Reverend Green and Tiwai Muza as PC Silver. The cast is completed by Kara Alberts-Turner, Audrey Anderson and Henry Lawes. It is important to mention the fact that this is very much an ensemble piece in which all the performers are equally important.

The set and costume design by David Farley captures the grandeur of the mansion, albeit in a simple but very effective way. It also includes a giant cluedo board at the back of the stage. The Lighting by Jason Taylor and the Sound by Jon Fiber is excellent and the movement, directed by Anna Healey, is outstanding. Most of the individual and group action is choreographed and this includes set changes. These are all part of the action and very much in the hands of the cast. They all do it perfectly!

The Director, Mark Bell, ensures that the play moves at a good pace. In fact there’s never a dull moment as the characters find clues and weave through a web of deceit and misleading events.

What’s really impressive is how the play kept me and I suspect most of the audience guessing until the very end. Just when you think you’ve figured out who did it, another twist changes your mind. The clever dialogue and interactive bits also get the audience involved.

Overall, Cluedo 2, The Next Chapter is a big hit, offering just the right mix of suspense and laughter. It’s a must-see for fans of the original play, lovers of murder mysteries, the board game and anyone looking for a fun and engaging night at the theatre.

 

Bonnie and Clyde
The Musical
National Tour
Theatre Royal Nottingham
May 14th, 2024

Bonnie & Clyde The Musical tells the tale of two small-town kids from the middle of nowhere who rose to become the most celebrated folk heroes in America. They hungered for adventure - and each other. Fearless, shameless, and captivating, it's the electrifying story of love, adventure, and crime that gripped an entire nation.

From the start we're whisked away on a thrilling journey through the American South, as this toe-tapping production brings to life the legendary saga of the infamous outlaw duo.

Katie Tonkinson, Alex James-Hatton, Daisy Wood Davis and Sam Ferriday shine as the four main characters, Bonnie, Clyde, Blanche and Buck. Each gives a dynamic portrayal of these engaging characters, delivering wonderful vocals and exciting choreography, effortlessly transporting us back to the era of jazz, prohibition and Tommy guns.

AJ Lewis's performance as Preacher emphasises his moral compass amidst the chaos of Bonnie and Clyde's world. Daniel Reid Walters excels as the police officer Ted Hinton, vividly portraying his conflicted emotions between affection for Bonnie and his duty as a law enforcement officer.

But it's not just the performances that shine in this production. The music by Frank Wildhorn is a delightful blend of blues, rock, and country that will have you tapping your feet and humming along in no time. Each song serves to deepen the emotional resonance of the story. The arrangements by John McDaniel and lyrics by Don Black are perfectly suited to the narrative. In terms of the ensemble, the song "Made in America" is performed exceptionally well, accompanied by superb choreography, making for a fantastic start to Act 2.

Ivan Menchell, who wrote the book for the show, has sanitised the horror and replaced it with an lively exploration of the highs and lows of love, loyalty, and the pursuit of the American Dream..

The costume and set design by Philip Witcomb evoke the essence of the 1930s era, transporting viewers back in time. The combination of projection with traditional set design is breath-taking at times. Lighting and sound are flawless, with the orchestra sounding great and well-balanced with the cast.

The Production Team, led by Director/Choreographer Nick Winston, has done an exceptional job of producing such a fast-paced show that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats throughout.

All in all, Bonnie and Clyde The Musical is a triumph of storytelling, filled with heart, humour, great tunes, and plenty of excitement.

 

Festival of New Short Plays

Palang Productions

Duchess Theatre

May 13th 2024

It’s always lovely to see local talent and last night at the Duchess we were treated not just to local actors, but to the work of East Midlands playwrights, too. This Festival of new short plays has been put on by Palang productions to showcase three pieces: ‘Belief’ by Hugh Jones, ‘Reaching Out’ by JF Sheehan and ‘I Want a Divorce’ by Richard Layton.

The first play ‘Belief’ is a thought provoking piece that challenges prejudice, distorted ‘truths’ and assumptions based on appearance. Mrs Barber, played by Elaine Sellors is cleaning the church in her English village when she is shocked and alarmed by Yasue, a visitor from Iran, who cheerfully engages her in conversation. Ramy Al-Rufaie beautifully captures the character’s warmth and generosity, as he gently explains why Mrs Barber and her treasured English way of life is under no threat from him. With interesting historical detail and sensitive challenging of entrenched prejudices, this engaging piece asks us to look for similarities rather than differences, to disregard negative stereotypes and to value individuals.

The second play “Reaching Out’ is based on a memoir and has the feel of a radio play, as four family members read out letters from 1977. Abandoned son Luke, played by Johnny Sheehan, has found the letters and hears the voices of his mother and his sisters Cara and Moira, as he rereads them and revisits his past. A vivid picture emerges of a dysfunctional family in which there is angst and hardship, but also love and humour. Cleverly written little details help to bring the emerging story alive, as we hear why Johnny wants answers, how Cara escaped and why Moira is trapped. All brought to life by Angie Pollard (Mother), Louise Leybourne (Cara) and Donna Briscoe-Greene (Moira).

The final play ‘I Want A Divorce’ contains a lot of humorous dialogue and joyous elements of farce, as an unhappily married couple look for a way to end their marriage, with each of them hoping to benefit from it. Richard Whitehorn read the part of Walter last night (splendidly) and Donna Briscoe-Greene plays the much put upon and over emotional Davina. As divorce becomes inevitable Walter cooks up a plan with his latest beau Natasha (played very convincingly by Jane Russell) to avoid alimony, while Davina seeks the help of smooth lawyer Lloyd (Ramy Al-Rufaie). The denouement is not quite what anybody expects!

Each play has a simple but effective set and benefits from a projected backdrop to set the scenes, with skilled lighting and sound enhancement from Dave Martin. No personal mics are used and there was a need for more projection at times, but this was noted and acted upon by the performers.

It’s always exciting to see new plays, especially by local writers and gratifying to know that we have the talent and dedication in the area to bring them to the stage. Well done Palang Productions, keep up the good work and we look forward to your next project.

 

A Streetcar Named Desire

Blind Eye Productions

The Duchess Theatre

May 10th 2024

As this play is one of the most critically acclaimed of the 20th century, I was thrilled to see it produced locally and even more thrilled to discover that Blind Eye Productions have more than done it justice.

Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece from 1947 charts the fall of Blanche DuBois, a faded Southern Belle, who arrives at her sister Stella’s home in New Orleans for an extended stay, ostensibly to rest from her teaching job in Mississippi. Stella’s husband, Stanley Kowalski, resents Blanche’s presence and has his suspicions about her motives and her past. Tensions rise, prejudices surface, addictions grip and relationships are severely tested. With these strong themes, plus undercurrents of misogyny and domestic abuse, the play absolutely sears, the dialogue is tight, wonderfully descriptive and thoroughly engaging. With some shocking revelations and brilliantly taut exchanges alongside everyday, amusing conversations, the writing always draws the audience in and keeps the story going; this is a long play at 2 hours 40 minutes, but I was gripped throughout.

The impact of this production is not just in the wonderful writing of course, it is in the astonishing skill of the actors, who must have worked their socks off to get to the standard they have achieved. I don’t know if there was a prompt, but if there was they had nothing to do; all the actors are so polished and fluent, even when maintaining an authentic accent and finding deeply felt meaning in what they are saying, at times in explosive, physically and emotionally challenging scenes. Your performances were much appreciated by me and the rest of the rapt audience. Bravo.

Monica Dakin plays Blanche DuBois, what a gift of a part for a talented actor, who brilliantly captures Blanche’s fragility alongside her brazen, flirty confidence, her frustrating yet understandable reliance on men and her sad decline into mental illness. It’s a huge part with a huge amount of dialogue - an almost constant presence on stage - and Monica has absolutely nailed it. With the sass of Scarlett O’Hara and the desperation of Norma Desmond, Monica gives us a Blanche who is hidebound by class, by the expectations of her Southern upbringing and a pathetic need for protection. Yet through the haze of addiction and the prejudices of the time, Blanche recognises misogyny and abuse and, although she ultimately becomes a victim of it, bravely attempts to fight against it. A tragic heroine of 20th century drama, and yes, she has been done justice by this wonderfully nuanced performance.

Beth Duffy plays Stella, Blanche’s sister who escaped the confines of the family estate, Belle Reve, before everything collapsed into financial ruin. Stella found her salvation in Stanley Kowalski and the deep animalistic attraction between them is unshakeable. Even when the kindly, nurturing Stella realises that Stanley’s treatment of her and Blanche is not acceptable, she is unable to resist, as she has too much to lose. Beth gives us all the angst and conflict that Stella feels, not just in her beautifully judged delivery (every pause counts), but in her facial expressions and physical acting. Poor weak Stella betrays her sister, but she’s trapped and anyway, he loves her so much…

Stanley Kowalski is an absolute brute of a man, who has a terrifying stage presence, which JJ McCormack totally embraces, giving a magnetic performance that is captivating. Another wonderfully fluent performance with a flawless accent, but what makes it so compelling is the physicality, the swagger, the threat of his closeness and the constant tapping of his leg, as his anger is getting out of control. Such well observed characterisation. When the outbursts come they are terrifyingly authentic and the audience feel hatred for this man, the lower class ‘Polack’, who was born in America, served America in the war and is loyal to his friends, yet knows he is despised by Blanche and her like. His resentment and misogyny are tangible and, to a modern audience, despicable. Marlon Brando (film 1951), hated the character and couldn’t understand his appeal to many; it’s obvious that JJ McCormack has thrown his heart and soul into the character, regardless of how he feels about him.

