Wednesday, 27 January 2016

"Sleeping Beauty" by Burton Joyce Players
Burton Joyce and Bulcote Village Hall

The Burton Joyce Players present their annual panto, written by Julie Shone and directed by Avril McCormick, and has a cast that won't put you to sleep for any length of time. it's a lively story with some amusing characters and, although it strays slightly from the traditional storyline in places, it's a refreshing take on the well worn tale.

It's packed with fun pop tunes that is aimed at the younger audience but still retains the dancing girls section to a nice ballet section to Saint Saens "The Aquarium" from "The Carnival Of Animals". The dancing courtesy of The Sally Ashworth Dancers. As I said, some brilliant singalong, poppy numbers like "Bills", which the audience practically took over in the chorus, "Y.M.C.A", Abba's "Gimme Gimme Gimme", Taylor Swift's "Shake It Up", Take That's "Greatest Day" and many many more.

The panto, at times was a bit like "The Play That Goes Wrong" with forgotten lines, sound effects that were late, bangs and noises from back stage, a lack of lighting in one part, but you know what, all of these added to the fun of the show and,althouigh this was a non-professional production, the cast took all of this in their stride. At one stage Tom Shepherd, who played Brother Contagious, one of the monks, ad libbed that even the Theatre Royal forget their lines, and he's right. It's how you deal with it and move on that makes the difference and these lot dealt with these minor issues admirably.

I can remember seeing actor Amanda Donohue in a play where she forgot her lines twice and barked for her line. I also saw Shane Richie, in a different play, forget his lines and made a joke of it and carried on. Who do you think gained my respect more?

You can see in an actor's eyes when something has gone wrong. You'll either see blind panic and fear or you'll see a twinkle, knowing that they can use it to their advantage and run with it until he gets on track, and I saw both in the eyes of some of these panto members. Nevertheless it all added to the great fun of this production, and some bits should be kept in, as I found the late door creak quite amusing.

So to the actors. Chris Mercer played Dame Diddleum and as soon as I saw his name in this role, I knew it would be classic dame fare. having seen Chris in a couple of other productions last year, I'd every confidence in a pacy and fun dame, and I was not disappointed.

Zoe Sansom played Princess Charlotte, and what a lovely clear voice she has, and she also dealt well with the "enthusiasm" of the young crowd while singing her ballad.

The two monks, and I must admit, were my favourites. Tom Shepherd, who looks like a young Andy Whyment from Coronation Street, and Adam Miller (Brother Infectious). Adam is such a laid back actor and his self confidence brings a very relaxed and confident performance to his character. Even when the jokes went wrong, he still battled on and got the laugh. A very funny pairing which really worked well.

I loved The Wicked Fairy. Linda Burgin's performance reminded me a little of Jo Brand (and I love Jo Brand). frightening enough to be scary but not overstepping that line and combining the wickedness with just enough of a comedy element to make it all work.

The Nelligan Sisters were, again, a wonderful piece of casting in Kathy Matthews and Jane Murray. They made me smile! The director also got it spot on with the King and Queen (Steve Armstrong and Lisa Ostrowsky-Weston).

The good fairies were led by the King of The fairies and again, loved Trevor Wright's really confident role. Looking like a Bowie/Bolan jumpsuit model, he harked back to the days of glam rock with his costume and make-up.

One fairy I must single out was the Sugar Plum Fairy, played by Ian Hichens. The most unlikely fairy ever and I loved it. Another brilliant comedy role.

Tom McHugh played Billy Bun and, in the nicest possible way, all I had to do was look at him in character, and he made me smile.

There were several other roles including the photographer, Mr Snappit, the Town Crier and his apprentice (who's face I recognised but couldn't see a credit in the programme), the pantomime horse, a bear, rooks, a panto dog and of course Prince Charming, played by Dan Miller. Every ingredient and character went to make a very enjoyable panto.

Look out for the audience participation bits, and there are several you can join in with. At first I thought a tad too many but it all worked for the different characters well.

