Saturday, 13 December 2014

Lakeside, Djanogly Theatre, Nottingham

Based on the children's story by Jeff Brown and adapted for the stage by Mike Kenny, this story is not just a great fantasy story for kids but a story about the relationship between two brothers, Arthur and Stanley.

We see Stanley, who was flattened by a noticeboard, retrieve his mother's ring from a drain, visit his friend courtesy of the US Mail, catch a art thief and become a kite before he returns to his normal size, thanks to his brother.

I was wondering how they would achieve the "flat" image but it is very clever how this is brought to life on stage, as well as being very effective, There are also clever computer animated images to replicate parts of the story, which also works well on stage.

The set is bright, colourful, big and bold and ideal for a young audience's eyes and there is always something going on for the full hour duration of the musical, which will make sure that the audience that it is primarily aimed at, keep focused.

It is a musical and the songs, composed by Julian Butler, who is also the musical director for the show, has aimed for that fun 60's "Hairspray/Little Shop Of Horrors" feel in the songs.

Four actors play all the main and secondary parts, Mrs Lambchop (Helen Woolf), Mr Lambchop (Christopher Barlow), Arthur (Adam Ryan) and Stanley (Sam Hallion).

"Flat Stanley" is a nice Christmas alternative to pantomime or to occupy any youngster to Grandparents for an hour in the run up to Christmas itself.

You can see this magical show at Lakeside's Djanogly theatre until Christmas Eve, Wednesday 24 December 2014. Tickets are still available for all shows.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Lace Market Theatre
If you need any excuse to get you into a Christmassy mood then the Lace Market Theatre's production of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" will do just that.
The original 1954 film starred Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen,and was loosely based on the 1942 film Holiday Inn, about two soldiers, Bob Wallace and Phil Davies, who after leaving the army go on to have a career in showbusiness. They meet The Haynes Sisters en route to The Columbia Inn for their Winter Show and decide to tag along. When they get there they discover that the owner of the Inn is no other than their old army General, who is a better General than he is an Inn keeper, so decide to help raise some badly needed funds for the Inn,
To start with I thought the lack of scenery may detract from the show but you soon forget that and get carried along like a snowdrift with the magic of the show and the cast.
Paul Johnson plays the Bing Crosby role of Bob Wallace, decidedly Grinch like to start with but the ice melts when he meets, and gets to know Betty Haynes (Jackie Dunn). Paul's vocals start tentatively but soon warmed up and while there is no other Bing, Paul's voice is very pleasant to listen to. Jackie owns a gorgeous set of vocal chords with a style so reminiscent of the period the film is set in, just listen to her sing "Love You Didn't Do Right By Me".
Chris Moseley is an ideal casting as the Danny Kaye character, Phil Davies, the one with the roving eye for any lovely lady who crosses his path, and for me had the stronger voice of the Davis and Wallace partnership.
Keeping Davies in check is the other Haynes sister, Judy, played by Lucy Bailey, matching Jackie's voice beautifully in songs like "Sisters".
Some lovely supporting roles from Gareth Morris as Ralph Sheldrake, who almost managed to wreck a lovely relationship between Betty Haynes and Bob Wallace, but came good in the end. Daniel Bryant was great at keeping up the old army etiquettes as General Henry Waverley who also occasionally showed his softer side.Elizabeth Rieley as the spotlight hungry Granddaughter of the General brought a smile to our faces with her attempts to shine as a performer, and Elizabeth has a lovely voice too.
My "star" of this show though, and it is a tight battle for that title has to be Alison Hope as the General's right hand woman who practically ran The Columbia Inn, Martha Watson. What a beacon of talent, so natural for this part and what a great voice she has also, Fiesty, not afraid to stand up to the general and such a wonderful character that everyone warmed to her.
You will be surprised how many songs you know from this musical. "Blue Skies", "Sisters". "Let Yourself Go", "Let Me Sing A Happy Song","How Deep Is The Ocean" and of course the title track.
Lisa Lee, the choreographer, did a brilliant job with the dance routines and especially the tap numbers. The costumes for everyone were the epitome of class, style and sophistication from the 1950's, all adding to the classiness of the production.
A large cast, twenty two on stage, which featured several well known faces from the various Nottingham stages, provided such a heart warming production that not even the cold weather outside could cool. The Lace Market Theatre are not known for musicals, in fact I think this is the first one that I had seen there, but I don't know why because, based on the musical talent on show, I'm hoping that this will start the musical ball rolling and we will see more in 2015.
"White Christmas" is on at The Nottingham Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 20 December 2014 but tickets are selling like hot mince pies.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

"RENT" at Bilborough College

I have been going to see the annual Bilborough College production for the last three years and every year gets better and more professional, and this year is no different, in fact it is the best production Bilborough College have staged.Apart from the niggly sound problems in places where it was a little difficult to hear the singers over the live music, this has to be the most polished  show I have seen here.

