Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Nottingham Arts Theatre

This classic 1950's book turned play turned 1961 film shows a slice of Manchester kitchen sink drama and was way ahead of it's soap cousins in depicting real no punches pulled real life drama. It's also quite amazing that this was written by a teenager herself in Shelagh Delaney when she was just 18 years old.

The story is of an unmarried mother, Helen, and her teenage daughter, Jo, as they move into a rundown bedsit in Salford in an attempt on Helen's part to escape from her drink obsessed, younger but rich boyfriend, Peter. Peter manages to track Helen down, unaware of Jo's existence, and proceeds to entice Helen back with flattery and a new house and his money and a ring on her finger.

Jo falls pregnant to a black sailor, Jimmy, who she has befriended when Helen and Peter are away over Christmas on their honeymoon, but is left high and dry by the boyfriend, only to be taken under the wing of gay art student friend, Geoffrey. Helen returns and that is when the boat is rocked all over again!

Northern plays are full of grit and volatility and you will find both in bucketfuls in this People's Theatre Production which only runs until this Friday.

Helen is played brilliantly by Deborah Craddock and captures the heart, language and feel of the era as well as being very true to the Dora Bryan film role. Much of the time it shows Helen as a hard faced selfish, alcoholic mother but there are small chinks in the armour which allows a mother/daughter relationship the hope of blossoming, but it is just a hope and nothing really comes of it.

Amy Tutin has played Jo's character in a slightly softer and less hard nosed way than that depicted by Rita Tushingham in the film, which makes her more vulnerable side emerge, which makes you really warm towards her character.

Chris Mercer is the drunken, rich and younger boyfriend to Helen and does a rather good job of revealing Peter's true colours in the second act. A bullying, homophobic alcoholic who likes to get his own way.

And completing the cast is Christopher Collins as Jo's saviour in her time of need, Geoffrey. Only slightly camp but that is good as there could have been, and has in some productions, had a tendency to take the character over the top in the limp wrist stakes, but Chris manages to pull it all back and presented a very believable Geoffrey with a heart of gold.

The play has been adapted and you may notice that there is no Jimmy visible on stage and therefore the Jo/Jimmy relationship is carried out away from the stage.This may, or may not have caused a problem for the director Jessica McLean but it certainly did not detract from the story, or the smooth flow of the play.

The play was written to address social issues that Shelagh felt were not being presented at that time, teenage pregnancy, racism, homophobia, single motherhood, alcoholism, all things that are still around today, so even though this play was written fifty six years ago, the elements are still rife today and that is why this story is a classic piece of theatre.

Please support this play by turning up just a bit earlier so that you can hear the wonderful vocals of Helen Whittle who croons at the start and in the interval, setting the  mood of the period.

"A Taste Of Honey" can be seen at the Nottingham Arts Theatre by The People's Theatre Group until Friday 3 October 2014.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Nottingham Lace Market

Staged in the bijou and intimate upstairs space, "Damages" written by Steve Thompson is another one of those little gems of a play that the Lace Market Theatre are so good at finding and staging.And what a little sparkler this one is! It has been a while since I have had the pleasure of watching a play that gives you that "eureka" moment when you get the gist of what the previous sections were actually building up to.It will draw you in and have you eager for the outcome, like unwrapping a parcel in pass the parcel, stripping away the layers to get the eventual goodie at the finale.

Played out in real time,"Damages" is about a newspaper steaming towards its' deadline and the night editor and the journalists deciding which story to run, and especially the front page "splash". They then receive a picture of a topless children's TV star which is guaranteed to be a media smash. But all is not as it first seems and the private, and not so private revelations, after this supposed exclusive are as lascivious as the proposed news story. Good job that they have Abigail, the "legal eagle" on hand to advise, now isn't it?

What an amazingly good cast!

Howard, played by Ian Bennett, is the more than dedicated editor in charge, proof reader, and the calmest of the newspaper staff, staying way past his timeline to make sure the job gets done. Old fashioned and reliable and a complete opposite to the other characters working for the paper.Ian has some great facial expressions, some that show that an expression can replace any number of words in the script. He's likeable even though at first he comes across as Mr Grumpy, this exterior softens with the appearance of Abigail, and he becomes the equivalent of your favourite elder uncle.

Abigail, the legal saviour of the play is played oh so stylishly and knowledgeably by Emma Nash.Bringing sexy back to the legal side of the newspaper, in more ways than one as we discover that that legal advice was not the only thing that Abigail dished out. The recipient of her additional expertise being presented, in the not too distant past, to the "newbie" night editor, Baz, played by Chris Moseley.

