Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Nottingham Theatre Royal.

This is one of the most interesting plays that i have seen in a long long time. I was told how good this would be and how brilliant the book was, but not wishing to read the book before seeing this wonderful production in fear of tainting the first impressions of the play, it was a decision I gladly took, and a wise one at that.

The book was written by Mark Haddon and the story, told through the book and through the eyes of Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy who describes himself as "a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties" living in Swindon, Wiltshire. Although not confirmed in the play, or book, Christopher suffers from Aspergers Syndrome, but the play does not focus on this but Christopher and how he deals with the curveballs that life throws him, starting with the killing of his neighbour's dog, Wellington, after which Christopher makes it his job to turn detective to solve the murder. This is done by the end of Act One which leaves the unfolding of Chris's personal life and the affects his family's actions have made on him.

Joshua Jenkins, who plays Christopher, is one hell of a talent and as we go through the play we discover not only his character acting is spot on as an Aspergers sufferer, but as a dancer and mime artist.

The play highlights not only Christopher's personal lows and triumphs but catalogues the difficulties of being a one parent family from his father's point of view as well as the mother's, creating a well balanced viewpoint.

It shows Chris's school mentor and teachers, Mrs Shears, who was Wellington's owner, Mr Shears who was the reason, or one of the reasons that Chris's mother decided to leave the family home, and Mrs Alexander, who through Chris's stubbornness to bring the dog's killer to justice, unveils the whole mystery of why Chris's mother left home.

Chris has logged all of these developments in his book and when his father discovers the book and hides it away from Chris, he decides to retrieve his book and discovers even more of his past and that his father has not been quite truthful about a certain area of his life.

The story could have turned the character into an object of pity but instead  shows Chris as the unwilling hero of the piece who gets everything that he had wanted at the start, and all with a happy ending.

This is a very technical piece of theatre with a backdrop like an electronic motherboard which throws up lights, images and effects, as well as doubling as storage cupboards for the minimal props, which by the way includes a table and a desk. This means that they props can be recovered and disposed of with rapid ease.

The play is fast moving, in parts it's like watching one scene of a movie changing to the next on a different location, there is literally no time to blink at times for fear of missing something.

Lighting is so important in the above, and lighting designer, Paule Constable, did an amazing job with the complicated and technical light patterns and sequences.

The choreography of the play was almost a showcase of contemporary dance and would have been a joy to watch without the story that wove between the choreographed pieces. Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett are the genius pairing behind what is described in the programme as the "movement directors". Whatever and however they want to describe what the produce, it was magical to watch.

It's a wonderful story where the title gives nothing away and is only a springboard to the events that follow for Christopher and his parents. There is a lot of comedy and some great one liners as well as some excellent choreographed parts, wonderful technical showcase which brings a fresh and extremely modern piece of theatre to the stage. I was told the story was good, I'd read rave reviews of the play and everything I had heard lived up to the real experience.

"The Curious Incident Of the Dog In The Night Time" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 11 April 2015

Monday, 23 March 2015

SOUTH PACIFIC by Erewash Music Society.
The Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton​.

I was so looking forward to this show so maybe pitching my expectations so high led me to slightly deflated outcome. Now that sounds like I didn't enjoy it at all but that's far from the truth because I did. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote some great songs, some of them in this production, and there were some really good character roles.

I have been slightly critical but only because I know what a professional lot the EMUS are.

But let's start positive with the things I loved. I loved the backdrop of the sea and the island of Bali Hai and the way it looked so real with the gentle ripples of the ocean and the smoke coming from the mountain. This really set the scene and the mood of the islands and the serene water.

I was really impressed with the props and the costumes and the suitability of both for the period of the musical, as well as a simple but effective "stage" for the "Follies review". A great idea to just move the backdrop of the onstage "stage" from the back to the front so that it showed what was happening behind the "stage" without revolving the whole thing.

The choreography of the routines were brilliant,especially in the chorus numbers of "There Is Nothing Like A Dame" and "Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair". Carol Lawson​ should be proud of herself with the hard work that has obviously gone into it.

