Monday, 27 July 2015

"East Is East" by The Ambassador Theatre Group
Nottingham Theatre Royal.

I saw this last many years ago in Leicester and loved the rawness of the play and. although the music has changed from that play to this new production, the rawness and honesty, as well as the comedy still remains as strong as ever.

"East Is East" is about a tyrant of a father who came over from Pakistan and married a woman from Salford, which is where the play is set, and his fight to keep a grip on his family and his Pakistani beliefs and faith. He is the man that demands respect from his wife and British born family, but he soon discovers that his old fashioned ways are not the faith and beliefs that his family want to follow. They rebel against his attempts for arranged marriages, the freedom he thinks they should have, and their father's view of his responsibility to his family.

There's been several news items over the years about arranged marriages and of what happens to the daughters, and sons, who try to live their Westernised lives, and this play shows the violence and the dark side of the head of the household who feels that he has to uphold the Pakistani religion. The violence is a complete contrast to the wonderful comedy moments liberally scattered throughout.

Simon Nagra as George Khan, the father, is a character you, in a way have pity for as he is so wrapped up in his two lives, the one in Pakistan and the Salford family. He also has his devotion to his religion, so much so that he can't see the impact it has on his family. He is rude and disrespectful to his wife, Ella, played by "Shameless" star Pauline McLynn, while demanding her to listen to him and to respect him.

The family, Meenah (Salma Hoque), Sajit (Adam Karim), Tariq (Ashley Kumar), Maneer (Darren Kuppan), Abdul (Dharmesh Patel) and Saleem (Assad Zaman) are a modern family who want to follow their own modern 1970's lifestyles.

It's the decision to have Sajit, the youngest of the sons, circumcised that brings the turn around from Ella and the family and brings the downfall of George's kingdom. Adam who plays Sajit is brilliant as the troubled and damaged son who will not take off his parka, he even sleeps in it. It's only removed under anaesthetic and one other time near the end of the play, which proves to be a defining moment for the boy.

The whole cast are brilliant with the family's unwavering devotion to their mother and their changing opinion of their father. The "rod of iron" approach of George and the steadfast protectiveness and love of Ella for her family. Sally Bankes also has a lovely role as Auntie Annie which brings so much comedy to the play.

You will love the set, designed by James Turner Donnelly, which is of an urban 70's back yard housing estate, very similar to something you may see on Coronation Street. It sets the mood for the period and the community spirit of the day. The play shows the family pride as well as highlighting the faults of the family and is a wonderful slice of 1970's multi cultural Britain.

"East Is East" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 1 August 2015

Friday, 24 July 2015

"Imaginary Lines" by Zodiac Theatre Company
Create Theatre, Mansfield.

You can always tell when a theatre group have been together for any length of time because the relationship between the actors when on stage shows through. There's a comfortableness there and a sense of natural timing and trust, as well as an appreciation from actor to actor. That is what I saw in this production.

"Imaginary Lines" is a play written by Reggie Oliver and is a wonderful piece of comedy. Written to break the fourth wall in order to engage the audience with the characters and the story and creates its' own comedy moments in the same way that "A Man Of Two Guvnors" does. It lets the audience into secrets that the cast on stage are "unaware": of as the actor takes them under their secretive and protective wing.

This is a dotty look at life and love, which was originally directed by Alan Ayckbourn. The "imaginary lines" are the things we wish we could say, or had said usually to the opposite sex. The asides in the dialogue provide amusing counterpoints to what the characters are really saying to each other. Will Sir Michael get Wanda to go off with him for a weekend frolic? Will Wanda decide who she wants? Will Howard win Wanda or get stuck with Carol? Will Mrs. Burlap ever find a copy of Snow ed Up with a Duchess by Mrs. Arnold Frogmore?