The director Paul Duffy has also thrown his heart and soul into this production and given it a freshness through the inclusion of modern music between scene changes, underlining that these themes are still relevant after nearly 80 years. The pace is relentless (so tightly rehearsed), scene changes are smooth and the clever placing of characters on the effective set keep our attention in just the right place. The rather claustrophobic shabby rooms in which Stella and Stanley live is expanded by entrances and exits using the whole auditorium. The set is gloriously 1940’s, down to the furniture, the kitchen items, the decoration on the stairs, the cigarettes - and is wonderfully augmented by the appropriate costumes; a detailed evocation which adds so much to atmosphere. The only prop that hit the wrong note for me was the baby, a small doll that perhaps needed to be bigger and more swaddled to look realistic. It’s distracting during a piece that is grimly realistic and at a point in the story that is deeply emotionally affecting, to have such an obvious fake.

Lighting and sound (Paul Duffy, Nick Elliott and Alan Betton) also add immeasurably to the atmosphere, at certain points there is an abrupt change of lighting that is so effective as it takes the audience to a different place and puts us on alert – listen, this is going to be important. The heat of New Orleans and of dysfunctional relationships is captured not just by Blanche’s and Stella’s fans, but by intense red light. Plenty to make you sweat here!

A character who does plenty of sweating is Mitch – Blanche’s potential beau – who beats a hasty and undignified retreat when he discovers more about her. Paul Duffy finds the decency in the character, a lovely gentle portrayal which shocks all the more when his moral judgements cause him to behave very badly. Another actor who can use pauses to great effect and, like the three leading actors, seems to live and breathe the character and is entirely convincing.

Lovely supporting roles from Jackie Cooper as the amusing and feisty upstairs landlady Eunice Hubbel and Saurav Modak as her argumentative husband and Stanley’s poker partner, Steve. Eunice is the voice of reason, reason according to the mores of the 1940’s anyway, and as much as she shouts at her husband she knows her place and the place of other women.

Max Willmott plays Pablo, another poker player as well as a young collector who becomes a victim of Blanche’s need to know that she is alluring; Lindsey Hemingway (who also gets to show off her voice as a Mexican woman) and Steve Webb play the nurse and doctor who Blanche eventually realises will provide the ‘kindness of strangers’ that she has long relied upon.

Desire was a streetcar that ran in New Orleans at the time, Tennesee Williams was inspired by it, and also by the plight of his mentally ill sister; fragments of ideas that he used to create this deeply affecting and gripping play that is his most popular work. It’s an icon of 20th century drama and is well worth seeing, all the more so when it’s done with as much passion and commitment as this production.

 

2.22 A Ghost Story

National Tour 2024

Theatre Royal Nottingham

May 7th 2024

This is going to be a review that is a little sparse on detail and the reason is simple: you must experience this show without knowing much about what is to come or anything about the ending…

The plot however, is straightforward. Jenny believes her new home is haunted, but her husband Sam isn't having any of it. They argue with their first dinner guests - old friend Lauren and new partner Ben - when Jenny reveals she hears footsteps and crying in their daughter’s bedroom each morning at exactly 2:22am.

Soap star Fiona Wade takes on the lead role of Jenny, a pivotal character whose portrayal adds intrigue to the unfolding mystery while mining the emotional depth of the story. Through her nuanced performance, she brings Jenny to life with a blend of maternal strength, vulnerability, and increasing fear.

George Rainsford, as Sam, delivers a gripping performance, adding depth and tension to the story. He adeptly captures Sam's complex personality, making him both enigmatic yet relatable, infuriating yet likeable and providing many of the play's comedic elements.

As Jenny's friend Lauren, Vera Chock authentically nails her increasing drunkenness and conflicted feelings. Alongside Jay McGuiness, who confidently characterises her breezy geezer partner Ben, they create a strong chemistry alongside the other two characters. All four have perfect comic timing which brings some smiles to the increasingly creepy atmosphere.

Completing the cast are company members Aaron Dart and Rachel Morris.

The clever set design by Anna Fleischle, complemented by Lucy Carter's lighting, sets the perfect tone, while Ian Dickinson's sound design creates a haunting and emotionally wrought atmosphere that immerses and surprises throughout the story.

The unexpected twists and turns, masterfully woven by writer Danny Robins, keep the audience on the edge of their seats, with a particularly surprising twist at the end. I will say that I was not expecting the ending and it was only afterwards that I began to see the various clues that led to it.

The direction by Matthew Dunster and Isabel Marr is imaginative and makes sure every moment counts towards both the storytelling and the tension. For aficionados of mystery theatre, "2.22 A Ghost Story" is an unmissable production, offering a truly memorable experience in every aspect.

 

Drop the Dead Donkey
Theatre Royal Nottingham
23rd April 2024


Having only vague memories of the smash hit 90’s TV series Drop the Dead Donkey, I was unsure what to expect from tonight’s performance and had reservations that this may affect my enjoyment of the show. However, it very quickly became apparent that a knowledge of the series was not needed and that the show could just be enjoyed as a standalone production.

Drop the Dead Donkey tells the story of the Globelink News Team and now, 30 years later, the old staff are back together to launch a brand new show ‘Truth News’. The audience is given an insight into the chaotic launch of Truth News led by the original Chief Executive of Globlink News, Gus.
The ensemble cast is made up primarily of the same actors from the original show. There was a warm appreciation from the audience when the familiar faces appeared on stage. The original cast members include Susannah Doyle as Joy, Robert Duncan as Gus, Ingrid Lacey as Helen, Neil Pearson as Dave, Jeff Rawle as George, Stephen Tompkinson as Damien and Victoria Wicks as Sally Smedley. New to the cast are Julia Hills as Mairead and Kerena Jagpal as Rita.


The pace of the show is just right, delivering laughs consistently throughout. Written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin the script is witty and topical, containing many up to date references to current news stories. There are some particularly great one liners in there!


The staging cleverly depicts a bustling TV newsroom, with a giant screen back drop used to display social media interactions, indicative of today’s world and public reactions to news stories.


The show promises razor-sharp wit and classic British humour and does not fail to deliver. Even if you have never seen the TV series, I would suggest you go and see this stage production. You will not be 

Eloise


Life of Pi

Theatre Royal Nottingham
(Nottingham Puppet Festival)
April 16th 2024

Pi’s full name is Piscine – French for swimming pool – abbreviated to lessen the ridicule and pay homage to the mathematical constant. We meet her (in this performance Pi was female) in India in the 1970s, living with her sister and her mother and father, who own a zoo. Full of reckless fun, but with lots of unanswered questions about life, the teenage Pi joins three religions at the same time, searching for the nature of God and the meaning of reality, to the despair of her family.

When the political situation worsens the family feel they have no alternative but to emigrate to Canada, so crate up the animals and escape on a Japanese cargo ship, to a new life. During the journey disaster befalls them and Pi is left floating in the Pacific Ocean for over 200 days, with only a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger for company. What happens during her time at sea is told in a series of flashbacks from her hospital bed in Mexico, where she is being questioned by Government officials.

Both the creation of atmosphere and the evocation of place in this production are stunning – we watch as Pi’s stark hospital room dissolves into a bustling street in India, the colourful sights and shrill sounds of the Zoo appear and later, the oppressive expanse of the ocean threatens to engulf us, too. Huge creative effort from a big team, the director, video, light and sound designers, plus puppet designers and masters have combined to produce a dazzling, sometimes visceral effect that is a real assault on the senses.

For many the animals are the stars of this show, as skilled puppeteers create large, dynamic and carefully observed creatures. For me this did not work as well as it does for most, as although I can appreciate the skill and artistry of such powerful creations, I cannot see past the puppeteers who people the stage, so the impact for me is greatly lessened. My lack of engagement with the puppetry is not generally shared, as the animals have been variously described as ‘jaw dropping’, ‘brilliant’, ‘masterful’ and ‘enchanting’ and the production has universally excellent reviews.

The star of the show for me was Adwitha Arumugum, who plays Pi with a cheerful insouciance, even when threatened with death and languishing at sea with no water, she retains her charm and sass. It’s a demanding physical role that this actor makes look effortless and she is never less than fully engaging. Strong supporting roles from her family and in particular the Government officials keep the narrative flowing; there’s a powerful story here beyond Pi’s time at sea, but Lolita Chakrabati, who adapted it for the stage, can only convey a fraction of the complexity of Yann Martel’s prize winning novel.

Life for Pi is hard and there are no details spared as she tells two versions of her story and invites the Officials to choose the one they like best. As she says, all life is a story, so we are never sure how close we are to the truth, or even reality. The reality of life at sea with wild animals includes death, which is vividly portrayed: not one for the squeamish this, as we see and hear innards being eaten, bones being broken and endure the horrible killing of a sea turtle. The domination of a wild animal can also make for uncomfortable viewing, but the evolution of a relationship between a human and an animal, and the eventual outcome are satisfying to witness.

We’re not left with clear answers at the end of this production, it’s up to us to decide which story we prefer. The version with animals is clearly the one that those who heard Pi’s story prefer and Pi herself believes that God feels the same; she has found her own truth.

Recommended for those who enjoy puppetry and a story vividly well told, but with an advisory of 8+ (personally I would make that 10+) The Life of Pi continues at the Theatre Royal until Saturday, April 20th.

