Tuesday, 19 June 2018

“Lava” by James Fritz
Nottingham Playhouse, Neville Suite.
So, what is “Lava” all about, as the title gives nothing away. Well, a small asteroid has hit London. In a town far away, but I get the feeling very local, a young man called Vin is finding it hard to talk.
Now, the only person who seems to bother, apart from Vin's mum, is a young girl called Rachel who makes it her business to find out why this is, and to help him get his voice back.
As time goes by, we discover that what Vin doesn't reveal is more sinister than what he does reveal. Slowly the truth is revealed like the peeling of an onion, but not all the mystery is discovered, leaving you to fill in the gaps.
Written by James Fritz, this is a very clever piece of theatre,and literature with four very different characters who bounce off each other really well and are believable. Characters you can emotionally connect with.
Ted Reilly (Vin) possibly has the hardest of roles here. That may seem a contradiction in terms as he has almost no lines, but having to act with his face and body and express everything he needs to get across must be a test for any actor. You can feel the frustration in his face and actions and slowly you start to understand the emotions he is experiencing as a result the fallout from of his own bombshell.
Safiyya Ingar (Rach) shows us comedy as well as frustration, anger and affection as she tries to reach out to Vin, who we find out worked in the same call centre as Vin. She is the one that he opens up ever so slightly to, and there's a lovely openness where the two are dancing around to Sia's "Chandelier". Rach sticks with Vin and by the ens of the play there's a real light at the end of the tunnel for the pair.
Fred Fergus (Jamie) plays a survivor of the London asteroid and we discover, on several occasions, that he lost his mother as part of the tragedy. Jamie bulldozes his way into Vin's and Rachel's life but that bravado he shows is part front as we see a rare crack in the armour with a gentle one to one with Vin. Jamie first thought he and Vin had something in common, but after the man to man, we also find they have something else in common.
Emma Pallant (Vicky) plays Vin's mum. long suffering and an emotional role to play. Vicky is part of the time walking on egg shells and the other half trying to keep normality for Vin. there's a heart wrenching scene where she loses her cool with Vin. There's also another wonderful scene with Vin where there looks like a breakthrough is about to happen.
All four of these actors make us seem like flies on the wall,witnesses to this private turmoil.
Directed by Angharad Jones, assisted by Laura Ford, they, along with the actors, make this 85 minute piece of theatre seem half the length. You invest your time and interest in these characters which is a sign that the Directors have done their job with the cast really well, making them characters you want to know and find out about.
The set designed by Amy Jane Cook is stark but always reminding us of the asteroid that sparked the opening of the story by having a big round crater in the centre of the stage. Another large circle in the "wall" of the set creates a wonderful back-lit and atmospheric entrance and positional piece for the actors.
Lighting designed by Alexandra Stafford,and the bleak black outs, which separate the scenes, entrances and exits of the actors split the story well with effect.
Dan Balfour’s Sound Design is subtle and at times, although you know it is there, seems almost invisible because there's so much concentration on the characters and the wonderful story. Take that sound-scape away though and the atmosphere would be very different.
The video design by Louise Rhoades-Brown and is a vital timeline reminder of the piece as well as letting us know the various emotional stages we were at with the characters.
I found this a really interesting piece of theatre and i thought how frustrated i would be if, as Rach herself observed, one was to lose the power of speech. Our every day life would be totally different. This in itself is a talking point. It's also the story of friendship and relationships and understanding others and their feelings, masking inner emotions and covering up and asking for help. being afraid, being brave and presenting bravado.
A fascinating, thought-provoking and entertaining piece of work that deserves, and calls for full audiences.
“Lava” is at the Neville Suite at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 30 June 2018.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

"Making A Meal Of It" by Your Chance Productions.
Bunkers Hill, Nottingham.
Here is a collection of funny pieces of theatre and TV sketches with one thread running through it. Food.
Now, what is clever as well is that as soon as you walk through the door upstairs at Bunkers Hill in Hockley, you are shown to your reserved table by your waiter and offered food. yes, food is included in the ticket price!
There are three sketches, seen on TV shows and three sketches from plays. the odd one out is a piece called "Whiskey Cake" which is all about making a cake with lots of whiskey tasting in between the recipe details. You can imagine the outcome!
"Why Cupid Came To Earls Court" is a one act play by Cosmo Hamilton and part of that play is performed in this showcase.