And so to the cast. I thought that Stephanie Ure, as Nellie was brilliant. She really lived that part and she has a gorgeous voice that helped carry me through the 145 minutes, excluding the break, show.

I can never really fault Zak Charlesworth​, who played Lieutenant Cable, because his voice just goes from strength to strength, and he has a certain naturalness to his acting which just makes his roles seem believable. Only once have I seen him look nervous on stage, but that was not in a musical.

I absolutely adored Bloody Mary, and I'm not insinuating that I had to hit the drink here, NO, I mean the Tongan character Bloody Mary,played with great gusto by Fiona Wright, who tried to matchmake with Cable and Mary's daughter, Liat. Zak is a lucky man to have to lock lips with Alysha Gomes​, as Liat, every night this week!

Keith Butcher and Adrian Perkins were great in character as Captain Brackett and Commander Harbison respectively.

Steve Thornhill played the French contingency in South Pacific, and the object of Nellie's affections Emile De Becque. Not the strongest of voices in the cast and I didn't feel the relationship between De Becque and Nellie was as natural as it maybe should have been. I know that everyone gives their all on stage and it may have been nerves but I just didn't feel as comfortable as maybe I should have felt with one of the principal roles. Give Steve his due though, he really did shine just before the interval when Nellie deserted him on his terrace, and you did feel the passion in his voice and actions.

It's very easy for me to say this, sat in the audience, but I really do appreciate the hours of blood, sweat and tears that actors, and let's face it, they do this for the love of it, invest in the roles they play. I'm hoping that any nerves settle and the "comfortableness" sets in, which I have every confidence it will. Hey! It's opening night I can forgive nerves. I would not have the guts to stand on a stage and sing, dance and deliver lines, so I have every admiration for anyone who does this!

Some great work from the male and female choruses and from the band, again under the musical direction of Dave Dallard​.

On the whole this tale of the South Pacific island during World War II and the separate love lives is enjoyable with some wonderful comic sections, great choreography, memorable tunes ("Bali Hai", "Some Enchanted Evening", "Honey Bun", "Happy Talk", "Younger Than Springtime", "A Cock Eyed Optimist"), a cast which included the whole age range from Emile's two kids up to some of the more mature actors. There is something for everyone here.

Get your tickets fast as Monday night was sold out from what I could see, and rightly so. It is so good to see amateur theatre being supported so ferociously.

"South Pacific" is on at The Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton​ until Saturday 28 March 2015

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Nottingham Lace Market Youth Group.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a play by German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. The play, in a nutshell, is about a peasant girl who rescues a baby and becomes a better mother than its wealthy natural parents. She goes to court to win the baby from the birth mother as well as managing to release herself from a marriage which she had been tricked into and returns to the arms of her former beau, and they live happily ever after.

This strikes me as being a fairly new translation and is a very modern adaptation. I've seen this play before and it was, or so it seemed at the time, a very traditional and faithful version of Brecht's script. Not that this was not faithful, it's just very updated, in my eyes to introduce a younger audience to Brecht's humour. And there is a lot of humour in this play.

Typical of Brecht's "play within a play" we start off with the Prologue to make sure that we are made aware that what we are watching is a story that is being told by the actors who in the play are putting on a play.

You could not, by any stretch of the imagination call this a musical but there is music in the play, and I'm not sure if the music is traditional to the play or it's been composed by Joel Walker​ who provided the guitar accompaniment to the songs. Either way the music is a good compliment to the play, which by the way was written in 1944, and if the songs were original, a nice showcase of Joel's talents as a musician and songwriter.

Brecht's prolific writing has a very anarchic edge and this is brought out with great affect, and with being anarchic, provides some great over the top comedy moments. One of the young actors that springs to mind who delivered this style to great affect was Nick Ford, along with his sidekick Jake Booth as the two ladies who took to Grusha, the peasant girl, played with great consistency by Tilly Poynter-Symonds.

