Friday, 30 January 2015

Nottingham Playhouse

My cheeks have not ached this much for a while and I'm not talking about being sat down for a long period of time. Having seen this fiendishly funny comedy with music three times before tonight, I knew what to expect and had been looking forward to seeing it again all week.

"Forever Young" is all about growing old disgracefully. Set in the future by 50 years in a retirement home for retired panto and theatricals and under the semi watchful eye of Sister George, the "inmates", Mr Bednarczyk, Ms Little, Mr Frater, Mr Elkington,Mr Superville and Ms Darcy create comic mayhem, busting some moves and belting out some tunes from their heyday.

Sister George, played by Georgina White struts and prowls around like a masochistic Kim Woodburn keeping the aged thespians in check. Georgina also gets to air her rather tasty vocal chords as well with a couple of original songs. You don't often get to hear many songs with the words crematorium, graveyard, kicking the bucket and dying in them!

Stefan Bednarczyk keeps the musical flow going at the piano, backing everyone with some very clever and stripped back arrangements of some classic songs. Among them a very poignant version of Aqua's "Barbie Girl" and Alphaville's "Forever Young",sung by Rebecca Little. As Ms little, Rebecca manges to swear and insult most of the cast but is incredibly funny throughout, especially with her tale of "The Tree".

Panto dame favourite, John Elkington, becomes the hippy of the bunch and provides a couple of medleys from the "Summer Of Love" period of his life and, along with "Forever Young" newcomer,  Tim Walker Frater, who we also saw in the 2014/2015 panto along with John and Rebecca, serves up a classic piece of comedy gauntlet throwing which brings Act One to an electrifying close.

Dale Superville and Clara Darcy play the "couple" of the theatre scene, Mr Superville always looking to impress his "little seagull" with his dance moves and magic show, which also produces a lovely piece of poignancy, drawing a lovely reaction from some of the audience, This lasts just long enough before he starts to bust some serious hip hoperation moves to Aretha Franklin's "Respect".

Clara's character is one of an entertainer who switches on the actress like a switch, always ready to perform with an absent minded habit of wandering off.

This has to be one of the funniest plays ever, even though it was originally a German play written by Erik Gedeon, the comedy and pathos translate so well. Some brilliant song choices from Nirvana, Gloria Gaynor, Simon & Garfunkel, Joan Jett, Tom Jones, Pete Seeger and The Beatles. There is an element of panto here but for an adult audience due to the choice language.

There are also not many plays where the silences and gaps in the action actually add to the story but this is one where the silences say just as much as the scripted word. Knowing where these silences came, I still found myself in eager anticipation of what I knew was to come, and still found it as funny as I did when I first saw it.There have been a few small updates in the script which has managed to keep it fresh and topical but has only added to it's magic.

"Forever Young" is on at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 7 February 2015

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

WHITE CHRISTMAS by Christchurch Theatre Club
Loughborough Town Hall

Tonight was my first visit to the beautiful theatre that is in Loughborough Town Hall, as well as my first experience of the Christchurch Theatre Club (CTC) and what an introduction to both. The theatre is gorgeous and modern with brilliant acoustics, comfortable and extremely welcoming. The CTC were outstanding in this Irving Berlin musical about a couple of ex army boys who become big stars and use their fame to help out their old General by putting on  a show to raise funds for him to pay the bills on the Columbia Inn in Vermont.

From start to end this production oozes class and utmost professionalism. the two heroes from the army, Bob Wallace and Phil Davies, played by Lyndon Perry and Craig Butterworth respectively, proved to be just as adept as Kaye and Crosby in their portrayals of the song and dance stars in the musical. The natural comedy relationship between Wallace and Davies was spot on and made for a very comfortable pairing, especially with their take on The Haynes Sisters main song in the musical, "Sisters".

The Haynes Sisters, the pair who were  to end up as the female counterparts of Wallace and Davies were played by the very gorgeous Gemma Farnell and Anja Palmer. Both very easy on the eye as well as the ear. Both had lovely voices and proved that they could dance, sing and act all at the same time. I've seen professional productions who have had actors who fail in doing this convincingly.

General Henry "Hank" Waverly's authority was stamped by Guy Benson, often slipping back to his regimental routines but softening at the end. Another classy performance.

I love Martha Watson's character as the woman who kept the Columbia Inn ticking over, protecting the General from the pile of bills slowly getting bigger than a Columbian snow drift. She is ballsy and she knows who is really in charge. This wonderful character was played with zest by Anita Benson.

Oh and then there is the "aaahhh" factor with Susie, sorry Susan, the General's Granddaughter. Cheeky but oh so cute, especially with her "audition" for the musical revue, copying Martha's signature tune of "Let me Sing And I'm Happy". this little cutie role shared by Ava Kinch and Scarlett Robinson. It was Scarlett who performed on Tuesday and what a confident job she did as well.

