Monday, 17 August 2015

"Suddenly At Home" by Tabs Productions
Nottingham Theatre Royal

Another classic Francis Durbridge thriller is brought to the Nottingham stage by Tabs Productions as part of the Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season 2015. It never ceases to amaze me that the quality of their productions remains so very high, injecting just the right amount of comedy into a serious thriller to balance the scales is a hard job, but this theatrical troupe do just that.

It's one of those thrillers where you know who the victim is, because you see them bumped off by the murderer, but then there are lots of clever twists to the plot to keep you guessing, And if you don't know the story, which I didn't, it'll keep you guessing what the ending is and this is one ending that I certainly didn't see coming.You're looking for when the murderer trips himself up, which of course he does, and you find yourself mentally collecting the clues to how he'll do this as you go along with the story, but the ending is unexpected!

Glenn Howard (Jeremy Lloyd Thomas) has already planned to kill off his wife, Maggie Howard (Karen Henson) for her fortune, and has the plot down to a tee. He has engaged the help of the woman he is planning to run off with, Sheila Wallis (Angie Smith), but things start to unravel when Glenn's plan to point the blame in Maggie's ex partner Sam Blaine's (Robert Laughlin) direction goes a little bit wrong. Sam calls the Howard's home to say that Maggie had just arrived at his house, at nearly midnight. This can't be true could it? After all Glenn had killed Maggie hours before and dumped the body in a pond near Sam's home, arranged for the car to be found in a ditch and planted the seeds sufficiently enough to point to just one suspect.

So what went wrong? Is Maggie really dead? Why has Superintendent Remick (John Goodrum) suddenly taken over the case from Appleton (Andrew Ryan) and where does the Howard's German au pair, Ruth Belcher (Sarah Wynne Kordas) fit in to the story? Suddenly it all becomes too clear, but not until just before the end!

Brilliant performances all round, yet again. Susan Earnshaw also plays Maggie's sister who is as confused as the rest of us at the start of the murder mystery, but soon helps to unravel the plot. Some of the characters only appear for a short time on stage, which also at times give rise to the mystery as to where they fit in to the plot, but the reasons for this unravel in the second half.

Set in the 1970's there's big, and long hair, wide lapels, flares, garish colour schemes, crazy bold wallpaper and furniture and props which could well be worth something on the Antique Road Show. A proper trip down memory lane and so relevant to the plot.

Again lighting design by Michael William John Donoghue and sound by David Gilbrook creating just the right level of suspense, especially the sound in this play because the "creeping" music fill in the gaps on stage which built the tension nicely.

Wonderfully, and I expect lovingly, directed by Adrian Lloyd-James, the glue that sticks all the bits together to make a masterpiece of a thriller.

Classy piece of work, once more from the theatre group we all now look forward to every year, And long may they return to the Nottingham Theatre Royal stage to repeatedly bring us classic after well produced and acted classic under the umbrella of the Colin McIntyre Thriller Season.

"Suddenly At Home" by Francis Durbridge is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 22 August 2015. The season concludes next week with "Stage Struck" by Simon Gray from Monday 24 August 2015 to Saturday 29 August 2015.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

"Grease" School Edition
Nottingham Playhouse Summer School

You can't beat a good dollop of grease to get the weekend wheels turning. And how true this turned out to be this evening at the Neville Studios at Nottingham Playhouse for the Playhouse Summer School.

This scheme invites youngsters to take part in every role in putting on a musical in a limited time. From stage management to lighting, direction, sets and of course the performance, there's something for any youngster who wants to be involved in theatre at any level. What a great grounding and I wish there had been something like this when I was young(er).

Directed by Allie Spencer and choreographed by Amanda Hall, along with a multitude of very talented people who worked behind the scenes, tonight saw the fourth performance in two days by even more very talented people.

There were familiar faces among the cast. Familiar if, like myself, you take an interest in local amateur theatre. Cassie Hall (Kenickie), Matty Collins who was part of the ensemble as well as helped move various parts of the sets and props on and off stage, Oliver Wheddon who doubled as Roger (the mooner),one of the T Birds and Teen Angel. Oliver had a couple of numbers in the show, "Mooning" and "Beauty School Dropout", giving him the chance to show off a fine falsetto. Can I also say that Oliver's honed his dancing skills to produce an able bit of footwork. A couple of years ago he told me that dancing was not his strong point, but two years on you can see an improvement.

Eva Sheppard took the lead female role of Sandy, the prim prom girl who changed her whole image to bag Danny Zuko. I've watched Eva over the years grow into a credible singer and actor as well as a competent dancer. All of these talents shown to full effect in this production.

Danny Zuko was played by Stan Cook, a newcomer to me,and he did a cracking job. Not as arrogant as the Travolta version but enjoyable to see the confidence in Stan's version of Zuko. A commercial, and pleasant singing voice, with a few more musicals under his belt, It was nice to hear that his version of "Sandy" wasn't shouty, as I've heard in the past in other productions over the years, and neither was it clipped as in the film version. Stan extended slightly the ends to the lyrics so as not to make it sounded so stunted and I liked that, again making a good song more commercial, technically.

