Thursday, 25 February 2016

"Dracula"  by David Mynne
Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.

Presented as part of Derbyshire's Live & Local which supports rural and community touring productions in various venues throughout the county. David Mynne, who was a leading light in setting up Kneehigh Theatre in Cornwall, formed Rabbit Theatre and is touring his version of the story of Bram Stoker's "Dracula". This is theatre with a difference; a one man show of story-telling with sound effects and light, and a whole lot of batty comedy.

The stage was only just lit, creating that certain mid light eeriness, setting the atmosphere beautifully. David appeared from the rear of the stage shadows and started to relate the story of Dracula. he operated all of the lights and did all of the sound effects himself, as well as operating the props. Stripped back theatre can sometimes be the most evocative. Leaving it simple and uncluttered makes you focus more on the actor and the words and David is a wonderful story-teller. he painted pictures in your head, playing every character himself, balancing the legend and myth of the infamous fanged blood-sucker with an original line in comedy.

The attraction was obvious as the audience couldn't take their eyes from David, who became even more eerie when the red spotlight created a spooky bloody-hued face of David, who became Dracula, and then as quick reverted back to Van Helsing the vampire hunter or the doctor, Mina or any one of the several characters he introduced within the story, eventually leaving us with the "to be continued....." cliffhanger.

A brilliant night of comedy and chills, or was that just the air conditioning, I'm not sure. It must be difficult to hold an audience in the palm of your hand, enticing them into your supernatural world, hypnotising them to make them hang on to your every word and then to break the spell by making them laugh. Difficult as I imagine this was, David managed it and he cast his spell on us. 

Monday, 22 February 2016

"Fawlty Towers" by Encore Performing Arts
Nottingham Arts Theatre.

I am a massive fan of the TV comedy series "Fawlty Towers" and, not having seen any of the shows that have been produced for the stage, I wondered if there would be the same comedy affect. I didn't need to worry as I have not laughed as much as I have tonight, and I mean laugh, a proper laugh, not a giggle or a titter but a proper belly laugh!

The scripts for "Fawlty Towers" are some of the funniest in TV comedy history and this talented and fairly new cast present the script in a fluid and faithful way, which is half the battle won.

Basil Fawlty is one of the most recognised and iconic comedy characters of the 1970's and Graham Buchanan personifies the whole Fawlty character without doing an impression of the great comedy character. He has the walk, he has the expressions and he also sounds a lot like Cleese's famous hotel owner. Graham has the majority of the lines, and the bulk of the brilliant one-liners as well. He delivers like I've never seen him deliver before, but is just one of the many stars of this production.

Sybil is played by Claire Farrand-Preston, one of the new names to me and what an introduction. The Sybil laugh is there and the well known catch phrase "Oooh I know" is there. A wonderful comedy female character who Claire has paid a wonderful tribute to in her performance.

Adam Guest as the Spanish waiter, Manuel, is the third of the "Fawlty Four" and another very funny portrayal. This is the second time that Adam has played Manuel, and it is great to see him in a comedy role where the timing, and relationship with Graham's Basil is wonderful to see. you know when you have got it spot on when you get appreciation from the audience after a big scene, which Adam received, and quite rightly so.

Polly, played by Zoe Stebbings, is one of those comedy characters that is slightly under rated in my opinion and she makes a brilliant Encore debut in this role.

Loved the two elderly ladies, Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby, played by Angela Walters and Jenny Carty, and well worth keeping an eye on during the main action because they really are very funny on the sidelines.

Terry Stevenson as the Major has the absent mindedness character off to a tee, especially in the final part of the trio, "Communication Problems". This episode also has one of my favourite Fawlty characters in Mrs Richards, the deaf old bird who thinks she has lost some money at the hotel. this is a comedy classic and played so close to Joan Sanderson's original role by Sandy C Lane. A wonderful close to a magnificent trio of Fawlty classics.

There were so many brilliant characters created by John Cleese and Connie Booth and in "The Hotel inspectors" the character of Mr Hutchinson is one of the highlghts of this very funny episode and Ross Lowe shines in this role. This particular episode also has some great slapstick fighting between Hutchinson and Fawlty.

Lord Melbury in " A Touch Of Class" played by Martin Briggs and Danny Brown, the CID officer who rumbles the Lord, played by Jack Readyhoof are worlds apart but great characters in typical Cleese/Booth characterization as Fawlty tries to attract a more upmarket clientele for the hotel and, as expected, fails magnificently.

The rest of the cast, Al Grant, Andrew Bould,Amy Clover, Kathryn McAuley, Josh Birchall, Arun Hayes and Verna Bayliss complete the class cast list.

Directed by Ollie Turner, who I also had the pleasure of seeing him as producer of "American Idiot" for the now defunct Streetlight Theatre Arts, brings a wealth of talent to the show and keeps the theatre production very close to what you'd expect from watching the TV series. No mean feat as Ollie is far too young to experience the shows the first time round, but he does a cracking job, keeping the action rolling on with not too many longer than expected spaces. Not sure if these were intended but would hardly have been noticeable to anyone else not so well versed in Fawlty. Ollie is ably assisted in the direction role by Milly Shawcross.