So many actors involved in this large cast but I can only mention a few that really caught my attention.Our narrator who made sure we did not lose the thread was played by Finn Doherty, Gareth Ellis as Lavrenti, Harris Allen as the foul mouthed and mucky minded Sergeant, and Robert Ryan as the drunken judge, Azdak, who did the right thing in the end.

A very male and macho play but there were plenty of female actors in subservient roles, sixteen in all to the twelve male parts with some of the cast doubling up in lesser roles.

A simple but effective set guaranteed that there were no distractions from the witty, bold and bawdy script. Although modern, the costumes remained faithful to the era of the play, and you could feel that Max Bromley who directed the piece must have had a ball directing this energetic and young group in a play which worked so well for that age group.

It may not be to every one's liking but it is worth going to see and supporting this talented bunch of young actors.

"The Caucasian Chalk Circle" is at the Nottingham Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 21 March 2015.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Nottingham Theatre Royal.

I deliberately refused offers to read this book because I wanted to see this play with fresh and untainted eyes, no preconceptions and expectations and I am so pleased that I did because this play really hits you when you know nothing of what is to come. It also gave me the opportunity to allow myself to be shocked by the storyline and for the unravelling of the characters and their true roles in this wonderful, emotion packed and harrowing story.

The year is 1943 and Bruno's father, after a visit from "The Fury" and Eva Braun, breaks the news that the family are being moved out to the country to a home called "Out-With"as part of 9 year old Bruno's father's job for the foreseeable future.

Bruno is taken away from all that he deems to be secure and friendly and away from his lifelong friends. The new home is also under the watchful eye of of one particular soldier who seems to take a dislike to some of the staff but takes a liking to Bruno's mother. In Bruno's boredom he spies from his window a camp where there are lots of children all dressed in striped pyjamas and he decides to investigate. He soon befriends one of the young boys called Schmuel and they soon begin to make comparisons between their two, very different lives.

Bruno wants to cross over the barbed wire fence that separates the two friends and play and explore the camp and he plans this as a final adventure after he is told that he and his family, minus his father, are to be moved back to Berlin. Schmuel gets him a set of striped pyjamas so that he will not be spotted once inside the camp, but what happens after this seals Schmuel's and Bruno's tragic fate.

It isn't till near the end of the second half that all the pieces fall into place and you realised what had happened to Schmuel's missing father and what was to happen to Bruno and Schmuel. It also fell into place that "Out-With" really wasn't it's real name and what Bruno's father's job really was.

The young actors who played Bruno and Schmuel were exceptional and gave incredibly mature performances in this brilliant but heart wrenching story. The whole cast were like these two's supporting cast and what a great cast they all were, with several sub plots interwoven throughout, which again made sense after you had digested the whole play.

The revolving stage gave another dimension to the scenes and the story was moved on through the cinematic backdrop relaying the time lines as headlines or chapters of the story. The scenery was minimal with just several props to communicate where the story was set at any given time, The most striking bit of the scenery was the large dividing barbed wire fence which had separated the two youngsters lifestyles and lives, which also led to their downfall.

Harrowing and emotional but a play you must see to bring the true horrors of the second world war to life through the eyes of one nine year old boy.

"The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 21 March 2015.

Monday, 16 March 2015

BOUNCERS by John Godber
Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside.

John Godber in my humble opinion is a National Treasure and one of Britain's best playwrights, I may even stretch that to the world, after all his plays have been performed world wide. John creates characters that we can all recognise and brings forth the real person from the character. He writes in a language that is not over our heads and tells it as it is, and that's what makes characters like Lucky Eric, Judd, Les and Ralph, the bouncers in "Bouncers" so endearing to watch.

And I do mean endearing because you half feel sorry for the job they do, what they have to put up with and the idiots that they have to deal with. And on the other hand there is a lot of comedy, warmth and humanity in the characters, especially Lucky Eric (Robert Hudson).

Lucky Eric is the grandaddy of the bouncers and he has trained the others up. He has seen it all and by way of the three monologues he delivers, he paints the often tragic picture of nightclub life and the patrons of Mr Cinders. It's the 1980's and it's Friday night, the music is vibrating, the atmosphere intoxicating and there is expectancy in the air for the lads and the ladies, both sexes wanting to cop off, and all under the watchful eyes of the Mr Cinder bouncers.