Howard, the book shop owner, is a typical geek who is uncomfortable around strangers but would love to be the man to get the lady and be the romantic lead role. Simon Ward plays the role as a Mr Bean/Rowan Atkinson character with plenty of comical looks, shrieks, grunts and gurnings. It's the first time that I've seen Simon in any role and hopefully he will slip into the acting role more often as it was a joy to watch this geeky and comedic character revealed under Simon's capable comedy acting ability.

Wanda, played by Anna Sanderson is the confident single woman who is looking for some male company and although she is escorted home by Howard and Sir Micheal, she is in total control of the situation, or so it seems. We see later in the play that she turns to chasing Sir Michael with her little love notes, but does a fine job of blowing hot and cold. Another lovely comedy character who I'm sure that you've come across in your own life at some stage.Anna looks so at ease and natural in this character that you sometimes forget that she's acting!

Michael is the MP who thinks he has struck it lucky with Wanda after driving her home. He's married so has to keep the prospective affair very low key. He gets off on the wrong foot with Wanda's friend Carol though when they are all meet up at Wanda's, and this makes for yet another funny but embarrassing scene for the two characters as Carol blames Sir Michael for the loss of her job. Carol doesn't hold back but shows a softer side as she takes a shine to Howard when she takes a part time job at Howard's book shop. Michael is played by Daniel Smith and Carol by Katie Richmond-Ward.

And then there's the local children's writer who is just a little bit loony. Mrs Burlap is another wonderful character-driven role with some amazing face pulling and clever words, expertly delivered first class by Lindsay Foster.

This whole team are just so tight and the comedy is timed to perfection. It's fast moving, which is helped by the lighting of the piece, which I'd love to credit to someone, but I don't know who that mystery lighting designer is. Whoever you are, you did a brilliant job.

Directed by Craig Foster, there was not a foot put wrong, which is what I've come to expect, and they didn't disappoint. The last three plays the Zodiac Theatre Group have done have all been on the dark side of drama, but as a group they proved that they can do comedy just as well as they can do suspense, drama and serious thrillers. This group are consistently good and deserve to be supported in all that they do because there's some serious (and comedy) talent here.

"Invisible Lines" is on at Create Theatre, West Notts College, Mansfield for one more night, Saturday 25 July 2015.

Monday, 20 July 2015

"When We Are Married" by J.B. Priestley
Nottingham Lace Market Theatre.

J.B. Priestley is one of our finest Northern playwrights and dramatists and "When We Are married" is one of his finest and most comical of his plays.

Three very respectable couples, old friends, were all married on the same day twenty five years previously, gather at the Helliwells’ home to celebrate their silver anniversary. They discover they are not legally married, thanks to Gerald Frobes, an organist, and even worse, a Southern man, Each couple initially react with Victorian horror – what will the neighbors think? – and all three couples find themselves re-evaluating their marriages; Hovering closely over the proceedings is the Yorkshire Argus' alcohol-soaked photographer, Henry Ormonroyd, keen to record the evening's events for posterity, and a wickedly destructive housekeeper, Mrs Northrop, who is hoping to use the couples' mortification to her own advantage.

This particular selection of actors are perfect in their characterizations of the subjects of Priestley's 1938 period farce. The three grooms, Alderman Helliwell (John Anthony), Councillor Parker (Fraser Wanless) and Herbert Soppitt (Roger Watson) are all wonderful in their prospective roles as the grooms who discover that, just for a moment, they may be free of the shackles of matrimony, which gives all three the chance to take stock of their lives.

The brides Maria Helliwell (Jackie Dunn), Annie Parker (Janice White) and Clara Soppitt (Linda Croston) are equally mesmerising in their roles. All six have some wonderful comic lines and some brilliantly sharp put downs for their men folk.I really could not pick a favourite from these six because they all delivered some cracking performances.

There are also some wonderful comic roles on the interim from Pat Richards as Ormoroyd, what a classic drunken character-driven role for Pat, reminding me slightly of the late Jimmy Jewel. Alison Hope as Mrs Northrop was fantastic as the stroppy housekeeper to the Helliwells. Gill Cooke was also at her manic best as Lottie Grady, the "would be flame" of one of the grooms, who pours petrol over the raging fires of the Silver Wedding fiasco with her Blackpool revelations.