Produced by one of the busiest men in local theatre at the moment, Sam Griffiths, these three, along with the brilliant Encore backbone behind the scenes, and often in front of the scenes, they present an evening consisting of some of the funniest lines written, acted by some of the nicest and talented people I've seen on stage. A great multi functional set as well.

If you like a really good laugh and reliving some classic 70's sit com moments, go along to the Nottingham Arts Theatre for "A Touch Of Class", "The Hotel Inspector" and "Communication Problems" which is on until Saturday 27 February 2016. Do not miss this show.

You'll also find some collection buckets at the end for donations to an excellent charity in Macmillan Cancer Trust, so if you pop down, please give what you can.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

"The Tiger's Bones And Other Stories" by Ted Hughes
Lakeside Theatre

Ted Hughes was an English poet and children's writer. Critics frequently rank him as one of the best poets of his generation, and one of the twentieth century's greatest writers. He served as Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998.

New Perspectives have taken three of Hughes' stories, "The Coming Of The Kings", "Sean, The Fool, The Devil and The Cat" and "The Tiger's Bones" and put them together in a show, aimed at kids but just as enjoyable for older kids as well, like me. It's animated acting approach is great for younger kids, in the same way as the audience for the excellent "Horrible Histories" theatre tours, making the subject matter fun and exciting for them, keeping the little ones' attention for the full seventy minutes.

Four actors, Heather Dutton, Harry Egan, George Eggay and Ed Thorpe play every part in the three stories, breezing through them all and making the time fly. The stories, combined with their enthusiasm for the parts leave you hanging on to Hughes' words and the actors' actions. The chosen stories cover themes of death, spirituality and the supernatural as well as the story leading up to the birth of Christ. Pretty varied, I'm sure you'll agree for a trio of children's stories.

I've always loved the art of story-telling and these four actors are expert in bringing literal pictures to life. Directed by Jack McNamara with a sparse but then again complex set. I know this sounds like a contradiction in terms but you'd need to see it to understand what I mean. The soundtrack for the three plays is all original music, composed and designed by James Atherton. the highlight of these clever songs , for me, being "Never Forget The Cat" which has seriously dark overtones, but fits in so well with the story behind the song.

The play is for anyone over the age of seven and is on at Nottingham's Lakeside Theatre but only until Tuesday 23 February 2016, so hurry up and get those tickets for a truly magical tribute to one of Britain's finest wordsmiths.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

"A Woman Of No Importance" by Oscar Wilde
Lace Market Theatre

It was with Wilde anticipation that i went to see this production at the Lace Market Theatre, as it was only just over a week ago that I saw "The Importance Of Being Earnest" here in Nottingham, and when you see the two in close proximity you appreciate the way that Wilde writes with such wit and characterization. He has a style of writing that every one can understand and recognise and if he were alive today he would a brilliant stand up comedian or sitcom writer.

Wilde  explores the double standards that existed between men and women in the Victorian Era. Men were forgiven for their indiscretions far more readily than women, and women were more condemned for moral failings. Women had few rights, as well. The plot is very simple, but it is the psychological interactions between the characters that reveal a darker side to the Victorian Era.

Gerald Arbuthnot has been offered a job by Lord George Ellingworth and is over the moon about the new position but his mother, Mrs Arbuthnot doesn't seem to be too pleased that her only son is moving up in the world. Now why would that be? What has she against Lord Ellingworth?

Director Dan Maddison has done a brilliant job ensuring that all the wit of Wilde is presented with timing, not rushing the plot, in fact the plot unwound nice and steadily around the main plot line with the Arbuthnots and Ellingworth. The interim stories and characters drawing you in to the reason as to how, and why the bombshell is dropped when it was.

A simple but effective set non detracting from the story and characters but just enough to flesh out the scenes and make them visually attractive. Designed by David Hope he added to the feel of the Victorian era with class.

A fairly large cast for a Wilde play but with wonderful character. Take for instance Lady Pontefract, played beautifully with dry comic humour by Beverley Anthony. She's always got her eye on her husband, for whom she knows what is best for him, and attempts to keep him on a short leash. A wonderful matriarchal role.

John Anthony plays Lord Pontefract, the hen-pecked husband. There is a lovely realism between the two characters, which could be because away from the theatre, they are husband and wife.

Ruth Page plays the outspoken and slightly opinion laden American Hester Worsley. I was impressed by the accent because so many times there is a tendency to try and slightly over do an American accent and it sounds forced, but Ruth nailed it.

Eileen Frier-Kelsey played Lady Hunstanton with marvellous class befitting a character of such Victorian standing. The character is one of those that you really warm to, in a story where several of the characters are, shall we say, "stuck up" and self important.

Gerald, is played by Nick Parvin, and gets to portray a varied array of emotion in this role. From the excitement of his job offer, through naievity shown by his chat with his future employer about women, to his emotional outburst and protectiveness to his mother. Not as simple as the role first seems due to the complexity of the situation forced upon him.