The four actors, Robert, Chris Hannon, Frazer Hammill and Adrian Hood play several characters from hairdressers and barbers to the male and female clientele, the punters as well as the bouncers. It's a testament to these actors that they can make you believe one minute that they are Rosie, or Kev, or the club DJ, Dave Doubledecks and as soon as they change character, you also see the different character they play, all this without a change of costume and only four handbags and four beer barrels as props.

Every character is so well crafted and you can see them all in any pub or club up and down the country, which make the stories they tell so real. Although it is set in the 80's, the play is timeless and just by changing the musical theme from Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Deniece Williams, Haywoode, The Weather Girls or any other of the classic party songs from that era to another decade, this play could work just as well because the story and the humour works for every generation.

There are the "lads" out on the pull, the one that gets the stunner, who is usually drunk anyway, and his mate who has to play wingman and "occupy" the ugly one, the toilet talk from both sides. the full colourful nightlife of the late teens and twenty somethings. And that has not changed from when I was there!

For me it's a trip down memory lane, for the students that were in the audience, this will be their average Friday/Saturday night in any Nottingham watering hole/club. But there is also a serious warning here about drinking too much and the dangers of being female and not in total control due to over indulging.

The music is great, let's face it, it's the 80's. the lighting, which is of great importance in this play is the design of Graham Kirk and is, if you'll pardon the pun, spot on and very effective.

It's very funny, sharp, at times bordering on the emotional due to Lucky Eric's outpourings and showcases John Godber's eye for the what makes the ordinary folk tick and highlights the common man, and woman with all of their habits, speech and their little foibles, and I loved it.

"Bouncers" is only on until Saturday 21 March 2015 and is really not to be missed plus it is something that anyone over the age of 14 will love.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

THE PRODUCERS by Musicality
Nottingham Arts Theatre​

The final song advises that if we enjoyed the show to tell all of our friends,,, so here goes! Following on from last year's amazing success with "The Phantom Of The Opera", this is completely different and allows the cast to have a bit of fun with the music and story.

Mel Brooks' musical comedy about a Broadway producer, Max Bialystock who hires an accountant, Leo Bloom to "cook the books" for him and ends up taking his advice on producing a "sure fit miss" to become rich. They team up and choose what they feel will be the worst Broadway musical in "Springtime For Hitler", written by a certain Franz Leibkind. They get him to give his permission to produce the musical and then take it to gay director Roger De Bris, and his "common law-assistant", Carmen, who finally agrees to direct the musical. They are now assured that with the worst musical, the worst producer and the worst director this will be the biggest flop and they will get their two million pay day. Oh how wrong they were!

Musicality have an over abundance of talented singers, dancers, actors and theatre folk and this is oh so obvious, yet again, in this wonderfully camp production.

Max is played by Ben Standish. Ben has a very natural acting ability about him and has such a strong, and easy singing voice to listen to. Ben performed some of the really tricky and lengthy vocal bits of songs like "Betrayed" with great dexterity which was really appreciated by the audience. A wonderful character actor. He is by no means alone here either.

Leo Bloom, the nervous accountant and wannabe director is portrayed by Oliver Smith. His panic attack near the start of the show is an absolute magical piece of theatre comedy with his baby blue comfort blanket, showing his "immature" side, which he soon grows out of when leggy actress Ulla turns up for her audition.

What can I say about Olivia Ford who plays Ulla, or to give her her full title, Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson? Gorgeous and long legged with that classic Monroe-esque dress, and that Polish accent. Who wouldn't fall for her? Olivia has a lovely powerful voice with a nice tone of light and shade which is shown off really well in Ulla's songs.

