Thursday, 29 May 2014

JUKEBOX by Beeston Musical Theatre Group
Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton

"Jukebox" is a celebration of music from, and influenced by the 50's and 60's, which have been featured in musicals from the last few decades. There were medleys from "Hairspray", "Summer Holiday", "Forbidden Planet", "Jersey Boys", "Shout", "Dreamboats & Petticoats" and "All Shook Up", featuring all the songs destined to get you singing and clapping, At times it was almost like surround sound!

Loved the set, which was a 50's style coffee bar, very bright and colourful and the obligatory Wurlitzer style jukebox taking pride of place.

The BMTG are a big group and with all large groups there are varying levels of singing ability and this showed, but hey, everyone up there looked like they were having fun,and as one who can't sing or dance, I have no place to criticise the odd bum note. I am in total awe of anyone who has the guts to get up on stage in front of a room full, and I do mean FULL, and perform.

There were several very strong performers though. I absolutely love the song "Timeless To Me" from the "Hairspray" medley, a song where you need to draw out the comedy element, which is what was achieved.

Loved the "Summer Holiday" section, such fun, and also Steph Gray-Blest who was truly blessed with a lovely voice, singing Connie Francis' "Who's Sorry Now". You can't go far wrong with a Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons medley and "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" really got the audience singing along, just in time for the closure of Act 1.

The 60's themed musical "Shout:, which for those who don't know it uses music from the female singers from that era, kicked off Act 2 in great style and what a voice Andrea Nicolaou has; her version of Dusty Springfield's "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" brought rapturous applause from the audience, and rightly so, as did the final song in that section,"Shout".

Loved every song from the "Dreamboats" section especially the accapella version of Ritchie Valens' "Donna", led by George Lamb, who has such a strong voice, and ably backed by "The Diner Staff", and what a great bass vocalist as well.

And finally, :All Shook Up", the musical which uses the songs made famous by Elvis and everyone was on stage for a vocal slice of the pie, and again a showcase of some of the stronger vocalists. Craig Butterworth not only showing off his talented choreography for "Jukebox",but surprisingly his soulful vocal chords as well in "It's Now Or Never". There's also an amazing version of "Can't Help Falling In Love" which will send tingles down your spine.

Apart from some technical issues with the mics and at times the cast battling with the orchestra, the show achieved their celebration of some great pop classics and they had no problems getting the audience singing, clapping and swaying with every song. The scenes flowed smoothly from one musical tribute to the next and the cast were full of enthusiasm, so what's not to like?

"Jukebox" is on at the Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton until Saturday 31 May 2014, when they will all be looking for volunteers to rub lots of ointment into their aching muscles no doubt!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

SISTER ACT at Nottingham Theatre Royal
by Carlton Operatic Society

"Sister Act" is the story of Deloris Van Cartier , a nightclub singer who witnesses her boyfriend, gangster and nightclub owner Curtis,shooting one of his henchmen and decides to squeal to the police. She is then hidden within a group of nuns, for her own protection, and teaches them to sing, So well in fact that they are invited to sing in front of the Pope which attracts the attention of the media,and of course Curtis and his henchmen.

And so to my favourite bit...let there be praise!

OMG! This was as good, if not better than the professional production that was doing the rounds a few years back, but when I say professional, there is no lack of professionalism here.

Deloris is played by Monique Henry and you wouldn't know that this is her debut on stage as an actor as she oozed, flounced, sashayed and belted out the songs like a seasoned pro that I have every expectation she will become. Great stage presence and exuberance swept us all along with her story. Forget Whoopi Goldberg there's a new sister on the block and she has attitude in abundance! Monique has everything you would want from a leading lady including an amazing soul/gospel set of pipes on her. I can't wait to see where she goes from here.

The whole cast were just fantastic. Loved the comedy from Curtis's flunkies, Joey (Liam Hall), TJ (Mark Coffey-Bainbridge) complete with 70's "fro", and Pablo (Nigel Newton), all regular Nottingham stage regulars.Curtis was played by Lyndon Warnsby, even managed to receive a few "boos" aimed at him at the curtain call.

