Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Nottingham Lace Market Theatre

"The Zoo" and "Little Dolls" are the latest short plays to be performed in the bijou surroundings of the upstairs section of the Lace Market Theatre. The audience are almost within touching distance of the actors which makes it all the more difficult for the actors who can actually see the eyes of the audience and hear them breathing!

The Lace Market Theatre are renowned for producing plays of this sort, plays which are sometimes quite off the beaten track, but at times true gems such as these two plays.

"The Zoo" features two characters, Peter, an older man who works in the printing business relaxing on the park bench in Central Park one Sunday afternoon. An afternoon he will never forget for the rest of his life. He's happily married, two daughters, loving wife, two cats and two parakeets. Along comes Jerry a young man who really wants to have a conversation about, amongst other things, his visit to Central Park zoo. We find out all about his life, his love life, his lusty landlady and his landlady's dog, who Jerry tried to kill. Things then turn strange for the pair when they vie for possession of the park bench they are both sitting on, with drastic results for both of them.

A fascinating look at how the mind of a potential killer, who at first glance seems a regular guy, can U turn. Brilliant acting from both Guy Evans as Jerry and Richard Holmes as Peter and a fascinating piece of thought provoking theatre.

The second play is "Little Dolls" and this is dark in every sense of the word. Vicky is having therapy for an incident that happened when she was 11 years old, her therapist is John. They are sat in his office in the dark, because Vicky is now afraid of the dark, with a safety net lighter for when she becomes unable to take the dark any more. We hear of what she thinks she heard on the night that changed her life, but what really did happen and is there really a strange man following her around, and how did her 11 year old friend really die? So many questions that don't produce answers in this dark and increasingly sinister play which will literally have you on the edge of your seat.

The nervous and untrusting Vicky is played by Emma Hayes and the strangely mind controlling and quite scary therapist is played with great understatement by Matt Huntbach.

Both plays have a couple of things in common. The characters Jerry in "The Zoo" and Vicky in "Little Dolls" are both word weavers who are storytellers who will keep you hanging on to their every word. Simple sets keep you focused on the words and the characters. But not all the talent is on show because there's some sterling work done by the directors for both plays, Kareena Sims for "The Zoo" and Michael Darmola for "Little Dolls"

Both plays will leave you quite shocked and with plenty to talk, and think about when you leave the theatre. But don't hang around because they are only on until Saturday 3 May 2014

Monday, 28 April 2014

THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE by Alan Ayckbourn
Nottingham Theatre Royal

"Things We Do For Love" isn't a play that I knew, but I'm so glad it was introduced to me. It's a comedy all about attraction and the virtual masks we all wear in everyday life and what happens when we let these masks slip.

Take Barbara (Clare Price), a career woman and owner of the property, a smart tidy, stylish one bedroom apartment where she lives where there's not a thing out of place. Upstairs she rents out another small one bedroom flat and a basement flat, rented to Gilbert (Simon Gregor), the handyman/postman who just happens to have a "thing" about Barbara, which includes creating a ceiling mural in his flat of Barbara in the nude. he also has a penchant for wearing her clothes, which she has given to him to take to the charity shop, but never quite gets there!

Barbara's college friend, Nikki (Natalie Imbruglia) is about to rent the upper flat with her fiancé Hamish (Edward Bennett), just until the house they are buying is completed. We find out Nikki has just come out of a stormy and violent relationship eight months previous, and Hamish is her ideal man. Barbara gave up on love after her virginity was taken by the school janitor's son, Coot, who had a nosebleed while in the act. And while we have the image that Nikki and Hamish are at it like rabbits, nothing could be further than the truth! I think we can all see where this story is leading to!