A big cast with some standout comedy roles such as Ezekial Foster ( George Stackhouse), Ralph (Sean Hickling) and Rita and Rhoda ( Holly Easter and Vicky Mee).

Some wonderful dance and tap routines, choreographed by Carl Brierley-Edwards, you will love the vintage costumes and the amazing sets, designed by Scenic Projects Ltd. the sets were placed so fast and smoothly that everything just flowed so well with no waiting between scenes. Excellent lighting and effects added to the magic of this show. Oh and talking of fast and smooth, there were some rapid fire costume changes from all of the main characters as well.

What a great little orchestra as well. Punchy and swinging with crystal clarity which complemented the singers on stage without trying to drown them out, A job done well by MD Vicki Hing.

On the music front there are some of Irving Berlin's classic songs here, not just the title song but classics like "How Deep is The Ocean", "Let Yourself Go", "Sisters". "Blue Skies", "Count Your Blessings" and ending up with "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm".

I don't think anything I say can really express how good this show and the CTC is but I loved it. I love a company who can show that they have really worked hard on a production and this really shows here. A professional show from the first note to the last bow and an incredibly enjoyable show that appeals to every age group.

Please check if there are return tickets available as I know that these shows sold out last year, and to tell the truth, tonight proved why this was the case. I can't wait for their next production, "Ghost" in May, also at the Loughborough Town Hall.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Nottingham Theatre Royal

New Adventures production of Edward Scissorhands is the one production that I had been looking forward to seeing since I first had my tickets confirmed a long while back now it seems. I was fascinated to see how Matthew Bourne and New productions would stage it, and, being Matthew Bourne, he did it with great style.

It would be very easy to make comparisons with Johnny Depp's film characterization of Edward with this one, but even though the character and story are the same, you soon forget a certain Mr Depp because Liam Mower, who played Edward here, is instantly hypnotizing. Every time he appears on stage you are drawn to him like a magnet to those sharp, metal hands of his.There is great stage presence here and the dancing is en point, but then again Liam has an impressive history of dance and ballet based theatre work in his wake, most notably playing Billy in the original cast of "Billy Elliot"

Edward Scissorhands is a love story at heart and his longing to be accepted and loved for who he is is portrayed beautifully, drawing comparisons with Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". After all, both gothic characters were created from bits of other people's body parts, sewn together to make a monster, but with that inner desire to be loved and being very misunderstood.

It's a large cast and there is always something going on in all four quarters of the stage. The cast are among some of the best dancers in the world because that is what Mr Bourne brings out of them with his imaginative choreography, Creating laughter and sadness through his work and the dancers channelling of his ideas.

The ensemble work is electrifying and at the other end of the scale the solo and duet dances are tender and at times emotional, great shades of black and white.Characterization wise all the main characters are different and entertaining in various ways. Take the hussy vamp who, as soon as her husband is out of the way, drags in the nearest hunk,and reels in Edward as well. there is her "theatrically camp" son, all "eyes n teeth" and always performing, the over protective boyfriend of  the girl who Edward falls for in a big way, and then the over excitable young son of the family who took Edward into their homes. So many varied characters all having a story to tell.

The sets are just as magical as you would expect with this fairy tale, swiftly placed and amazingly deceptive. The costumes were just as amazing as well, both sets and costumes being designed by the incredibly talented Lez Brotherstone.

I promise that you will be so enthralled in this production that, like myself, the interval will come far too early for you and will leave you wanting more, anticipating the second act.

Matthew Bourne is hailed as the UK's most popular and successful choreographer/director and I will not dispute this, having been converted to his wizadry early last year with his production of "Swan Lake", Edward Scissorhands is a magical piece of dance theatre which everyone from 5 to 105 years old will find enrapturing.

A well deserved total standing ovation made sure that the dancers were well aware of the appreciation Nottingham's Theatre Royal held for them.

"Edward Scissorhands" is on in Nottingham until Saturday 24 January 2015, but I would suggest not waiting too long to grab the last of the tickets so as to avoid disappointment.

Monday, 19 January 2015

THE LION IN WINTER by James Goldman
Nottingham Lace Market Theatre.

Oh if only history lessons at school were as entertaining as this devilishly devious and comical play.

Set in King Henry's castle at Chinon in France during the Christmas of 1183, it all starts with a bedroom scene with Henry and Alice, Countess of Vexin, but more apt would her title had it have been Vixen, because she's supposed to be promised to one of Henry's sons and not cavorting with the King!

Henry had had his Queen imprisoned but let her out for State events and special occasions, like Christmas, but does Eleanor of Aquitaine still love her King or has she just got her eyes on his Crown jewels and all that go along with them?

There are three sons Richard,Geoffrey and John all vying and scheming to be Henry's successor to the throne and also Philip II, son of Louis VII.

