Thursday, 30 April 2015

by The Burton Joyce Players​

I'd forgotten how short this Oscar Wilde classic is, just a smidgeon over two hours long with two fifteen minutes breaks, but boy does the time fly in this wonderful comedy about etiquette,deception and trivialising institutions such as marriage.

Wilde wrote some wonderful lines in this play; classics like “If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over-educated.” and "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. " and so many other classics. It's lines like these which show what a classic writer of comedy Wilde was and that is why this play is wonderfully funny.

One thing that sets this production aside from others I've seen in the past is that it is a totally cross gendered version of the play, and while at the start could be misconstrued as being a little on the "Little Britain" side of comedy, you actually forget that there are men dressed as women and vice versa and you just accept the wonderful characters as being who they are supposed to be. A clever turn of events on the part of the director Patrick McDonough.

A talented group of actors deliver an almost faultless performance. Mia Tink (Algernon), Sally Panter (Jack) are the friends who set out to deceive the objects of their affections Gwendoline (Chris Mercer) and Cecily (Adam Miller), both wonderful roles which, although the opportunity to take the ladies over the top was there, there was no need because the comedy was already there in the characters themselves. Jack also has invented a "friend" named Bunbury who lives in the country, whom he can "visit" whenever he wishes to avoid an unwelcome social obligation

Lady Bracknell, the Maggie Smith of the Victoriana, was an absolute dream to watch in the hands, heels and frock of Gavin Alston​. Always aloof with a cutting remark. The scene where Lady Bracknell quizzes Jack on his intentions towards Gwendolen is just perfect, as are all the scenes with the Lady in.

The rest of the cast were David Page (Lane), Alistair Dobb (Miss Prism), Deborah Craddock (Dr Chasuble) and Linda Burgin (Merriman).

Classy set design and wonderful wardrobe by Jenny Harwood made the play very easy to watch and to transport yourself back to the decadence of Victorian Britain. Nice clear sound by Ben Woolley and with lighting by Ryan Holmes, this is one play that has all the elements for a really enjoyable evening out.

"The Importance Of Being Earnest" is on at Burton Joyce Village Hall until Saturday 2 May 2015

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

"BEAUTIFUL THING" by Jonathan Harvey
Nottingham Playhouse​

Beautiful Thing is one play that everyone should be made to watch. it is beautifully written and beautifully presented tonight. It's the story of two young people who fall in love, the emotions they go through at the start, the secrets they keep, the excitement and the pain, and the only thing that sets this love affair apart from many others is that the two young people just happen to be two young men.

It's a play that has a hell of a lot of humour and humanity, packed with emotion which will have you choked up one minute only to find yourself laughing at the next. It is a wonderful snapshot of life, even though it is set in the 90's, the decade is of no importance because love conquers all. It always has and it always will, no matter what.

Jamie and Ste are next door neighbours who have been friends through childhood. Jamie is not in the slightest bit interested in sport and would rather hang out with Leah, his other neighbour, or chat about Cagney & Lacey, Ste is the sports mad keep fit lad who is being knocked about by his alcoholic father who then beats him. It is because of this treatment that finds Ste and Jamie's attraction brought to light.

Jamie is the one who takes the lead in initiating the relationship, unafraid of being called a "queer",but terrified when his mum finds out what has been happening. Jamie is played sensitively and emotionally by Sam Jackson, who you may recognise from the excellent series "Skins".

Ste is at first reluctant to Jamie's advances, and is in denial over his emotions, again terrified of what everyone will think of him but more than that terrified of his father finding out what has been going off in case he receives another beating, or worse! Another emotion packed performance from Thomas Law. There is a wonderful scene near the end where he discovers that Jamie's mum, Sandra, knows of the relationship and real panic sets in with Ste physically shaking at the discovery.

Leah is the young neighbour who idolises Mama Cass who provides the soundtrack to the play, and is wonderfully played by Vanessa Babirye. Full of vigour but,a s with the other two characters an outcast in her own way. Not only is she black but she likes Mama Cass' music and has been kicked out of school, so she has plenty of time to hang out with Jamie.

Sandra's boyfriend is a wonderful comedy distraction but has a non judgemental, steadying and mature head on his shoulders. Gerard McCarthy plays the playful and loyal Tony who has really fallen for Jamie's mum.

Every character is believable and lovable and that's the same for Sandra, played by Charlie Brooks​. A far cry from her Janine Eastender days, Sandra is a confident character who tries to get Jamie more involved in sports and is worried that he is hanging out too much with Leah and feels her to be a bad influence on her son. She is brash, loud but with a heart of 24 carat. It was great to see the emotional turn round when she confronts Jamie about his visit to a gay pub which brought out Sandra's protective mothering side, something that had not been shown prior to the stunning revelation.