"Between Mouthfuls" is taken from Alan Ayckbourn's "Confusions" and is all about two couples who go to the same restaurant. The two couples, a boss and his employee and their respective other halves both have secrets which emerge throughout the stormy meal.
This is a farce and depends on the waiter being like a microphone between the two tables, so you only hear snippets of conversations. At times this didn't work as well as it could have done as the waiter was at times nowhere near the couple that were talking.
What I did like though about this was the way that it segued into the next "food" section which was from "The Importance Of Being Earnest" and is when Gwendolyn and Cicely first meet.
The segue includes the two waiters clearing the tables from "Mouthfuls" and setting up for "Earnest" and the banter while doing this. I found out later that this improvised.
New names blended with actors I'd had the pleasure of seeing previously and were all great fun to watch.
Christian Oliver-Bates, Glenn Edward-Estes, Algernon Wells, Thomas Keetley, Emily Wilkins, Madeline Walker, Jessica McLean, Philippa Buchanan and Sarah Astill gave us accents, characterisations and lashings of comedy to make a meal of, and like any good meal, left you wanting more.
Whoever's idea it was as well to give Algernon the part of Algernon in the final sketch ("Earnest") was a stroke of genius, especially when he was asked if his name was really Algernon.
Also letting Tom and Algernon do the improvised comedy segue was clever as it showcased their obvious improvised comic talents.
All of this in six weeks is pretty impressive stuff and a lot of thought has gone into collating these themed pieces.
A wonderful evening's entertainment performed by some naturally comic people.
“The Lady In The Van” by Alan Bennett.
Spotlight Theatre.
"The Lady in The Van" tells the true story of Alan Bennett's strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless woman whom Bennett befriended in the 1970s before allowing her temporarily to park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden home.
She stayed there for 15 years. As the story develops Bennett learns that Miss Shepherd is really Margaret Fairchild, a former gifted pupil of the pianist Alfred Cortot.
She had played Chopin in a promenade concert, tried to become a nun, was committed to an institution by her brother, escaped, had an accident when her van was hit by a motorcyclist for which she believed herself to blame, and thereafter lived in fear of arrest.
The story was made into a film in 2015 starring Maggie Smith, who also starred in the West End play, and Alex Jennings.
I have never seen the film but Amanda Pearce who played Miss Shepherd gave a cracking performance and sounded not unlike Dame Maggie.
Alan Bennett was portrayed as two Bennetts by Matthew Clapp, who I don;t recall seeing before but he seems to have a real ear for accents and especially Bennett's Leeds accent along with all of his trademark way of talking.
Matching Matthew as the second Bennett was someone I do know from many local theatre performances, but I had to check the cast list as I really did not recognise Joseph Smith at all.He looked so different without his facial hair, his Bennett hair do and glasses. He's also got an ear for the accent.
Playing Bennett's Mam was Molly Wright on Saturday but on Sunday will be played by Carolyne Willow. Carolyne also played Miss Sheppard's doctor as well as the interviewer who popped round to interview Bennett.
Bennett's easy going but slightly nutty neighbours, Rufus and Pauline, were played by Patrick McChrystal and Maggie Burrows.
Miss Sheppard's Social Worker was played by Rachel Ross. You wouldn't expect Social workers to come across as comical but Rachel brought out the comedy in the part.
Dan Wolff played four parts here. A foul mouthed lout who was after Miss Shepherd for something. Something we discovered at the end of the play, Underwood, Mam's doctor and the ambulance driver.
Mike Newbold played Miss Shepherd's brother, Leo Fairchild and Laura Ellisplayed the Council Worker.
This is a lovely gentle comedy with a few naughty words sprinkled around, typical of Bennett's dry sense of humour, which is also brilliantly put across by Matthew and Joseph.
Directed by Liam Hall and assisted by Dan Wolff, the gentleness of the piece is helped by the steady pace of the play.
There is a subtle sound scape (Rob Kettridge) which creates the atmosphere of outside the Bennett house, where most of the action takes place along with his garden, and is set between 1974 and 1989. We know this because there are verbal nods to historic elements throughout.
I'm so pleased that this was my introduction to this play because I'd got nothing to compare it to, If I see the film now, I'll be comparing it to this.