Well they say opposites attract, and that is the case here, and where Hamish and Barbara get off on completely the wrong foot, Barbara's safe, middle class image is transformed into a ravenous man eater with Hamish. Nikki is then told by Hamish and Barbara about the dalliance and Nikki decides to shred every piece of clothing Hamish owns and walks out. Attracted by the violent row that Barbara and Hamish are having, Gilbert, who has been touching up his art work, falls and breaks his leg and emerges from the basement flat bedecked in black dress, high heels and blond wig, and is taken to hospital. And none of them live happily ever after.

it's a great set, spread over the three separate flats, the middle elaborate and highly ornate flat, the top flat, well we can only see the ankles of the actors up there, and the basement flat where we get to see the ceiling section, but I bet it took an age to get the set in place and construct. Hats off to the designer, Giles Cadle.

All four actors were excellent and a surprise to discover this was Natalie's stage debut, what a natural! There's a very funny scene where Gilbert turns up at the evening tea at Barbara's blind drunk because he felt it a privilege to be allowed over the threshold. A classic Ayckbourn comedy well acted.

"Things We Do For Love" is on until Saturday 3 May 2014

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Nottingham Theatre Royal

This is one stylish thriller which isn't so much a murder mystery, as we all know who was murdered and by whom and why, but the enjoyment from this play comes from the unravelling of the plot by Inspector Hubbard, played by "All Creatures Great and Small" actor, Christopher Timothy, who is an actor I found very easy to watch. I felt comfortable watching his portrayal of the Inspector, which may seem a strange thing to say, but you see so many actors we know from TV who maybe you're a little unsure of within their role, but not Mr Timothy. You immediately have confidence that his character will get to the bottom of the murder and that can only be played out by an actor with who you believe in within character.

In short, Sheila and Max have met up after Max has been in New York for a year, and we discover that they have just come out of an affair with each other which Sheila's husband, Tony, is actually aware of after blackmailing Sheila over a love letter sent from Max, which neither Max or Sheila are aware of tony's involvement.

Tony then plans an elaborate murder plot to have his wife killed while he and Max are on a night out, but after blackmailing his old school friend, Captain Lesgate, to commit the murder, things don't quite go as planned and it's Lesgate who ends up in the bodybag and Sheila is sent to prison with the death penalty hanging over her. All is working out just fine for Tony but Max throws a spanner in the works which leads to the unravelling of the attempted plot by Inspector Hubbard and Max.

The stage is bathed in red to make you visually aware of the bloody murder and with a slowly revolving stage, we are able to view the murder scene from all angles. Sparse props wise but visually very evocative.

It's really intense at times and the tension created by Hitchcock's film transcends wonderfully to the stage, a testament to the director Lucy Bailey. The attempted murder scene is also quite graphic and well acted by Kelly Hotten and Robert Perkins as Sheila and Lesgate. Brilliantly choreographed by the fight director, Phillip d'Orleans.

Apart from Christopher Timothy, the other four actors are more well known for their stage work but work so well together, making for an immediately believable group of characters, it's almost like eavesdropping.

"Dial M" is a wonderful thriller that has certainly stood the test of time and is well worth a viewing for all fans of theatre and excellent thrillers.

"Dial M For Murder" is on until Saturday 27 April 2014.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Nottingham Royal Concert Hall

I must admit, I'm not a massive fan of the four legged cats, even though they've taken to me in the past, and when it comes to the Lloyd-Webber musical, based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, well let me just say, it won't be going down as my favourite musicals of all time.

Directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Gillian Lynne, Cats first opened in the West End in 1981 and then with the same creative team on Broadway in 1982. It won numerous awards, including Best Musical at both the Laurence Olivier Awards and the Tony Awards.

I thought the introduction of the various cats and the way their personalties were presented was lovely, and you can tell that Lord Andrew has spent many an hour studying various cats to get this just right.

For me though there were parts which, I felt, could have been cut and shortened the  musical as they felt like fill in balletic sequences which didn't add to the story, and I noticed more than a couple of audience members looking at their watches in these parts.

My main take on the story was the re introduction to the cat fraternity of Grizabella by Old Deutronomy, Grizabella, played originally by Elaine Paige in the 1981 production, played in tonight's show by Joanna Ampil and Old Deutronomy by Nicholas Pound. The other cats had shunned the aged Grizabella who tried to prove that she was still a cat who could cut the mustard, but failed. Old Deutronomy though obviously saw the good in the old cat and she is chosen to be the one to go to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn to a new Jellicle Life.