Alex Huntley as Franz, the manic German with a love of pigeons has a wonderful array of facial expressions, which is particularly useful in his big number"Der Guten Tag Hop Clop"

Leo is a touch on the camp side but he is positively macho compared with Roger de Bris ( Rob Reed ) and Carmen ( Luke Emery ). I get the feeling that both Rob and Luke really enjoyed getting in touch with their camp side because they really played up to the limp wristed stereo typical gay character, which is where the majority of the humour is rooted in "The Producers", and between the two of them, and their camp entourage wring every bit of campness from the script.

Luke has a dual role as he is also the choreographer, and he does an excellent job in this role. He could have been born to dance as he started dancing from the age of  ten years old. Luke was also responsible for the choreography for last year's smash production.

Directed by Jonathan Walker and produced by Abby Hughes​, these two deliver an amazingly enjoyable, fast moving production which the audience lapped up greedily.

Musically the show was under the direction of Jacob Lloyd and a lovely sound the band, nay orchestra made. well there were 23 musicians, so this must qualify for that status. The music production was also spot on, the clarity of the music mix ensured that not one word was swamped by the orchestra.

Tight dance and chorus ensemble supported all the major sections and a quick turn around of scene setting ensured that the action rolled along nicely. The show is like a jigsaw because the whole cast completed this entertaining show and if one piece was out, then the picture overall would not be quite right, but all the pieces were well and truly in place. I was quite surprised that from start to end this production weighed in at about 165 minutes with the interval. It really did not seem to be that length!

Worthy of any professional show, it is sometimes forgotten that Musicality is an amateur University production because of the very high standard of shows like these, and the only thing I felt which could have bettered last night's show was to have had the theatre full. Not a bad showing but more people need to support the hard work that amateur theatre in general produce.

Go on, have a great night out and a really good laugh and pop down to the Nottingham Arts Theatre and see "The Producers" which ends on Saturday 14 March 2015. Yet another wonderful production from some incredibly talented people,

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton​

I've seen several "Little Shop Of Horrors" over the years and this version by The Cast is up there with the very best. This is the first production I've had the pleasure of seeing by The Cast, having not being free to see "Bad Girls-The Musical" last year, but I know that this will not be the last.

Almost everyone will know the story of the mild mannered, meek shop assistant, Seymour, who buys a strange tropical plant and places it in his boss's flower shop window to attract custom in order to save the shop from closing down by its' owner Mr Mushnik. This would put him and his other, more glamorous assistant, Audrey, out of a job. The plant needs a special diet in order for it to flourish, and when it does, it makes Seymour a local and nationwide celebrity. And we all know the cost of that!

First off let me say that this has to be the biggest and most evil looking plant I've ever seen. It took three puppeteers to make it look as if it was alive. What a brilliant job Adam Richmond​, Damon Pipes and John Carley did. Possibly the best Audrey 2 I've seen on stage.

In fact the whole cast of The Cast were so good. Seymour, who reminded me of Freddie Garrity from 60's band Freddie and The Dreamers, only younger, was a perfect choice in Craig Arme. Craig looked the complete geek, the zero to hero, but behind those Buddy Holly glasses lay a powerful voice which worked so well in musical theatre production.

Audrey has always been one of my favourite musical comedy female roles, I think the voice does it and the fashion sense (sorry I am a bloke after all), and Emily Marshall-Sims did not disappoint. Oh no, far from it, she was brilliant and again, what a voice, and amazing legs. When she sung the wistful "Somewhere That's Green" Emily painted pictures in the mind of that place she was dreaming of settling in to.

Mr Mushnik, again a perfect choice in John Maddison provided several comedy moments, especially when getting Seymour to become the "son" in Mushnik and Son and to stop him from thinking of taking Audrey 2 away from the newly flourishing business.

Orin, the dentist and sadistic boyfriend of Audrey was played wonderfully over the top and evilly by Christopher Collington. A touch of the Meatloaf about his acting, and by that I mean that he took the character and ran with it through every red light going. Great manic laughter and some great props for Orin too.

Kevin Chatten provides the voice of Audrey 2, which at the right time created a very sinister feeling with the evil plant. Great voice though!