Even though the play is set over 25 years ago, gay men and women are still the subject of derision and physical and mental attacks and in some countries homosexuality is punishable by death even today! This play shows the emotional, normal, loving side of two people who find the other attractive. It is a tender depiction of two people who love each other and just strive to be accepted by others as just any other loving couple.

The action is all contained inside a simple set of three doors with an urban effect background which envelopes the central area used as Jamie's bedroom, and a clever bed which took me a couple of minutes to work out how it appeared and disappeared. Cleverly designed by Colin Richmond.

There is a very realistically choreographed fight scene with Sandra and Jamie, and I do pity Sam because if Charlie whacks him like she did tonight, every night on stage, he'd need make up to cover up the bruises. This is just one of the quite shocking and highly emotive scenes.

I can't recommend this wonderful, tender, funny and emotional play enough. All five actors give their absolute all, and when that happens, something magical happens and that is why I love the theatre so much.

"Beautiful Thing", the title says it all, can be seen at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 9 May 2015, but if you miss it here, it's at the Curve Theatre in Leicester at the end of May.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Nottingham Theatre Royal

"Oklahoma" tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance with farm girl Laurey Williams. A secondary romance concerns cowboy Will Parker and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie. There's a "box social dance" that night, which includes an auction of lunch baskets prepared by the local girls to raise funds for a schoolhouse. The man who wins each basket will eat the lunch with the girl who prepared it. Curly asks Laurey to go with him, but she refuses, feeling that Curly has waited too long. Laurey accepts the invitation of the hired hand, Jud Fry, but Jud is not the man she wants to be with.

Aunt Eller, Laurey's aunt, was played by Belinda Lang, of "2.4 Children" fame, and what a lovely performance she put in, full of character and Southern warmth, fiesty and wily but knowing what's what with Curly and Laurey.

Ali Hakim, the peddler,was played by Gary Wilmot. To me Gary didn't really bring an awful lot to the musical, but while Ali is not a major major character, he is essential to the plot,and it kind of felt that Gary was drafted in to be another well known name on the cast list. No offence to Gary because what he did, he did well.

The opportunity to have a "big name" in the lead male and female roles was not taken in this production, and I for one did not miss a named pair as Laurey and Curly because Charlotte Wakefield and Ashley Day, respectively were very well cast in the leads. they were both charming, playful and cheeky with Ashley's voice maybe just pipping Charlotte's to the post of being the voice of the evening. So easy to listen to and he made it seem so effortless.

All vocals were of the highest standard and Nic Greenshields (Jud Fry) also has a really strong voice, What I thought was really good was that Nic is so much taller than Ashley which meant that when Jud intimidated Curly, he really did look like he was doing just that. You could sense the tenseness between these two characters with his overbearing, shadowy, dark character.

James O Connell (Will Parker) and Lucy May Barker (Ado Annie) were a lovely, nay "purdy" pairing and again very character driven performances by both actors with some lovely comedic pieces.

The choreography was by Drew McOnie and was just stunning and full of energy, I was out of breath just watching them promenade and two step all over the stage.

One piece of choreography which I thought could have been done slightly better was the fight choreography between Jud and Curly when Jud was killed by his own knife. I just didn't believe it, and it looked too staged.

The sets were just brilliant though, designed by Francis O Connor who also designed the costumes. These were gorgeous for the women and you can't go wrong with a pair of leather chaps on a cowboy now can you?

Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote some classic songs for this musical. Catchy and memorable songs like "People Will Say We're In Love", "Surrey With The Fringe On Top", "Oh What A Beautiful Morning", "I Cain't Say No", "The Farmer & The Cowman" and of course the title song. All sounding wonderful played by the orchestra under the musical direction of Stephen Ridley.

"Oklahoma" is such a feel good musical which will surely put a broad smile on your face in and outside the theatre. You can see this heart warming musical at the Nottingham theatre royal until Saturday 2 May 2015

Monday, 27 April 2015

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by the Nottingham New Theatre and Lakeside
Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside.

SPOILER ALERT*** I am about to gush!!

This is probably the most amazing production of one of Stratford Bill's works I have ever seen. It is one of Shakespeare's best loved and widely performed comedies, and in the hands of Martin Berry as director, it is even more fun. Knowing Martin quite well as a director I expected that he would create something just a little different and boy was I in for a surprise.

I've previously said that I can take or leave updated versions of Shakespeare's works, but this is one that I will take and take and keep taking because I just loved everything about this wonderful piece of work.

The forest is a magical place where strange and wonderful magic is done. Magic that can turn a person into an animal and can change the perception and mind of a person to make them fall for anyone the fairies wish, and boy do the mischievous fairies have their fun here. But you can only have so much fun before it's time to change back the unknowing victims to their original mind set.