For me the music was a bit hit and miss and while there were some good songs in  "Magical Mr Mistofolees", "The Old Gumbie Cat", "Skimbleshanks" and "Memory" most of the others were nothing more than fillers for a musical compilation album.

I was very impressed though with the cast, who not only used all of the stage but the auditorium as well, strong vocals and some very athletic contemporary and ballet dancing. How they managed to sing and do all of that at the same time,shows the work that has obviously gone into this production. I loved the lighting and the effects, the scrapyard set, and more than top marks for the costumes and the make up.

I don't enjoy making catty remarks about an area of the arts world I love, but I just wasn't feline it with this musical. Even though it's been running so long, for me it wouldn't be a cat-astrophy if it closed because there are so many more great
mew-sicals touring, and could tour, in it's place, but I'm pleased that I did get to see it, even though for me it wasn't purrr-fect. I'm sure not everyone will agree with me but hey, that's what makes the theatre so great.

"Cats" is running at the Royal Concert Hall until Saturday 26 April 2014

Monday, 14 April 2014

Nottingham Theatre Royal.

This is a new play written by Owen  Sheers which is a fictional work, in as much as the characters are fictional but based on the true accounts of British ex servicemen and women who, in the words of their basic training, "overcame and adapted" their disabilities, brought about by the horrors of war, and have turned them into an awe inspiring piece of theatre.

The stories of how and when their lives changed, what they heard and felt and even tasted at that point, still fresh in their memories, never to be removed. There's the physical signs of what happened and also the signs that can't be shown by an amputated limb. The impact on their family life and loved ones and we're even taken through what would happen to a body in war and how a pair of safety pants would actually save you in an explosion.

It's not entertainment in the usual sense of the word, but more an education with an entertaining aside, although it is immensely entertaining. Any pity you felt to start with is banished because these people who stood on that stage with amputations and mental and physical issues have overcome them, and they've learned to live with them, are laughing at themselves and the others, as a coping mechanism.

You feel an enormous sense of sorrow for the horrors that they've been through and the things they've seen. Pride to think that these people have fought for us and have come out the other end, strong enough to tell their story as they have. Respect, anger, humility, sadness and many other emotions race through you, watching this heart warming but tough story. But what shines through is the incredible humour they possess, the humour which probably saved their lives.

It's a play which, if you can, you should see. I always say that unless you leave the theatre with some definite emotions, the play hasn't done it's job, or you haven't understood the play. Well this will leave you with many emotions and a great deal to think about. And this hasn't stopped because war is still going on today and while it is, there'll be many more victims, just like the incredible ex servicemen and women come actors currently touring with "Charlie F".

"The Two Worlds Of Charlie F" can be seen at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 19 April 2014

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at May Hall, Trent College, Long Eaton.
by Long Eaton Operatic Society.

Sometimes shortened to JCS, well after tonight I can shorten it to a couple of other groups of three letters, OMG and WOW!

JCS is the directorial debut for Adam Guest at the Long Eaton Operatic Society, and why not go for one of the most difficult and biggest rock operas? A few sound issues in Act 1 but these were swiftly rectified for Act 2 but definitely didn't spoil what was an immensely difficult task Adam must have undertaken, given the large and enthusiastic cast.

You know it's the story of the last seven days of JC's life so let's cut to the nitty gritty, the actors. There were some excellent performances from Kathi Ludlow (Mary), who delivered good performances with feeling of "I Don't Know How To Love Him" and "Could We Start Again Please", the latter with Peter, another fine vocal performer in Phil Brooks.

I loved the light and shade with JC's apostles and followers in brightly coloured modern garb and the baddies clad in black suits, oozing authority. Pilate, played by Graham Buchanan, got to show off a very good set of vocal chords with his two songs, "Pilate's Dream", slow and morose, and "Trial by Pilate" spitting pure evilness as he counts every single lash on Jesus's body.