What I also love about these school editions is that you can see the enjoyment those taking part in their faces, and that was evident in this show. It's a great modern musical, everyone knows every song, it's fun, it's colourful and these kids exuded an air of enjoyment and fun, and that's what spreads from the stage to the audience.

Loved Kenzie Barrow as Vince Fontaine, the DJ. he completely threw away the smarmy silky smooth "radio DJ" voice of the era and gave Fontaine a more human voice inflected with fun. This also came across when Vince Fontaine appeared at the "hop". "Fun" must be Kenzie's middle name because even when involved in the ensemble parts, he spread that happiness vibe in his face. Thanks for making me smile, Kenzie.

I'd love to mention all 31 of the cast as they pulled together, in a very short time, and produced a brilliant fun filled musical. their exuberance and passion spread like an infection and I didn't see one person in the Neville Studios who didn't leave with a smile on their face.

There was also a live trio of musicians, complete in dinner jackets, providing the music. A nice touch as this would have been the norm for the 1950's period in which the musical was set. Vic "sticks" Poole, Brian Humpherson and David Hails backed the singers and provided incidental music during the set and props manoeuvres.

Livelier than a bag o kittens with some classic songs was this production, "Greased Lightning", "Summer Nights". "You're The One That I Want", "Grease", "We Go Together", "Sandy", "Hopelessly Devoted To You" all rolled out with gusto. Unfortunately my favourite of the "Grease" songs, "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" was not included, but I could see why due the context of that song in the film wouldn't sit right within the School Edition format here.

Monday, 10 August 2015

"Night Must Fall" by Emlyn Williams.
Nottingham Theatre Royal.

The Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season continues this year with one of those thrillers where you know who's done the dirty deed, but the story that unfolds is as interesting as if you were waiting for the big reveal itself.

The setting is a cottage on the edge of a lonely, secluded wood where an old, ill lady in a wheelchair (Mrs Bramson) resides with a little help from her niece (Olivia) and a couple of maids (Mrs Terence and Dora) and a family friend, who seems to pop round on a regular basis, just before a meal of sorts is served (Hubert Laurie). Dora, the young maid, reveals that she is "with child" and the "gentleman" responsible is a bell boy from a local hotel, called Dan aka "Babyface". A lady from the local hotel goes missing and is discovered dead, and it's soon apparent who was responsible!

Mrs Bramson is a crotchety old, wheelchair bound, or so we think, lady of the cottage, and played with great character by Karen Henson. If you imagine Julie Walters taking her Mrs Overall character and playing this role, then you've just about got the idea of what Mrs Bramson is like. I nearly didn't recognise Karen due to the brilliant costume, wig and props.

Olivia, the "dowdy" niece who is the focus for Hubert's affections, is played by Sarah Wynne Kordas, again a brilliant character part for Sarah, but is that timidness and frightened outward appearance as genuine as it first comes across as?

Andrew Ryan plays Hubert, and Andrew, being Andrew, manages to inject a lot of comedy into the play, along with some equally wonderful lines from Karen's character.Some wonderfully tried and tested facial expressions under that false wig and moustache as well,

Mrs Terence is a wonderful comic part for Susan Earnshaw as the elder maid who takes no nonsense from Mrs Bramson. With such a wonderful script by Williams, she gets her fair share of some wonderfully comical, biting lines.

Dora, played by Anna Mitcham, is also well cast as the nervous, clumsy young maid who is responsible for introducing the murderer into the home, in a round about way. It's lovely to see the nervousness so well portrayed by Anna inn her newly pregnant character.

Robert Laughlin, who was last week's Henry Jekyll, plays Inspector Belsize of Scotland Yard in a very typical "bobby" role of the period. Unruffled but quietly aware of the responsible party's guilt and just waiting for the murderer to trip him, or herself up, before he slaps on the cuffs.

And finally Dan. He's blond, good looking and a real catch for any lady, no wonder they call him "babyface". He's a player and he knows exactly what to say to impress the impressionable ladies, including the hard faced Mrs Bramson who melts under his smarm and banter. It soon becomes apparent that Dan isn't quite the smooth operator he portrays. Dan is played often with wide eyed manicness by David Osmond, as well as a lot of charm.

A wonderful set with several off stage settings giving the impression of a much bigger cottage, and area space than first meets the eye. As usual, a clever use of lighting, which creates the feeling of suspense, matched also by the creeping soundtrack. Again the genius designs of Michael William John Donoghue for the lights and David Gilbrook with the sound.Some good props relevant to the period as well

A brilliant gothic start to the season is capitalised on by this period thriller piece which was first performed in 1935. Loved "Jekyll & Hyde" last week and love this play just as much, if not more. maybe because the play is something new to me both author wise and piece wise.

"Night Must Fall" can be seen at the Nottingham Theatre Royal, by Tabs Productions until Saturday 15 August 2015.

Friday, 7 August 2015

"Annie" Nottingham Arts Theatre.
Show In A Week

It's a mammoth task to work with a large cast of children to teach them a musical, the script, the songs, choreography etc, especially when it's not a group that has worked as a group before. But these tutors moulded these kids as a potter would create a vase.