========

The Wizard of Oz

National Tour

Nottingham Theatre Royal

10th April 2024

I must start this review by saying that this production of the well-known story and musical was nothing short of brilliant.  Indeed, it is undoubtedly one of the best musical productions I’ve seen in recent years.

Naturally, the actors are very talented, but the production is also a theatrical

marvel, seamlessly blending back and front projections with solid props and scenery. From the very start we were whisked away to the enchanting kingdom of Oz, thrilled by great performances and visuals that left me for one, breathless – the only description I can use.

While remaining faithful to this beloved classic, this production fills it with fresh energy and creativity, casting aside any preconceived notions from past adaptations. From the iconic yellow brick road to the captivating Emerald City, each scene is brought to life with striking sets and costumes and wonderful colourful characters.

 

Based on L. Frank Baum's timeless children's novel, the narrative follows Dorothy Gale, a young girl whisked away from her Kansas home by a tornado to the mystical land of Oz. There, she befriends a Scarecrow in search of a brain, a Tin Man longing for a heart, and a Cowardly Lion in need of courage. Together, they confront various challenges, including the vengeful Wicked Witch of the West, mourning her sister's death.

 

The portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West by The Vivienne is nothing short of stunning. Her meticulous attention to costume and makeup is a refreshing and dynamic interpretation of the role, while her commanding stage presence and theatricality captivates the audience. Throughout the show, she effortlessly navigates between evil and good, earning a resounding ovation at the end.

 

Equally impressive are Aviva Tulley as Dorothy, Benjamin Yates as The Scarecrow, Fdemi Akinfolarin as the Tin Man, and Nic Greenshields as the Cowardly Lion. Their impeccable characterisations add depth and authenticity to their parts and they have a touching rapport. Alex Bourne adeptly portrays the Wizard and Professor Marvel, while Emily Bull enchants audiences with her delightful singing voice and effervescent personality as Glinda, the Good Witch.

 

In this production, the role of Toto the dog is ingeniously portrayed using a puppet skillfully operated by Abigail Matthews, whose barking is impeccably timed and executed. The remaining cast members deliver great performances, skilfully embodying the essence of each beloved character.

 

The technological prowess of this production is flawless. Nikolai Foster's inspired direction, complemented by Colin Richmond's impeccable set design and Douglas O’Connell's breath-taking projections, provide many of the ‘Wow’ features of this show. Ben Cracknell's superb lighting design and Adam Fisher's crystal-clear sound further enhance the experience, while the orchestra sounds very good and is perfectly balanced with the performers.

 

With its unforgettable melodies and timeless story this production first seen at the London Palladium in 2023, is an unparalleled theatrical journey suitable for audiences of all ages.

 

Catch it before it continues its journey along the Yellow Brick Road from Nottingham this Saturday.

 

Mack and Mabel

Long Eaton Musical Theatre Company

May Hall, Trent College,

Long Eaton

April 9th 2024

Mack and Mabel, produced by The Long Eaton Musical Theatre Company at the May Hall, Trent College, showcased the society's sparkling talents once more. Bringing to life the grandeur of a big musical like Mack and Mabel demands accomplished acting, singing, and dancing, alongside technical finesse and a clear vision of a bygone era - all of which were abundantly evident in tonight's performance.

The show delves into the real-life love story between the iconic filmmaker Mack Sennett and his vibrant muse, Mabel Normand.

Dan Bates delivers a great portrayal of the irascible yet brilliant Mack Sennett. I have always enjoyed Dan’s performances but I think this was one of his best. His renditions of “Movies were Movies”, the beautifully nuanced “I Won’t Send you Roses” and “I Promise You a Happy Ending” were perfectly sung.

He is complemented perfectly by Rachel Merrill’s wonderful performance as the immensely gifted Mabel Normand. She has a powerful voice that she uses with great effect in songs like “Wherever He Ain’t” and “Time Heals Everything.” She is a very confident actor and dancer too which makes her overall performance outstanding and such a jo to watch.

Molly Parkinson is splendid as Lottie Ames. She has a great voice, dances well and displays a powerful personality throughout. A very confident and competent performer who brings a smile to many faces.

Other notable and characterful performances came from Harvey Latter as Frank, Milly Clover as Fatty, Gavin Owen and William Desmond Taylor, Jack Woolley as Mr Kessel and Stuart Bull as Mr Baumann.

The fabulous ensemble brims with energy, commitment, great dancing and fabulous singing. They are Alice Summerton (The Writer), Caitlin Sloan (Andy), Emma Collins (Principal Dancer), Josie Coleman (Principal Dancer), Lauren Riley (Principal dancer), Nicola Adcock (Principal Dancer), Rachel Spence (Principal Dancer), Sian Hooton (Principal Dancer), Victoria Palmer (Principal Dancer/ Watchman), Laura Davey (Ella), Lisa Stone (Iris), Amy Parker, Becky Morley, Eleanor Harvey, Emily McDowell, Liz Woolley, Louise McGowan, Mariko Jones and Tracy Hooton.

The whole cast work very well together with many principals also taking part in the big production numbers. Choreographer Rachel Spence deserves commendation for her great routines, such as Hundreds of Girls, Tap Your Troubles Away and the incredible Keystone Cops scene. All add spectacle dynamism and fun to the production.

The Director Amy Glover’s vision maintains a strong narrative while incorporating inventive elements such as the impeccably executed custard pie scene.

The orchestra, led by Charlotte Daniels, sounds good and is well balanced with the performers, while Sam Lenord’s crisp sound design and David Price’s evocative lighting create the evocative atmosphere of the production.

The scene changes, managed by the cast and Stage Manager Katie Bird and her crew, ensure a seamless flow in the action.

The Long Eaton Musical Theatre Company once again deliver a production of quality, earning a well-deserved ovation from an enthusiastic audience at the end.

Don't miss the opportunity to experience the magic of "Mack & Mabel," playing at Trent College until Saturday.

The Tell-Tale Heart
Rumpus Theatre Company
Nottingham Theatre Royal
April 2nd 2024
 
Based on a Victorian murder mystery from the master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, this adaptation by John Goodrum brings all the supernatural horror chillingly to life – and death, of course. It’s certainly one for fans of Gothic horror and the knowing titters of an obviously well versed audience quickly give way to intense concentration with just the odd gasp of surprise, as the grisly story unfolds. So many questions, so much anticipation and like all good horror stories it’s what you imagine could be about to happen that chills the most…
 
Clarry Straven is sent by his boss of a London solicitor’s office to make an inventory of the contents of a large house in the countryside. Unable to find lodgings at the local inn he takes a room at the house of Roderick Bounty - played by John Goodrum - a welcoming but rather strange host, whose slow deliberate tones maybe hold hint of menace. Why do we and Clarry feel so uneasy and why does Roderick hoard so many treasures in boxes around his otherwise sparsely furnished house? We’re hooked and we want to know more.
 
Clarry is played by David Martin, a thoroughly convincing characterisation with wonderful clarity – a masterclass in stage acting. Clarry is nervous, seemingly something of a middle aged misfit who often says the wrong thing and frequently needs to take comfort in listening to the ticking of the pocket watch his mother gave him for his 21st birthday. But it’s this ticking that begins to increase his anxiety, along with his own thudding heartbeat (or is it?) and other delightfully Gothic sound tropes such as thunder, wind and rain. David Gilbrook’s soundscape adds immeasurably to the suspense, not just providing surprises, but lingering menacingly in the background.
 
Disturbed by nightmares and bothered by a strange physical characteristic of his host, Clarry tries to concentrate on work – counting eiderdowns (sound clue there) and over the mantle clocks that need to be stopped… Unable to quell his unease he does what all hapless protagonists do in a good horror story, he investigates in the dead of night. Oh dear, Clarry, you shouldn’t have done that.
 
John Goodrum’s clever adaptation keeps us dangling and director Karen Henson allows our imagination free rein. The set is darkly sparse, earthy muted tones, sinister hanging drapes; the beds either side of the room set require us to be guided by the lighting to other rooms. Impossible to completely darken the action in between scenes, so we see the actors moving positions, but this is theatre, we’re complicit, we suspend our disbelief. That we can do this is down to imaginative direction and the creation of an enticingly horrific scenario in which anything can happen.
 
Inspector Morgan, who comes to investigate after a neighbour hears alarming noises in the night, is played by Gordon Johum, a name that will have any cruciverbalists in the audience nodding knowingly. What he uncovers and the conclusion to his investigations is…well, truly shocking.
 
To have the pleasure of this horror from the always excellent Rumpus Theatre Company you need to get along quickly to the Theatre Royal: there is a performance tonight and the last one is tomorrow. Tickets from
https://trch.co.uk/whats-on/the-tell-tale-heart/#book
 
Rock of Ages
Gatepost Theatre Company
May Hall Trent College
March 26th 2024
 
Gatepost Theatre Company's production of "Rock of Ages" is excellent from start to finish. It is an electrifying rollercoaster of rock 'n' roll fun.
 
This is a feel-good musical set in the 1980s on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. It follows the story of a small-town girl, Sherrie, who dreams of becoming an actress, and a city boy, Drew, who dreams of becoming a rock star. They meet and fall in love amidst the vibrant rock 'n' roll scene of the time. The plot unfolds against the backdrop of a legendary rock club, where they encounter colourful characters, including a rock star with a big ego and a developer aiming to improve the Strip. The show features iconic '80s rock songs from bands like Journey, Bon Jovi, and Twisted Sister, making it a nostalgic and energetic celebration of the music and spirit of the era.
 