Comedy role of King Herod was played by Rob Byatt, a role that didn't call for a great vocal as the lyrics relied on the comedy element, and Rob managed to deliver the comedy element of the song.

Now, even though it's Jesus's name in the title, the musical is more about Judas, such a juicy role for any actor, and Judas's part went to a mighty fine actor in Sam Barson. Sam has the rare ability to sound just as good singing Gilbert & Sullivan as he does singing out and out rock tracks for JCS, and it's Judas who really gets the more upfront role. I've seen Tim Minchin play Judas but Sam manages to inject a real menace to the role and at times is like a circling shark on stage, and for me Sam steals the show.

But the Long Eaton Operatic Society have again played a blinder in casting Mitch Gamble, a gamble that reaped dividends in this show, as the main man, JC. Portrayed, not as a God, but as a human being with all the pressures and troubles that any human being could be heaped with when stuck on a pedestal, as Jesus Christ was when Rice and Lloyd-Webber penned this iconic musical. All musical lovers were waiting for Act 2 for "Gethsemane", the song that Jesus sings seconds before his betrayal in the Garden Of Gethsemane by Judas. It was a brilliant performance by Mitch, delivered with real passion, as was the final scene of Jesus on the cross. This scene particularly brings a lump to the throat and raises the hairs on your arms and neck as he asks for his mother and a drink of water, as would a child after a nightmare and looking for comfort from the one he feels safe with.

Excellent lighting, a live orchestra, great use of the stage and it's different levels, as well as some very good visuals on the video screen. An amazingly good cast, choreographer, producer and director provide a show not to be missed, and the standing ovation at the end of the show by a very appreciative audience backed all of this up.

On a smaller scale than the recent arena tour version but every bit as good.

You can see Jesus Christ Superstar at May Hall, Trent College in Long Eaton until this Saturday, 12 April 2014

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Nottingham Theatre Royal

This lovely story written by Phillipa Pearce tells the tale of Tom who is sent to his aunt's home in the country, quarantined for having measles so his brother Peter doesn't catch them.

While at his aunt's he discovers a whole new world in the back garden when the Grandfather clock, owned by the owner of the flats, Mrs Bartholomew, strikes 13 at midnight. Tom finds a world inhabited by Hatty and her family and friends but only Hatty can see Tom...to start with, but is it really just a dream?

He visits the "midnight garden" every night, although Hatty tells Tom that he only comes around to see her every few months. Tom relays his nocturnal adventures back to his brother, Peter, by letter, but soon it's time for Tom to return home and it's then, on his final night, that his "sleep walking" reveals the whole truth about Hatty and the midnight encounters, and why is Mrs Bartholomew so precious about that Grandfather clock?

With the kids being on half term, this is a wonderful little play for anyone old enough to take in the storyline. There's "magic" as Tom walks through closed doors, and while the story is basically a fairy tale, there's a darker side as well which will also keep the older kids hooked.

The scenery is simplistic but does the job to transform from indoors to the garden setting, and the miming of props from the actors gives the audience a chance to use their imagination, which is no bad thing for the theatre.

"Tom's Midnight Garden" is performed by a multi talented cast from The Birmingham Stage Company, who also play instruments creating the incidental music to set the scenes.

A delightful encounter with the theatre for younger folk which can also be enjoyed by all ages and is on until Saturday 12 April 2014, and at under one and three quarter hours long, there's no way the kids can be bored!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Nottingham Lace Market Theatre.

I know, I know you've got images now of Mr Darcy walking out of that lake, shirt clinging etc etc. Well you may not be surprised to find that this scene from the film isn't in the play. From start to end this play, written by Jane Austen, is a joy to behold; well acted, funny, snappy and great delivery from every actor on that stage, and there were many of them, probably one of the biggest casts at the Lace Market Theatre that I'd seen.

23 talented young actors absolutely relishing this classic piece of literature and bringing those classic Austen characters alive along with their many varied foibles. A rollicking fine tale of class, marriages and manners revolving round Elizabeth Bennett, set in early 19th Century England.