The "sisters" were such a wonderfully talented bunch that regularly brought a smile to my, already Cheshire cat type face, so thank you, Jenny, Lisa-Marie,Sarah, Jackie, Hannah, Laura, Rosie, Jayne, Katie etc etc. What moves n grooves for sisters of the cloth.

Another brilliant little role was played by Ray McLeod as Officer "sweaty" Eddie Souther, the saviour of the piece, if you'd pardon the expression!

A lovely sound from the orchestra under the guidance of musical director, Chris Rees, energetic choreography from Lisa Lee and some really good sets, quickly placed, which were effective but at times slightly noisier than they needed to be, but I'm sure that this is something that will be reduced over the run. Another great success story as well from director, Amanda Hall.

The songs will get your hands clapping, your toes tapping and on your feet at the end of the night. Brilliant rousers like "Take Me To Heaven", "Raise Your Voice" and "Sunday Morning Fever" and some lovely tender moments like "I Haven't Got A Prayer" and "The Life I Never Led" along with some very funny songs (just listen to the words and remember The Floaters "Float On") from TJ, Pablo and Joey with "Lady In The Long Black Dress".

If you're not on your feet and clapping at the end of this show you must be deaf, daft or dead, or all three. I loved it and was proud to say that I was first to my feet (as far as I could see anyway). Thank you Carlton Operatic Society for a heavenly show.

"Sister Act" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 31st May 2014

Thursday, 22 May 2014

HAUNTING JULIA by Magpie Drama
Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.

When you're looking forward to something, there's a danger of your expectation being too high and getting let down, Not so with this production from Magpie Drama.

Alan Ayckbourn's spooky story of a 19 year old music genius, Julia Lukin, who committed suicide 12 years previous to when the play is set. Julia's father, Joe Lukin, has brought ex boyfriend Andy, to see the Julia Lukin Music Centre, a public music facility and shrine from Joe to his daughter.

Joe has many questions that he still wants answers to, and since his wife, and Julia's mother, Dolly, died, this quest has become almost an obsession to Joe. Joe has also invited a psychic, Ken, along but this psychic is not quite what he seems and has a secret reveal half way through Act 1.

By the end of the play, you're still left with some unanswered questions and still not 100% sure just how and why Julia died. Was it really suicide? If not who was responsible for her death?

There are a couple of parts that will make you jump and this play holds just the right amount of suspense, in the same way that "The Woman In Black" theatre production did.

I'm not going to give away the ending but let me just say that it may leave you feeling a little uneasy if you have to walk from the theatre on your own.

The three actors, Mike Evans (Joe), Rick Law (Andy) and Dan Bates (Ken) put on a suspense filled performance which really kept you on the edge of your seat and cast doubts in your mind over what really happened to Julia. But there's a lot to laugh about as well in this play with some classic Ayckbourn comic lines, more than I had expected there to be.

Some good effects and a believable set, the play was played out in real time and I don't know if the heating was turned down for effect but there was definitely a chill in the air...or was that Julia making her presence felt?

Magpie Drama are building up a solid catalogue of great plays, this one following on the heels of John Godber's "Men Of the World", and the next one in July being "Punk Rock" by Simon Stephens.

"Haunting Julia" is on at The Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton until Saturday 24 May 2014

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Nottingham Lace Market Theatre

All this week there are two plays for the price of one again, and this time spotlighting Samuel Beckett's lesser known plays "Not I" and "Happy Days"/ The Lace Market are renown for producing slightly off the wall productions and these two avant garde plays certainly fall into that category.

"Not I" was my favourite of the two and was considerably shorter and the most interesting of the two, both visually and aurally. Set in pitch black with just a spotlight on a mouth (and a lovely set of teeth), owned by Maeve Doggett, about eight feet above the stage, This is a monologue about a woman of about 70 years old who was abandoned after birth and it seems suffered some trauma in her life which is not clarified, containing random sentences, some often repeated. In the darkness there is also "The Auditor" who is a shadowy figure who makes four movements only.