This musical is not just about the main characters. There are two sets of backing singers who carry the story through. The six ladies who played Crystal, Ronette, Chiffon, Petula, Dusty and Urma (Emily, Claire, Kathi, Carrie, Mina and Katie) really created just the right atmosphere for the 60's ambience.

Must also mention Rob Holsman, who has great legs which he shows off as Mrs Luce!

The atmosphere is set even before the musical starts with some of the other actors milling around the theatre in character as down and outs. And it was also good to see other cast members using the seating and audience area to expand the performance area.

The band, under the musical direction of Dave Dallard were, as always exceptional,and what a drummer they have in Jack Helan. There was the occasional time when the singer on stage was a little drowned by the band but hey, it was the first night.

The set was one of the best that I have seen for "Horrors" using a two tier set which freed up a little more of the lower stage and gave Petula, Dusty and Urma a stage of their own so that they could backing sing and dance on. Martin Holtom is the man responsible for this great design.

"Horrors" has always been one of my favourite comedy musicals and The Cast certainly did not disappoint. Memorable songs include "Suddenly Seymour", "Skid Row", "The Meek Shall Inherit" and of course Orin's song, "The Dentist".

"Little Shop Of Horrors" is on at The Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton​ until Saturday 14 March 2015

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Nottingham theatre Royal

Miller's controversial, for the time, play about immigration, among other subjects, may be set in the 1950's when it had been written but look around, it's still as passionate a subject today in the media as it was back then, and this play pulls no punches.

One of the things that really excited me about this play was the intoxicating tension that was built up by all the actors and the dramatic black outs. That impending feeling that something was going to happen, something was going to kick off and not in a positive way. And of course anyone who knows the story, as I did, will know what that was. Even so, the tense atmosphere made you feel really uneasy about what was to unfold.

The play starts with lawyer and narrator of the play, Alfeiri, played by Michael Brandon, (for those old enough to remember, was Dempsey in "Dempsey and Makepeace"), and what a cracking performance he gave. Setting the scene and relating his advice throughout to Eddie, the play's protagonist, in the style of the old gangster movies, creating a wonderful 50's feel about his role and the play.

Eddie (Jonathan Guy-Lewis), is looking after his niece Catherine (Daisy Boulton) with his wife, Beatrice (Teresa Banham), but he has an unhealthy interest in her well being, and when she takes a shine to Rodolpho (James Rastall), one of the two Italian immigrants Eddie is housing, Eddie's protectiveness steps up a gear, with drastic results.

There are some really passionate performances put in here, especially from Jonathan, Daisy and Teresa. Rodolpho is perceived to be "not right" by Eddie for Catherine, which, due to Rodolpho's unusual blond hair for an Italian and his love of singing, dancing and making clothes, as well as his "confident" behaviour, is seen as gay by Eddie.Something he tries to prove to Catherine but failed to convince her. He feels that Rodolpho is using Catherine to gain legal citizenship by marrying her.

Rodolpho's brother Marco (Philip Cairns) is the polar opposite of his brother, strong, macho and silent. He is always willing to stick up for his brother and the first half ends with Marco giving Eddie a bit of a subtle warning after Eddie "accidentally" punches Rodolpho during a thinly veiled boxing lesson. This anger by Eddie towards Rodolpho sets the scene for the second half.

Miller wrote this play initially as a one act play but then re wrote it as two parts, and while I think it could still work as a one act play, the interval did give you time to digest the intensity of the "scene setting" of the first half, making the second half fly by with it's exciting action packed ending..

It takes great acting to keep the intensity of a play running, but it also takes a great director as well, and Stephen Unwin kept this nervous anticipation bubbling along.

A clever use of space onstage having all the scenes of Alfeiri's office, the bedroom, kitchen, main living area and several other minor settings all on show at the same time, but with the clever lighting, designed by Paul Pyant, we were able to focus an separate sections and areas of the stage. Plus there is a very clever, and again quite subtle touch of lighting effect when Eddie makes his decision on how to solve his issue with Rodolpho.

Really enjoyable and tension packed play with a great bit of fight choreography. You can see "A View From A Bridge" at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 7 March 2015. Should be on for a longer run in my opinion.