First and foremost, the casting is just right. Each performer embodies their characters with charisma and passion. The chemistry between the cast members is obvious, adding an extra layer of authenticity to the story. Whether it is the powerhouse vocals of the leads or the infectious energy of the ensemble, every moment is uplifting and engaging.
 
There are excellent performances from Luke Grainger as the Narrator, Lonny, Hollie Smith as Sherrie, Jack David as Lonny, Simon Owen as the Dennis Dupree, Jude Cliffman as Regina, Rachelle Bragg as Helga, Harrison Ince as Franz, Lottie Lodge as Justice and Chris Collington as Stacee Jaxx.
 
The great ensemble work seamlessly together and some of them play small parts.
They are Jade Buckingham, Sarah Butler, Steph Dennett, Sally Elliott, Steve Fowkes, Ben Gray, Alana Grummitt, Gemma Hall, Ellie Heap, Gary Heap, Laura Howard, Sarah Knight, Jack Lawrence, Alex Martorell, Jordan Neary, Christie O’Connor, Gabi Owens, Kiah Smith, Laura Stone, Kirsty Vastenavondt, Isabelle Walker and Claire Webb.
 
The production values are first class. The set design (Mark Green) transported us straight to the iconic Sunset Strip. Coupled with dynamic lighting (Stephen Greatorex) and great sound (Harry Greatorex) the stage comes alive with the spirit of the '80s rock scene. The costumes (Lottie Lodge) are a feast for the eyes, capturing the essence of the era with flair and style. Stage management is excellent with scene changes being fast and often invisible (John Cliff / Mark Green). A large video screen is used effectively for captions, pictures and videos.
 
But what really steals the show is the music. "Rock of Ages" features some of the biggest hits of the '80s, and Gatepost Theatre Company delivers them brilliantly. From anthems like "Don't Stop Believin'" to power ballads like "I Want to Know What Love Is," each song is performed with passion and precision. The live band adds a raw energy to the music, creating an immersive experience that had the audience clapping along.
 
The musical director Martin Lewis is to be congratulated not only for the excellent singing by the cast but also for the wonderful sound of the band. This is a loud show being a rock musical, but the overall volume and balance between the band and the performers is just right throughout. The band features Martin Lewis, Tim Yearsley, Chris Renshaw, Rob Hill and Jack Helan.
 
Moreover, the direction and choreography are superb. The pacing of the show is fast and furious, balancing high-octane musical numbers with quieter ballads. Chris Collington’s direction as always includes some unique and quirky elements which give this production a fresh feel.
 
The choreography by Lottie Lodge is dynamic and inventive, perfectly complementing the music and enhancing the overall impact of the performances.
 
Gatepost Theatre Company's production of "Rock of Ages" is an absolute triumph. With its talented cast, dazzling production values, and infectious energy, it's a show that truly rocks. Whether you're a fan of '80s music or just looking for a night of pure entertainment, this is one production that you won't want to miss. Well done to everyone involved for delivering a great show that led to a very well deserved standing ovation following a great finale.
 
Shrek the Musical
Nottingham Theatre Royal
March 19th 2024
 
Based on the DreamWorks animation and directed by Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston, this fun adaptation is back on tour with all the energetic exuberance you’d expect from a production featuring fairy tale creatures and an ogre.
The story starts with Shrek being sent away at the age 7 to start a new life in a swamp where he builds a life perfectly content in his self imposed isolation. This idyllic life is suddenly disturbed by a group of well-known fairy-tale creatures settling in the swamp who have been evicted from their homes, on the orders of the evil Lord Farqaad. This is a situation that Shrek can not tolerate and determined to remove these pests from the swamp Shrek proclaims that he will speak with Farqaad and get their homes back. On the long journey to confront Farqaad Shrek meets the overbearing but hard not to love donkey, marking the start of a beautiful friendship. They eventually arrive at Duloc and Lord Farqaad explains that in order to get his swamp back Shrek must rescue a princess (Fiona) from a tower surrounded by lava and guarded by a dragon, for Farqaad to marry and finally become king.
I did wonder how the production would look from film to stage but I wasn’t disappointed with the colourful set and the way in which the projected back drop pulls you in. At times it really felt like you were looking into another world and the feeling of being immersed in the action was exhilarating.
 
The cast, comprised of 21 members really bring buckets of energy and talent that’s enthusiastically maintained from start to finish. The immaculate timing of the complex choreography performed flawlessly highlights just how talented this group are and is testament to their professionalism. The orchestra is relatively small with just 7 musicians, but they sound incredible.
Shrek played by Anthony Lawrence is a huge presence on stage and while at times his movement looked restricted by the costume, he is clearly full of energy. Anthony has an incredible voice and while I feel he didn’t have the catchiest songs in the show he delivered them very well.
Princess Fiona played by Joanne Clifton was fantastic, her movement, voice and acting were all flawless. She portrayed Fiona as a strong confident and sometimes hilarious woman that made the character relatable, but also really challenged the stereotypical Disney princess.
Brandon Lee Sears for me was really the star of the show bringing to life Donkey, his performance was enchanting from the very start. Brandon really poured a huge amount of energy into his performance so much so that you could see him sweating in what must be a very warm costume. He expertly portrayed donkey in a way that wasn’t trying to mimic the performance given by Eddie Murphy in the film version, but conveyed a similar knack for irritating Shrek.
James Gillan who plays Lord Farqaad gave a wonderfully camp performance that at times was hilarious but he also managed to layer the campery with a dark devious intent that fit the original character portrayed in the film version.
The rest of the ensemble were excellent particularly Mark Darcy who played Pinocchio leading on many songs impeccably. Cherece Richards gave a spell binding performance as the dragon and filled the Theatre Royal with wide smiles and huge applause at a simply wonderous vocal display. Georgie Buckland has a great range vocally with a high pitch I didn’t know existed, while also being able to pull off a very convincing Gingy, sounding almost identical to the film version. The costume design I feel could have been more convincing with the 3 bears looking like they had purchased bear noses from a local fancy dress shop. The other characters’ costumes were not much better but the performances really made up for this and with a slight suspension of disbelief it was of little consequence.
The production while at times falling a touch flat, more so due to the story than the cast, was an absolute pleasure to see and I think a great evening out for the whole family. I’d happily have another journey to Shrek’s swamp to spend another night with him and all the other wonderful fairy tale creatures.
Edward
 
"Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World
Tuesday 12th March 2024
Theatre Royal Nottingham
 
Who run the world? Girls…….and none more so than the incredible women portrayed in this inspirational stage show musical, based on the popular children’s book by Suffragette relative Kate Pankhurst.
 
Empowering, engaging and educational, this fun, high energy musical takes you on journey to meet some of history’s most astounding women. The protagonist of the story is 11 year old school girl Jade who, struggling with her parents’ divorce, is feeling lost, disenchanted and powerless. Whilst on a school trip to a local museum, Jade becomes separated from her group and finds herself stumbling into the ‘Gallery of Greatness’. Here, Jade encounters some of the most incredible women from history, some well known such as Amelia Earhart, Emmeline Pankhurst and Frida Kahlo and some lesser known such as Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel and Mary Anning, who discovered multiple dinosaur skeletons. Together 12 different heroines of history show Jade that she is powerful and that she can do anything.
 
The songs in this musical are catchy and melodic. A three-piece band features prominently up high onstage, positioned in brightly coloured neon boxes. This adds to the fun ambience of the staging which is complemented effectively by the colourful and vibrant costumes worn by the cast.
 
A strong cast of very talented women is what makes this musical great, with each performer taking on multiple roles seamlessly. The cast includes Georgia Grant-Anderson as Jade, Summer Priest as Sacagawea, Frida Khalo and Marie Curie, Jennifer Caldwell as Emmeline Pankhurst and Agent Fifi, Chloe Hart as Gertrude Ederle, Jane Austen and Mary Anning, Leah Vassell as Amelia Earhart, Mary Seacole and Rosa Parks. Millie Kiss makes her adult stage debut as Anne Frank.
 
This uplifting musical runs until Saturday 16th March 2024 and I urge you to go and see it if you can. You won’t be disappointed.
Eloise
 
Les Miserables School Edition
Nottingham Arts Youth Group
March 13th 2024
 
The Schools Edition of Les Miserables, though 30 minutes shorter than its standard counterpart, is an equally powerful and captivating experience.
 
It is a timeless musical set-in 19th-century France, following the intertwining lives of ex-convict Jean Valjean, relentlessly pursued by the lawman Javert, against the backdrop of the June Rebellion. Fuelled by themes of redemption, love, and revolution, the story explores the struggles of the oppressed and the pursuit of justice in a society plagued by inequality.
 
The music in the show is glorious and as a result this is one of the most popular musicals in London's West End.
 
The youthful cast of tonight's performance delivered a stunning and impressive show. From the opening notes of 'Look Down,' it became evident that this was as good as a professional production. Every vocal performance, from lead soloists to the ensemble was beautifully delivered and a joy to hear. The ensemble performances contained enormous energy, dedication, and enthusiasm.
 
In the role of Jean Valjean, George Young demonstrates charismatic and skilled acting. His great voice, impressive tone, power, and range were evident throughout, especially in his rendition of "Bring Him Home," which left the packed theatre completely silent - until rapturous applause began. He has fully embraced this challenging role with a compelling physical presence, emotional maturity and stage confidence.
 
As Inspector Javert, Jonathan Jaycock delivers an outstanding performance, showcasing brilliant singing and acting. A highlight is his breath-taking rendition of 'Stars.' His portrayal of Javert is a convincing depiction of a vengeful and bitter man driven by principle and a deep sense of moral duty. I am sure that Jonathan is destined for many more great roles in the future.
 