Anne McCarroll, (housemaid),Matthew Thomason, (Frobes),Ruth Page (Maria's niece), Tom Orton ( the reporter), and Stephen herring (Reverand Mercer) complete the cast list.

Wonderful costumes and props (love the facial hair), and lovingly directed by Dan Maddison, I get the feeling that this particular play was a labour of love for Dan. And the accents were, as usual for the Lace Market Theatre, spot on. The vocal coach at the Lace Market always seem to get the regional accents absolutely right.

To sum up, this is a wonderfully warm and funny play with a wonderfully sharp script, great character actors, with some wonderful characters to play. In short it's just wonderful. T' play is on up t' Sat'day 25 July 2015 at t' Lace Market Theatre, and there's no "lah di dah" t' be seen anywhere.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

"THE WIZ" by New Street Theatre and Lakeside
Nottingham Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside.

Director Martin Berry told the cast before hand to, by all means watch the film version of "The Wiz" made by Motown, but then to forget everything except the storyline, and I now see why he did that. This is an urban version of "The Wizard Of Oz" but Martin Berry has changed the settings and part of the plot to bring the storyline to 1970's Northern Soul Britain.

I'm going to be very careful so as to try and not give too much of the new plot away but let's say that it is far more entertaining than the film, it's funkier than the film, and it's so much funnier than the film version.

This musical is all about fun with a capital "F" and is a departure of sorts for Martin because this is an out and out, almost non-stop musical that is snappier than a barrel load of crocodiles.

A sparse but effective set which in parts brought memories of my mobile DJ days flooding back (yes you didn't get that with the film). The focus is on dancing, singing and having fun and if you're a fan of Northern Soul music and dance you'll love the new remixed storyline.

Charlotte-Louise Brailsford, was fun to watch as Dorothy and has a cracking singing voice. She brings a new version of Dorothy to life, a Dorothy who has more oomph than Diana Ross brought to the film role.

Sian Elise-Langley is the show's Scarecrow. Very today in the character's attitude and is found by Dorothy at a bus stop, of all places, trying to buy a brain!

Next to hook up with the Yellow Brick Road travellers is the Tinman, who is after some oil, Not for him but for his motorbike which has had a spell cast on it and won't work. The Tinman is a cool 70's biker in a mod suit, who plays not only electric guitar but a mean harmonica and dances not unlike Michael Jackson, who played the Scarecrow in the original film. Ritchie Stainsbury is the man of many talents who also showcases his bluesy voice and harmonica on the song "If I Could Feel".

Completing the quartet is the Cowardly Lion, and an actor I was really looking forward to seeing in this role as I loved him as Gavroche in "Les Mis" at The Arts Theatre. Lennon Bradley was just brilliant in this role and he exceeded all of my hopes for the role. He's especially good in the section in the Poppy Field with his smooth moves. Lennon is a little powerhouse of fun who can sing, dance and be funny all at the same time.Great confidence as stage presence for one so young.

The Wizard is played by a regular Nottingham stage actor, who I think I can honestly say, I've never seen him play a duff role, and he doesn't start here. Mark C-Bainbridge has a great little twist in his role, which I'm not going to reveal but, let's just say The Wiz really originates from not a million miles away from Nottingham and you may be surprised at The Wizard's day job!! Mark pulls on his flares and gets down in the groove and exercises his rich vocals, especially on the song that Lena Horne sung in the film, "Believe In Yourself". And ladies... there's flesh flashed as well. He may not be Magic Mike but you'll not be disappointed by Magic Mark's performance.

Alleisha Furlonge-Royal also has a great set of lungs on her in her role as Evilene, and turns in a credible and funky performance, as did all of the actors.

