Tuesday, 21 January 2020

“Ghost Stories” by Andy Nyman & Jeremy Dyson
Nottingham Theatre Royal.
There’s a warning that accompanies this show stating that “people of a nervous disposition may want to think twice about booking a ticket for this show”, but how frightening can it be to sit with a theatre full of people and experience theatrical ghost stories?
Now, much as I would love to tell you so much about this show, I can't because I do not want to give away any spoilers, so what can I leak?
Joshua Higgott plays Professor Goodman who kick starts the evening with a light-hearted but uneasy lecture on the nature of fear and the appeal of ghost stories. He then presents three stories from the Supernatural which, at first seem to be separate stories but it becomes apparent that these are not as unrelated as they first appear.In fact they are the stuff that nightmares are made of!!!!
I was well prepared to be unnerved and this show succeeded in doing that because I really did feel uneasy with all three of these stories, and the show did make me jump on several occasions.
I deliberately did not watch the film so knew nothing about this play, and I was so pleased that I hadn't because I don't think it would have had the same impact on me as it did.
The story telling is second to none, and the actors, Gus Gordon (Simon Rifkind), Paul Hawkyard (Tony Matthews), and Richard Sutton (Mike Priddle) - hang on weren't there more than four actors taking the bows at the end? - were all excellent and created that unease, easily.
Another thing I experienced, and talking to some others afterwards, only some of them also experienced this, but, and I don't know if this is auto association, but, I could smell certain things just after the things I could smell were mentioned. Strange but in my mind, true, or was that just my imagination?
The lighting effects (Tom Murton) and the Sound design (James Pike) really makes this a wonderfully unnerving experience and creates many of the scary moments. And the special effects are equally unnerving.
I tell you how much this production will play on your mind, and I'm not normally affected by scary movies etc, but when I get off my bus on the way home, I have to walk down an ill lit set of narrow steps, and tonight I power walked to those steps and made it down there in record time. The power of the mind eh?
I ain't gonna give away anything about this play but to confirm that everything I had heard, and was told about "Ghost Stories", was all true. It will unnerve you. It will make you jump. And you will want to see this play again, even though you know what is coming and the ending.
For anyone who loves being frightened, and paying to be frightened, you will love this production. just make sure that you take someone with you.
Sweet dreams all, and just remember, that shadow in the corner of your room after lights out,and that creak on the stair when you are all in bed, hopefully will just be that... but then again......
“Ghost Stories” is at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 25 January.

Monday, 20 January 2020

“Frankenstein” adapted by Rona Munro
Derby Theatre
Everyone should know the story of the monster created by Dr Frankenstein, but this story shows us the story’s creator, Mary Shelley as one of the production’s characters, so we also learn about her as well as the creator of the monster and the monster itself. Mary Shelley dreamed it up at the age of 18, winning a bet with Lord Byron and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. “Frankenstein” was published two years later, in 1818.
The monster, created by Victor Frankenstein, and made up of various parts of other dead humans, only wants to be loved. He is driven to rage and murder by Frankenstein’s failure to provide this love and acceptance of his creation bringing rise to the monster’s horror image in the classic films we all know and love. Misunderstood patchwork quilt of dead flesh or monster? You decide.
I had been really looking forward to having a bit of a scare fest with this one but that just didn't happen. The thunder sound effects were loud enough to make a deaf person jump but I wasn't in the least frightened by the monster.
When you think of the old movies, there is this man mountain of a monster with evil eyes created on a slab with electrodes on a windy and wet stormy night, slowly arising from the slab and terrorising people with that slow stumbling gait.
Here the "monster" is brought to life standing up attached to sets of white rope lights, grunts a bit and races off to attack Frankenstein's brother or best friend; I was a little confused here.
The story was mainly about Mary Shelley who created the book,and narrated the story throughout, breaking the fourth wall to do this. Strangely enough I really enjoyed this as it brought with the character quite a few comic moments, again something that I was not expecting. A little bit more like "Carry On Frankenstein" than Gothic Horror.
The monster himself was nothing like I have ever seen monster wise. With wild 80's rock style hair and bedecked in a pair of baggy grey jogging bottoms, and later a matrix style leather coat, he raced everywhere and was very fluent with his speech and his demands.