In the role of Fantine, Chloe Chapman-Deas shows considerable talent in both acting and singing, bringing out the feistiness of this vulnerable character, particularly in her excellent performance of "I Dreamed a Dream."
 
Playing Eponine, Francesca Lewis, portrays a mistreated girl with touching depth, revealing a softer side in her sacrifice for Marius. Her lovely solo, 'On My Own,' was much appreciated by the audience.
 
As the grown Cosette, Mia Rathbone enchants with clear vocals, and a well-pitched performance that complements Valjean's strength. The young Cosette at this performance was played by Lizzie Kenny whose rendition of Castle On A Cloud was lovely. At other performances the role is played by Skye Grimsey.
 
The role of Little Eponine was played well by Chloe Samuels.
 
In the role of Marius, Joshua Preston delivers a moving performance throughout and his heartfelt rendition of 'Empty Chairs and Empty Tables' shows maturity beyond his years.
 
Tony Foad as the student leader, Enjolrus, is thoroughly engaging, conveying convincing passion and idealism with beautifully sung, spine-tingling vocals.
 
Jamie Adlam and Elizabeth Fitzgerald are hilarious as the compelling but very unpleasant Monsieur & Madame Thenardier – the smiling vipers. Their perfectly pitched performances combine excellent vocal delivery with well-judged physical comedy, making 'Master of the House' a highlight and also a great ensemble piece.
 
As the young Gavroche, Seth Burgess, is a breath of fresh air amid the tension of the barricades. Commanding attention on stage, he sings and acts brilliantly, displaying remarkable confidence for one so young.
 
One of the show's strengths lies in the range of emotions portrayed, exploring the human condition in various circumstances. This young cast delivers these emotions with depth; their tender age becomes irrelevant. The performances convey desperation, vengefulness, selfishness, passion, redemption, and love, taking the audience through a gamut of reactions. I carefully watched the ensemble and never saw anyone out of character throughout.
 
Impressive attention to detail is evident in the cast's period-appropriate hairstyles and the variety and authenticity of the splendid costumes. The minimal yet cleverly conceived stage set seamlessly transported the action through multiple locations, including behind and in front of the barricades. Great work from Abby Wells and Mark Russell. The special effects especially during the barricade battle are superb,
 
The lighting and sound, by Oliver Read and Rob Kettridge is first-class and on this first night there were no missed cues or lighting faults. The sound is crisp and clear throughout, while the lighting, particularly the evocative hues, adds a fitting atmosphere. The balance between the orchestra and the performers was perfect throughout. Under the direction of Gareth Wynne, the large on-stage orchestra sounded wonderful, but never overwhelmed the performers.
 
The ensemble scenes are sensational both in terms of vocals and movement.
 
The Director, Abby Wells, and the production manager Jessica Royce ensure that every member of the large cast is featured and used effectively. Despite the size of the ensemble the stage never feels overcrowded, and each performer brings life and credibility to their many roles. They were in fact outstanding and many of them sang individual roles throughout the show. There were quick changes throughout which are very well managed.
 
Because all the supporting cast are an essential part in the success of this production they need to be mentioned.
 
They are:
Alexander Nickson, Arlo Perrons, Caitlin Young, Charles Beckett, Charlotte Fisher, Connie Tegerdine, Eliza Szejda, Eloise Rees, Emily Holder, Esmie Smith-Cockayne, Florence Everitt, Giles Briggs, Grace Eccles Jones, Harriet Campion. Jack Kent, Kate Russell, Liberty Whitehouse, Liam Brown, Lucy Wilson, Megan Holder, Morgan Spencer, Oliver Sheard, Preston Nash, Reuben Thrower, Sonny Noble, Sophie Benner, Summer McNorton.
 
The stage crew, led by Evie Webster, execute smooth and almost invisible scene changes.
 
In conclusion, this is a wonderful night of theatre, showcasing impressive young talent. Kudos to everyone involved in producing this fabulous and highly professional show, especially the production team whose hard work, talent and skill shine through to the end.
 
This is undoubtedly one of the very best youth shows I have seen and I can’t wait for the next one.
 
The resounding instant standing ovation from the entire theatre at the end says it all. A great night, a great show and a great youth theatre Company.
 
The show runs until Sunday March 17th.
 

The Drifters Girl

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

February 21st 2024

"The Drifters Girl" at the Theatre Royal is a musical that takes audiences through the tumultuous yet inspiring tale of The Drifters and their legendary music, against the backdrop of the 1960s music scene. The narrative revolves around the life of Faye Treadwell, the remarkable woman behind the success of the iconic group.

Carly Mercedes Dyer, portraying Faye Treadwell, possesses a rich voice that fills the theatre. She dominates the stage, delivering a sassy but sensitive performance that is full of character – what a woman Faye was. Jayden Bell-Ricketts, in the role of Faye's daughter is the interested onlooker, coaxing the fascinating story out of her mother, sharing the emotions and joining in enthusiastically with the action.

The remaining four performers – Miles Anthony Daley, Ashford Campbell, Tarik Frimpong, and Daniel Haswell – deliver nothing short of spectacular performances. They seamlessly switch between multiple roles, often portraying more than one character in the same scene, showcasing excellent singing and dancing abilities. They effectively capture the essence of The Drifters' music and the era.

The production skillfully weaves heart warming moments of triumph and perseverance with electrifying musical numbers, eliciting toe-tapping and sing-along reactions from the audience (after the show, of course).

What distinguishes "The Drifters Girl" from other jukebox musicals is its capacity to entertain and inspire simultaneously. Faye Treadwell's story of determination and resilience in the face of many types of adversity – including shocking racism and sexism, is uplifting.

The dynamic production has a fast-moving narrative, though at times, it may feel a bit too fast. A bit more historical context about The Drifters and Faye's story could make the narrative clearer, in my opinion. What would be helpful is a display showing which year each scene is set in.

The set, a brilliant combination of lights and projections, adds dynamism to the show, complementing the rapid pace of the story. Scenic projections support the storyline, ensuring a continuous flow from start to finish.

Overall, "The Drifters Girl" is a feel-good musical that not only celebrates The Drifters' timeless music, but also pays homage to the unsung pioneers behind the scenes. With exceptional performances, engaging storytelling, and infectious energy, this production really lifts the spirits.

A must for fans of the 60’s, the show features 25 songs including hits like ‘Come on over to my Place,” “If I had a Hammer,” "Kissin’ In the back of the Movies,” “Saturday Night at the Movies,” “Save the last dance for me,” “Sweets for my Sweet,” “There goes my baby,” and “Under the Boardwalk.”

The lively finale prompted many in the audience to stand and dance in the aisles!

"The Drifters Girl" continues at the Theatre Royal until Saturday. Don't miss it, especially if you're a Drifters fan!

 

The Sound of Music

Nottingham Arts Theatre

February 20th 2024

It’s 1938 and patriotic Austrians have a big problem – the threat of the Anschloss, the annexation by Hitler’s Germany. In Salzburg, at Nonnberg Abby, the nuns have another problem, that of the sweet natured but unsuitably lively Maria Rainer, who much as she tries to curb her enthusiasm for life, simply can’t help bursting into joyous song, particularly when allowed out on her beloved mountains. In desperation, the Mother Abbess decides to send Maria out into the world for a time, specifically to the home of Captain von Trapp, to be a governess to his seven motherless children. Will Maria find her vocation strengthened, or will she find love of a different kind?...

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical is packed with glorious songs including the well known ones, such as My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi and Climb Ev’ry Mountain, but also a whole host of other wonderfully catchy tunes, tender ballads and some heart soaring choral work. If you’re a Rodgers and Hammerstein fan and a sucker for a love story with some delightful children thrown into the mix, then this is one for you – it’s surely one of their best song books.

Nottingham Arts more than do this music justice, their production is an aural delight, just close your eyes and listen to the wonderful sound they make. Or perhaps not, as then you would miss the sight of those mountains on the backdrop, the creamy blue and gold opulence of the mansion and the towering stained glass windows of the Abbey. Hats off to Scenic Projects, who provided the set and also to Mary Lobley who provided the authentic props (including actual liquid in the coffee pot and glasses, hurray!), which are so important to the overall look of a production.

Back to that sound – the nuns produce the most beautiful, spine tingling vocals, including the opening Preludium and later the glorious Gadeamus Domino and Confitemini Domino, providing the high level of spirituality and emotion that is needed for that most romantic of scenes, a wedding. Ah! Further bliss is provided by the beautiful voice of Mother Abbess, played by Becky Burgess, a sublime rendition of Climb Ev’ry Mountain – and yes, she did hit that top note! There’s fun too, the wonderfully jaunty Maria (How do you solve a problem like), is delivered perfectly by Emma Nicol, Emily Hudson and Eloise Lowe as the Sisters Berthe, Margaretta and Sophia.

Erin Hill makes a sweet Maria, her voice throughout is a joy to listen to and she also brings that touch of feistiness that makes her a match for the bad tempered and emotionally repressed Captain von Trapp. Maria is on the stage for most of the production and Erin rises magnificently to the challenge of this iconic role, making it her own.

Sam Howard completely cracks that emotional repression and keeps Von Trapp rather unpleasantly rigid, until he visibly relaxes, as the transformative power of both music and Maria take effect. His vocals are excellent, velvety smooth and full of expression.