"Happy Days" is a two hander with the majority of the script being performed by Cynthia Marsh as Winnie, with just a few sentences from Daniel Bryant as Willie, and is one of Beckett's happy plays! Winnie is buried in the sand up to her chest, in the second half it rises to her neck, and is in the mode of a seaside postcard.

As in "Not I" there are lots of jumbled ramblings, although not as frantic, and again many terms and phrases are repeated,and also again quite difficult to get the gist of what the theme of the play was. Beckett though has stated that "strangeness was a necessary condition of the play". Maybe a little too strange to keep focused and I found my mind wandering at times. In the second act of the play it gets decidedly more depressing and the image of her disappearing further into the sand (well I assumed it was sand) could well be a visual image of her life, sinking ever deeper.

This I think is my first taste of Beckett, although I knew of his "Waiting For Godot", so didn't really know what to expect, but they are odd little plays and you have to applaud the Lace Market Theatre for daring to be different. The problem with "different" though is that theatre goers are always a little reserved with "different" and this showed with the amount of audience members in attendance.

"A Beckett Evening" is on at The Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 24 May 2014

Saturday, 17 May 2014

HERCULES by New Art Club
Nottingham Playhouse

Billed as a dance cabaret for all ages and I think that just about sums it all up. A new twist on the 12 labours of Hercules through various dance styles and comedy by Tom Roden and Pete Shenton who are New Art Club, with a little bit of help from their friends and co produced by Dance4 and Nottingham Playhouse.

It's nice to see history presented to kids in a way that they will take interest and remember. Just think of the TV programme "Horrible Histories" and how popular that show is in the theatre, and this could replicate that, although I have a feeling that Tom and Pete have been doing this longer than the Horrible Histories have been touring.

The show is a melting pot of dance style ranging from contemporary to ballet and jive using music that will not be unfamiliar to the younger members of the audience, some of the Grandparents may have problems spotting a few of the tunes but that didn't stop them from joining in with the audience participation, very much in the panto style of entertainment, and there were many elements of this throughout the show.

What I thought was really well thought out was when we were all asked to close our eyes and then open them when told, and the actors changed positions on stage, which may sound a bit boring, but you had to be there to get the effect!

A really well thought out show, with some nice comedy moments, wacky, colourful, audience participation, plenty of soaking with water guns, and at just 90 minutes long, there's just no way that either the adults or kids can get bored.

The "Hercules" UK Tour starts in October 2014 and you can find out more about New Art Club at

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

OLIVER by The People's Theatre Company
Nottingham Arts Theatre

The People's Theatre Company have pushed that bar up even further and this production of "Oliver" is the benchmark for what an amateur theatre company should be aiming for.

Everyone knows the story of the workhouse boy who escaped from the nasty Mr Bumble, head of the workhouse, after being sold to work in a funeral parlour. He is befriended by The Artful Dodger and taken in by Fagin but his career as a petty thief stalled when he was caught stealing an handkerchief from the upper class Mr Brownlow, who then took him only to discover that Oliver was really his Grandson.

There were so many stand out performances in a cast of amazingly good actors. I loved Chris Teasdale and Gill Cook as the funeral parlour pair, Mr & Mrs Sowerby, Katie Inglis as Nancy, who made my skin tingle as she poured her heart out in "As Long As He Needs Me", Stephen Godward's amazing voice and characterization of the classic Ron Moody character Fagin, and believe it or not, I didn't think once of Ron Moody throughout the show. Stephen Godward was Fagin!

Jason Wrightam was so intimidating as Bill Sykes, the bullying of Nancy was at times quite unnerving and realistic, fist clenching stuff! Lennon Bradley played Oliver and is someone to look out for in the future; a confident actor and singer who teased a few "aahhs" from the audience when singing "Where Is Love". Lennon alternates with Jacob Simpson in the role all this week.

Another confident and talented young actor is Chandler Wagstaff, who plays The Artful Dodger, again alternating with Jacob Baker-Telling this week.Chandler has real stage presence and can also be seen in "Oh What A Lovely War" in July at the Arts Theatre.