Really good use of lighting to highlight the good and the bad characters, by Steve Hughes and some brilliant costumes for all characters, thanks to Jenny Harwood. And the sets weren't at all bad either; a pat on the back to Lynn Carr,Linda McDonough and Sara Kyle.

All in all a fun, pacy and enthusiastic show with some good bouncy pop songs and some funny, and original alongside the classic, jokes. Some of these slightly over the heads of the young crowd in on first night. Well worth seeing.

"Sleeping Beauty" is on at The Burton Joyce and Bulcote Village Hall until Saturday 30 January 2016.

Monday, 25 January 2016

"Cats" by Christchurch Theatre Club
Loughborough Town Hall

This has never been one of my favourite Lloyd-Webber musicals and I was in doubt before hand that CTC's production would be able to turn my opinions. Well, I finally got it! I understand what the fascination with this musical is. I realise that the musical is telling us the story about each individual cat, their attraction, their quirks and their fur balls, sorry foibles. Now it may not be up there with "Joseph" or "Jesus Christ Superstar" but this is a different style of musical.

"Cats" is a more dance-based musical and you can only admire the amount of choreography that goes into this show. You can also only admire the hard work and stamina that the performers of Christchurch Theatre Club need to perform with some of those costumes and under those theatre spotlights.

The whole musical is an ensemble piece and it would be unfair to pussy foot around and highlight some of the performers, because every actor and dancer on that stage formed the varied and complex pieces of a jigsaw. If one was missing the picture, as a whole, would not be complete. In fact to go even further than those on stage, the whole production team created the whole "Cats" experience. An amazingly talented and hard working cast.

We start off with a rather magical light show, designed by Robert Bridges, the amazing choreography by Michael Gamble, who also directed the musical. Vicki Hing was the musical director, and in a musical like this where the music is practically non-stop, the orchestra must have felt they were having a work out there. No cat-napping for them! A set, designed by Scenic Projects, filled the entire back space of the stage, making it look twice the size of what I'd noticed before, leaving a large performance space to the fore.

It was just as well there was that space because the cast is a large one, which made sure that the stage manager, Adrian Wray's job all the more important to get everything, and everyone in the correct places for the smooth running of the show.

The costumes were brilliant and snug fitting on the younger cats, which must have made the choreography a little easier than that of the older cats like Old Deutronomy, who had the biggest of costumes. David Perkins (Old Deutonomy) must be sweating off the pounds under all that fur! As was Gus the Theatre Cat (Duncan Gadsby)because the costume for those two looked, even if they weren't, heavy to wear, which gives the impression of the older slower cat.

Make up, as expected, was also a work of art, and under the heat of the stage, must have been in danger of being applied. The wigs were also especially designed to match the personality and character as well as the colouring of the cat. An immense amount of work went into the costumes, wigs and make up alone because, like the set, CTC were not able to use anything from the original design of the Lloyd-Webber musical design. You really appreciate the enormity of the show and why this is such a big project to undertake for a non-professional theatre group.

The music is complex because the lyrics are all from the poetry of T.S Eliot and I'm sure that the vocalists had more than a few headaches getting to grips with them, only to make the end result sound so good. "Memory" sung by Grizabella (Lucy Gamble) is the main song from the show but there are so many other memorable songs here. "Magical Mr Mistoffolees"(Craig Butterworth), Rum Tum Tugger's cheeky and saucy song, sung by Benjamin Hardy, Gus's song and Skimbleshanks song (Jack Hardy), as well as the catchy song for Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (Aaron Murray and Laura Barker).

There are 26 performers who made up this brilliant cast which made for an eye catching spectacle on stage, as well as occasionally roaming the auditorium. All I can say is that Christchurch Theatre Club have managed to convert me to a musical that I probably didn't understand which is why I've never enjoyed the show before, into a fully fledged "Cats" lover. For me, after tonight, it was like looking at a completely new musical with old eyes, or an old musical with new eyes. Whatever, I loved this show, the stories about the cats, the choreography, the music, the whole experience.

The show is sold out but it's always worth checking for cancellations at the box office, because to miss this show would be a cat astrophe.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

"Tiptoe Through The Tombstones" by Norman Robbins
The Bonington Players
Bonington Theatre, Arnold.