It will always be an issue when the live band is at the back of the theatre and the stage is at the front, because depending on where you sit, the sound to singer ratio will vary and the only way that can be resolved is to have the band where the singers are. The recorded backing track music though worked well with the vocalists because there was that option to reduce the backing track volume if needed.

That tiny criticism aside I can truly say that I really enjoyed "Rent". It has always been one of my most liked musicals with a  great storyline which, although is bleak in parts is proper true grit. Dealing with death, homelessness, Aids, poverty, promiscuity, transvestism and drugs it's no Oscar Hammerstein feel good production but it's good to have that dark alternative.

The cast really got to grips with the sometimes intricate melodies and key changes and there were some really strong vocals from the likes of Dan Scott as Roger Davis, who also plays guitar in the musical and does so left handed. He shows real passion when he sings to his on stage girlfriend, Mimi Marquez,played by Catherine Davies.

Marina Papadopoulis as Maureen Johnson really shows off her vocal abilities with the quasi comical "Over The Moon" and Joel Walker as Mark Cohen, the young film maker and the narrator throughout managed to keep that Noo Yoik accent throughout so well.

There is a lot of comedy in "Rent" mostly provided by Angel, the transvestite lover of  Tom Collins, but there is a very emotional section where Angel dies in Collins' arms. Both parts played superbly by George Dawes (Angel) and Harkiran Sahota (Collins).

Joanne Jefferson, the lesbian lover of Maureen, is very charismatically played by Ruth Paige and also shows off her vocals to the best of her ability when duetting with Joel on "Tango Maureen", just one of the many musical highlights in this musical.

Gareth Ellis completes the main characters playing Benny, the landlord of the property they are not paying rent for.

You can really feel the emotion in songs like "Seasons Of Love", probably the best known song from the musical and this received the loudest applause, apart from the final bows. Although the songs may not be so well known there really are some wonderful modern gems in there. Songs like "One Song Glory", the double entendre laced "Light My Candle", "Santa Fe", "I'll Cover You" and "Take Me Or Leave Me".

The sets are sparse, which ties in well with the struggling lifestyle of the young Bohemian artists of "Rent", but this also means that when there are scene changes, these are done with the minimum of fuss and also means that there are no distractions from the story and actors and keeps the action moving smoothly.Ably directed by Harris Allan

This modern musical is well worth going to see at Bilborough College and you can still just about get tickets for Thursday 11th and Friday 12th December 2014.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Nottingham Theatre Royal

There is glamour, glitter and gloss galore in the Theatre Royal panto The same as any other year but for some reason this year seems to be a notch up from the last few years and I can't put my finger on why this is. It is great entertainment with a wonderful cast of Lesley Joseph as the Wicked Queen and Sam Attwater as Prince William of Wollaton, the good looking hero of the story. Emilie Du Leslay plays Snow White. Fast becoming regular Theatre Royal performers are Andrew Ryan as Nurse Nelly who got so many costume changes, I lost count but each one more outrageous than the last, and of course Ben Nickless, this year as "Muddles".

Ben and Andrew make a wonderful pairing for comedy, Ben's style being reminiscent of many of the comedy greats from years gone by like Freddie Starr in Ben's Elvis send up section, and Joe Pasquale with many other comedic titbits. Mssrs   Nickless and Ryan not only manage to keep the kids basic humour flowing but also manage to go just above the kids heads and entertain us older kids as well. No mean feat but with their years of entertainment behind them, they make it appear so easy to do.

Lesley is deliciously evil, goading the audience by criticising local areas such as Radford, Mansfield and Clifton but always remembering to not take herself to seriously in her evil role. Sam can carry a song and manages the simple choreography deftly enough, but doesn't push any boundaries for him. Oh there is also appearances by fellow "Bird Of A Feather" Linda Robson as the voice in the mirror, highlighting Lesley's comic timing in these scenes.

