Saturday, 29 November 2014

Nottingham Playhouse

You can always tell when Christmas is just around the corner with the heralding of the Nottingham Playhouse pantomime,and I won't cut any corners here, but in my humble opinion, I think Kenneth Alan-Taylor has written the best pantomime that there has ever been for the Playhouse. Every little thing about "Sleeping Beauty" is perfect, and I have seen a good many pantos at the Playhouse.

All the regular panto family are here with the welcome addition of Jonny Fines as Prince Alexander whose kiss has the gift of life for Princess Rosalind (Kelly Edwards).

One of the hardest jobs in the theatre is to go on first and warm up the audience and Jerry The Jester (Tim Frater) got the audience going with the typical panto fare, and also introduced King Hubert, played by the wonderful facially expressive Anthony Hoggard. In turn he introduced us to his wife Queen Gertrude (Rebecca Little), Rebecca and Anthony are a wonderfully believable pairing and bounce off each other beautifully, and that is the joy of working with each other on many occasions because everything seems so very natural between them, as well as the other cast members.

John Elkington provides the "common touch" as Nurse Tilly Trott and trots out many of the old favourite jokes that he has delivered over the years, but as he said, that is what is expected and what we love at the Playhouse, and they still get the laughs, so why not! As dame of the panto he also gets several amazing costume changes.

The lovely Francesca Ellis plays good fairy as Fairy Wisheart and displays her gorgeous vocal talents at the end, with her version of "Let It Go" from "Frozen". lovely to look at and lovely to listen to as well.

And where there is a good fairy, there is always an evil counterpart and Hannah Whittington plays Maleficent, magnificently evil, deserving of all the "boos" and "hisses" she received.

So to the lovestruck couple, the Prince and Princess for whom the story revolve around and it's nice to see a male actor play the Prince, where sometimes there is a female actor take on the role, so thank you Sir Kenneth (well let's face it, it should be for services to the theatre!), for keeping it realistic.

Jonny Fines, in his first panto appearance at The Playhouse, won the audience over with his good looks, athletic moves and singing voice. Kelly's good looks also made her an archetypal Princess, but with that modern swag about her.

There is the usual mix of songs, old and new, a few borrowed from other musicals, a nod to Morecambe and Wise as well as some shameless promotion for next year's panto and the wonderful "Forever Young" which you can see from 29 January 2015 (and I recommend that one as well).

Music was provided live by "uncle" Johnny Morton and the band, crystal clarity of sound by Adam P Macready, wonderful lighting effects from lighting designer Jason Taylor all add to the experience you will have at the Playhouse. The costumes were, as usual, over the top and colourful, exactly how they should be and some very tightly choreographed sections by Adele Parry.

There are many new jokes, topical as always, and the whole show just seemed to be so fresh and alive. The other pantos in Nottingham this year have a high benchmark to reach with "Sleeping Beauty" as this is everything you want from a family pantomime.

"Sleeping Beauty" is on at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 17 January 2015

Thursday, 27 November 2014

MURDER FOR THE ASKING by The Beeston Players
Roundhill School, Beeston

Written by Derek Benfield, this is one of the best murder mysteries I've seen since the Thriller Season by Tabs Productions at the Nottingham Theatre Royal, and the cast of The Beeston Players ramp up the tension on this stylish thriller.

The scene is set in the front room of Henry and Dora Scrubb, a young married couple who are going through a bit of a financial drought, and with only Dora working, the pressure is on Henry to get a job and resume being an equal partner in the marriage. When he is offered three thousand pound for just one night's work he, at first turns it down flat, especially when he finds out from James Franklyn what exactly is expected of him, but is this offer just too tempting for Henry to turn down?

Set in 1966, the set and the props are spot on, a job well done by props person, Jane Braithwaite and set designers Sam Williams and Steve Rowlinson. A nice touch as well with the music played at the start and interval, also being of the same period.

Mitchell Robbins plays the man with the life changing decision to make, Henry Scrubb, I've tossed it over in my mind whether Mitchell is a brilliant actor, coming over as nervous, uncomfortable, edgy and cagey as Scrubb, or whether he was nervous, uncomfortable and on edge, I'd like to think it was the former.Whatever, it worked.

Laura Webster is Dora Scrubb, the faithful "stand by your man" wife, but how far can Dora's faith stretch? I loved the naturalness of Laura's acting, but I just wasn't convinced of Henry and Dora attachment as a married couple, could be first night nerves.