A brilliant ensemble who are energetic and enthusiastic with the dance routines, which I know couldn't have been easy to master, because Northern Soul dancing isn't easy to make it look as natural as they made the routines look. A brilliant job by choreographer Rebekah Roberts, ably assisted by Emily Thurston.

A live band on stage created a crisp and clear sound under the expert musical direction of Katherine Tye.

The continuity announcer was also fun to hear with some local and comical speeches that kept the flow of the musical going in between the scenes.

Oh and what about Toto, I hear you cry! Well Toto is in the show of course. You can't have Dorothy without Toto can you? But Toto looks a little different from other dogs in this version... but then again this is Martin Berry directing, so you should expect something just a little different and off the wall.

This is a fresh, fun, and much better version of the film version of "The Wiz" with a cracking cast which will have you dancing in your seats. It's also vibrant, fast moving and bright and will also bring back some lovely memories of The Twisted Wheel, The Torch and the world famous Wigan Casino with some of the routines and the film footage.

Ease On Down The Road to see "The Wiz" at Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside until Saturday 25 July 2015. Y'all got it? This is one show that you will not forget as soon as you get home.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

SPOTLIGHT SHOWCASE. by Spotlight Theatre School
Nottingham Arts Theatre.

An annual event which showcases the talents and the work of not only the first time board treaders, but also the more experienced actors. It's also a chance to see the group ensembles of popular music tracks and musical theatre highlights of the year and what is to come. It's also a chance to hand out some awards for the year.

I'm not going to be able to mention everyone who took part because there were so many and everyone, from the very smallest to the most experienced were brilliant.

Throughout the show, the stage was bathed in wonderful light patterns and hues and I truly feel that the Nottingham Arts Theatre now has one of the best lighting rigs and designs for any theatre, once again the hard work of Tom Mowat.

The sound also was clarity itself thanks to Rob Kettridge, Rob Temperton and Peter Hodgkinson.Together the sound and light team created aural and visual perfection.

I've had the great pleasure of visiting the Nottingham Arts Theatre and seeing Spotlight shows for a few years now, and it's also been my pleasure to see certain actors within the school grow both as people, and as talented singers, dancers and actors. These showcase shows highlight that growth.

Eva Sheppard was one of the worthy winners tonight and, especially with this year's showcase, I saw how far she has come from a few years ago. Talented in all aspects of the theatre, her voice has matured, as has her roles and she shows herself to be an able dancer also.

I know that I mention this young man almost every time, but James Murray also shone (again) tonight in several showcased sections. I saw from last night's "Our House" show that he had matured into a fine actor and singer and tonight I saw a more than capable dancer as well. A fine tap performance as well as being part of a beautiful ballet sequence. His clean lines and pointed toes were refreshing to see because this was one kind of dance that I'd not seen him perform before, proving him to be a versatile performer, and a worthy winner of a clutch of awards.

Both Georgia Hodgett-Young and Grace Hodgett-Young were also brilliant tonight, as they always are, and again worthy winners of awards, both showcasing some wonderful, spine tingling vocals.

I must also mention one of the inters, and I apologise that I didn't catch his name, could be Jacques, could be Joseph, but the little blond lad who did a brilliant little solo in "Blame It On The Boogie". He had so much rhythm and timing in all of the dance routines he was involved in, he reminded me of myself when I was that age, if only I had had Spotlight around then!! Both Jacques and Joseph also won awards tonight as well.

The music was well chosen and varied ranging from pop classics like "Uptown Funk", "Marry You", "People Help the People" and "Pack Up" to musical theatre gems from musicals as diverse as "Bugsy Malone", "Witches Of Eastwick", "Avenue Q", "Singing In The Rain", "Shrek", "A Chorus Line" and "Tarzan". I also loved Serena Eaden's emotional rendition of "Your Daddy's Son" from "Ragtime", a song new to me, which I intend to search out.