They say never work with kids and animals and in this show both are stars because Bullseye, Bill Sykes dog is played by Mabel. How they managed to train Mabel to look lovingly at Bill Sykes throughout shows that Mabel really has dogged determination to make it in show business!

Only a few names from such a large cast, and I noticed that every young actor knew all the words of the songs, every piece of choreography, not needing to look at the person next to them for their cue. Professional to the last.

The sound mix was spot on and you could hear every single notation, every word from the singers, and a lovely sound from the orchestra under the musical direction of David Hails.The lighting and sound courtesy of College Street Technicians, added another professional touch to the production.

Some great sets as well, beautifully designed by Cris Brawn and well constructed.

This is yet another directorial smash for the incredibly talented Maggie Andrew who gives blood, sweat and quite a few tears to every production she waves her magic wand over. I feel a NODA nomination in the future for "Oliver"

The show started bang on 7.30 which was practically a miracle in any theatrical show to start dead on time. I can't praise this show enough and not just the actors on stage but to the back stage grafters, the scene shifters, prop movers all the way to the incredibly friendly front of house staff. A more professional, amateur production you'll be hard pressed to find.

"Oliver" is on at the Nottingham Arts Theatre until Sunday 18 May 2014.

You can hear my chat with Stephen Godward who plays Fagin, on my Nottingham Hospitals radio Sunday morning show below.

Monday, 12 May 2014

DR FAUSTUS at Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside

Members of The Nottingham New Theatre performed Christopher Marlowe's classic but controversial for the time, "Dr Faustus", under the direction of Lakeside's Martin Berry.

It's the story of John Faustus who wasn't satisfied with his lot and wanted ultimate power and knowledge, along with the seven deadly sins and, through his interest in ancient magic, he conjures up Mesphistopheles and sells his soul to the devil for 24 years of power and knowledge, and signed the deal in blood.

He spends his 24 years living it up and playing tricks on others to keep himself and the devil occupied and amused, indulging in all of the seven sins. This is why it's described as "the most controversial Elizabethan play outside of Shakespeare".

It's beautifully done by the young cast from the University, with Faustus being played by Tej Obano, mastering the rhythm of the text with ease and creating true drama from the dramatic character role.

Faustus' sparring partner, Mephistopheles, was portrayed by Andrew James Stevenson. capturing the devil may care attitude of Lucifer wonderfully, creating great fun out of Faustus' mischief, and knowing all along that he is in a "win win" situation. He takes great joy at the end seeing Faustus try and wriggle out of the deal, but being dragged kicking and screaming into the smoke filled hell.

There is a great thread of comedy interwoven throughout the play, joyfully spread by the ensemble cast, headed by Emma Kendall and Kati Hall, a nice deflection from the sinister main plot.

The set is very effective and makes the stage seem so much bigger than I remember. The special effects were employed with perfect timing , as were the crystal clear sound effects. Lakeside has one of the best acoustic stages I've had the pleasure of. Technically everything was just so spot on, and there is great use of the TV screens to count down Faustus' 24 years with great dramatic effect. Wonderfully effective lighting effects also add to the drama, at times creating a very sinister atmosphere.

I may be wrong but knowing the director, Martin Berry, and his love for Dr Who, I can see shades of the old style Dr Who effects and "fear factor", which worked so well within this particular story.

Personally I could not see anything to find fault with, not that I was expecting to either. It's a great classic romp, and although it was originally written in 1606, stories like these never seem to age and could be set in any era and still deliver it's moralistic message.

"Dr Faustus" is on at Lakeside up to Friday 16 May 2014.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Nottingham Theatre Royal

This will probably be one of my shorter reviews.Billed on the posters as the No.1 musical of all time, I'm very tempted to agree with that statement (I do still love "Blood Brothers"). Every one knows that this is based on "Romeo & Juliet" and the story of turf wars, prejudice and of course love across the barricades. Now I've got the story out of the way, let's get down to the nitty gritty!