The "Show In A Week" schools that are run at the Nottingham Arts Theatre is designed to take a group of aspiring actors and create a musical within FIVE days and then present it on the Friday. You don't expect it to be perfect but apart from a few lines that needed reminding, this show was punchy, entertaining and a brilliant boost to the kids and parents, and in my case, non parent. You could see the incredible amount of hard work that went into this show from the kids to the tutors and of course the parents.

"Annie" is of course the story of the little red haired orphan who managed to escape the evil-hearted and bullying Miss Hannigan who was in charge of the orphanage. She's adopted by billionaire, Oliver "daddy" Warbucks, who tries to locate Annie's parents but discovering that they died a while ago, follows through with his plan to adopt Annie, and get Miss Hannigan, her brother Rooster and his girl friend thrown into jail.

Annie was played with great confidence and gusto by Rubie Pomeroy, Rubie has a really confident, controlled and powerful little pair of lungs on her and she is a very convincing little actor as well, taking the lead role in her stride.

Miss Hannigan was another role given a brilliantly confident, as well as comical rendition by Ashleigh Davis-Lynch. Both Ashleigh and Rubie are ladies that i would like to see go on to extend their acting skills in future shows at the Arts Theatre.

Oliver Warbucks was played by Jonathan Jaycock, who I'm sure that I've seen before somewhere, and another smooth performance. There were so many really excellent performances here, so much confidence and talent for such a young cast.

Rooster, played by Callum Barr is another face I seem to recognise from past Arts Theatre productions also. A wee bit restrained for the "wide boy" role of Rooster, but a great little performer, and I can see Callum moving on to other roles if he sticks with his obvious talent.

Another role which I thought was nicely done as well was the role of Warbucks' right hand woman, Grace, played by Holly Sullivan.

The play was an abridged version of the musical which I thought worked well and, apart from one little part where there was a bare stage for longer than comfortable, the show was fast moving with a great deal of enthusiasm and punch.

Another success for everyone involved from the talented kids on stage to the director, musical director, choreographer, lighting, sound and the stage management. That in itself is no easy job with a large cast of such tender years.

A brilliant introduction for the kids to the theatre and musical theatre which hopefully will see many of them taking their talents, however raw, onwards and upwards. A great start to my weekend and an amazing buzz for the kids to receive a standing ovation in appreciation for the results of this week's hard work.

Monday, 3 August 2015

"Jekyll & Hyde" by Tabs Productions
Nottingham Theatre Royal.

As Andrew Fettes, the actor who played "Hyde" said at the end of the show, "it soon comes round, doesn't it?", and it does, and I for one was looking forward to the new Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season, which started on Monday night with Robert Louis Stevenson's gothic thriller, "Jekyll & Hyde".

The story of Dr Henry Jekyll who, after a tot or two of smoky bubbling liquid, turns into the evil killer, Mr Edward Hyde.Hyde is pursued by lawyer and Jekyll's close friend Gabriel Utterson, followed closely behind by Inspector Newcomen and his trusty sidekick Detective Constable whoever, his name's not given and isn't important anyway in the context of the story.

Andrew Ryan plays Utterson who has the feeling that something isn't quite right with his close friend Dr Jekyll and his other close friend, Dr Hastie Lanyon but can't quite fathom the connection between Jekyll, Lanyon and Hyde until after Jekyll's and Lanyon's death when all is revealed in a letter to Utterson. You can always rely on Mr Ryan to deliver a cracking performance and this is one of Andrew's more serious and melodramatic roles.

David Gilbrook plays the Inspector who clings on like a dog with a bone until he gets the answers he wants; his sidekick played by relative newcomer, Ryan Mitchell.

Dr Jekyll is played by Robert Laughlin, and while there's every opportunity to take the character really over the top, Robert kept the thrashing around within the realms of Victorian believability.His counterpart, the evil Mr Hyde is played with evil relish by Andrew Fettes.

There are some lovely minor character roles played by Susan Earnshaw, David Osmond, Anna Mitcham and Elise Solis and Charlotte Wright, who are both from Nottingham and play the two juvenile girls in the play. With a cast such as this, they must have had great fun.

Melodrama is the key and the Victorian London set design, plus the lighting and sound heightened and highlighted the suspense. The wonderful red and black lighting silhouetting Hyde was extremely powerful and just part of the effective and evocative lighting design by Michael Donoghue. The eerie sound effects designed by David Gilbrook.

Directed by Nicholas Briggs, he really keeps the suspense up, which does not come as a surprise as he has a solid grounding in recent TV Dr Who productions.

If you're a regular Thriller Season fan, you'll know exactly what to expect and you won't be in for a disappointment. if you wish to venture away from the TV thrillers and murder mysteries and see a live thriller, you will love it, and even if you don't get into this gothic masterpiece, there three more weeks of classics to follow.

"Jekyll and Hyde" can be seen at Nottingham's Theatre Royal until Saturday 8 August 2015 and is a solid start to this year's season. Don't hyde away, come and see it!