Chris plays Baz as the, possibly over eager and hungry to reach the top, Baz. the good looking office person who is always a hit with the ladies, including Abigail, which via this airing of their dirty laundry, exposes something that he may have wished had not been forced into the open, but needing to be revealed for the sake of the story that Lister is adamant on running.

And finally there is Lister, trying to keep the baying of Baz's hunger at bay. There is a really explosive scene which involves Lister really losing it with Baz which is an absolutely brilliantly emotive and explosive part of the play, and is also an excuse for some more revelations from Lister's past. Jason Wrightam plays Lister with fire and in these close surroundings you can feel that fire directed at Baz and you're able to see the veins standing to attention in Jason/Lister's facial expressions.

Each of the four characters will evoke an emotion from you and all are the kind you will find in any high flying and deadline driven environment. Utterly believable and all quite likeable in their own way.

A fascinating play with plenty of laughs, due to the excellent one liners, but is also a play which challenges morality and also provides the viewer with an inside to the newspaper business and its' cut throat behind the scenes actions,and also the legal side of the media, so educational as well as very very entertaining.

"Damages" is on at the Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 20 September 2014.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

by J B Priestley

Priestley has created a host of believable and interesting characters in "Time & The Conways" which if you look closely enough you may recognise some of the characteristics in your own family and friends, which makes this play even more engaging.

The curtain rises on an English country home in 1919 in the midst of a game of charades played by the young Conway family at a birthday party with their friends. Flash forward to 1937 in the same house and the grown children have gathered to discuss family accounts where the atmosphere is not so jolly as in days past. For the Conways, time is dreamlike: their moments together are fleeting, and their destinies are mapped out.

Fans of period dramas such as "Downton Abbey" will love this magical play with its' dream like glances into the future and the past, creating a magical imagery on stage. The costumes are really well placed historically and the sound and lighting expand the stage area to make you believe that in the other room just off stage there is a party in progress.

It's very interesting the way that Priestley shows us how people and their mindset can change with some of the characters performing a complete U turn on their characteristics we see at the start of the play. We quickly realise through this that it is the influences that we allow on ourselves that force the change in the person, and that is not always good!

Louise Jameson, best known for her roles in "Eastenders", "Dr Who" and of course "Tenko" plays Mrs Conway, a woman who is not afraid to say what she thinks and feels and makes for a slightly eccentric head of the family, since the loss of her husband.

There are solid performances from all the actors but I think you will be sold on Scott Turnbull who plays Ernest Beevers, for me the most interesting of the characters and the one who is the farthest removed from the initial character we come to see by the close of the play.I shall not elaborate on why and how but urge you to go and see for yourself.

Not the longest of plays but one which will keep your mind on the stage and thanks to the dream sequences will keep your mind active throughout. It's not a play that you can let flow over you, for fear of missing some of the clever script. While it is not the most serious of plays it is a fascinating view on family life and what makes "the family" tick!

"Time  and The Conways" is at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 27 September 2014

Saturday, 13 September 2014

MONIQUE HENRY at the Neville Studios
Nottingham Playhouse
After Monique's amazing performance as Deloris in "Sister Act" at the Nottingham Theatre Royal earlier this year, this stripped back guitar and vocals evening was a nice alternative showcase.She had her sass on tonight most definitely!
If you can imagine warm milk chocolate being poured into your mouth, that's the equivalent of Monique's voice being poured into your ears. Smooth, satisfying and so tasty. Monique was accompanied on the guitar by Keiran (apologies to Keiran if that's not the correct spelling of his name), jazzy and a perfect backing for Monique's soulful voice.
Coming from Bulwell myself, I can't remember anyone rising up through the ranks but I'm pinning my hopes on Monique as a fellow Bulwellite to be the next big thing to come from Nottingham and the first breakthrough star from Bulwell. Let's face it if Jake Bugg from Clifton can make it......
Monique started off with a sexy and sassy version of the standard "Why Don't You Do Right" and worked her way through a mix of classy covers from the likes of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Fats Domino, Beyonce, The Korgis and even The Beatles to name several, all rearranged to suit Monique's vocal style. Blend these with some wonderful original compositions, it made for a very entertaining. classy night out.
Although Monique' said that she had a bit of a throat, this did not come across because the sound was just so smooth and clear. Sounding in some places a little like Janet Kay and then in some places like Syreeta, it was very hard to place because Monique Henry has a certain tone to her voice which may borrow from some of the brilliant female soul singers of the past but also has a distinct originality.
The intimate surroundings of The Neville Studios suited Monique down to the ground and she looked so at home as she introduced every song and joked with the audience.
Now all we need is for Monique to put some of those wonderful vocals on to a disc so that we can enjoy her silky voice whenever we feel like chilling out at home...hint hint!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Nottingham Theatre Royal

Shrek is a musical with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. It is based on the 2001 film Shrek and William Steig's 1990 book Shrek!.