Ben Castle-Gibb (Victor Frankenstein) was really quite impressive though as he showed us the pain and regret of bringing his "child" into the world. He showed the pressure of his work and the effects it had on Frankenstein's mind and body, and I really enjoyed this performance.
Eilidh Loan (Mary Shelley), as I've previously mentioned brought the show alive for me with her quips and laid back commentary.
Michael Moreland (Frankenstein’s Monster) was not what I had expected but he did give us an alternative view of the monster, and that is what theatre is all about, at times being different
Thierry Mabonga (Henry/Walton), Sarah MacGillivray (Mother/Justine), Natali McCleary (Elizabeth/Safie), Greg Powrie (Father/Master/Waldman) complete the cast.
Produced and Direcetd by Patricia Benecke, she gives us something different to the original idea of the story and image of the monster, although the story was fairly faithful to Shelley's Gothic masterpiece.
I did feel at times that parts of the story were rushed and could have been expanded more. The scene with the blind man was over before it had even began and may have been able to show the more sensitive side of the monster.
I also had trouble placing some of the accents. Was this a Scottish accent or was it an Irish accent; at times hard to tell. According to Shelley's novel, Dr Frankenstein was born in Naples!
Sound Design by Simon Slater and Lighting Design by Grant Anderson. these two created the unease and jump moments for the audience
Set design by Becky Minto, and this was set on two levels and reminded me of one of those plush penthouse apartments that you see beside the canal or waterway with balconies and perspex rails with white trees growing alongside the balconies. These made useful entry and exit points from the balcony down to the main stage.
A very stylised production, and though it may sound like I'm against sexing up old classics, I'm not. I've seen many modern takes on Shakespearean plays which I have really enjoyed, and in many ways, this production reminded me of doing that. It keeps theatre fresh, especially for younger theatre goers, so I am all for that, but I think this production may be, for me, filed under "marmite"
“Frankenstein” is at Derby Theatre until Saturday 25 January

Thursday, 16 January 2020

“Out There” by The Young Performers
Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton
It's 1969 and following the death of his wife, Hope, astronaut Newman Carter (James Pedrick) has disappeared. Newman seemed to have everything going for him. He was about to go into space as Mission Commander and he had a young son called David (Ricky Hill), who worshipped him. But now, Newman, has vanished and his son is being brought up by Newman’s sister, Celia.
Jump forward forty years and David has grown up to be a highly successful businessman. He has a son of his own, Logan (Harvey Tavener) but unfortunately, the two of them don’t get on. Logan is a bit of a tearaway and has only managed to escape jail thanks to David’s lawyer, and confidant, Linda.
Having finally gone too far, Logan runs away and Celia tells him to go to a particular farm outside the town of Hope, Texas and meet the farm owner Ned Thomas. On his way there, Logan meets the residents of the town including the town mechanic Jamie ( Hayley Watson), her mother, Sheriff Pack (Charlotte Rowland) and the sheriff’s rather inept sidekicks Billy (Henry Icke) and Stan (Ryan Yates).
The town of Hope is dying on its feet and everyone wonders what can be done to save it. Maybe Logan, with a little help from old Ned – a man who can keep a secret or two – can rescue the town and become a better person along the way.
Written by Elliot Davis & James Bourne, James of indie/pop/rock band Busted fame, it’s the perfect vehicle for a younger cast. The only other time I’d seen this musical performed was also at the Duchess Theatre a few years ago and also performed by a young cast. Davis and Bourne also wrote the musical “Loserville”
The production is a great team show which does a good job of highlighting the various vocal talents of the group. Harvey Tavener's going to have a brilliant falsetto in a few years' time as he easily moves from his usual singing voice to a gentle falsetto on several occasions.
He also gets to show off his dance moves as well in a lovely choreographed piece with Hayley. The section also includes a tutoring from Newman Carter in learning to dance.
James Pedrick manages to capture the physicality of the old man well and Ricky Hill keeps a superior age difference between his son and himself, making both characters very believable.
