Wednesday, 26 February 2014

THE LAST 5 YEARS Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside
Written by Jason Robert-Brown
Directed by Martin Berry

Having seen this play with music (as opposed to a musical) before, I was already in love with the music and the play itself. Having had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Matt Ronchetti and the gorgeous Roxanne Douro prior to the show, I couldn't wait to see the show, and I was not disappointed.

Jason Robert-Brown is one of the most under rated yet talented writers and composers of the modern theatre, in my opinion, and while his songs are complex from a singers point of view they are an absolute joy for a musical theatre fan to listen to.

"The Last 5 Years" tells the story of Jamie Wellerstein and Cathy Hiatt, two Americans who fall in love, marry and then break up but is told from the viewpoint of Jamie and Cathy but from the start of the relationship in Jamie's case and from the break up backwards with Cathy.

Where the two overlap, or come together in the middle, Jamie proposes to Cathy, and is an incredibly tender piece especially with the song "The Next 10 Minutes" being performed as a duet.

Matt and Roxanne are so wonderfully believable as a couple and they make you feel empathy for Roxanne and her anger and tears with the opening song, "Still Hurting", what an amazing song! And in a strange way, from  a bloke's point of view, you do actually feel the regret Jamie shows after his one night stand when the marriage is breaking down in "Nobody Needs To Know".

Vocal wise Matt and Roxanne are absolutely spot on and one of those wonderfully comfortable pairings and I noted that Roxanne sounds like a young Barbara Streisand, both actors so easy on the ear, as well as the eye.

Providing the music was pianist and musical director Dan Turek, Rachel Whalley (violin) and Laura Elliott (cello), a beautiful compliment to Roxanne and Matt's vocals.

And finally, the director with the golden touch, Martin Berry. That man is a magician where great theatre is involved and he has waved his wand yet again. I've never seen a bad show at Lakeside and Martin has been behind so many of the shows that I've had the pleasure of seeing.

Such a shame that "The Last 5 Years" was only on for three nights because ,even on their last night on Wednesday, the auditorium was almost full and I really hope that Martin, Roxanne and Matt return to Lakeside to do this all over again... and soon!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Nottingham Playhouse

Written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, two of the best known theatre writers and directors of the 1920's and 30's, the play was written to shock, and even after all these years. the play has that shock factor.

The cast is a blend of disabled, deaf, blind and able bodied actors, which evoke a "visual" initial reaction from the audience, but strip away the initial shock of seeing someone disabled, blind or deaf on stage, and this leaves you with an amazingly good cast of actors who in some instances play up to their disability to provoke more reaction from the audience, to very good effect.

OK this out of the way, let's get down to the play. "The Beggar's Opera", is as relevant today, and maybe more relevant when you look at today's economical climate, as it was back when this play was initially produced. This is driven home by the visuals splashed over the screens of the backdrop, again many of the images evoking an intake of breath and continuing the shock effect with the up to date scandals of late.

It's the story of Macheath or Mack The Knife, the villain of the play who went around marrying women, sleeping with his "women", and even the police chief's daughter. Unseen murder's at the hands of Mack's knife, burglary, prostitution, racketeering, the whole lot, who just when you feel has got his comeuppance, escapes from being hanged by the neck after being pardoned by royalty. This insinuates as well that maybe villains like Mackheath may also be involved in higher circles as well as the low life beggars he held control over.

Music wise the songs are performed live by many of the cast playing the instruments on stage, and as the play is called "The Threepenny Opera", the music slants very heavily towards the operatic and there are some excellent operatic voices in the cast. On a personal level, I felt that Milton Lopes, who played the lead role of Macheath didn't have the strongest voice, either theatrically or operatically, but the rawness of his tone held a certain relevance to his character on stage and wasn't unpleasant on the ear.

I absolutely loved Cici Howell's and Victoria Oruwan's singing voices, absolutely gorgeous in their roles as Polly and Mrs Peachum respectively.

There are several reasons to go and see this fun, evocative, emotive play which performed at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 8 March 2014. Don't let the running times of 65 minutes for the first part and 90 minutes for the second half put you off either, because you'll be so wrapped up in the action and music that you won't even notice where the time has gone when the final curtain comes down.