The children are played by two teams of performers – and Gretl is played by Lauren Burton, Esmae Rhodes and Ella-Louise Rhodes. I saw Lauren play the role and she did it so well. What a great introduction to musical theatre and such confidence from one so young, I particularly enjoyed her solo in So Long, Farewell. All the children did the director proud, their ad libs to keep the action interesting and their skill at juggling all the moves required did not go unnoticed. Amelie Tindle as Brigitta shows her acting talent as the bookish but highly observant little girl, who knows exactly what is happening between her father and Maria. The other children in the team I saw are Sonny Noble (Fredrick), Daisy Hillery (Louisa), Liam Brown (Kurt) and Orla Donaghue (Marta).

Liesl, the oldest child, is played at every performance by Emily-Hope Wilkins with just the right amount of teenage angst and an absolutely lovely performance of Sixteen Going On Seventeen, sung with both Maria and her beau, Rolf. Rolf is played by an actor I have admired before – Louis Chadburn. Like the Captain, Rolf has a rigidity and he captures both this and a youthful allegiance to the Third Reich, perfectly. Again, his voice is spot on and a pleasure to listen to.

This vocal excellence throughout must be partly due to the hard work and diligence of Jonah Williams, the Musical Director, working with a recorded soundtrack. Not easy, but both the timing and the level of performance achieved are a credit to him.

Two of my favourite songs in this musical are the lesser known How Can Love Survive and No Way To Stop It, both performed by Elsa Schrader (the Captain’s love interest) and Max Detweiller, his rather louche and self interested friend from the Ministry of Culture. Pippa Ward and Shantanu Bhumbra did not disappoint, both great vocals and some amusing choreography made these songs a delight. Pippa looks and sounds just like a self confident rich woman in the Thirties – more hats off to the authentic costumes from Molly Limpet’s – and Shantanu perfectly encapsulates the confidently charming but rather shady Max.

The choreography during the songs is some of the most interesting I have seen in any production of this musical. Danniel Stringer has not only created some appropriate dance moves, such as in the deeply significant Laendler between Maria and the Captain, but has also choreographed movement during the songs to bring them to life. (Loved the passing of the pillows during the storm scene and the nuns making the sign of the Cross).

Lots of directorial decisions to be made here and the Director Lindsey Jaycock must have worked hard with the choreographer and all the cast to bring this piece to life. Full use has been made of the entrances and exits of the stage (and auditorium), and the clever positioning of Maria at the start mimics the effect in the film of her gradually appearing. The first scene in the Abbey, when it’s clear Maria hasn’t made it to Matins, is done in an imaginative way that really brings something fresh.

It’s hard to keep pace with such big scene changes, but this was first night and some of the nerves, one apparent incident of misplaced lighting and a missing prop (the concert programme) will soon be sorted out. Both Evie Webster (Lighting) and Oliver Read (Sound) are to be congratulated for an immeasurable contribution to both the overall setting of time and place and the clarity of this production.

There are supporting roles and an ensemble in this show, too many to mention, but absolutely essential to the story. Their dedication to their performances and in particular their contribution to the wonderful sound, is something else that does not go unnoticed by an appreciative audience.

This musical really is one of my favourite things and no matter how many times I’ve seen it, that story and those songs are always a joy. You don’t have to climb a mountain to get a ticket and sample that joy, they’re available until Saturday February 24th from the theatre's website, details below.

 

Betty Blue Eyes

West Bridgford Operatic Society

The Space Nottingham

February 17th 2024

Betty Blue Eyes from the West Bridgford Operatic Society ended tonight with a very well deserved standing ovation. I enjoyed every minute of it and commend the whole cast and production team for what was an excellent production.

This is a great show for theatre companies as it has lots of good ensemble work supporting a good number of principal parts.

This production was of a very high quality in all areas and in particular i thought the quality of singing was excellent. You could hear every word and the harmonies were superb.

Staging was good and as I said before the band was great.

Betty is my favourite show that I saw in London 3 times. I always worry that seeing an amateur version might spoil it for me. Well I can honestly say that I enjoyed this production as much as any I have seen. I recommend it for any local group that is looking for a great show to perform. Look no further than Betty Blue Eyes. Can’t wait to see it again somewhere locally if not back in the West End.

 

Showcase Spectacular

NAT Youth Group

Nottingham Arts Theatre

February 4th, 2024

This was my first experience of an NAT Youth Group's showcase and it was fantastic. Highlighting the talent and dedication of over 70 young performers, the show was dynamic and vibrant, leaving both me and the rest of the audience clapping and cheering at the end. From the outset, the energy on stage was obvious as they immersed us in a world of great songs, excellent choreography, and a programme seamlessly weaving together various musical genres and dramatic sketches.

The vocal standards displayed by the cast were impressively delivered with emotion and confidence beyond the performers' ages. The musical selections, ranging from classic Broadway tunes to contemporary musical hits, ensured an enjoyable experience for everyone in the theatre.

The commitment and passion of the young performers were evident in every note sung and every move executed on stage. The show featured songs such as "The Jitterbug" (Wizard of Oz), "It’s Possible" (Seussical), "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (Mary Poppins), "Too Darn Hot" (Kiss Me Kate), "Fearless" (Mean Girls), "Hakuna Matata" (Lion King), "Rent" (Rent), "Bop to the Top" (High School Musical) and "Razzle Dazzle" (Chicago). Memorable solo performances included "Little Miss Perfect" by Chloe Crofts, "Burn" from Hamilton by Eliza Szejda, and "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" (Sound of Music) by Cleo Sims and Liam Brown. Also featured were excellent short sketches and extracts from plays, including works by Shakespeare and "The History Boys." This diverse programme made the showcase even more impressive.

The choreography stood out as creative and well-performed, showcasing the dancers' technical skills and artistry. The evident camaraderie among the young performers added immeasurably to the quality of the production. The ensemble cast worked seamlessly together, creating a sense of unity that was great to see.

I believe it's essential to recognize the names of all the cast members, as it was an ensemble production in which everyone played their parts exceptionally well.

They are:Patrick Brannigan, Rebecca James, Sara Nicholls, Stella Walker, Thomas Martin, Zach Silcock, Zilpa Chisholm, Abigail McGregor, Adleigh Chappell-Royce, Alex Walker, Alexander Michael, Amelia Barrington, Amelia Scurfield, Amelie Adams, Amelie Burgess, Arlo Perrons, Bethany Ashdown, Betsy Stevens, Billy Kielty, Bluebell McEntee-Burton, Caitlin Young, Charles Beckett, Charlie Barr, Charlie Clay, Charlie Merrick, Charlotte Fisher, Chloe Chapman, Chloe Crofts, Cleo Sims, Connie Hatchett, Daisy Hillery, Darcy Barr, Edie McKenzie, Eliza Szejda, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Kenny, Ellie Strang, Emelia Pound, Esmie Smith-Cockayne, Fergus Hillery, Flossie Bailey, Harry Merrick, Hattie Campion, Imogen Pullen, Isabella Tattersall, Isla Douglas, Izzy Marsh, Jack Kent, Jamie Adlam, Jasper Duff, Josie Leigh, Julian Magda, Kate Russell, Lenny Brady, Liam Brown, Libby Thompson, Lillian Tattersall, Lottie Robinson, Louis Dickson, Lucy Wilson, Mack Afzal, Maisie Fletcher, Maisie Shelley, Mia Woodward, Morgan Spencer, Moriah Lindo, Niamh Corah, Noah Shaw, Oliver Sheard and Olivia Bott.

For the record one of the cast, Teddy Hunt, was unable to perform. His two roles were taken on very well and at short notice by Patrick Brannigan and Fergus Hillery.

The production values were noteworthy, with no delays between performances, and props and scenery were efficiently brought on stage by the cast. The lighting and sound were first-class as were the colourful costumes.

Huge congratulations go to the production team led by Youth Co-ordinator Jessica Royce. They have clearly done an outstanding job with their young students. Keira Dormer-Hazell (Drama), Jonah Williams (Music), Eleanor Carty (Assistant Tutor), Chloe Chapman, Harriet Campion, Kate Russell (Student Tutors) and Louis Barnes-Cupit and Nigel Newton (Stage Management).

In conclusion, the NAT Youth Group Musical Showcase Spectacular was a triumph, revealing the incredible potential and talent of the young performers. This production not only entertained but also inspired, leaving the audience with a sense of excitement for the future of the young people.

Congratulations to the NAT Youth Group for an unforgettable evening of musical and dramatic excellence. I eagerly anticipate their future productions and the continued growth of these promising young artists. There is another showcase later in the year.

Unfortunately, you cannot see this excellent show as it was for one night only. However, be on the lookout for future NAT Youth Group productions, including 'Les Miserables (Schools Edition),' which is at this theatre from March 13th to 17th this year. I am sure many of the cast tonight will be in that production.

 

"Snoring Beauty"

Erewash Musical Society Youth Group.

Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.

Reproduced here with permission of Kev Castle

Written and Directed by Richard Dawson, actor, writer and legendary presenter on Erewash Sound who, starting on 25 February, will be broadcasting live for 50 hours from the Duchess Theatre to raise money for various charities - just thought I'd get that plug in there!

The story is similar to the normal "Sleeping Beauty" storyline but there's a slight difference with the person who breaks Malificent's spell over the Princess. At just under three hours long, it could be tightened up a smidge, but there's so much content in here, as well as an absolute abundance of cheesy jokes - jokes that could only be imagined by a radio presenter (trust me on this one!). They will make you groan, they will make you smile and they will also make you laugh out loud.There's also a lot of music involved in this pantomime as well, with a whopping eighteen songs performed live. From classic songs from musicals such as "Matilda", "Hairspray" and "Dear Evan Hansen" to big pop hits from Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, plus a couple of guilty pleasure favourites of m m m m m m mine (that's a clue to one of them!)