Loved Charlotte's voice, injecting soul into her first song "I Am The Law" and Hayley's characterisation of the backwoods mechanic/country girl next door was a pleasure to see.
Also enjoyed Eleanor Meakin's performance as Claudia Pointers as the reporter and her sidekick played by Finlay Dilks.
There is a blossoming double act in Ryan Yates and Henry Icke as the pair of police officers, and there are some lovely comic moments with these two which are often akin to panto. These two also impressed me with their Texan accents and facial impressions.
Along with these main characters there is also a large ensemble who flesh the stage out brilliantly as the town folk of Hope.
Expertly Produced by Vicky Byrne and Directed by Zak Charlesworth, another well known name in local theatre, now not just on stage but behind the scenes. He knows what he wants from a production, not only from his actors but with the lighting and stage management. I especially like the way that the scenes are changed while we are watching whoever is on stage at that moment, meaning that there is no hanging around for a full scene restructuring.
Sound Design by Dave Dallard was well balanced, although there were just a couple of occasions when we missed some of the script. This though was just from the un-mic'd actors, something that can't really be helped with the quantity of actors on the stage.
Lighting Design by Dave Martin, and this was something really special. From the roof full of stars in the auditorium to the back lighting behind the scenery, and the ending, which I won't spoil by giving away what happens, this is a richly lit production.
The set, which at first sight looked simple, but is not as simple as it looks with the various disguised doors, helped give the lighting a really special feel. Designed by Zak and Roydon Charlesworth.
Choreography by Alex Tavener, it is lively and shows the cast in their best light for these dance sections.
Musical Director for the show is George Parkinson and the collective of George on keys. Sean Garavan on guitar, Jeff Widdowson on bass and Justin Chambers on drums, belie the big sound produced from this quartet.
The soundtrack itself is not the most memorable but in the moment and when delivered on stage, you will find yourself tapping your toes, but you probably won't remember the songs the day after.
Despite that, the production is great fun and there is a message out there regarding family values. The cast all look like they enjoyed every second on stage and that enjoyment, like osmosis, spread to the delighted audience.
“Out There” is at the Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton until Saturday 18 January.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

“Band Of Gold” by Kay Mellor
Nottingham Theatre Royal
Kay Mellor’s “Band of Gold” was a big TV hit in the mid-Nineties. Today the TV characters are part of an exciting new stage production.
Inspired by research into the lives and experiences of sex workers on the streets of Leeds and Bradford, the play tells the story of four very different women in a time of minimum wages and ineffective financial support services.
These are independent women who value their time at more than just a few pounds an hour — and if that means earning better money through the oldest game in business, then that is what they need to do to pay the bills and get out of debt.
I’ll admit that I didn’t see the TV series, so this is all new to me.Not seeing the original TV series and not knowing the characters didn't matter because these characters are so well written that it does not take long to discover who they are and their past.
Kay Mellor is one of those writers who writes so well for women, and not just women, but powerful women. Her male characters are almost secondary, even though they are essential to the plot of course, you can tell that they are all written with an inbuilt flaw.
Set in Bradford in the early Nineties, Rose, played by Gaynor Faye is patrolling “The Lane”. She is in charge and lets everyone know that this is her patch and she is the boss!
I have seen, like any other soap fan, Gaynor on TV in "Emmerdale" and "Corrie" but she owns the stage here and looks, and acts completely different to any soap episode I've seen her in. There's also a conclusion to her story that I didn't expect.
Laurie Brett (Anita) is the mother hen figure of the three. She lives in a flat paid for by her married lover, George, played by Mark Sheals. Anita provides much of the wit in this play packed with grit and also gets to air some vocal talents as Anita is also a karaoke fan. Many will recognise Laurie from Eastenders where she played Jane Beale.
Sacha Parkinson (Gina) has debts. She has split up with her husband Steve and she has just started a new job selling Avon, door to door. Her Mum, Joyce, looks after Gina and Steve's child so that Gina can work. She is paying off the loan shark who is offering an alternative to money in payments, but Gina is a good girl. A real good girl!