A comedy thriller that gives you the MMMM factor. Murder, Mayhem, Mystery and Mirth. A gathering of the Tomb family has been arranged by a solicitor and his secretary regarding the reading of a will but one by one they seem to be getting bumped off, but by whom?

Let's look at the possible suspects/victims of the piece. Octavia Tomb is the one who seems to be in touch with her family the most, well that is her past family, or should that be the family that have passed? Kerry Williams has a ball as the medium with questionable powers of reaching the other side, but someone helps her to reach the other side quicker than she hoped for.

Henrietta Tomb; the gung ho, jolly hockey sticks no-nonsense member of the strange family strides across the stage like a farmer surveying his land. Played by Lindsey Parr, and lovely to see another side of Lindsey as the last role I saw her in was in "Macbeth", this is an out and out comedy role which really suited her comedic timing and facial expressions.

Augustus Tomb, the doctor, with his haughty "I'm in charge" attitude, could he really get his hands dirty with murder? Well it wouldn't be the first time would it? Eddie Janusczcyk pumps his chest out to the max for this role who's not such a hot shot with a gun as he, and his family think.

Athene Tomb is, at first just a scatty and rather dotty old lady with some wonderful family anecdotes. Jo Thomas portrays Athene in such a way but has she got a darker side?

And the final, or is the final remaining member of the Tomb family is sex-mad and vampish Fabia. Anna Hodkin reminded me, in her role as Fabia, as a mix of all of the best characters from Catherine Tate. Very funny and over amorous with hands like an octopus where men are concerned. Would Fabia be too busy trying to grab a piece of children's entertainer, Larry Lewis, who, on this foggy night just happened to wrap his van around their gate post, dressed as a clown, to tear herself away for a bit of murderous skullduggery?

The solicitor, Mortimor Crayle (Vic Roberts) and his secretary Zoe (Zoe Lander) could be involved but after Crayle disappears under strange circumstances, he could be the number one suspect... especially as no body has been found. Could this be a red herring? Well Athene did say that she smelt fish!

Now the only other two people in the house are the hired cleaner and the maid. Vernon Prewitt is the oh so camp cleaner with a theatrical penchant and Edna Honeywell the maid who just wanted to do her best and get out of the place before the Tombs arrived. Christian King plays the very camp Vernon, surely no-one could be that camp, could they Vern? or is he making good use of his acting skills? After all Vern did have a walk on part in "Emmerdale" and several other roles on his CV. over qualified for a simple cleaner but I suppose every "actress" has a period of "resting" don't they?

Edna, played by Helen Holbrook, is all a bit nervous and wet behind the ears and how she managed to get taken on by that agency is a mini wonder.

The play is riddled with twists and turns and red herrings and the ending came as a surprise to me, as I'm sure will to you as well. A well written and witty script brought to life under the direction of Bob Wildgust. The creeping music adds a wonderful tension to the piece. A wonderful set designed by David Goatham and built by Richard Gee, Nigel Kenton, Dave Mattison and Tony Tomlinson with brilliant attention to detail for the period.

There are many wonderful one-liners delivered by a confident cast in this very entertaining thriller mystery which is on at The Bonington Theatre, Arnold until Saturday 23 January 2016, but for anyone with a phobia of clowns...................I never found clowns that funny anyway!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

"Beautiful Thing"
Nottingham Lace Market Theatre

There have been several times when I have really looked forward to seeing a production; I've built my expectations and hopes up only for the production to let me down. WELL NOT THIS ONE!! This show met and exceeded all my expectations.

"Beautiful Thing" is a play written by Jonathan Harvey, the same man who gave us the brilliant "Gimme Gimme Gimme" for TV, but, for anyone who knows nothing of this play, it's quite different from the TV comedy. Basically this is a love story between two people, it just so happens that the two people in question are two teenage boys. We can all remember falling in love for the first time and that awkwardness, the shyness, the not wanting to be rejected by the other one, and this is what this play is all about.