"The Lady In The Van" is also being performed on Sunday 17 June 2018 at the Studio Theatre, College Street, Nottingham, Go out and support your local theatre and actors, especially when the talent is this good.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Nottingham New Theatre.
This shows the complete range the Nottingham New Theatre present. Not only do this group put on their own productions, little known gems and modern classics, they can also pull off full scale literary classics like this
Now you don’t need me to tell you the story of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy play, so I’ll get right down to the nitty gritty.
This is probably the best version of this play that I have seen for several reasons that I'll now expand on.
This play is over three hours long but it's such a brilliant piece of writing and the staging of "Macbeth" had been done so cleverly that I didn't notice the time.
You walk in and straight away the set takes your breath away. At first it looked like one of those big snow domes without the snow but a semi circle shaped mirror wall. The stage mist and the lighting created an air of doom and menace, which lasted all the way through, which is so right for this play. I don't think this initial atmosphere I've experienced in any other production before.
Director Ed Wiseman-Eggleton is the man responsible for this atmosphere and the incredible staging and with this being his last play for NNT, he has certainly succeeded in being remembered and going out with a bang, this man is really something special as this play is no walk in the park.
Grace Lievesley is a wonderful Producer and she, like Ed and the crew have created such an amazing piece of theatre, I know they must be so proud of.
Ed's tech team have certainly done him, NNT and themselves proud as well. possibly one of the biggest tech team I've seen for the one production, so without mentioning everyone involved, can I just say what an amazing job you've done. My mouth was more open than closed for those three hours.
With the cast, every single actor produced incredible and powerful performances, and you know when you feel so comfortable with a cast that you just sit back and watch; that's what I felt.
Dave Porter (Macbeth), Leonora Hamilton-Shield (Lady Macbeth), William Tillett - who's grandmother who I was talking to in the interval said that I had to mention how handsome he was - (Banquo/Menteith) his physical performance as Banquo's ghost was hypnotiising, Alex Piechowski(Macdfuff) who delivered an incredibly passionate performance when he had learned that his wife and children had been slaughtered. Luke Slater (Malcolm), George Waring (Duncan), Jack Linley (Ross), Boo Jackson(Lennox/Daughter), Sophie Curtis (Lady Macduff) just WOW!. Jazmine Greenaway also was busy playing several roles.
Sam Morris, Emma Pallett and Angharad Davies were the three witches and their make up and physicality really needs a special mention, because you could not take your eyes off of the three of them. I suspect as well they may be giving me nightmares so impressive is their make up and jerky movements. Think of films liker "The Ring" and that is the atmosphere they project.
Withe the amazing set (Joe Strickland), the lighting design (Zoe Smith) and the music (Tara Anegada Prasad) this play was like "Game Of Thrones" Vs William Shakespeare because it had such a modern feel without detracting from the classic writing of the Bard.
Look, I could go on and on about just how much I loved this production, but to understand how good this group of people are, how incredible this production is, and what a fantastic theatre the university have, please, just go and book a ticket, or two, or three or four, Here is a hidden gem of a theatre group who over the many seasons I've had the pleasure of seeing so many excellent shows with so many excellent actors, directors, producers,stage managers etc etc etc.
This is the final production of this season and i can't wait for the next one.
“Macbeth” is performed at the Nottingham New Theatre until Friday 15 June 2018.You will regret not seeing this version, I promise you!

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

“The Band” by Tim Firth
Nottingham Theatre Royal.
It’s 1992 and we meet five 16 year old girls for who ‘the band’ is everything. A group of girls, who were once inseparable, reunite after 25 years apart and try once more to fulfil their dream of meeting the boy band whose music became the soundtrack to their lives.
Rachel and her four school pals Debbie, Claire, Zoe, and Heather win tickets to see the band in concert at the Manchester Apollo, but on their return, tragedy strikes. 25 years later they reunite after Rachel wins another competition to see The Band reunite for a concert in Prague.
This is not just another jukebox musical. Sure it uses the songs of Take That, songs that any Take That fan, or come to think of it, any fan of any boy band in the 1990’s would never forget, What makes
this jukebox musical head and shoulders above most jukebox musicals is that the story line is very strong. It is written by Tim Firth, so you'd expect the story to take you through every emotion, and it does.
The band here, who perform the music of Take That, are not the main feature but as a musical back drop to the story of these women and girls who want to have their fires relit by their teenage idols.
AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri and SarioSolomon are the band and they sing and dance their socks – and more - off throughout the show. Could they be any more magic? Well they certainly deliver all the promises from the flood of publicity given all those months ago.
The vocals and harmonies are so tight and effortless and it only takes a minute from when they start singing to realise just how good this musical is going to be and how good it is. They truly shine in their vocals, choreography and stage work, getting the audience well and truly hyped up, especially during the concert performance pieces, making us all feel like kids again.
The girls, Faye Christall (young Rachel), Katy Clayton (young Heather), Sarah Kate Howarth (young Claire), Rachelle Diedricks (Debbie) and Lauren Jacobs (young Zoe) are so so good and they fall so well into the character of the typical teenage girl. Excitable is not the word with this bunch of friends.
The older versions of these teenagers are played by Rachel lumber (Rachel), Emily Joyce (Heather),
Alison Fitzjohn (Claire) and Jayne McKenna (Zoe). These ladies are amazing and we also see how different they are as adults, but still with that inner teenage excitable girl just under the surface. You can't help but fall in love with all of these women, and I'm not afraid to say that I was welling up at the final scenes.
The cast is completed by , Martin Miller (Jeff) and Andy Williams (Every Dave), both wonderful character parts.
The musical band, under the musical direction of John Donovan are brilliant and the sound is one of the best I've heard for a long time. The arrangements of the songs of Take That sound so good sung by women and have a lovely feel to them.
The video design also really adds to this production, especially at the end of Act One.
Directed by Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder, they have presented a musical masterpiece which I could see being the Take That equivalent of "Mamma Mia". The outlook and possible options for this piece of theatre could go on to rule the world of jukebox musicals.
What can I say about the sets? there are planes taking off in front of your eyes, buses turning into Roman chariots, giant flame flares, glitter cannons. school lockers where The Band appear from and then convert back to school lockers, large stone fountains and statues that come to life. More exciting to watch with more colourful costumes than you'd see in any circus.
This really is one musical you need to see to believe; and i pray you'll find time to go and see it, because these days quality new musicals only appear once in a while. You just need a little patience!
“The Band” became the fastest-selling musical of recent history when it went on sale in April this year, after the show’s stars, Five To Five, were found on BBC talent contest “Let It Shine” hosted by Gary Barlow.
Well I think I've just about said it all, so get your tickets while you can, take your seat and get ready for it, and take a hanky or two.
This has to be one of the best new musicals around at the moment and I really hope that it runs longer than the predicted one year. If tonight's reaction was anything to go by, this musical could run and run with every single person on their feet by the end.
“The Band” is at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 16 June 2018.

Monday, 11 June 2018

“Franz Woyzeck” by Daniel McVey
Nottingham New Theatre
Franz is home, with his loving wife Marie, and both are as safe as they can be from the war that is still going on. So why is it that he cannot seem to relax or trust anybody?
He barely acknowledge the existence of his baby daughter. Why is happiness eluding him and his family?
Marie earns a little money by doing menial jobs and it's this involvement with others that plays on Franz's mind, convincing him that she is unfaithful to him and is a sinner. With the effects of the war playing on his mind and his suspicions, Franz takes drastic action!
Loosely based on Georg Buchner’s incomplete 19th century German classic Woyzeck, this is a modern adaptation focusing on remembering victims of war, and questioning how it is we remember them.
The narration also gives a timeline of other casualties of war, always stating that this will happen never again, but how many times down through history have we heard that?
A good piece of theatre will evoke some kind of emotion from the audience and that is certainly true of this play.You could see the climax coming but even though you were expecting it, it still came as a smack in the face.
Daniel McVey has taken the bones of the story and has fleshed it out in a very modern way with physical theatre and choreography which never at any time detracts from the horror of the story being told.
Playing Woyzeck is Arthur Mckechnie, and possibly the most emotive and passionate role I've seen him perform. At times almost trance like as he told us of the voices in his head. We see the deterioration of his mental health and his downward spiral into what he believes to be true. His final monologue ringing true about the past war victims and the atrocious way they met their end.
Marie is played by Charlotte Brough, this being her debut NNT role. Like so many NNT debut performances I have seen over the last couple of years, Charlotte's confidence in the role makes it impossible to realise that she debuts here. She also puts a lot of trust in her fellow actors in several of the more physical sections.