Emma Osman (Carol) looks amazing in whatever she wears, and I must admit, the costumes in this show are pretty amazing for all the girls. i mention this from an artistic viewpoint by the way!. Carol is feisty and does everything she can to keep her young daughter blindsided by her occupation, always wanting a better life for her daughter than she has for herself. She is blunt in her description of what she has to do but has her eye on a better life for the two of them. This is Emma's first tour and she is nailing it.
Shayne Ward plays Inspector Newall who has returned to his old stomping ground to investigate the murder of a prostitute. But Newall has history not only in the area but with Carol. We soon discover Newall's back history and why he had to move away.
Kieron Richardson (Steve) is Gina's estranged husband, a real bully and nasty piece of work who has slapped Gina around a bit. He really morphs into the nasty character mould and you get a real feeling of unease about Steve. Now what surprised me is that this part is Keiron's first stage role, a medium that he looks at real ease with.
Andrew Dunn, no stranger to the Nottingham Theatre Royal, plays Ian Barraclough, a councillor who may just be the answer to Carol's future and escape from her current occupation, but here's a character that may not be as white as he is painted. A councillor with vices? Who'd have thought?
Olwen May plays Joyce, Gina's mum, and she delivers some quite shocking lines in the sense of what is expected from a woman from the early nineties. Still in the mind's eye that a woman should have man to take care of a woman, even though she hates her own husband but has stayed with him because that is what she feels is "the right thing to do".
Two other actors worthy of a mention are Steve Garti who plays Curly, a character who hangs around the bar where "all the action is". Curly is not from the area and visits on a regular basis from out of town, but why would he do that?
The other is Mark Sheals who plays George, Anita's married lover, and another sleaze ball who also has something that he has been hiding from Anita, and his wife!
This play will have you hooked. Even though you know what is going to happen at the close of the first act, you feel that you are completely helpless to stop it, well you are, but you find your fingers digging into the Theatre Royal seats with the tension.
That tension continues throughout the second act, but as Kay Mellor states before the show starts, "no spoilers", so I'll leave it at that. Needless to say there are several red herrings and twists before the end of the show, but, boy is this one hell of a good show. Will you guess who is the guilty one?
It is gritty and very witty with some still relevant social commentary. Written and Directed by Kay Mellor, she really knows how to write for TV, which also transcends well to the stage.
Loved the set design (Janet Bird) which featured many sliding pieces of scenery which enabled the scenes to be changed with ease and smoothly; almost like a TV series would change from one scene to the next.
My first theatre outing of 2020 was a complete success, so whether you were a fan of the TV show or, like me, a Band Of Gold virgin, you will love this brilliant piece of dark theatre, And while the ladies have the svelte and bearded Ward to drool over, the male members (oops) of the audience have four very talented and glamorous lead actors to focus on.
“Band Of Gold” is at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 18 January.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

"Queers" by Mark Gatiss
Nottingham Lace Market Theatre.
Reviewed by Joe Langham
"Queers" is a selection of four monologues exploring the experience of LGBT groups across the 20th and 21st Century. Originally commissioned by the BBC to celebrate 50 years since the legalisation of homosexuality in Britain, the collection originally consisted of eight stories and was curated by Mark Gatiss.
"The Perfect Gentleman", written by Jackie Clune and directed by Hazel Salisbury, opened the show. We are invited into The Queens Head, an establishment with a fine selection of ales, wines and spirits. We meet Bobby, a respectable gentleman that frequents the Queens Head, sampling many a drink. His charm and talents also have him earning the nickname ‘the Doctor of Southwark’ amongst the women that patronise the bar.
Bobby has a secret though. Bobby is in fact a cross-dressing working-class girl who passes as a man. Bobby is played by Gathoni Mwaura, who delivers the monologue with the swagger and stature of a 1920’s gentleman. A humorous story of exaggeration and bravado, recounting exploits that many are likely to hear down a pub even today.
"Missing Alice" tells the story of a housewife with history as she comes to terms with her own husbands secret. After marrying an eligible young man, Alice, played by Melanie Hamilton, travels to Brighton with her new husband for their honeymoon. The curtains of the hotel room are drawn and Alice is eager to consummate the marriage, her husband Michael however, is more interested in the fact that her dress matches the bedding.