Izzy Cole plays Princess Aurora, the Snoring Beauty of the panto. Izzy, who I've seen before, I knew had a great voice and can dance, but as the Princess, she also shows a lovely comedy side of her acting.

Sky Stacey plays Prince Charming and, like Izzy, delivers a wonderfully comic role, and I can only repeat the above comments; great voice and dancing. Both Izzy and Sky contrasting with their previously quite serious roles in "Footloose" from last year.

Drew Boswell plays Dame Charming and for one so young, he completely gets panto and plays a fabulous Dame. He shows an ability to ad-lib when required and completely won over the packed Duchess Theatre with his charm, singing, dancing and especially the splits at the end of Act One.

I've seen young actors playing Dame, but Drew seems to really understand what is required to play this integral role; a role that is in no way easy to play, which is why there are only a few actors, of any age, make a career from playing this panto stalwart. And I don't know if he'll thank me for saying this, but he does suit the role and looks good as a panto Dame. A triple threat and a boon to any theatre troupe. Oh, and I love the accent!

Bethan Moore plays Malificent, who is very different to how this character is normally depicted in panto, she is really posh! And boy, is she really good, swanning on and off-stage oozing evilness, even to her sidekick, Mini Malificent, played by Yasmin Aldous. A deliciously nasty coupling who have really good chemistry, especially when Mini Mal starts to come out of her shell. Both competent singers and both really good dancers, and both have that ability to command the stage in their scenes.Playing the good fairies are Kate Chamberlain (Flora), Eleanor Cooper (Forna) and Lauren Hazeldine (Merriweather) who bless the young Princess with nice attributes. Merriweather provides the comedy as the fairy who is nice quite as sharp as the other two.

Joel Dawson plays Prickly, Princess Aurora's best friend in her first sixteen years, before she returns back to the King and Queen's castle. Joel is consistent in his performing ability. Playing a hedgehog also gives rise to some unexpected comedy moments in the script, so watch out for them. I raved about his performance of Ren in last year's "Footloose", and the same applies to this role. Great fun role performed by a cracking young actor.

Oliver Nolan is the King. I can't remember seeing Oliver in any previous productions, so unsure how new he is to acting, but if this is his debut, I can see that he will go far. A brilliant character driven performance showing confidence in his acting ability. What I loved about this particular King is that normally the character is under the thumb of the Queen, these roles are reversed and the King is the more dominant role.....to start with. The Queen is played by Jessie Gatehouse and we don't get to see too much of the Queen's character until Act two when she climbs out from under the King's thumb to take charge. Jessie is a slow burner of an actor, thanks to this role, but the wait is well worth it.

Noah Hickling plays The Fresh Prince, and here comes another of my guilty pleasure bits from this panto. The Fresh Prince, as you may have guessed is a real cool and streetwise character who gets to perform the rap from The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, which he does with swag. A little guy with a big talent for entertaining.Toby Wykes plays Prince Prancer, one of the other Princes who take part in a TV inspired contest to win the chance to awaken the Princess. Another Prince who had a lovely comedy role with his horse, and I loved Toby's accent and physicality for Prince Prancer. As part of the ensemble he also showed that he could bust some moves as well.

Producing a panto allows a writer/director great scope to have a big ensemble, and that's no difference in this one. There's so much talent in this group, and every time I looked at the ensemble members, they were giving their all. The energy they put into the choreography was a real credit, not only to themselves, but to their choreographer.

The ensemble are Rosey Malins, Elis Moore, Evan Hagan, Kai Hagan, Sophie Foreman, Rose Staniford, Gabriella Tilley, Lowri Moore, Grace Sims, Eloise Chamberlain, Lacey Swinburne, Livvi Hickling, Blake Hagan, Harry O'Boyle, Jessie Jerram, Martha Smart and Clarissa Armitage.

Choreographed by Abbi Burns. With eleven musical numbers, as well as the extra incidental music, there's a lot of dancing on show. I especially loved the full cast and ensemble numbers because this highlighted the musicality and synchronicity within the group, especially in numbers like "You Can't Stop The Beat", which ended the show on a real high.

Set Design is by Bill and Mark Robbins, who also had the mountainous job as Stage Manager. The projected back scenes looked great and created even more of a fairy-tale feel about the show.

Musical Director is Gabryl Oleshko and it's very obvious that a great deal of hard graft has been put into this show by Gabryl with the cast. Not only that but as part of the five piece band with Martin Lewis (keys), Chris Renshaw (guitar), Jeff Widdowson (bass) and Andy Shelton (drums), they provided a solid backing to the cast.

Lighting design and operation is by Richard Chamberlain and Dave Martin. The start of the show had the house lights up and down, but only I'd notice that, right? Everything else about the lighting design was marvellously operated.

Sound design and operation is by Dave Dallard and Jack Clark, and with so many mics, there was just the one missed mic cue, right near the end when Prickly's mic cue just missed, so I certainly can't complain about that, especially on opening night.The costumes are brilliant, especially inventive is Joel's costume and I loved Malificent's. the King and Queen's and of course all of Dame Charming's, in fact they were all excellent, and all sourced by the Committee along with Friends and family members.

The show is great fun, full of brilliant characters, packed with jokes and songs that everyone will know, some of the lyrics have been changed very cleverly to match the storyline, which I really enjoyed acknowledging. Richard Dawson has made sure that patrons to this show definitely get their money worth. Which you really do!

"Snoring Beauty" is at The Duchess Theatre in Long Eaton until Saturday 3 February

 

Noises Off

National Tour

Theatre Royal Nottingham

January 30th 2024

Michael Frayn's comedy masterpiece is about the theatre, celebrating the people who make it happen and those who enjoy it. However, things don’t always work out as they should. This is a play within a play as we follow a production of a stage play called “Nothing On” written by Robin Housemonger and performed in places such as The Grand Theatre Weston-super-Mare and another in Lowestoft.

The play has three acts: a lively (to say the least) dress rehearsal, a chaotic premiere, and a hilariously disastrous final performance.

Simon Higlett's clever set smoothly switches between the stage and backstage, giving the audience a full view of the classic bedroom farce story and a look behind the scenes while it is going on. Seeing the cast mess up lines during the dress rehearsal or dealing with backstage drama on opening night is clever and entertaining.

While the risk of on-stage mishaps is always there, the script is full of funny moments, with repeated mistakes building up to a very funny ending. Director Lindsay Posner handles the comic timing well, getting lots of laughs and keeping things moving at a fast pace.

The excellent Simon Shepherd leads the cast as the frustrated director, Lloyd Dallas who tries to manage the actors, who are in desperate need of more rehearsal and much more besides.

The fantastic Liza Goddard stands out as Dotty Otley, a confused housekeeper, playing by an equally confused actress. It is a delight to watch this accomplished comedy actress at work.

The play within the play is set in what is first thought to be an empty house until the arrival of Brooke Ashton (Lisa Ambalavanar) and Garry Lejeune (Dan Fredenburgh). Lisa plays a dizzy but sexy civil servant who skillfully balances the challenge of playing a wooden actor while actually delivering a great performance in her own right.

Dan certainly impresses with his comic moves, especially in the energetic final act. He is never still while on stage and engages in physical comedy of a very high standard. Congratulations to movement director Ruth Cooper-Brown and Claire Llewellyn for the very funny physicality and fights throughout the show.

Simon Coates (Frederick) and Lucy Robinson (Belinda) – the house owners -bring comedic brilliance to the play as he becomes a nervous tax evader and she his crazy partner. Often, Robinson's spontaneity, as an actress, adds a special touch to the growing sense of chaos and disaster.

Paul Bradbury is great in the role of the classic drunk, Selsdon, whose main goal is to get a bottle or two down him and occasionally appearing as a burglar.

Daniel Rainford (Tim Allgood) and Nikhita Lesler (Poppy) shine as the overworked stagehands turned understudies, struggling to keep up with the unfolding events while trying to keep things on track, which of course they usually fail to do.

The staging is excellent with great lighting by Paul Pyant and sound by Gregory Clarke.

"Noises Off" is cleverly put together providing lots of entertainment and laughs throughout. The lady next to me said it was the funniest thing she had seen and she hadn’t laughed so much in ages. The very loud clapping and cheers at the end suggests that was true for the majority of the audience as well, including me.

The play is at Theatre Royal Nottingham until November 4th.

 

And Then There Were None

Royal Derngate & Northampton

Theatre Royal Nottingham

January 23rd 2024

It’s 1939 and ten strangers are stranded together on Soldier Island off the Devonshire Coast: eight of them have been invited to a House Party and two are domestic staff. The host, hardly known to any of the party, fails to turn up, but he does leave a gramophone recording to be played after dinner. The assembled party are all accused of past misdemeanours for which they will be brought shockingly to account…

This is one of Agatha Christie’s most famous and popular stories, one that she liked so much she dramatised it herself, for the first production in 1943. Its enduring popularity seems to be - as Lucy Bailey, the director of this version says – ‘because we have an appetite for, and an attraction to, horror and to things that we can’t imagine doing ourselves’. The play has had a couple of other titles, both alluding to the fate of the ten, told through a popular nursery rhyme. In this version the rhyme is ten little soldiers, represented by eerily lit figurines that get broken, one by one.