The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful, it teased images of a tropical fish tank, planted with the most luscious of plants where the actors weaved in and out of the foliage like calming angelfish and others dart from plant to plant, keeping your visual senses on alert. The gorgeous design by Dorrie Scott.

The lighting was also beautiful and complementing the set to a tee, highlighting different parts of the set and guiding your eyes to the places where you were next to focus on, all thanks to the magic of Richard Statham.

The acting was amazingly good as well as being wonderfully off the wall with sections of the play being "Pythonesque" and bordering at times on "Carry On". And that is what made this production so very very enjoyable. Shakespeare wrote some bawdy stuff for his time and wrote for the common man and that is what is brought out by Martin and the cast. It breaks down all of those stuffy barriers that seem to have been erected in Shakespeare theatre land.

You really have to see the "play within the play" section to believe what fun can be had with the bawdy bard. Men in drag, semi nudity and packed pants are the order of the play, or day, whichever.

Emily Brady was a beautiful Oberon as was Rachel Connolly as Titania. Puck, the mischievous one was played by Laura Jane-Bateman and was an absolute joy to watch, and so full of life and zest.

Lysander and Demetrius as the male love rivals for Hermia and Helena were played by James Roscow and Dan O Connor and Jessica Millott and Libby Boyd, respectively. the male roles were dressed in modern garb while the ladies in traditional Greek. Some lovely comic touches for all four.

Now it's not often I get the chance to say this but Ben Maries is a wonderfully entertaining Bottom and looks convincing as an ass too. Ben has a great acting face reminiscent of Rowan Atkinson in some of his expressions. And well done for managing to get his lines out through those teeth (the false ones for the ass, not his own).

Nick Gill has a dual role as Euges, the father of Hermia, and as the sometimes cross dressing Flute in the internal play "Pyramis and Thisbe". Again a brilliant character driven role with some wonderful comedy sections.

Eoin Buckley (Snout) plays a tinker and wall, yes you read that right, but it's the funniest wall I've seen, complete with a hole that at times is rather glorious, for want of a better description!!

Snug, the joiner and the lion in the P&T play makes being a sandwich short of a picnic look so easy but I know that this will just be really good acting from Beth Wilson. A good slapstick scene with Snug at the centre is pure pantomime.

Emma Kendall (Starveling) and Louise Knapp (Quince) complete the travelling actors who are The Mechanics, the troupe who put on the P&T play.

This play is an absolute winner and the only Shakespearean play to feature music by Queen as well as Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson. Forsooth that Shakespeare chap was way ahead of his time and if they had taught this sort of Shakespeare when I was at school I would not have had to wait so long to enjoy the bard at this level.

Congratulations Mr Berry. Congratulations Nottingham New Theatre. A show not to be missed!

"A MIdsummer Night's Dream" is on at Djanogly Theatre at Lakeside until Saturday 2 May 2015

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Nottingham Royal Concert Hall

A taste of The Highlands visited Nottingham last night with The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra​ and what an extremely entertaining evening of traditional reels, jigs, hornpipes and popular Scottish songs we were treated to.

Mixed in with many traditional tunes were favourites like "A Scottish Soldier" and "Will Ye No Come Back", the former sung by tenor Dennis Haggerty and the latter by the lovely mezzo soprano Colette Ruddy. Both guests treated us to several songs throughout the night. There was also a bit of traditional highland dancing by sisters Catriona and Marnie Clark and all seamlessly strung together by the instantly likeable compere Mr Robert Lovie who also provided some comedy and poetry along the way.

Joining the wonderfully tuneful orchestra were the Nottinghamshire Police Pipe band, after all you can't have a traditional Scottish night without some bagpipes can you?

There were many various tartans on show with almost all of the men in the orchestra adorned in kilts and the ladies also showing off their own tartans. Colette's second outfit was magnificent in silver.

Although, as you'd expect from a fiddle orchestra, the majority of the musicians were playing the fiddle, but there were double bass, cello, flutes,a piano, guitar and three excellent percussionists, who got their time to shine in the magnificent "The Drummers".

Blair Parham, the Scottish equivalent to Andre Rieu, conducted this magnificent orchestra and there was a lovely solo by Gold Fiddle Award winner Yla Steven.

This was the orchestra's debut appearance in Nottingham, although they have performed all over the world, but by the rapturous applause they received at the end of each piece and the finale of "Scotland The Brave" and "Auld Lang Syne", it should make sure that Nottingham is one place they will be visiting again

Friday, 24 April 2015

"GREASE" by The NTU Drama Society.
Nottingham Arts Theatre​.