"Missing Alice" is a poignant story of two people trapped by their situation. A gay man pushed into marriage to stop gossip and the woman who loves him, but can never be fully loved back. Missing Alice was written by Jon Bradfield and is directed by Helen Sharp.
"A Grand Day Out" introduces us to Andrew, a teenager who has attended a protest in London after the age of consent for gay individuals has been lowered from 21 to 18. Whilst a step forward, the refusal of the government to acknowledge sexual consent equality angers many in the community.
Andrew goes from the adrenaline of the initial protest to the worry of seeing new cameras there and potentially being outed to his parents after he lied and told them he was staying at a friends. He recounts missing the last train and having a chance intimate encounter with another man when needing a place to stay until the morning.
Lewis Brookbanks, who plays Andrew, delivers the story much like a mate to someone in the pub. The audience his ‘mate’ as he drinks his Smirnoff Ice and tries, and fails to light his cigarettes with his broken lighter. "A Grand Day Out" offers a sort of midpoint between the other stories as, whilst the LGBT community is not as hidden and shunned as in other stories, some still fear the response to being openly gay. Written by Michael Dennis and directed by Alison Hope.
The final monologue, and the most positive, brings us to the modern day. Michael Radford plays a suited Steve on his wedding day. Preparing his speech, he tells us anecdotes that are too rude for Aunty Janice to hear and others that are too wordy for him to include.
Pacing and rewriting his speech as he goes, he plays the part of the nervous groom to be well. He jokes that gay marriage was only legalised as straight people had worn out and made every aspect of weddings boring and monotonous and thus the gay community needed to come in and add a bit of colour and pizazz to the ceremony.
"Something Borrowed" is directed by Nik Hedges and written by Gareth McLean. A fun ending to the four stories, taking us from hidden identities and shame to the outward expression and celebration of love between the same sex at a gay wedding.
The music and sound design by Jack Harris transports us through the eras with relevant songs from Elvis to Lady Gaga.
The costumes, as with the music, evoke their relevant era from a longline tuxedo and top hat in "The Perfect Gentleman" to a 50s style dress in "Missing Alice".
The projections also suggest that the location stays the same and only the period changes as we go from a classic The Queen’s Head pub sign to a Moulin Rouge-esque lit sign entitled ‘Queens’.
Unfortunately for audiences, and fortunately for those lucky enough to get a ticket, Queers is sold out for its entire run this week.
"Queers" is at the Nottingham Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 11 January.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

"An Evening Of Christmas Cheer"
Nottingham Arts Theatre
You know when you have an advent calendar and every door you open, you get a treat? Well, this last month has been like having a theatrical advent calendar, but instead of getting a chocolate on the opening of the little doors, I get a little more Christmassy on every door and behind every door is a December theatre treat. From the first panto of the year, right up to this, my last show on 2019, it felt and looked a lot like Christmas after every show.
This showcase was like a present you didn't expect; a thank you from the Arts Theatre, which was most gratefully, and enthusiastically received by everyone in the audience tonight.
The show combined the talents of the adults as well as the Youth Group, who I saw last night, so was great to see a few sections from last night again from them. A mix of Christmas songs, both traditional and pop, and readings which really brought out the best of Christmas feelings in every one.
From the opening stormer of "Merry Christmas Everyone" through to the closing carols "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Hark the herald Angels Sing", they took in Mariah's "All I Want For Christmas", Wham's "Last Christmas", Chris de Burgh's "A Spaceman Came Travelling" and "Seasons Of Love" from the musical "Rent". Traditional fare such as "Silent Night", "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" and "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer", plus reminders that Christmas is not always a happy time with "We Are The World" and "Do they Know It's Christmas".
There were also lighter readings telling of the lead up to Christmas and after Christmas with the New Year diet in view and a panto fave from Mike Pearson with his recipe of how to make the perfect Christmas cake!
So who were the donors of this wonderful Christmas gift?
Bertie BlackChristine Boothe, Glenise Ellis, Amanda Hall, Barry Hobbs, Jacob FowlerMike Pearson, Emily Ridge, Marie RogersAlison SheppardRoy Smith and Emily Townsend joined forces with Will Kent and Jessica Royce's Nottingham Arts Theatre Youth Group for this very special presentation.