Imagine the best bits of all of the best pantos you've been to and that will come close to seeing Shrek. It is bright, colourful, fun and very camp...and I loved it.

The story begins with Shrek telling the audience of his childhood, and how, on his seventh birthday, his parents send him out of their house and into the world to make his living. They warn him that because of his looks, everyone will hate him, and he will not have a happy ending.After saving Princess Fiona from the dragon who had kept her locked in her tower, he delivers her to Lord Farquaad so that he can marry the Princess and become King of Duloc, just so that Shrek can get his marshy home back.On his way he meets many fairytale creatures and of course Donkey who becomes his best mate.

Shrek is an amazingly entertaining musical for just about everyone from 5 to 105, and as in all of the best family shows there is comedy that works on all levels, Most of the "over the heads of kids" lines were delivered by Lord Farquaad, played by Gerard Carey who surely must have one of the hardest jobs combining singing, dancing and acting but on his knees for the majority of the time. but boy is the effect well executed.

Our green hero, Shrek, is played by Dean Chisnall and I shudder to think how long Dean is in make up before the show, and under those lights I imagine there is a lot of sweat shed and pounds lost.

Faye Brooks is Princess Fiona and what a great stage persona she has, instantly likeable, the kind of Princess who doesn't mind having a laugh and a joke with the lads. Proving that she can be a token lad as well in the scene where she and Shrek vie to who has had the hardest time of it of late!!

And then there is Donkey. In the film voiced by Eddie Murphy, and here is camped and ramped up to 10 by Idriss Kargbo.

One of my favourite highlights of the show, and there are many, is the scene with the dragon. Brought to life at the hands of four puppeteers and done so well that you forget that they were there controlling it's every move, and you really believed that this dragon on stage, and it did fill the Theatre Royal stage, was alive.

Technically this could be the best thing I have seen with characters appearing and disappearing seemingly into thin air. Some amazing lighting effects and a very tight twelve piece orchestra, so good that I actually thought the music from the speakers was pre recorded but no way. All credit to the musical direction of Mr Dave Rose.

Music wise this show is almost back to back songs with twenty songs in two and a half hours.150 minutes that seemed more like 15.

The choreography was absolutely spot on. You can tell that this has come from the West End stage, I can't pinpoint it but there is just something about the whole Shrek package that oozes uber professionalism. Take your kids along, take your grandparents along or just go along yourself for an evening (or afternoon) of great fun.

Shrek is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 28 September 2014, Wednesday to Saturday

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton

A one night only chance to see Zak and some of his talented friends perform to raise money for The Phoenix Project which was set up to maintain and improve The Duchess Theatre after it was burnt down in 2003.

This was a massive project for a 16 year old to organise, as there is so much more than meets the eye to organise and arrange when you are putting on something of this scale.

Knowing Zak as I do, he is a total professional and strives for perfection in all that he does and I know that he would want me to be as honest as I can be in my review, so here goes!

This last week there have been a few things that had to be changed at the last minute for this show. One artists having to pull out which meant a last minute shuffle and filling in of content. Matthew Leigh Biddulph, who was to have been the compere was substituted by David Allen and Matt moved behind the drum kit in the live band.

The show was called Zak Scott and Friends and when your name is the title of the show, this will always add pressure to anyone and with all of the above, and his desire to make this evening a success, I think this affected Zak in the first half of the show, as when he was on stage, he looked nervous and his singing was affected by not hitting the notes that he would normally have hit. Notes were shortened when they should have been held further, but when Zak did hold the notes, the song flowed so much better. As an actor he should have disguised the nervousness that you could see in his eyes,and believe me I have seen Zak act and he is a damn fine actor as well as a fine singer.

Zak needed to stop looking down so much when singing, and smile more, which finally in the second part, he did and boy did that make a difference. Zak came to life when he sung "Electricity" from "Billy Elliott" and he looked like he was finally starting to enjoy being on that stage, and I started to relax as well. His duet in the second half with Oliver Wheddon, of "You and Me" from "The Book Of Mormon" really highlighted Zak's and Oliver's fun side, and they delivered a lovely slice of musical comedy which everyone loved. Zak also delivered, again in the second half, two very emotive performances in "Till I Hear You Sing" from "Love Never Dies" and the final song, which gave me goosebumps, "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables"

Speaking to Oliver, who by the way is only 15, last week, he confessed that he was most worried about the choreography in the show and he did seem to have a bit of a problem with this but hey, not all good singers can dance can they? The highlight for me with Oliver was "Empty Chairs" from "Les Miserables", absolutely spot on, mate!