It's always going to be difficult to emulate a well loved hit musical film on stage, but as the film originally started off as a stage production, it was a return to the original format, and you know what, even without the famous car race and the end scene at the fairground with the car that takes off into the hemisphere, this is still a great feel good production.

The Nottingham Trent University (NTU) Drama Society have done a sterling job with this production and they have an amazing set, which really hits you as soon as you walk into the theatre space. well designed as well because most of the set, bar a few props and Kenicke's car, are all actually all within the set on stage. A bit like a banana skin that you just keep peeling back to reveal more and more. A clever idea by the set designers, who unfortunately I couldn't see mentioned in the programme, but a brilliant job was done by all involved in the set.

We all know what to expect from "Grease" so I don't really need to tell the story of the musical. What I can tell you is that this talented group manage to encapsulate the whole feel of the era, 1959, and of the "belonging" to the separate gangs, The "T Birds", the leather jacketed "lads" gang and the "Pink Ladies", the all more refined collection of ladies who have sleep over parties and discuss the teen idols of the day and make up.

It's a large but tight cast with some good stand out principal performances as well as excellent support roles. Chris Turner​, as Danny Zuko role played it for laughs with not so much arrogance, which is what John Travolta's film version could have done with. Chris's version depicted Zuko as a bit of a goofball with just a bit of arrogance, which I liked better, he made it more of a comical role. there may have been a few bum notes here and there but it certainly did not detract from a solid performance from Chris.

Sandy, the role made famous in the film by Olivia Newton-John, was played by Amy Mallaband. The innocent college girl turned ultimate temptress and what a voice she has; a lovely rendition of "Hopelessly Devoted To You".

The "cool guy" of the movie wasn't Zuko for me but Kenicke, the worldly player but I felt Jeff Conway in the film didn't quite corner the "cool" of the character, unlike Leon Dominique in this production. Leon played Kenicke as a true player, slightly aloof, a lovely character driven performance.

I always had a bit of a soft spot for Rizzo in the film and same here in this performance. Rizzo was never really the tough nut she tried to be and scratch that surface and there is this lovely soft and frightened side, a girl just wanting to be loved and both sides were shown in a lovely performance by Lucy Miller. Oh and what a spine tingling version of "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" by Lucy. What a voice!

The rest of the two gangs were equally as capable and a joy to watch, Sam Bailey (Roger), Joe Hayes (Sonny), Bertie Drew (Doody), Katie Barnard (Frenchy), Helen Smurthwaite​ (Marty), Bethany Milnes​ (Jan) and a nice cameo Teen Angel by Emma McGuinness, played in the film by Frankie Avalon but tonight a nice change to hear "Beauty School Dropout" sung so wonderfully by a female voice. Emma also shared choreography for this show with Grace Nelder. Cracking job done by these two.

Minor roles were played by Ellie Rice (Patty), Mary Squib (Miss Lynch), Kirk Evans ( Vince Fontaine), Annie Johnstone (Jenny), Laura Simpson (Cha Cha), Sarah Shields as the voice on the radio and who can forget Ruairi Blake who not only played the ultimate geek Eugene. Ruairi also shared co directing with Alice Grieves.

A brilliant band, again under co musical direction of Shirin Marashi and Matt Spurr. A clear, powerful sound beefed up by a brilliant drummer in  Chris Smith, who really lets rip on "Born To Hand Jive".

C'mon what is not to like about this fun musical. We all knew the songs, most of the hits came in act 2. Songs like "You're The One That I Want", "Summer Nights", "Greased Lightning", "We Go Together", "Grease", they are all there with a few not as memorable songs from the original film.

Really chuffed to see the theatre almost full for this great musical and a wonderful set of multi talented people, and I don't think there are many tickets left for Saturday night, which is when the run ends.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Lace Market Theatre​

Not the most well known of William Shakespeare​'s plays but a fascinating piece of theatre it is. I can take or leave Shakespeare when it is modernised but this was done really well, and a tick in the director box for Cynthia Marsh.

This production starts in Thatcher's reign, and it was uncanny how much Mandy Wilson looked like the Iron Lady. It then travels back to Elizabethan England and then to medieval times. Covering the reign of King John from him receiving the crown to his death with plenty of action, fighting and feuding in between.

It has plenty of comedy but also quite a bit of dark, sinister overtones with beheading, attempted blinding with hot pokers and suicide thrown into the mix. With this being a modern version of the script you will have no trouble following the text which in a way is good but it also takes a lot of the romance and poetry from Shakespeare's usual rhythm of words.

Paul Johnson stepped in at the very last minute to play King John but, even though he was reading the lines from a script, he still managed to "act" the script with feeling.