For some reason the role of Snow White didn't really stick out for me and I found Lesley's Wicked Queen the most watchable character of all of them, but hey you can't have Snow White the panto without Snow White can you?

Slightly disappointing was the fact that none of the dwarfs were dwarfs. They were seven actors on their knees. Maybe they are in short supply?

The special effects were brilliant though and it really was quite scary when the Evil Witch rose from the ground and appeared to drift out over the audience, as too did the dragon!

Great choreography, lighting and effects, but the sound from the live orchestra, directed by Allan Rogers was at times a little on the loud side and sometimes drowned out Sam's singing, so that may have needed a tweak or two and pulled back, but all in all a really enjoyable panto. My personal main highlight was Lesley, Sam, Ben and Andrew performing, what is now a regular feature in the Theatre Royal pantos, the "12 Days Of Christmas" with that little extra from the props department.As the song goes, you will leave the theatre feeling "Happy".

"Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Sunday 11 January 2015.
ROBIN HOOD AND THE BABES IN THE WOOD by People's Theatre Company.
Nottingham Arts Theatre.

What a lovely sight to see, a theatre almost packed and what great entertainment was provided by The People's Theatre Company, Written and directed by Amanda Hall, this script is not only very funny, topical and regional but also very camp, which, let's face it, is what panto is all about, and it was great to see everyone in the cast embracing the "campness".

The evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Mike Newbold) has decided to kill the babes to get his hands on the money that he would inherit from their death but it's Robin Hood, played by PTC newcomer Sean Goodwin, who saves the day and gets to marry the lovely Maid Marian (Ellie Monterossa) into the bargain and they all live happily ever after.

Sean manages to bring out the arrogant in Hood but, due to Sean's good looks, the ladies fall under Hood's spell and he makes for a wonderful hero who does not take himself too seriously, especially when singing "Men In Tights" with his merry men.Sean also sorted out the fight choreography as well!

Adam Monk plays Will Scarlet, one of the merry men who, again is not afraid to ramp up the camp, and Peter Newman, like Adam, always looks like he is having a ball on stage which helps everyone watching enjoy the performance, like some kind of osmosis, Peter plays Little John who also gets his girl in Lady Catherine (Catherine Cunningham).

I know that I was not the only one who appreciated the evilness of The Sheriff, as played with true evil delight by Mike and he really got the audience boo-ing, along with his slightly less evil henchmen "Muck" and "Rake" played by Christine Boothe and Danielle Hall respectively, both getting the crowd to boo as well as laugh at their escapades.

Mike Pearson dons a frock or two this year as Nurse Goodbody and as always a big crowd pleaser with whatever role he undertakes. I am surprised that this is his first time in high heels and dresses as he makes a really good dame. Watch out Gavin Alston.

Oh and then there is the lovely Laura Thurman as "Silly Billy", who while being one of the main characters, seems to have been omitted from the programme. I know that Laura is so passionate about panto and theatre, and this really shows with her boundless enthusiasm within every role I have seen her perform.

Keeping the story going throughout and spreading her fairy dust is Sophie Petruccio as our fairy narrator, always a welcome addition to any production.

There are no "sore thumbs" here and it would take me forever to praise all the cast but I feel I must mention one more, and that is little Ruben Lawlor-Leckie who played one of the babes, River. Such confidence for one so young, a joy to watch.

Sound wise you could hear absolutely everyone and everything, great lighting and visual effects, pyrotechnics, smoke, the whole lot thrown in here, matching the professionalism of any panto in Nottingham this year.

There is a great mix of tunes from the Morecambe and Wise signature tune, "Bring Me Sunshine" to musical hits like "For Good" from "Wicked" and the song of the panto 2014/2015 period, Pharrell Williams' "Happy". This being in all three pantos this year. And I must not forget the amazing work Jessica Royce has done with the choreography. With that amount of cast on stage, I imagine that this was no easy job.

All pantos have upped their gain this year and the overall feel of the People's Theatre  Company panto is that it is even more slicker, smoother and pacier than last year.

Another massive hit for Amanda and all of her crew and actors, and if you want to see what really goes into producing a panto of this impeccable quality, watch BBC4 on Monday 22 December 2014 at 9,25pm and watch "Pantomime" which goes behind the scenes of the People's Theatre Company panto of 2012.

"Robin Hood and The Babes In The Wood" is on at the Nottingham Arts Theatre until Sunday 21 December 2014