Monday, 24 February 2014

THE GENTLE HOOK by Francis Durbridge

Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 1 March 2014

Now I love a good murder mystery and this is a brilliant murder mystery. I saw this company perform this play last year but yet again the very talented cast, who will be back again for it's 26th Classic Thriller Season in July, didn't disappoint with this very classy Durbridge classic.

Brad is celebrating his 60th birthday and is joined by his stepdaughter, Stacey, who has travelled back from Paris with a special delivery birthday present in the form of a painting from one of Brad's former art students. While Brad is out, Stacey is attacked by a Charles Venner and she murders him, which starts the chain of events which includes blackmail, more murder and deceit.

Having seen this last year, the characters seem more over the top than I last remember. Brad is more camp, the inspector more like Columbo with his flailing arms and forehead touching, and Alan Kyle, friend of Stacey and interior designer especially delighted the female section of the audience in the second half when he appeared in just a very small pair of stripey green briefs. Chris Sheridan, who played Kyle, did extremely well to not crack a smile when the boos from the females rose when he covered himself up in a dressing gown!

Brad is played wonderfully camp by Adrian Lloyd-James, Chris, as Alan, always seemed as if he was a bit shifty and had some other agenda, but what? Stacey Harrison (Angie Smith) managed to keep the twists and little white lies going and there were times that you really did think she had some involvement, apart from the murder of Venner.

Phillip, soon to be ex husband of Stacey, kept the procedures on an even keel in trying to unravel the plot and Inspector Lennox (George Telfer) perfected the Columbo mannerisms. But who really reveals the real murderer, and what was the motive? Is Stacey really involved with the murdered man and why does she protest her innocence when there is so much evidence stacked against her?

And why does Ravel's "Rhapsodie Espangol" hold the main clue to Brad's suspected suicide.

A classic thriller, which will make you jump, performed by a brilliant cast and serves as a delicious aperitif for the July Classic Thriller Season to come to the Theatre Royal, later in July.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

THEATRE ROYAL, NOTTINGHAM until Saturday 22 February 2014

Who would have thought that a piece of literature written some time between 1592 and 1594 by William Shakepspeare would some day feature Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is A Place On Earth", Spandau Ballet's "True" and "The Girl From Ipanema" along with a transvestite prostitute, an over protective nun, a police man straight from the Village People, imaginary Star Wars laser beams, gospel music and a nod to rap music complete with chunky gold chains?

Why use one word when six will do, which is the one thing I remember put me off reading Shakespeare at school, but when you dress the words up in
the colourful action presented by Propeller then comedies such as "Errors" and "Midsummer Night's Dream", which they are also performing this week, become an enjoyable farce, which technically is how they were written!

We have  the story of a merchant who is in danger of losing his life, but is spared by the Duke, for as long as he can show that he has found his son, Antipholus, one of twins and his son's servant, Dromio, again one of twins, to the Duke. The merchant though is blissfully unaware that his son and his servant has a twin. And this is where the confusion and errors start, until finally all four servants and sons are united with the merchant, who also finds his lost wife into the bargain. Like the best stories, it all ends up happily ever after.

The setting is 80's style Spain, with the incidental music, played by various members of the cast, bringing a "Benidorm" quality to the proceedings and some of the outrageous characters, Adriana, wife to Antipholus, Luciana, her sister and Aemilia, the Lady Abbess drawing on characters that would not have looked out of place in "The League Of Gentlemen"

If only my Shakespeare introduction at school could have been more like this, then maybe English literature would have held more interest for me back then.

Propeller are a 12 all male theatrical group who perform the works of Shakespeare with a more interesting slant, bringing the rich language of the bard to everyone who enjoy interesting theatre or Shakespeare with a twist.