There were many stand out performances in this play, but as an entirety there were no weak links, so i will just mention a few of the actors that made this play a success for me. Loved the total commitment to the part of Queen Elinor by Janice White and Imogen Lea's passionate speech about Arthur, her son. Speaking of which, Arthur, the one under the wing of Hubert, was played wonderfully by Sophie Owen. I loved the innocence Sophie depicted in Arthur and the tragedy of his pleading not to have his eyes removed by Hubert and then throwing himself of off the battlements to his death.

Hubert was played by Neil Duckmanton​ and this is the best I have seen him act. Hubert, a follower of King John was portrayed like a little lap dog who would agree to whatever was asked but showing heart by not harming Arthur.

Shakespeare's works and script seem to bring out the true actor in an actor and I found this with Ciaran Stones​. I have seen Ciaran in many productions over the years but his role as Phillip Falconbridge's "half brother", Robert Falconbridge really brought out a top class performance from Ciaran. Shakespeare, or at least this modern Shakespeare suits him down to the ground.

Two actors really held my attention though. They have such stage presence that you have to watch them when on stage and with this drama, they truly excelled and were magnetic. Rob Goll, who is a true Shakespeare buff, played King Phillip of France and knows how to project Shakespeare the way it should be done. He made it so easy to watch and understand the character.

And then there was Richard Hill​ who was just marvellously entertaining with that dry sense of humour he brought out of his character, Phillip Falconbridge. Another actor who really sits well with Shakespeare. Some would find some of Shakespeare's characters aloof and Falconbridge is definitely that and Richard knows just how to portray this aloofness with comedy, but when there are serious speeches to be made, you can tell by his face that he believes every word he says in character, very much like Rob Goll​.

What also made this show exciting was the lighting and effects, designed by Hugh Phillip with a whole team of lighting engineers with the sound design by Peter Hodgkinson​ and Echo Zheng.

The set looked simple enough but looking closer you could see that quite a bit of hard work had gone into the design of the set which was the brainchild of Mark James​ who also created the backdrop projection.

If you've either never really been a Shakespeare fan then maybe this just might be the one to sway your opinion. many do not "get" the comedy in Shakespeare's work but believe me there is a lot of fun on his plays, especially in the hands of a good director and cast, and that is what you have here.

"King John" is at the Nottingham Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 25 April 2015

Monday, 20 April 2015

JEEVES & WOOSTER in "Perfect Nonsense"
Nottingham Theatre Royal

When a country house weekend takes a turn for the worse, Bertie Wooster is unwittingly called on to play matchmaker, but also to steal a silver cow creamer from Totleigh Towers. Naturally, the ever dependable Jeeves is there to prevent Bertie from making a fool of himself in front of a cast of Wodehouse’s finest characters.

Robert Webb as Bertie Wooster is a delight to behold, continually breaking that fourth wall by toying with the audience from start to end and always with a mischievous glint in his eye.

Jason Thorpe as the ever dependable Jeeves, as well as several variable characters, forever comes to Bertie's rescue, Whether it is getting him out of harm's way or finding just the right word that is forever on the end of Bertie's tongue. Plenty of quick changes costume wise, and an absolute classic dual male/female role, reminiscent of the classic comedy style we used to see on Saturday night variety shows or vaudevillian music hall..

Christopher Ryan is bottom billing but, in my eyes, should have had joint headline status with Jason and Robert, because he also played a myriad of characters including Aunt Dahlia and the wonderful seven foot, eight foot tall Spode. You really have to see how Chris achieves this as he is the smallest member of the trio.

There's lots of running around, quick costume changes (and some not so quick), various appearances of actors from different parts of the revolving set, and a lovely novel comedy way of revolving the sets is on hand as well. There is a lovely timed piece of slow motion comedy done in the the of the old black and white "strobed" movies, all revolving around the cow creamer.

Wonderfully and whimsically written by  Pelham Grenville (P.G.) Wodehouse, this is gentle comedy that all the family can enjoy, bordering on mild slapstick, or posh panto. in places.

Technically, it is a very clever play, and the timing for the sound effects is perfect. Ben and Max Ringham are the music and sound designers. the lighting of this play is also cleverly thought out with the design for this done by James Farncombe.

I loved the simple but elegant style of clothes from the 1930's, which is the era for this play, and there are some lovely fashion accessories for the smartly dressed aristocrat such as Bertie, as are both man servant roles, adding to the ambience of the play. Costume designer and the wonderful set design is by Alice Power.

"Jeeves and Wooster" is an ideal vehicle for all three actors and is an innocent and playful slice of comedy for anyone who likes an inoffensive titter or two. While seemingly simple though, it is a very clever piece of theatre, which must be down to Sean Foley as the director.