The night was celebration of all the hard work that is done on stage and behind the scenes throughout the last year. From choreography, which was amazing, through to stage management,and that was no easy job tonight either with so many bodies to manage, to lighting and sound to the tutors, chaperones, set builders and designers to the lady who was responsible for Spotlight's very being, director Amanda Hall.

Thank you every single person on that stage for a wonderful evening of entertainment. I am truly in awe of every drop of talent you all possess.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

"Our House" by Spotlight Theatre School
Nottingham Arts Theatre.

"Our House" is a musical about making the right choices and the outcome of making the wrong choices and how they affect the people around them. A musical about morals with some brilliant music from the Madness songbook.

Joe Casey is celebrating his 16th birthday party and he has the world at his feet. He has good friends, he's about to leave school and go into the big world of adulthood and the girl of his dreams has accepted a date with him...,.and that's where his world starts to tumble about him.

I love this musical for the message it gives out as well as the wonderful, fun music of Suggs and Co. and the way that some of the songs are arranged really show the clever, as well as beautiful lyrics. The musical also shows how difficult it can be to sing Madness's songs. With the intricate key changes and lyrical tongue twisters, some of the songs caught some of the actors out, key wise and timing wise.

The orchestra, maybe sometimes a little on the loud side, making the actors a bit difficult to hear, were excellent musically and really captured the Madness feel. The sax playing of Morven Harrison was superb but the whole sound was also excellent under the direction of Christopher Rees.

The lighting was spectacular with really good use of intelligent lighting effects under the design of Tom Mowat. It created just the right atmosphere for the courses of the storyline.

Choreography was by MissJessica Royce and what an amazing job she did. A large ensemble were almost step perfect, that's not a criticism by the way because there aren't many professional productions who can brag that they are step perfect. I did notice that many of the "strictly-style" moves and actions were carried out so well, especially the hands and extension lines. A brilliant job which I know isn't easy for that level and with so many dancers. Loved the ensemble choreography for "The Sun And The Rain" especially as it bordered on old style Hollywood.

Joe Casey was played by Sean Goodwin. Now Sean had the hardest job in my mind because not only does he play both "good" Joe and "bad Joe, he has to make quick changes between the two characters and some of the changes are within seconds. Sean has great stage presence and although I noticed just one or two bum notes, he carried out his vocal and choreography duties with brilliant gusto. A fast moving role which I am sure proved what a versatile actor he is.

Joe's girlfriend, Sarah, was played by Catherine Cunningham, Very natural and what a lovely voice, especially highlighted in the stripped back version of "It Must Be Love".

Joe's best friends, Lewis and Emmo, were joys to watch in the capable hands of James Murray, who has matured as a performer, talent wise and height wise and Adam Tomas Monk. A brilliant comedy pairing who look like they love what they do on stage, it's the twinkle in the eyes that give it away!

I also loved the pairing of Sarah's friends, Bille and Angie, who were played by Georgia Hodgett-Young and Aston Fisher, respectively. Once again, real fun to watch these pair in these roles.

One of the "bad guys" wanting to bring out the "bad Joe" is Reecey, and what a debut performance with Spotlight for Matty Collins. Confident in his acting, singing and his choreography and it was good to see the way he presented and maintained the nasty character of the piece. Hopefully we'll see more of Matty with Spotlight because he could well be a valuable and versatile asset.

Joe's mum, Kath, is a lovely character and Kayleigh Phillips brought out the loving, caring motherly side of Kath in Kayleigh's first musical role.

Joe's dad is Joe's guardian angel throughout the play. You can see why Joe is as he is, character wise, from how his absent father behaved when he was younger. Played by the very recognisable, on most Nottingham stages, Nigel Newton.

Callum, who pops up all over the place throughout the play is played by Joseph Smith.

Fautlessly directed by Amanda Hall with this energetic and exuberant musical that is a house load of fun to watch and delivers a moralistic message. It works well with the age range of the cast which in turn makes every character believable and relevant.

What a shame it's only on for two performances.