Mr Bennett (Joel Walker); Joel managed to bring out the character's wonderful ironic humour, Annabel Redgate was a dream, and a scream, to watch as the wonderful Mrs Bennett, the mother of the five girls and the eager one to get them married off.

Elizabeth was sublimely played by Ava Stevens, slightly aloof but always in control.  Joel Heritage was well cast as the good looking Mr Darcy who finally got his gal in the end, but my favourite character was Mr Collins, played by Will Harrison, who I've seen in several productions at various theatres. Think Rowan Atkinson in a period drama and you'll have an insight into Will's portrayal of the clergyman cousin and heir to the estate, a good monetary catch for a young lady but pompous, and lacking in common sense. A comedy classic character.

Every actor nailed their roles with not a crack in the whole ensemble, and ably directed by Roger Watson. A sumptuous set which transformed from scene to scene with ease and also not lacking in a certain amount of humour with the transitions as well.

An almost full theatre appreciated the humour of Austen and the ability to deliver the clever lines with great expression. Seeing the almost full auditorium was a good sign as there's something good on at all the theatres in Nottingham this week so plenty of choice as to where to hand over your dosh.

"Pride And Prejudice" is being played out until Saturday 5 April 2014

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

TWELFTH NIGHT at The Nottingham Arts Theatre
by The People's Theatre Company

Shakespeare's most well known and best loved of his comedies is being played out at The Nottingham Arts Theatre all this week, and there are a few new faces in the cast of the People's Theatre, many "borrowed" from the Lace market Theatre.

It's the story of a shipwrecked pair of twins and their involvement with the townsfolk of Illyria and the comical confusion caused by their introduction into the town. Various sub plots and storylines make this a Shakespearian version of a soap opera with the inclusion of several musical interludes (lyrics by Bill Shakespeare and music by actor/guitarist Gareth Morris).

Set in a period around 1939/1940 the costumes were of that ilk with smart zoot suits, I was half expecting a guitar case with a gun entombed within. I suppose that is one thing with Shakespeare's plays, you can, should you wish to, set the plays in any decade and still retain the magic of Shakespeare's lyrical magic and adapt the era to attract a different generation every time.

Through the confusion of Viola, the female twin, masquerading as a male, Cesario and the rediscovery of the male twin, Sebastian, being the object of affection of Olivia who mistook Sebastian for Cesario (well they are twins), there was eventually a happy ending all round. Oh if Shakespeare were alive today he'd be writing pantos and soap scripts!

Great entertainment all round with some very able actors to the fore. I loved Ian Bennett as Malvolio, the "wronged" strait laced steward, duped by love. Rob Goll as Orsino. Rob has a certain way with words and the delivery of them, whether it be Shakespeare or whatever he takes on, it's always spot on.

Clare Choubey and Damien Frendo, as Viola and Sebastian, the twins, as always very natural with the script that to many sound unnatural, a wonderful pairing.

Comedy characters in abundance with Liam Hall as "The Fool" Feste, Sir Toby Belch ( Malcolm Seymour) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Ciaran Stones).

Director Dan Maddison has done a good job adapting the play and the script to clarify the comedy held within Shakespeare's words of old but I have just one little criticism, and this is only a personal observation. If I was directing, and I have absolutely no experience in that field, I would have advised one of the comedy characters to just tone it down a bit because the "over the top" presentation and vocal volumes slightly took away some of the comedy moments and lines. Bringing it down a notch and reining it in would have been a better option for me. I stress though that this is just my personal opinion. I am no expert on Shakespeare's characters or direction of actors.

I guarantee that you'll know some of the quotes from the play "If music be the food of love", "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em", but my favourite, " Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage". Shakespeare, a man way ahead of his time. On the whole I enjoyed this production, embraced the modern feel and understood the funny bits, which still rang through even though they were penned back around 1601.

You can see "Twelfth Night" until Saturday 5 April 2014