"J & W" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 25 April 2015

Saturday, 18 April 2015

OKLAHOMA by Long Eaton Operatic Society​ (LEOS)
May Hall, Trent College.

I nearly missed out on this one but so glad that I didn't as it ends today, Saturday.The last production I saw by LEOS was "Jesus Christ Superstar" last September, which was a cracking show, as is "Oklahoma".

You could class this as a period drama as it is set in 1906, and every period drama has to have the era appropriate costumes, all of which were sourced by the group themselves, that in itself is no mean feat as this cast is a large one, 37 in all.

Curly is in love with Laurey and wants to take her to the local dance but just to spite Curly, she accepts an invite from Jud, the hired hand who is a bit of a dark loner. After selling all of his worldly goods, Curly proves his love and beats Jud at the auction to buy Laurey's "basket". Jud is not happy with this and after a tussle with Curly, Jud dies by his own knife.

Oklahoma has plenty of light moments and some great dance routines, sprightly choreographed by Laurie Trott, Again with such a large ensemble, maybe not the easiest of tasks.

A great ensemble which really raised the roof with the mighty title song and songs such as "The Farmer and the Cowman", and they really filled the stage with the lively dance numbers. The tuneful orchestra was directed by Lizzie Bullard, creating a well balanced sound which was easy on the ear.

I had forgotten the dark "dream section"of this musical, showing the darker side of Jud, which gave the lighting by Tom Olding its shining moment, if you will pardon the pun. This section being a complete contrast to the rest of the musical.

Confident and energetic performances from all involved but with plenty of stand out roles. Curly, played by Dave O Neal is ideal leading man material and has a strong singing voice and keeps the accent all the way through.

Carefree, headstrong and teaser Laurey is played by Anna McAuley, and this is, quite surprisingly, her first leading role with LEOS. Again, another strong vocal performance in a lead role.

Jack Draper, as Will Parker and Rachelle Bragg as his flirty girlfriend, who just cain't say no are a lovely and believable pairing, who actually look like they are a pair on stage, and provide some of the comedy. Georgia Archer was delightful and fun as Gertie Cummings with the infectious giggle.

Also adding plenty of comedy to the proceedings was Kheenan Jones as the sweet talking "peddler" Ali Hakim. Comedy seems to suit Kheenan as he has also played the part of Edna Turnblad in "Hairspray" at school.

I am sure that Ben Woolley, who played Jud Fry, had an absolute ball with this dark, bullying, unsettled and slightly sinister role. Definitely a role to get his teeth into and definitely one of the more interesting characters in the musical.

And who can leave out Kathryn McAuley as Aunt Eller, the woman who tries to steer Laurey down the right path to love and doesn't take any nonsense from the men, especially with that gun in her hand!. Again, this is another first principal role for Kathryn with LEOS.

Overall another success for LEOS, and if May Hall was as packed as this afternoon all through the week, a popular society as well as a much loved musical.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

HAIRSPRAY by The ESNA Players​
Loughborough Town Hall.

I set myself high expectations from The Esna Players as "Hairspray" is fast turning into one of my favourite modern musicals. Not only did they match my expectations, they exceeded them. I LOVED this show! It was fast, funny, colourful, shiny, sleek, garish and as good as any professional production I've seen. The actors not only got under the skin of the characters, they were the characters for the length of time they were on stage. There were just a couple of sound issues in the first half which are not worth mentioning, so I won't, especially as they were quickly resolved in the second act.

It's 1962 Baltimore, Maryland, plump teenager Tracy Turnblad's dream is to dance on The Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance show which features TV heart throb Link Larkin, who falls for Tracy. When Tracy wins a role on the show, she becomes a celebrity overnight, and meets a colourful array of characters. She then launches a campaign to integrate the show.

The musical, while being a fun pastiche of 1960's America and the teen culture of the day, also throws up the serious message of segregation and racism which is broken down, thanks to Tracy and her new friends. It gives a positive message of breaking down the barriers against being different, whether it be the colour of the skin or the shape that skin is in.

Let's get to my favourite bit, heaping praise on the Esna Players who worked their socks off with this show,

Emily Canham​ (Tracy Turnblad), was a dream to watch as our hero and what a strong voice she has, oozing fun and wringing out every bit of energy from Tracy, all with a gorgeous smile on her face.

Robert Bramley-Buhler​ filled the shoes previously trod by stalwarts of the theatre world such as Brian Conley, Michael Ball, Michael Starke and John Travolta as the cuddly Edna. A woman who ain't gonna stand by and be walked over. Robert played the role just as it should be played, not as a panto dame or as a drag act but as a woman portrayed by a man. Forceful but with some lovely emotional touches and great humour. Just perfect!