Also among Zak's friends were Holly Pilgrim who delivered a lovely version of "Tomorrow" from "Annie" as well as a mischievously good version of "Naughty" from "Matilda". Emily Horner who delivered another emotionally charged version of "Tell Me It's Not true" from my fave musical, "Blood Brothers", Ellie Simmonds who sang "No One But You" from the musical"We Will Rock You" and "Part Of Your World" from "The Little Mermaid".

Drama was provided by Showcase Drama Group. I enjoyed the comedy of "Lunch On A Train" more than "The Witches" which was I felt a bit too dark for the evening. Dance was covered by Rosie, Kirsty and Cara and also a freestyle section, which I really enjoyed, as did most of the ladies in the house, performed by dancer, Jamie Bucanan.

There were four pieces performed by everyone, my favourite being the final piece called "Revolting Children" which was great fun track from the musical "Matilda".

David Allen, as compere, managed to move the proceedings along smoothly with his easy. likeable personality. Having performed the job of compere in the past in shows in Nottingham, I know that this is not an easy job, and David managed to make it look easy.

The live band sounded crisp and provided a perfect backing for the singers.

Much is made of the youth of today and the media are all too ready to paint teenagers in a bad light, highlighting the wrong that is done by the small minority, but when you see something like this show, you really do see what teenagers can do, and they should receive more praise for stuff like this. A great bunch of incredibly talented teenagers, providing a varied evening of entertainment, and giving something back to the world of entertainment at The Duchess and the community.

And on a final note, a massive pat on the back for Zak for getting it all together. This kind of show, with the amount of different performers would be a mammoth task for any professional company, but Zak, along with the brilliant support acts and family and friends provided a night of memorable music and entertainment which I hope has raised a good deal of cash for The Duchess. You should all be proud of yourself!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Nottingham Playhouse

A very welcome return to the Nottingham Playhouse for the play adapted by Matthew Spangler from the book written by Khaled Hosseini about Amir, a young Afghanistan man, who manages to escape the horrors of Afghanistan in the 70's and the Taliban.

Having not seen the play before, seen the film or read the book, I was completely oblivious of the story apart from the bit of research on the play and the author prior to the show. With no expectations set in my mind I sat back to experience one of the most enjoyable, at times shocking, powerful play I have seen in a long while.

While some may see the play as a story of guilt, this is a play about love, loyalty, friendship, fear, family as well as betrayal of friendship and while the play is set around Afghanistan and it's issues at that time, take that out of the equation and this play transcends any race or religion with the other sub issues.

At times this play will make you take an intake of breath, will leave you shocked, angry and feel hatred and other times you will be laughing and almost admiring the sort of relationship Amir had with his servant/best friend Hassan. The kind that best friends have when they both grow up together from babies, but how this friendship deteriorated is the crux of this amazing story and the repercussions caused by Hassan's betrayal by his best friend.

That is only half of the story, and the second half is what happens to Amir afterwards and his struggle through life and his wrestling with his conscience to do what he feels to be the right thing in recompense for his betrayal.

And then there is the relationship between Amir and his father, Amir's yearning to impress his father, and his wish to just gain the recognition that a son looks for from his father.

The play is amazingly good on so many different levels and is delivered by an equally amazing set of actors, Ben Turner as Amir smoothly moves from being an adult back into the mind set of an 11 year old boy, playfully cavorting around the stage, playing out his, and Hassan's love of western movies, and then back to being a sensible and troubled adult as the role of story teller.

Andrei Costin makes his professional stage debut in "The Kite Runner" as Hassan and doubling as Sohrah, Hassan's son in the second half and delivers a very emotive piece of theatre characterization in his role.

I'm not going to mention all the actors, mainly because they were all so incredibly good, but two others did slightly stand out for me, Emilio Doorgasingh as Baba and Nicholas Karimi as Assef, the nasty piece of work at play here in this play.

The sets were simple but so very effective in transporting you to where the play wanted to take you and some brilliant and evocative music played live on stage by the very talented Hanif Khan. Both adding to the ambience of the era and the settings for the piece.

I always say that unless a piece of theatre doesn't leave you with some sort of emotions to take away from the theatre, then it has not done it's job. I can confirm that this piece of theatre does it's job and so much more, which I am sure is also partly due to the direction of Mr Giles Croft.

"The Kite Runner" is at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 6 September 2014