Ste and Jamie are neighbours and go to the same school. Ste is the sports fan and Jamie can't stand sports, but it's when Ste seeks out the solace of Jamie's home after being hit by his abusive father, that the protective feelings start to materialise with Jamie which develop into what is a tender and sweet love story.

Jamie, played by Jak Truswell, makes all the running after tending to Ste, played by Sean Radford, and his bruises as they share Jamie's bed, top and tailing. Both actors have played the roles in the past and they make both characters believable. The initial awkwardness is also packed with nervous tension and you really feel for Jamie as he's unsure how Ste will react. You could cut the atmosphere in the Lace Market Theatre with a knife, as well hearing pins drop. I, along with the rest of the audience, hung on to every word and action. A tribute to Sean and Jak's understanding of the characters and their acting abilities.

The other roles are also very character driven and the very talented cast gave wonderful performances.

Sandra, Jamie's mum, at first sight is a slightly selfish and unloving mother but as the play devolops she turns out to be just what Jamie needs. The touching scene where she confronts Jamie about his sexuality after his visit to a gay bar with Ste, is quite emotional and lovely. Jemma Froggatt plays Sandra with great gusto, showing that hard Southern outer surface but with a compassionate and tender underbelly. The scene where Sandra and Jamie are fighting is so realistic, you can hear, and almost feel, the slaps they trade, making you take a sharp intake of breath.

Leah, the neighbour, is of the same age of the lads and is a drop out from school. She loves the music of Mama Cass, which provides the soundtrack to her life as well as the play. Leah is a tough cookie who really just wants to be loved, which, although she finds a bitter enemy in Sandra, they seem to be cut from the same cloth. This makes the ending even more emotive. Leah is a very different role from those I've seen Rosina Reading play in the past and it was good to see the fire in her role. Her drug scene is awkwardly comical to watch as you're not sure whether you should be laughing at the pitiful, and dangerous situation Leah has put herself in.

Tony is Sandra's latest, well the fourth, boyfriend of late. A hippy artist who is so laid back, he's almost horizontal. Damian Frendo plays Tony who is just a bit too suffocating for Sandra and while Ste and Jamie's affections rise, Sandra and Tony's is on the wane, well from Sandra's side that is. The wardrobe department didn't have to work too hard on Tony's outfits!

This play is the directorial debut for Bex Mason, but I feel that this may not be the last because she has given us a sensitive and emotional piece of theatre, bringing the play up to date from it's 1993 creation, injecting modern references to One Direction, the TV show "Pointless" and Sam Smith to make sure it's kept fresh. A wonderful job done.

The set is split into two sections. the three doors for the three neighbours and a smaller section for Jamie's bedroom. Realistically created and functional designed by Max Bromley. And for the record, that bed is just right for one person and let's face it, Sandra, I'm sure wasn't expecting Jamie to be sharing it with anyone on a permanent basis, especially at fifteen years old,but it looked like it could be pretty toasty snuggled up to someone else under that quilt!

Sensitive lighting design created day and night and gave the impression of passing time, ably created by Matthew Allcock, Charlie Bailey, Allan Green, Peter Hodgkinson and Rosina Reading. Again the end lighting effects created just the loveliest of final scenes. The sound engineers normally only get a mention if the sound is bad and jarring, but it was perfect; I could hear every word and the sound of the Mama Cass records played by Leah gave the effect that the music was from her house, giving spacial awareness to the settings. Another pat on the back to Charlie, Peter, Matthew and Teya Simone.

As I said, this production exceeded everything I was hoping for. I love this play for the messages it gives out in a comical, but at the same time sensitive way and while homophobia may still be a reality today, this play gives out the wonderful message that it doesn't matter who you fall in love with, as long as you fall in love. it also shows that you can't always judge a book by the cover. It's ending, in my mind, is one of the best because you always feel like punching the air and whispering "yessss!"

"Beautiful Thing" is on at The Nottingham Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 23 January 2016 and I would urge everyone to try and see this show. It's a beautiful piece of theatre presented by an amazing cast and produced by a wonderful theatre group.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Priscilla Queen Of The Desert
Nottingham Royal Concert Hall.