Liam Patrick may not class himself as a heart throb, but he received a few wolf whistles and appreciative comments from the audience as Link Larkin, the Corny Collins show teen idol. Liam played the part with just the right amount of narcissistic arrogance and swagger, and his eyebrows were on overtime when in a raised position with just a touch of Elvis's curled lip. Spot on once again.

Neil Ledward (Wilbur Turnblad) proved to be a perfect foil for Edna and, again lived up to my expectations in the duet that Wilbur and Edna perform, "Timeless To Me", which is just one of my favourite comic musical songs. Great lyrics delivered with perfect timing. Squint your eyes and it could be a younger Russ Abbot on that stage.

The Von Tussel mother and daughter pairing of Nicola Scoggins and Nicole Ray drew just the right amount of nastiness to the role with their dislike of "coloureds" and fuller figures, but also allowed us to laugh at them as well as with them.

Rowan Beaumont provided a wonderful gawkiness and nerdiness to Tracy's best friend, Penny Pingleton, another wonderful female comedy role.

There were also a few ladies in the audience who would have stepped into the role of Penny if that meant being in the arms of tall, dark and handsome Aadyl Muller who played Seaweed J Stubbs, son of Motormouth Maybelle, the lady DJ with all the soul, Aadyl has a warm chocolatey soulful voice which is great to hear in this production.

Talking, as I was of Motormouth Maybelle, I could not envisage anyone to pull off this role other than the gorgeous Monique Henry​. I knew she has an amazing voice having seen her as Dolores in "Sister Act" and seen her sing as herself, but WOW, when she wrapped her velvet tonsils round the gospel tinged soul belter "I Know Where I've Been", every hair on my body stood up to listen. She looked fantastic and her voice matched her look.

Another actor with a powerful and clear set of vocals is Chris Wilson who played Corny Collins, the archetypal 60's TV host, always smiling, flashing those perfect pearly whites. Chris was a joy to watch perform as Corny and even the slightly risque comments he seemed to make sounded unoffensive. Who else can deliver a line using the term "stiff one" but Corny, and smile through it?

The whole cast, and it is a big one (oops sorry Corny), are wonderful. Brilliant choreography by Carl Brierlry-Edwards, wonderfully directed by Cat Orton, who must have not had an easy job with the size of the cast and the pace of the musical. Great tight sound from the band under the musical direction from Jon Orton​. Lighting is all important in this colourful fun show and is in the hands of the very proficient Tom Mowat​. I must also mention the stage hands as well who did a sterling job of getting the large scenery items and props on and off stage. Only you will know how difficult that really is.

This is one hell of a brilliant feel good show which will have you dancing out into the streets with an enormous grin on your face and some wonderful songs churning around your brain, Songs such as "Timeless","Good Morning Baltimore","Welcome To the 60's", "Big Blonde & Beautiful" and of course "You Can't Stop the Beat".

Friday and Saturday is already sold out but if you are very lucky you may still be able to get tickets for Wednesday to Friday. This is one show you do not want to miss to get your feel good fix this week. An amazingly talented cast who I know have worked extremely hard to put this show on and boy does it show. My introduction to The Esna Players but I know that it will not be my last....and that is a promise!

"Hairspray" is on at Loughborough Town Hall until Saturday 18 April 2015

Monday, 13 April 2015

DEAD SIMPLE by Peter James.
Nottingham Theatre Royal.

Here is one murder mystery/thriller that includes more twists and turns than a Big Dipper with one moment in the play that received a collective gasp which started the twists in motion.Adapted from Peter James' best selling novel by Shaun McKenna and wonderfully directed with Hitchcockian flair by Ian Talbot.

"Dead Simple" is the story of a stag night prank which goes tragically wrong after the stags placing the intended groom, Michael Harrison in a coffin and burying him, just for a laugh you understand, while they head off to a lap dancing club for an hour or two. Unfortunately for them, and Michael, the van they were driving is involved in a head on collision and they are all killed, leaving Michael with just the walkie talkie they gave him to contact them with, and no way of escape.

There is a ray of hope for Michael after a couple of days when the walkie talkie from the crashed van is answered by one Davy Wheeler. Infatuated by American police shows but having learning difficulties, Davy does not quite grasp the urgency of the situation, and afraid to tell his dad because he wasn't supposed to remove items from crash scenes, Michael's life hangs in the balance.

A brilliant cast which created a suffocating air of tension. Tina Hobley, looking gorgeous with those long legs which she puts to good use in a scene almost from a Sharon Stone film, is believable as the distraught bride to be, Ashley. Jamie Lomas is Michael Harrison, the multi millionaire property developer. They made a lovely couple, if only they could have made it to the altar!