Ian Greatorex was the actor I felt most comfortable with as James Franklyn and although this character was only in the play for a short while, it's quality and not quantity of the character that shone through here.

There were other stand out performances from Noreen Boyle as the "ever present" neighbour who had some lovely amusing lines to deliver. And then Alison Williams who played Detective Sergeant Thatcher, the "copper" who doggedly interrogated Henry and also provided, as in all the best murder mystery thrillers, the final twist in the tale!

There were a couple of support characters to flesh out the story in Mrs Rita Franklyn
(Abbie Maddison) and Fred Pender (Kai Robbins), who although, as with Mr Franklyn, only appear for a short while, they are so relevant to the plot, as we learn with the big reveal.

The tension and nervous energy are well contained, which shows just a small part of Barbara Barton's expertise as director of the play. A play I'm sure that she relished getting her directorial teeth into.

But it's not just the actors who made the night so enjoyable because our master of ceremonies for the evening provided some light heartedness at the start and in the interval, and the Front of House staff were helpful and friendly, showing what a great all round team The Beeston Players have.

"Murder For The Asking" is on at Roundhill School until Saturday 29 November 2014

Thursday, 20 November 2014

"MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING" by Riverside Drama Company
Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton

One of Shakespeare's finest comedies was done justice by The Riverside Drama Company, although I felt there were a few lines omitted, whether that's by editing or maybe first night  nerves I don't know, but nevertheless non detracting to the play and the enjoyment of it.

It is basically a love story with comedy lines scattered liberally throughout and although you may not understand all of the script, romanticism and poetry of Shakespeare, the acting ensures that you can follow the story from start to finish. This is not meant to take away from this play the twists and turns of the rich story line and the clever script.

Basically Benedick (Paul Norris), secretly likes Beatrice (Lizzie O Hara) but is too macho, or maybe proud, to reveal his affections, especially in front of his friends and townfolk of Messina. Through their friends, who drip feed them both with tips of the other's feelings to each other, they realise that, maybe they are made for each other.

Throw into the mix a sub plot where Antonio (Adam Richmond) is to marry Hero (Donna Chin),but through rumours ditches her at the altar, and then  advised that she had died due to his actions, only to discover that this wasn't really true and ended up marrying her after all.

Ah yes It's like a good old fashioned soap story, maybe William Shakespeare was one of our original soap writers! Let's face it, the storylines are all there.

There are some wonderfully comical performances from Paul Norris, Lizzie O Hara,Pete Renton ( Dogberry), Gary Peake (Borachio) and Adam Richmond with some clever use of the stage props, especially the table and floral decorations.

Martin Holtom, the director, must have had some fun with this production, as with all of the cast, Adam at times unable to stifle a chuckle and a smile. With the play set in 1935 there are some very stylish costumes for all of the cast to adorn themselves.

For anyone who has a notion that Shakespeare is just a little on the dull side, well pop along to the Duchess Theatre and take in a rather good, comical piece of literature which will make you smile and change your outlook on the Bard, I guarantee it you will enjoy it.

"Much Ado About Nothing" is being performed at The Duchess Theatre until Saturday 22 November 2014

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Nottingham Lace Market Theatre

"Happy Jack" is a play about Jack and Liz Munroe which starts at the end of their lives and, through a variety of scenes, work back to when they first arranged their first date taking in their wedding, honeymoon and birth of their son among other highlights of their lives.

Jack was a miner and Liz was in "service" and set in the mining village of Upton in West Yorkshire, you can expect a down to earth play depicting "real" people, living a real, some would say normal life, or in other words "working class". They may look to the outside world as not being a couple in love, but for all the shouting, arguing and sniping you can still see a glimmer of the love they hold for each other, and that is a lovely thing to behold.

John Godber is rapidly becoming one of my favourite playwrights, having experienced "Bouncers", "Teechers", "Men Of The World" and now "Happy Jack" in the last couple of years thanks to the various drama and theatre companies in the area.

Godber has this lovely way of transcribing real life people and their foibles, eccentricities, language and normalness into amazingly enjoyable plays like those mentioned. One of our great observationalists.

With this in mind you will find Liz and Jack's characters easy to warm to because you will recognise them both in your own family members or people you know. There are some lovely emotional sections and a whole lot of comedy scenes and Nic Adams and Carole Parkinson encapsulate the characters beautifully. You won't have to spend time getting to know the characters because you already know them in your own circle of friends.