I've seen a few versions of "West Side Story" and this is the best I've ever seen. Apart from a prop that wanted to upstage the unknown stars of this show, this musical was practically perfect.

A great set, amazing lighting, beautiful music, the mix of orchestra volume and singers volume was practically perfect, strong but passionate voices, fantastic choreography, some of the best accents for the Peurto Rican characters I have ever heard, so hats off to the voice coaches! The dancing was just out of this world, so tight, what choreography. Obviously the songs are some of best written for a musical by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Classics like "Tonight", "Maria", "Somewhere", "One Hand One Heart", "America", "I Feel Pretty" and of course the comic song "Gee Officer Krupke"

Maria is played by Katie Hall who has just the most amazing operatic voice which had you hanging on to her every note. Tony, Maria's short lived love is a star to look out for in Louis Maskell. Louis again has one of those voices that you could listen to all night and has an amazing control over his long notes, easily switching from the powerful notes to the whispery vocals in the song "Maria".

The gorgeous Dialenga Scott plays Anita, the fiesty girlfriend of Bernardo, played by Javier Cid. Some eye candy for both men and women! Riff is played by a young John Barrowman lookalike, Jack Wilcox.Cracking voices all round.

This musical is technically one of the best that I've seen, one of the most enjoyable with equal amounts of passion and comedy, and as I said earlier, probably the No.1 musical ever. there's nothing to nit pick or find fault with here.

I have it on good authority that tickets for two weeks that "West Side Story" is in Nottingham are scarce, and I can see why, so get your tickets fast as it's here until Saturday 17 May 2014. It's one NOT to miss this year!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS by Spotlight Theatre School
Nottingham Arts Theatre.

Some would say that "Little Shop Of Horrors" isn't quite age appropriate for a young theatre group to perform due to the small matters of human sacrifice and physical abuse, but hey, it's a happy kind of musical which doesn't have a happy ending, except for Audrey 2, the plant.

The story, as everyone knows, is Seymour's story of his rise to fame thanks to his discovery of a flesh eating plant which needs human flesh and blood to survive and the decision which Seymour has to make as to whether he continue his fame, and all the trappings that go with it, or do the right thing and destroy the plant before it destroys him. Well we all know that there is no happy ending where Seymour and Audrey skip off hand in hand into the Brooklyn sunset.

I'm going to be mildly critical here because I think the group can take it, and I hope they realise what a fan of "Spotlight" I am. At times the live band, who I must admit were excellent, were sometimes a little overpowering with some of the young singers who didn't have as powerful a voice as some of the others, and some of the humour in the songs was lost due to this, but I could tell that the sound mixer was doing his best to make it better, which I noticed in part two, there was an improvement.

Acting wise, James Murray was great as the nerdy Seymour and you can tell that his voice has matured from last year's "13-The Musical" and has grown stronger.

Audrey, played by Charleigh Hunt, could have gone a wee bit more over the top with the Brooklyn accent but gave a good performance as the loyal punch bag for her boyfriend/dentist Orin Scrivello, played by Miles Cliff, who for me stole the show with his manic S&M portrayal of the Steve Martin character in the film.

Crystal (Eva Sheppard), Chiffon (Grace Hodgett-Young) and Ronnette (Georgia Hodgett-Young) fizzed nicely as the opening scene setters and backing singers, and Audrey 2 was suitably menacing in the hands of Billy Stockwell and the voice of Cassie Hall. Some really strong vocals from the soul/gospel plant!

Rounding off the main characters was Alex Reed as the florist shop owner, Mr Mushnik.

Nicely designed set and good use of the stage and the auditorium itself.

Making her directing debut in "LSOH" was Jessica Royce (who also choreographed the show), ably assisted by Liam Hall. Production was undertaken by Amanda Hall and a very smooth job by all three to bring this production to the Arts Theatre stage, only 9 weeks after being cast.

A solid team effort by everyone from Spotlight, and while it's easy for me to nit pick here and there, this group of young people put their all into shows like this and deserve the recognition for what they do in providing entertainment to the theatre going public of Nottingham.