Drummer is an interesting role and there is insinuation through the dance that Marie has a "thing" with Drummer which erupts in Woyzeck's anger against both Drummer and Marie. Playing the complex and chameleonic role is Yasmine Dankworth who has one of those expressive faces that tells you exactly the mood of the character she is playing.
Two other roles labelled "A" and "B" are Gemma Walton and Rosiella Sutherland who stitch the scenes together smoothly with commentary and even dance.
Loved the sound design in this play (Emily Dimino) and although the lighting design was quite haphazard (Laura Wolczyk) in a strange way it worked because it was like being inside Woyzeck's mind - or am I thinking a bit too out of the box here?
Tying everything technical together was Ben Woodford, creating a claustrophobic but electric atmosphere.
A very clever use of props which meant that the main actors weren't saddled with stuff like babies and bottles as they were on poles - the props not the actors - and were positioned for the actors to just take up and then relinquished of them, unhindered.
This adaptation of the play really got people talking afterwards which is a really good indication as to it's future success as it is also one of the show entries for the Sunday Times 2019 National Student Drama Festival.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

“The Brain from Planet X” by Musicality
Studio Live, Nottingham University.
A send up of 1950’s B movie science fiction films which is brilliant fun and has some very catchy musical numbers as well.
A Brain and its two alien cohorts, Zubrick and Yoni, arrive on Earth with a plan to take over the San Fernando Valley -- starting with a happy nuclear family. It’s the first step on the road to their quest of taking over the entire planet and destroying the family unit.But will the evil brain and it's cohorts succeed?
To be honest I couldn't wait to get out of there.... to get home and tell you all what - in the words of The Beach Boys - FUN FUN FUN this show is. It was over all too fast, I have not seen this musical before but now I want to see it again!
Choreography is by Katie Bacon and this is her debut Musicality show as choreographer. She has taken some wonderful 1960's inspired dance moves, like the Mashed Potato, as well as a brilliant ensemble tap routine, which really make you want to tap your toes
Musical Director is Rebecca Lillie and along with Assistant Musical Director, Abi Browning and a lovely little trio Annabel Jeffries (Keys), Sam Taylor (drums) and Nick Jones (reeds), they create a jazzy little combo.
The soundtrack has some really catchy songs which will have you struggling to get them out of your head, especially "The Brain Tap" which is a nod towards some of the big Hollywood and Broadway musicals.
Producer is Naomi Batley with her second show as Producer has done a brilliant job along with Assistant Producer, Dan Bowden making his debut on the production team.
Directed by Emily Dervey, she has kept this show tight and retained all of the comedy in this show that I had read about and hoped for.
Matt Talbot plays Fred Bunson and the first thing you notice about Matt is what a great voice he has for this musical score. He sings it just like the soundtrack and didn't try to make any changes, which I really appreciated.
Bethany Ward plays Joyce Bunson, the devoted wife and loving mother, and makes her Musicality debut in this. Like all of the vocalists in this show, she is a perfectly cast and that voice is crystal clear with great pitch.
Bryony Kirby, in her second show with Musicality, plays Donna, the daughter who is keeping secrets from her parents. Where could she be going when she tells them that she is at the library?
Bobby Hughes makes his final Musicality performance playing Zubrick and what a way to go out. He is great fun to watch and he throws everything into his performances, singing and dancing.
Rowena Fry moves from backstage of Musicality to the fore playing Yoni. Why did she wait so long. Never has an evil alien looked and acted so sexy!
Playing the dual role as Narrator and general Mills is Paolo Elias. Paolo has stage presence by the bucket load and he really gets into character in both roles. He ain't got a bad singing voice either.
Rachel Allcock is almost unrecognisable when playing Professor Leder but what a brilliant character role this is for her.
Playing the Newscasters are Siliva Lemos, Megan Smith and Beth Douce,
The Brain is played by Siska Yustina. Another actor who puts everything into this role, and I keep saying this about the cast but another cracking vocalist.
A very funny audience participation section in this as well.
The whole cast worked so well together and you can tell that they have all had fun with this musical, just as much fun as the audience had. It would have been nice to have seen a few more in the audience though to appreciate this talented and hard working bunch.
Oh yes and you'll love the costumes!
“The Brain From Planet X” is at Studio Live on the Nottingham University campus until Sunday 10 June 2018 which also includes a matinee performance at 2.30pm.