The direction, by Beverley Anthony, was inspiring, using more than just the given area of the stage, Beverley placed our couple within the audience and outside of the upstairs performance area.

Nice use of lighting to evoke emotion, especially at the close of the first part and to make you feel that you were in the cinema with them in the second half.

Nic and Carole drew all the joy and sorrow from Godber's script as well as the Yorkshire accent, which got stronger, especially in the case of Jack, the younger he became and further through the play we got. An excellent piece of casting.

This is one lovely and warm play which will make you laugh out loud and at times make you well up emotionally, another great trait of Godber's to be able to get the emotion of working class people to affect his audience.

It was practically a sell out tonight so get your tickets fast as "Happy Jack" is only on until Saturday 22 November 2014 at the Lace Market Theatre

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Nottingham Arts Theatre

For anyone who loves the sound of the Shadows twang, the Hank Marvin Stratocaster and Fender, the drumming of Meehan or Bennett, then you would have loved the show put on by Into The Shadows, Unfortunately only 35 people turned out to witness an evening of classic instrumentals and Cliff Richard classics.

John Haden on rhythm guitar also provided the vocals for the Cliff numbers, Colin Evans drummed up a storm, especially on classics such as "Apache", John Clayton provided some chunky bass lines, showing his prowess on the jazzy "Nivram" and finally creating that Hank twang was Rob Fellows on lead guitar, with too many highlights to choose from.

Into The Shadows played so many of Cliff and The Shadows songs and mixed it up nicely with the well known hits as well as some album tracks, B sides and rarities, proving they knew their stuff with some educational historic facts along the way. I enjoyed the backdrop showing some of the old Cliff and the Shadows single labels, album covers, old clips from films and stills, giving you something to watch while your ears enjoyed the brilliantly recreated music of the 60's and the occasional stray into the 70's.

Music quality wise it was crystal clear thanks to "sound guy" Paul Spicer. A really professional approach to the show had the four musicians dressed in suits and even a slight sound hitch during "Guitar Tango" with Rob's guitar did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the small audience. The only downer was the temperature in the theatre which all four of the guys took comical swipes at, but many a true word said in jest,and it really was cold in there tonight.

If Into The Shadows venture from the West Midlands to the East Midlands again, and you are a fan of quality music of the Shadows variety, please make sure that you support them and get a ticket, because you will definitely get your money's worth with this show.

Friday, 14 November 2014

by The New Jersey Boys
Nottingham Arts Theatre

Well, the title said it all "Oh What A Night", and what a night was had by all who saw The New Jersey Boys tonight on their first visit to Nottingham. You will not see a tribute band with these lads, but a tribute to the brilliant music of Frankie Valli, the Four Seasons as well as some of the big hits of the 1960's and 70's, plus a brilliant version of "Nessun Dorma" from one quarter of the New Jersey Boys, Einar Vestmann who also performed the falsetto parts of the show.

From the very opening of the show, which set the scene of the 60's by tripping down memory lane to the final arm waving, hand clapping, hip swaying singalong of "Sweet Caroline", this show is pure entertainment with some great comedy bits from Gary Gould who also provides a history lesson of Frankie and co, entertaining and educational as well.

There are several solo performances from Einar, ex West End "Oliver", Ricky Lee White and Gary, as well as some excellent harmonies from all four. All the big hits are here and more, covering their early period through to the Northern Soul "The Night" and Frankie's solo hits such as "Fallen Angel", "My Eyes Adored You" and "Grease" and their 70's disco period of "Who Loves You", "We Can Work It Out" and of course "December '63".

Great showmanship, brilliant entertainment with their audience involvement and a really nice touch at the end of the night when all four made their way to the foyer to thank everyone for coming down. I am sure that this is the first time that I have seen this happen, giving their audience the chance to say "hello" and chat and have their pictures taken. Nothing seemed to be too much trouble for the four of them.

If you get the chance to see The New Jersey Boys, then take it because you will have a great night of entertainment

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Nottingham Theatre Royal

The musical is based on the 1935 film of the same name with music by Irving Berlin and it is so good to see that the producers have decided to stay true to the original.

Set in the same year as the film was made, 1935 and is the story of Jerry Travers, an American dancer, played in the film by Fred Astaire and in this touring production by Alan Burkitt. Travers travels to London to star in a show produced by Horace Hardwick (Clive Hayward), Travers meets and attempts to impress Dale Tremont (Charlotte Gooch) to win her affection.Dale mistakes Jerry for her friend's husband, Horace, but after some comical interaction with Madge Hardwick, Jerry and dress designer Alberto Beddini, who she agreed to marry, it all comes good in the end and she weds Jerry and they all live happily ever after.