Rik Makarem​ plays Michael's childhood friend, business partner and best man, Mark Warren, who had to miss out on the stag night, and all the shenanigans, after being called away on business in Leeds.

Michael Mckell is Ashleigh's Canadian uncle, over for the wedding, who decides to go back to Canada after discovering something may not be all it seems with his niece.

Marc Small (Detective Sergeant Branson) and Gray O Brien are the investigators on the case, Gray playing James' hero, Detective Superintendant Roy Grace, who get to the bottom of this twist laden thriller.

Josh Brown makes his professional theatre debut as Davey Wheeler. You would not have guessed that this was his debut because he is a very natural actor in a role that could have been played a little over the top, but wasn't and ended as a sympathetic portrayal of a young man with learning difficulties.

There's not one, or two but three relationships in this play that end up not being as straight forward as we would first think and they are not that obvious, which is why this play is as tense ridden as it is. Someone had a lot to gain from Michael being dead, but who?

You actually get the suffocating feeling of being in the coffin, and Peter James himself had himself incarcerated for a short while so that he could experience what it felt like. That is what you call drawing on experience for character driven writing.

What can I say about the set designed by Michael Taylor? Separated into three sections, Ashley and Michael's apartment flat, Davey Wheeler's bedroom, which also doubled up into a couple of other minor settings, and a wonderful night time woodland setting, complete with car, where Michael was "buried". This section was raised above the stage so that you could then see the buried coffin in the ground and feel the claustrophobic atmosphere.

I love the little technical touches of this play which really made everything so real. Just little things like the mobile phones actually lighting up when they were ringing, This showed that a lot of effort had gone into the small things which can sometimes be forgotten. And what really bugs me is when someone is shot or stabbed and there is no blood, or it looks fake, well don't worry because there is blood which looks like the real thing and gore as well here.

If you like murder mysteries with plenty of twists, surprises and shocks, then you are going to love this very clever play. As good as anything Durbridge or Christie has done, but be prepared for one bit which will have you jump out of your skin.

Oh, and if you were wondering why the strange choice of title, then you'll have to wait for the very end, when it is revealed where the title came from.

"Dead Simple" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 18 April 2015.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

THE MIST IN THE MIRROR by Oldham Coliseum Theatre.
Nottingham Playhouse​

Susan Hill's follow up book to "The Woman In Black" is set in the same gothic era and while it's not as scary as the theatrical version of "Woman In Black" there are several "jumpy" moments to be had. Creating the same tension and atmosphere in the theatre is not as easy as in a film, but when you have the air of anticipation of something live just yards away from you provides a certain feel that watching a film doesn't hold.

Sir James Monmouth has travelled all his life. After the death of his parents, he was raised by his guardian. Later, he began to travel and arrives in England. He sees a young, pale ghostlike boy upon his arrival at the Cross Keys Inn. Strangely, he happens to see this ghost more often in the following months that he is in England. His goal is to gain as much information as possible about the great traveller, Conrad Vane.Even after being discouraged and warned of his pursuit of Vane, Momnouth refused to listen which ultimately led to his downfall.

It's the kind of story you'd read on a dark, snowy, wintry night with just the light of a roaring, crackling fire to bring to life the words on the page. You know what I mean.

While the story is of gothic Edwardianism, the technology that lifts the words from the page to dance in front of your eyes is completely 21st century. The projected images of the various locations, rooms and weather images transport you to places outside the realms of the theatre stage and carries you on a journey just steps behind Monmouth. Great dramaturgy created by Andrew Quick, and for those who didn't know what this theatrical term meant, and had to consult a dictionary, the definition is " Dramaturgy is the art of dramatic composition and the representation of the main elements of drama on the stage."

What really creates the atmosphere here and the "jumpy" moments is the combination of the sound design (Lorna Munden) and the lighting design (Andrew Crofts). Hand in hand these two brought a certain eeriness to the theatre; a visual and aural delight for horror and suspense fans.

Director Barney George has ensured that the snappiness and impact are kept very tight and just a second lapse would have detracted from the "surprise/shock" element of the appearances of the white faced spectral boy who stalked Monmouth to his death. The surprise element also worked well on the closing scene, which I will not reveal!

The play is along the same lines as "Woman In Black" with just a small cast, this time just five actors who all would not seem out of place in a Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett drama, wonderfully authentic period acting.

"The Mist In The Mirror" is one for fans of gothic mystery but don't expect it to better, or rival "Woman In Black" because it won't but you will enjoy the uneasiness of the story and you can marvel at the wonder of what can be produced in modern theatre technically.It's definitely worth a watch but not from behind your fingers this time round.

This spooky tale can be seen at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 4 April 2015