 Adapted from Stephan Elliott's 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the musical tells the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman, who contract to perform a drag show at a resort in Alice Springs, a resort town in the remote Australian desert. As they head west from Sydney aboard their pink bus, Priscilla, the three friends come to the forefront of a comedy of errors, encountering a number of strange characters, as well as incidents of homophobia, while widening comfort zones and finding new horizons.

The last time I saw this, I commented that Jason Donovan, who reprises the role of Tick, aka Mitzi Mitosis, could have camped it up more, after all this is one, if not the most camp musicals around. This time around Jason ramped up the camp and I loved it. Tick's character was once married and he has a son, Benji, who he hasn't seen, and by accepting the cabaret slot would also mean he could get to know his son, as his wife, Marion, runs the venue where the floorshow/cabaret will be held.

Loved the two sides of Tick; the doting father who wants to meet his son, but is afraid of what his son's reaction to his homosexuality and his drag persona, and the outrageous alter ego, Mitzi. Donovan didn't take himself too seriously either. While discussing Kylie Minogue with Adam/Felicia, he comments that he always fancied Scott (Robinson), the role Jason played in "Neighbours". Donovan looked relaxed and at ease with the character, and that's what made us believe in the character. His voice is also as strong as it always has been as he belts out the many disco hits from the soundtrack.

Robin Mills played the role of Adam/Felicia, the other drag queen of the trio. the youngest of the three characters and the most headstrong. This was proven when he went into the Aussie outback redneck bar in full drag looking for some "Hot Stuff" and getting a little more than he bargained for. Again when you scratch the surface of the foundation and make up, there's a sensitive side to the character who just wants to be loved. Robin also has a good set of lungs on him, as shown in his version of Kylie's "Confide In Me".

Bernadette, the elder transgender character, is played by Simon Green. the more sensible one of the three and one of the old school of female impersonators, and the butt of Felicia's jokes and often quite cruel remarks. There's a wonderful scene where Tick meets up with Bernadette at Trumpet's funeral. Trumpet being Bernadette's partner, and you find out how he got that nickname, and it's nothing to do with his musical abilities either!! A classy performance by Green who you really hope finds the happy ending he is seeking. And with Bob in for the ride, he may just do that.

Bob is the mechanic who finds them, after their bus breaks down, and takes them into his home. He fixes the bus and then travels with them to Alice Springs for the cabaret gig. Not your usual Aussie redneck from the area as he sticks up for Felicia and Bernadette when trouble with the locals get ugly.

Some brilliant lesser characters in Cynthia ( Julie Yammanee ), the ping pong popping wannabee star who is married to Bob, and the female bar owner whose chest has an acting role of their own. And then there's Miss Understanding, played by Callum MacDonald, and don't you dare turn up late when she's on stage! Tick's son, Benji, is a cutie as well and delivers a really confident performance. Two young actors take turn with the role and tonight it was the turn of William Rhead, who shares the role throughout the run with Toby Gretton.

The other star of the production, which deserves a mention, is Priscilla, the bus, which was the concept of Brian Thomson.

As you can imagine the costumes, designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, are just amazing, as is the make up from Cassie Hanlon. And while we're talking production crew, the lighting of the show created a wonderfully colourful spectacle and was the work of Nick Schlieper. The show was directed by Simon Phillips and co-choreographed by the late Ross Coleman and Andrew Hallsworth. the music was under supervision of Matthew J Loughran.

Much as I loved the show last time it was here, this time I loved it even more. It brought out the inner camp in me (some would say that this doesn't take a lot). The pink production contained so many glittery hits that everyone can shake their groove thang to. Hits like "I Will Survive", "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun", "Finally", "Go West", "Can't Get You Outta My Head", "Downtown", "Colour My World", "MacArthur Park" and "Don't Leave Me this Way", will have you throwing your Chloe clutch bag into the ring to dance round in your Jimmy Choos.