Alan Burkitt and Charlotte Gooch recreate the glamorous choreography of Astaire and Rogers, with Charlotte performing some pretty impressive high kicks which highlighted those wonderful long legs of hers.

Burkitt, albeit fairly unknown, shone through every scene, and a worthy replacement for Tom Chambers who performed from 2011 to early 2014.

Some great comedy lines woven throughout the show and a brilliant comedy performance from John Conroy, who played Bates, Hardwick's man servant, who took on several different guises throughout the musical.

Another comedy character is Beddini, the dress designer who fell for Dale and proposed marriage to her at her lowest ebb. Beddini was played by Sebastien Torkia.

Glamour was everywhere and there were some amazing costumes on show for the ladies and dinner jackets for the men. And boy did those costumes look great on Rebecca Thornhill (Madge Hardwick) and Charlotte. The costumes were designed by Jon Morrell.

Not only were the costumes amazing, but so were the sets, reflecting the decadence of the 1930's jet set and designed by Hildegard Bechtler. It was just like watching one of those extravagant Hollywood films where no expense was ever spared. Glamour, glitz, suave sophistication, and oh, the dance routines. If you remember having a kaleidoscope as a kid and looking into it and seeing a perfect replica of the one image, all performing the same moves at the same time, well this was just like the dancing for "Top Hat". So tight and perfectly performed by the large ensemble. a tribute to the brilliant choreography of Bill Deamer.

Smooth scene changes which also gave way to scenes of the aeroplane flight, as well as the plane landing, and the imagery of split screen where you can see not only Travers dancing at front of stage but the image of him being in the apartment above at the same time which caused the lovely Dale to first meet Travers due to his dancing keeping her awake. All very clever!

What I also loved was the way the orchestra and the arrangements seemed to creep up on you, complementing the singing, making the music mix sound spot on, a great job done by the man with the magic baton, Chris Walker, who also arranged all of the beautiful music.

So many brilliant Irving Berlin songs are featured in this show, "Puttin On The Ritz", "Putting All My Eggs In One Basket", :Isn't This A Lovely Day"."Top Hat White Tie and Tails", "Cheek To Cheek" and "Let's Face The Music And Dance" being just a few.

So, for an evening of top class entertainment, top dancing, top tunes and top fun, go and see "Top Hat" at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 15 November 2014

Monday, 3 November 2014

Lace Market Theatre

The Pillowman by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh tells the tale of Katurian, a fiction writer living in a police state who is interrogated by two, possibly unhinged, policemen about the gruesome content of his short stories, and their similarities to a number of bizarre child murders occurring in his town. When he hears that his "slow" brother Michal has confessed to the murders and implicated Katurian, he resigns himself to his execution but attempts to save his stories from destruction, but then comes the twist!

The set is oppressive and slightly "1984" style with a futuristic tinge and resembles an asylum with it's completely brilliant white set, simply and effectively created by Kareena Sims, who seems to wear many hats in the production of this particular play.

I loved the lighting effects, again simple but oh so effective to create just that right amount of menacing atmosphere.We have Hugh Philip and his assistants to thank for this.

The four main actors are all excellent in creating a "nervous" and "anxious" atmosphere, Matthew Hunt as Katurian is thrown about the set, kicked and slapped into eventual submission in quite a brutal manner by his two police captors, Tupolski, played with a menacing cool by Richard Holmes and Ariel, the self appointed "good cop" in this good cop/bad cop situation, played by Adam Worton. But it is the violent Ariel who delivers the majority of the violence towards Katurian.

Michal, the "slow to learn" brother of Katurian is played sublimely by Ajay Stevenson. This role could so easily have been played really over the top but Ajay reigned this in suitably, which really created a very believable Michal.

There are two other characters who appear for a very short while played by Oana Ionescu and Valentin Ruscan who are just credited as "Girl" and "Man".

While the subject matter of this play may not be the subject of the next big musical, it is very entertaining with a lot of comic lines, and while the violence and language is not for the easily shocked, you will enjoy this play if you like the black comedy art form.

As usual for the Lace Market Theatre, they have taken one of those not so well known plays and have brought it to the attention of the theatre loving audience of Nottingham, and I for one salute that choice.

"The Pillowman" is performed at the Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 8 November 2014