Lucy Bailey’s production makes the most of our grisly fascination and brings vividly to life the claustrophobia and fear felt by those trapped visitors, witnessing the fate of others and knowing that there is a murderer among them. It’s reminiscent of the current popular TV programme ‘The Traitors’, as discussions over what to do take place, yet no-one can be really sure that they can trust the others.

It's Mike Britton’s set that so powerfully creates the claustrophobic atmosphere, as the Art Deco interior seamlessly merges into the exterior of the house and the barren seascape beyond. Walls close in, scenery shifts and the billowing net curtains barely hide a multitude of shameful imaginings. Lifting the characters from the page, Lucy Bailey has given them an interior life and we see what some of them are thinking and remembering of their alleged crimes. The deceased walk away, no longer characters in the story. An equally powerful soundscape by Elizabeth Purnell adds immeasurably to the atmosphere, including the remembered voices, the screams of terror and the jarring gaiety of dance music. Lighting by Chris Davey brings it all together, as day moves into night, candles flicker and ominous shadows are created.

The production is authentically set in the Thirties, yet imaginative casting and the creation of almost filmic scenes give it a fresh and modern feel. It’s an ensemble piece from a cast of talented actors, who skilfully create the rather unlikeable and mostly entitled characters. They are Philip Lombard, a soldier (Joseph Beattie), Anthony Marston (Oliver Clayton), Emily Brent, an elderly spinster (Katy Stephens), Vera Claythorne, a secretary for the host (Sophie Walter), Doctor Armstrong (Bob Barrett),Mr Justice Wargrave, a retired criminal judge (David Yelland), William Blore, a former police inspector (Andrew Lancel), General Mackenzie (Jeffery Kissoon) and the caretakers Georgina Rogers (Lucy Tregear) and Jane Pinchbeck (Nicola May-Taylor).

All engaging performances from some familiar faces, with a particularly powerful performance from Sophie Walter, as the confidently flirty Vera, who undergoes a physical and psychological ordeal that is truly gripping; the hints of impending madness bringing Lady Macbeth to mind. It’s always wonderful to see accomplished acting and having previously seen Katy Stephens in roles at the RSC, it was good to see her very nuanced characterisation of the hideously pious Emily Brent. Lots to admire and enjoy in all aspects of this production.

Even knowing the ending, having seen it before, doesn’t diminish the tension and horror that is so cleverly created and maintained in this version. The pace is cracking, there’s a wealth of sensory interest and we are so drawn into the plight of the characters that we’re thinking what we would do in such a situation. When no-one can be trusted…

Trust me, it’s worth getting along to see this one; it continues at the Theatre Royal until Saturday 27th January.

 

Murder in the Dark

Original Theatre,

Trafalgar Theatre Productions & JAS Theatricals

Derby Theatre

January 15th 2024

Ex popstar Danny Sierra has crashed his car while returning from his mother’s funeral, with some members of his extended family. Stranded in the snow on New Year’s Eve, miles from the nearest village and with no internet or phone signal, they have no option but to stay in an isolated cottage on the strange Mrs Bateman’s farm…

It’s a real box of dark delights this one and a lot more than just a ghost story. Plenty of ghostly happenings for those who like a touch of the supernatural, but with so many unexpected twists and turns it grips like a thriller, yet has many comic moments, too. Writer Torben Betts gives us a narrative that seems at first to be familiar and has us smugly thinking that we probably know the directions things are going in, only to usurp all our expectations and leave us gasping in puzzlement and disbelief. It’s gripping stuff.

The friendly and God-fearing Mrs Bateman is brought wonderfully to life by Susie Blake, who makes the most of some cracking one liners and hilarious observations, while being unsettlingly mysterious at the same time. We’re told a little about her and know that only the brave would try her mushroom soup, but it’s in the second act that we become concerned about more than her cooking. It’s a part that requires turning on a sixpence and Susie Blake gives a masterclass in character acting.

As the lights keep going out, the sinister refrain of a nursery rhyme plays repeatedly and there seems to be an unexpected extra guest, Danny Sierra becomes more and more unsettled and desperately needs a drink. Tom Chambers is entirely convincing as the washed up star who has a lot to feel guilty about, as he has let down all the members of his family and has some things in his past he would sooner forget. We share his bewilderment as the action unfolds and feel some of his psychological torment as he is made to face his demons in the most unforgiving way.

Danny’s ex wife Rebecca is played by Rebecca Charles, his estranged brother William by Owen Oakeshott and his son Jake by Jonny Green. They bring the family drama to the narrative and, in Agatha Christie style, leave us wondering if any of them might be the hidden puppeteer of the action. Rebecca is kind, but clearly aggrieved, William is nursing some old resentments and Jake has more than most to hold against his father.

It's Sarah, Danny’s young girlfriend played by Laura White, who really keeps us guessing as she leaves and returns to the action in the most surprising ways, at one point causing a collective gasp in the audience.

The tight direction and some very clever set design facilitate this and other effects that add so much to the impact of the play. Each half is only 45 minutes, but although it gallops apace it seems to be longer, as so much happens. As well as Philip Franks’ imaginative direction - he knows where to perfectly place the surprises and really sock the shocks - the eerie soundscape by Max Pappenheim cunningly builds and adds to the tension. Likewise, lighting by Paul Pyant successfully shifts our attention when required and at times keeps us literally in the dark.

The unsettling denouement of the play is one of the most imaginative and complex I have ever seen and leaves lots for discussion; the programme asks audiences to keep the play’s secrets, so there is no more than that to be said! To find out for yourself, get along to Derby Theatre between now and Saturday 20th January.

 

Jesus Christ Superstar

National Tour 2023/ 24

Royal Concert Hall Nottingham

January 8th 2024

"Jesus Christ Superstar" at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham left me thrilled and quite emotional. The acting, the singing, the dancing and the stage design, in fact everything was fantastic.

This iconic musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice tells the story of the last week of Jesus' life, focusing on the events leading to his crucifixion. The musical explores the relationships between Jesus, Judas, and Mary Magdalene, portraying the political and personal struggles of the characters, against the backdrop of religious and societal tensions. The powerful rock opera combines emotion, drama, and iconic music to bring this timeless story to life on stage.

Ian McIntosh, who plays Jesus, is outstanding. His performance is full of emotion, and his singing is incredible. He really captures the feelings of Jesus, balancing vulnerability and strength perfectly. Of all his songs I have to say that “Gethsemane” was outstanding. The emotion in his voice and physicality is breath taking. I felt totally drawn into Jesus’ agony, as I did during his scourging and Crucifixion.

Shem Omari James as Judas has a magnetic intensity, making Judas' inner struggle feel real and adding depth to the story. This vital role was perfectly performed and beautifully sung.

Hannah Richardson, playing Mary, is captivating. Her performance is intense and her singing fills the whole auditorium; her rendition of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" is exceptionally moving.

Charlie McCullagh’s portrayal of Pilate stands out as a riveting and commanding performance. He not only captures the essence of Pilate's conflicted nature but also infuses the character with a compelling mix of authority and vulnerability.

Francis Foreman, in the role of Caiaphas, delivers a masterful performance that adds depth and gravitas to the production. His commanding presence and resonant voice make Caiaphas a formidable and imposing figure.

Matt Bateman as Annas brings a dynamic energy to the stage, complementing the other key characters with his distinct presence.

I loved the “Drag Queenish” performance of Timo Tatzber as King Herod. His costume has to be seen to be believed and he performs one of my favourite songs from the show brilliantly. It includes the line “Prove to me that You're no fool. Walk across my swimming pool.” Incidentally, this is just one of the many great lines from the pen of Tim Rice. His libretto for this show is so witty and a pleasure to listen to.

The whole cast work together seamlessly, creating a lively and engaging atmosphere that keeps the audience hooked from start to finish. I certainly noticed the dancing much more than in any previous production. It is designed to move the story along and reflect what is happening with the central characters. The choreography is strong and powerful and the ensemble dominate the stage whenever they are on, which is most of the time.

Of course, the songs of Rice and Webber are fundamental to the show and include "Superstar", "What's The Buzz", "Everything's Alright", "Herod's Song". "Heaven On Your Mind," "Gethsemane", and of course, "I Don't Know How to Love Him.”

The production team, led by Director Timothy Sheader and choreographer Drew McOnie, deserve considerable praise for their creative approach. I have seen this show a number of times, but this one was different in many effective ways.

The set design by Tom Scutt, lighting by Lee Curran, and sound by Nick Lidster created a visually and aurally stunning experience that draws the audience into the heart of the story. Incidentally the staging and dressing of the cast and indeed the set makes this story seem absolutely timeless. The use of hand mics was also effective giving a feel, at times, of a rock concert.

Tom Deering's music supervision adds an extra layer of grandeur to Andrew Lloyd Webber's iconic score, seemingly making every note resonate with emotion and power. However, there were a few occasions where I think the band was a little too dominant and slightly overpowered the singers. Not sure if this was the band or the sound system though.

This is undoubtedly the best production of this show that I have seen. It is fresh, emotional, dynamic and visually stunning.

In conclusion this is an awe-inspiring production of a timeless classic. With a fantastic cast, brilliant production team, and soaring music, this show is a must-see for anyone looking for an unforgettable and uplifting theatrical experience. Until now I cannot say that this is one of my favourite shows but after tonight, I think it is.

Don't miss the chance to witness this spectacular performance. Jesus Christ Superstar continues to ascend at the Royal Concert Hall until Saturday.