It's great fun to watch and the cast also provide the interval entertainment as well with their medley of 80's pop tunes in the style that may have even had old Bill Shakespeare tapping a stockinged toe to!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 15 February 2014

It's 1929. It's Hollywood. the darlings of the silent movie world, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamarr are at their latest premiere but all is not hunky dory with the two silent movie starlets. The first talking picture is the latest thing, The Jazz Singer, and to keep in with the latest hip high flyers, Lockwood and Lamarr have to turn their latest disaster around by making it all singing, all dancing, all talking. Only one problem, Lina Lamarr can't sing, can't dance....and when she talks.....

Enter stage right our hero, Kathy Sheldon, to save the picture and to win the heart of the dashing leading man, Tom Lockwood.

Matthew Malthouse played the leading man, Lockwood, but the role is shared by James Leece as well, but I say Matthew tonight, and what a superb suave, sophisticated version of the Gene Kelly character he played, and although no one can do the "rain" scene like Kelly, he gave it his best shot.

Kathy Sheldon was played delightfully by Amy Ellen Richardson and has a voice just as sweet as her looks. A nice match for the Debbie Reynolds character in the film.

The comic character, Cosmo Brown, played in the 1952 film by Donald O Connor, was played by Stephane Anelli. And what a performance, doing great justice to the song "Make 'Em Laugh" and his pairing with the others on "Good Morning", if pairing is correct for a trio!

For me though the star of the show, and this is just my personal preference, was Faye Tozer, who we all remember from the band Steps, as Lina Lamarr, with the Bronx accent that sounds just like nails being drawn slowly down a very long blackboard. What a great little character actor she has turned out to be.

Also featuring quite highly is Maxwell Caulfield as the film company boss, R F Simpson.

Some good choreography from Andrew Wright but at times the ensemble needed to get it just a bit tighter and weren't as sharp as the old Hollywood hoofers were, and if you're going to do Hollywood on the stage, you have to get the dancing down on point.

There was gallons of the wet stuff as well for the closing of the first part and again to end the show, with not much fear of getting wet as several of the rows of seats in the stalls were taken out and the stage raised, to great effect. I have it on very good authority that the "rain" starts off warm but cools off quite quickly as well.

What is there not to like in this production? It's fun, it's glitzy, there's glamour, there's comedy, some great dance routines from Hollywood, and some memorable songs like the title track, "You Stepped Out Of A Dream", "All I Do", "Moses Supposes","You Are My Lucky Star", "Good Morning" and "You Were Meant For Me".

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Lace Market theatre until Saturday 8 February 2014

This is the first time that I've seen "Deathtrap" by Ira Levin, described as the Stephen King of the 60's and 70's and I can see the comparison in this excellent thriller performed at the Lace Market all this week.

It's the story of a thriller writer, Sidney Bruhl, who is suffering from writer's block when a student, Clifford Anderson, who he met at a convention asks his advice on a new thriller that he is writing. He decides that this is the sort of story to catapult him into the spotlight and solve all of his money worries. Bruhl's wife Myra has reservations about the turn of mood shown by Sidney and tries to convince him that maybe a collaboration may the way forward for Bruhl and young Anderson.

Bruhl invites Anderson over to chat about the collaboration, but Bruhl is greedy and doesn't want to share and things take rather a violent turn for Anderson. But this isn't the only turn, as there are many turns and twists to come in this very entertaining comedy thriller.

Robert Suttie is excellent as the scheming scriptwriter Bruhl, Judie Matthews makes her debut as Myra and also making his debut is Edward P Crook who is brilliant as the young writer, Clifford Anderson. Carol Parkinson plays the wonderful wacky psychic Helga Van Dorp. who also is not quite as she seems by the end of the play, and finally Steve Mitchell plays Bruhl's legal man Porter Milgram.

We see three murders but is there a fourth and who is the last one standing, well that's for you to come along and work out.

This may be the best thing that I've seen at The Lace Market and highlights the work of the Director, Bob Wildgust, who has been around the theatre for a good few years, and with this as a shining example of his work, I'm hoping he'll be around for a long time to come.

The sound and lighting effects create the eerie atmosphere, so pats on the back for Simon carter and Rose Dudley respectively and what a marvellous set as well, designed by Keith Parkinson.

If you like a play that keeps you on the edge of your seat and makes you jump now and again, then this is the one for you. Excellent show!