So many highlights in this evening's show. I've always loved the harmonies of "Seasons Of Love", there was a joyfulness in the Youth Group's Glee inspired version of "Here Comes Santa Claus", anything Jacob Fowler tackles is always special, and his version of Joni Mitchell's "River" was spine tingling. Every carol sounded like a choir, Bertie's folky sound in "Spaceman Came Travelling" and his rockiness in the "Do they Know It's Christmas" Bono piece. For me Alison Sheppard can do no wrong in my eyes (my ears shout "ditto"), Alison and Emily T's version of "Do You Want To Build A Snowman" from "Frozen" was gorgeous, and I loved the "A Politically Correct Christmas" reading, as well as the other readings, and then there was the Youth Group's version of "The Power Of Love" sent the chills up my spine.
The sound was excellent, thanks to Rob Kettridge and the lighting managed to create a lovely frosty, but at the same time cosy atmosphere, thanks to Oliver Read.
One other thing that I noticed as well was in the final carol, there were three of the Youth Group at the front swayed along with their arms around each other, which really summed up the spirit of local theatre and Christmas. They all looked as if they were having a great time on that stage and that made us want to be party to that great time. I for one was thankful for my invitation to this party, and I am now ready for Christmas.
It's been a very good year for the Arts Theatre with their luscious new seating and carpets, as well as the excellent theatrical fare they have shared with us all, and I feel that 2020 is going to capitalise on that success and the amazing talent that grace the stage, as well as behind the scenes.
Thank you for allowing me to spread the word of all that you do. I can't wait to shout about the incredible shows that are planned for 2020.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

"A Night At The Theatre" by Nottingham Arts Theatre Youth Group.
Nottingham Arts Theatre.
This show is the result of 8 months of work, one hour a week, which works out to be about fifteen hours of practice, but when you see the results of that practice, it belies the short time these kids have had to get to the standard seen tonight.
The show is a showcase of various musicals and scenes from plays, solos, duets, and ensemble numbers but all equally enchanting with the second part getting everyone in a Christmassy mood with the full company singing "Here Comes Santa Claus".
What I love with these kind of shows is you get to see the more confident performers upfront, but you also get to see kids who may not have a massive amount of confidence, but who have a love of performing and they can be spotted in several sections. I know that this is massively important to them, and the theatre because you can teach technique but you can't teach someone to have a passion for performing.
I have had the pleasure of seeing kids and adults move from the back row of an ensemble piece to taking centre stage, overcoming shyness and lack of confidence to being, and loving centre stage adoration. That is what schemes like this is all about, boosting confidence and spotting talent; and there is talent within this group.
Pieces from modern musicals like "Book Of Mormon", "Dear Evan Hansen" and "The Greatest Showman" are performed alongside classic songs from musicals like "West Side Story", "Wizard Of Oz" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie".
Scenes from "Death Of A Salesman", "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" and "Charlie Chaplin" show what we can expect from the older performers in the future. Jack Symington, Kate Russell and Pepper Uleberg-Smith get to show their acting ability as well as their ear for accents.
I must mention Lucy Henthorn-Lee because she did a lovely version of "Maybe", one of my favourite songs from "Annie", and who could not fail to smile with the ensemble who presented "Fat Sam's Grand Slam" from "Bugsy Malone". Leila Bedford delivered a lovely solo with "Beauty & The Beast" and Hattie Campion shone as Millie in the "Thoroughly Modern Millie" section.
The ensembles were fantastic and they show what an immense amount of hard work is poured into these shows. Hard work from the Director Jessica Royce, assisted by Will Newsham-Kent, with the choreography by Jessica.
With this amount of young performers, stage manager Gareth Morris had his hands full, but he made it all work, smoothly.
Thanks to College Street Nottingham for the loan of the microphones, which really did make all the difference in hearing (most) of these young voices. Blending the sounds was sound operative Rob Kettridge,and providing the lights was Oliver Read.
I enjoyed every second of this show and applaud every one of the children who took to the stage for our entertainment, as well as recognising the work that is put in by the teachers, chaperones, production team and technical crew involved with the Nottingham Arts Theatre Youth Group.