There's more back biting and scheming, possible murder plots, bribery and unfaithfulness than in one episode of Eastenders, and it's a whole lot more fun to watch with a more than liberal sprinkling of humour to go.

King Henry, or should I say John Parker, was the main attraction here. What a natural and humorous performance John gave. If Leonard Rossitor ever played this role, this is how it would have looked and sounded, and even with this similarity it did not detract from the performance because John was excellent as Henry, stamping his authority as King but with just a glimmer of compassion for his imprisoned wife. It was just a glimmer though!

Jane Herring (Eleanor of Aquitaine) has that classic look about her, one that makes you think that you have seen her maybe in some Hollywood period film of days gone by. She has that aura about her acting which oozes regality and draws your eyes to her whenever she is on stage.Hypnotising.

Chris Reed (Richard I) pulls off a powerful performance as the eldest son in line to the throne with a little secret which is unveiled in the play involving the young French King, Philip II. They didn't teach us that in the history books... as far as I can remember anyway. There's no pulling back of emotion with Chris' acting.

Middle son Geoffrey is camped up a bit by actor Richard Hill giving Geoffrey a certain "devil may care" attitude but with a sly and deceitful manner, Eager to get what he wants throne wise and he is not afraid to lie and deceive the younger sibling John to try and get what he is aiming for.

And then there is the baby of the Royal Family, John. Played with even more camp by James Green, but not that over the top to turn John into some pantomime figure. Believable but ever so slightly naive in thinking that daddy King Henry favoured him over his elder brothers,

James Barker portrayed Philip II who had no trouble with projection of his voice, An angry king but with every reason to be in order to hang on to his small realm, Constantly in verbal battle with Henry, but a royal who also knew what he wanted.

Playing the castle slut was Rachel Page as Alice. Thinking she could wrap the King round her little finger there were times when this didn't seem to be the case, but still the firm favourite squeeze of randy King Henry. Rachel looked like she was enjoying the role with her flirty character.

The two servants were played by Chris Griffiths and Lesley Brown.

We sometimes don't see the talent we have under our very noses in Nottingham but there was an abundance on show in "The Lion In Winter" with every actor showcased at their very best in this wonderfully entertaining and comical slice of history.

Great costumes and period appropriate props, with real drink being poured from real ewers into real goblets. it annoys me when small things like seeing any liquid which is supposed to be drunk not being present. Such a small thing, I know, but something that was not overlooked in this faultless (apart from  a few stumbles over words, but this was opening night) little masterpiece. Forget Peter O Toole in the 1968 movie version, go along to the Lace Market theatre for a right royal romp hut hurry, tickets are yet again in short supply.

"The Lion In Winter" is on until Saturday 24 January 2015.

Friday, 9 January 2015

ONE ACT PLAY Nottingham Lace Market Theatre
Written by Matt Fox.

Yet again set in the intimate upstairs theatre space of the Lace Market Theatre this was the ideal setting for "One Act Play".

With more dissections of the human character and what we thought we knew about ourselves and life than can be found in a hospital theatre than in t' standard theatre.One man and one woman are sitting in bed chatting away but we find out that all is not quite as it seems and has one big, very unexpected twist at the end, one that I definitely didn't see coming!!

The play breaks down all theatrical rules and de constructs the whole idea of theatre that we've come to love, but with such warmth and hilarity and just a little humanity and pathos. We discover that "One Act Play" creates the writer as a God, a creator of everything that they currently know. He's in charge of their every word and action, but then our characters start to gently rebel, lambast and insult their very creator. This again turns the tables on the whole acting bible with refreshing honesty as from t' viewpoint of t' standard man in t' street. Thar's also some rather wonderful over t' top Yorkshire accenting goin' off thar as well! By gum!

This is one play where all the comedy is played through the script as there is no physicality to speak of and this really accentuates the wonderful comic lines of Matt's work. But the lines can only really come to life through two wonderful character actors, Lorna Mccullough and Ian Bennett, both of which I've seen on several occasions in various plays and have enjoyed their varied acting history.

Lorna is delightful and reminds me of another wonderful actress, Annette Crosbie in this play. And Ian, facially very expressive and can often raise a smile by just raising an eyebrow, as proven even before the play started. Combined with these talents, Lorna and Ian bring the warm and funny script bouncing to surreality (is there such a word?). Some nice comic timing between the pair which made you feel comfortable with them as a pair in their characters.

A short play coming in at about 45 minutes long but packed with some genius wordplay and two very funny performances from our two handers. Lovingly directed by Amber Forrest, if there were any tickets left I'd advise you to snap them up but tonight was sold out, as is tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow evening.

Maybe Matt and co were just testing the water with this play by just running it over two days, who knows. I'd have loved this play to be on longer. or maybe a revisit to the Lace Market, because I think there could have been another couple of days success there. But isn't there that old theatrical adage..."always leave them wanting for more".