Brilliantly entertaining show with a wonderful, talented cast and some of your favourite ping pong popping pink pound party platters that will have you dancing out into the night air all this week, up to Saturday 23 January 2016.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Thriller Live
Nottingham Royal Concert Hall

Michael Jackson was an icon, The King of Pop, and tonight at the Royal Concert Hall this company of dancers and singers cemented that fact with a full pelt run down memory lane. From the early Motown days, encompassing almost every hit single he, and the Jackson Five/Jacksons had. You will never be able to replicate the amazing live shows Jackson put on, but this show comes pretty close to providing anyone, like myself who never had the chance to see the King of Pop in concert, a chance to experience the incredibly well crafted pop, r 'n' b, soul, disco and good time music he gave the world, in a concert setting.

The five brilliant vocalists didn't provide impressions of Jackson, they paid tribute to the man of the white glove, and in many places you could just shut your eyes and it was uncanny how close the vocals were to Michael's. Sean Christopher, Shaquille Hemmans, Michael Kavuma, Cleopatra Higgins and Rory Taylor brought back to life the spirit of the man. Cleopatra, who you may remember from the band Cleopatra, sang many of the earlier back catalogue, giving buckets full of aching soul to songs like "Who's Loving You" and the achingly beautiful "I'll Be There" as well as a gorgeous duet in "I Just Can't Stop Loving You", the number one song Jackson recorded with Siedah Garrett. Rory did one amazing job on "She's Out Of My Life", what emotion that man has in his voice, but they all gave strong vocal performances.

An amazing troupe of very energetic dancers kept all of our energy levels up. Every one bringing the video routines to life on stage, as well some incredible contemporary moves complete with some very athletic signature backflips from dancer Peter Cleverley, every dancer giving that "WOW" factor. "Thriller" is one dance we've all tried to do at a family party or wedding and this was one just one of many many highlights choreographed by Gary Lloyd.

The set was designed by Jonathan Park and was practical for all of the dance routines, as well as being exciting to look at. An explosion of electric colour scapes created some wonderful video effects, courtesy of The Twins FX, adding even more excitement to the already bursting show. The costumes were also amazing bringing the memories of Jackson's iconic videos flooding back to life before your very eyes. Who can forget the white suit for "Smooth Criminal", the white diamond encrusted glove outfit for "Billie Jean", the red leather jacket and jeans for "Thriller" as well as the disco period of the mid to late 70's tight jumpsuits. Yes they were all there!

The live band directed musically by ex Level 42er Mike Lindup, brought an incredible throbbing dance beat to the Royal Concert Hall. The two guitarists, Rob Minns and Alan Salmon, making that recognisable rock guitar sound as if Slash had been there in the room on "Beat It". What an amazing atmosphere.

i saw this show a few years ago and, looking back at my review then, I could see just how tight this show has become, both choreography wise and music wise. Maybe, and I am really being picky here, the lip-synching could have been just a bit better, but this was only because I was looking for it. If I hadn't had been looking for it, i wouldn't have probably noticed. 

A couple of the popping and locking dance segments also could have been sharper with more locking off from the dancers, but again I was watching for it. No one can dance like Jackson, let's face it if Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were fans of the man's moves, and even Sammy Davis Jr couldn't copy the intricateness of the choreography, these dancers really had their job cut out. You know what though, this whole show is just one fantastic, and loyal tribute to a musical legend and the singers and dancers worked their butts off to give the audience the closest thing to an original Jackson greatest hits tour, and the audience lapped it up, we were in their hands all night.

I've been a fan of Jackson's since the early seventies when I discovered the "Michael and Me" album, and I've been a fan since then, and still am today. Forget his personal issues, concentrate an the massive musical legacy he gave us and go and see this whirlwind of an incredible, and lovingly produced tribute to a musical legend.

So many hits including "ABC", "I Want You Back", "Can You Feel It", "Shake Your Body Down", "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough", "Off The Wall", "Earth Song", "Man In the Mirror", "Dangerous", "Bad", "Billie Jean", "They Don't Care About Us", the list goes on and on and on.

"Thriller Live" is on at the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall until Saturday 16 January 2016