I loved the role of Mrs Allonby, played by Amy Farmer. Very flirtatious at a time where this maybe wasn't the correct attitude for a lady to take. there's a very wordy passage that Amy has to deliver which was performed excellently and drew a well deserved, mid play show of appreciation from the audience. the twinkle in Amy's eye, even though befitting the character, I feel was because she loves playing this kind of confident female role.

Mrs Allonby's best friend, Lady Stutfield was played by Tilda Stickley and added a nice dollop of comedy to the play with her character's manner of speaking.

Stephen Herring played the flirty Mr Kettle, sorry Kelvil, who also got the rough end of Lady Pontefract's tongue.

The part of Lord Ellingworth was played so convincingly and with such confidence in the script by Guy Evans. The speeches delivered with such gusto and the arrogance of the dandy character was brought to the fore wonderfully.

Mrs Arbuthnot is played by Kay Harrison and what a lovely, emotional and tender performance she gives here. It makes you wonder how Mrs Arbuthnot and Lord Ellingworth were teamed up by Wilde, as the characters are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and this is shown without doubt in this performance.

Other roles were played by Thomas Broadbent as Farquhar, Peter Hillier as The Archdeacon, who also has some funny retorts to share, and Olga Karaiosif as Alice the maid. Oscar winning performances by all and thoroughly enjoyed by an almost full theatre, which is always good to see on a local amateur level.

It's everything you'd expect from an Oscar Wilde play. Very classy, very funny and some brilliant costumes as well, thanks to Barry Holland, Doreen Hunt and Doreen Sheard.

"A Woman of No Importance" is on at the Nottingham Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 20 February 2016.

Monday, 15 February 2016

"Blood Brothers"
Nottingham Theatre Royal

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that this is my all time favourite musical. I've seen the show several times and the emotion still gets to me, as it does the cast as well.

For anyone who doesn't know the story it's all about Mrs Johnstone who has several children and takes a job cleaning for Mrs Lyons. Just as she is making ends meet, Mrs J discovers that she is pregnant again, with twins. An agreement is struck between the two women that when the twins are born Mrs J would give one of the babies away to her employer, Mrs Lyons, who has discovered that she is having problems conceiving. Mrs Lyons then sacks Mrs Johnstone and moves away to the country with her husband and Eddie, the twin to Mickey. Thinking that this has seperated the two forever turns out to be far from what she had planned.

The story is one of the most powerful in British theatre and, like a game of football, it's in two halves. the first being high spirited and comical with the adults playing the kids. Life is carefree for the kids but not so much for the parents. Act One ends on a high, giving no premise to the dark act two to come. Although this musical is 29 years old, it's still as fresh today and covers the subjects of depression and murder, secrets and superstition, which is why it's one of the most popular musicals today. And there's not many musicals who can turn the atmosphere around as fast as this one with its' subject matter.

Lyn Paul plays Mrs Johnstone, and in my eyes the definitive Mrs J. Lyn has the most amazing voice still, and legs to match. She looks good and throughout the show we see her age gracefully. We also see her turn the emotions on and off and her finale of "Tell Me It's Not True" still had the hairs on the back of my neck up, and a tear to my eye. It always does and I hope that it always will. I've seen a few actors play Mrs Johnstone but there is only one Lyn Paul.

Mickey, the youngest of the clan and the twin that Mrs J brought up, was played by Sean Jones, who I've only ever seen Mickey played by. Sean switches from the young Mickey to the older, teenage Mickey from a fun-loving seven, nearly eight year old, typical naughty kid to the depressed ex jail-bird dependent pill popper frighteningly well, And it's frightening honest in its' portrayal of what could happen when the cards don't fall in your favour.

Mickey's twin, Eddie is brought up by the well to do Mr and Mrs Lyons. he has the best of everything. he goes to the right schools, university and lands himself with a well paid job, all the while unaware that he and Mickey are twins. Joel Benedict makes his professional debut in this role and he does a cracking job. Full of character.

Paula Tappenden returns to the role of Mrs Lyons, and I'm not sure if it's just me, but i think this role shows the rapid decline into paranoia better than I've seen before. There's a more defined spiralling into madness as she attempts to protect the secret she holds and is desperate to hide. Mrs Lyons is also shows more clearly in this production, or maybe I didn't notice before, that she seems to be the only one who can see "the devil" that is the narrator.

Kristofer Harding plays the narrator, and to start with I thought it a bit strange that there was no scouse accent for the narrator, but what i also noticed was that Kristofer added a certain amount of menace and threat to the role. Taunting evilly Mrs Lyons and her guilt as he sneeringly told the story. A deliciously dark character which brought out the impending danger of the play.

Was it just me but did Peter Washington look just a little bit too old to be playing Sammy the elder brother? Not that he didn't do a good job, it just jangled a bit for me as all of the other "kids", even though we knew they were adults, looked suitably younger. Peter played the bullying elder brother with a talent for an accurate aim of spit with great playfulness.

Linda, the love interest for Mickey, and lust interest of Eddie, was played by Danielle Corlass, who theatre goers may recognise from her appearances at the Nottingham Playhouse over the years. I can see the attraction there with Linda!

All the characters seemed to age really well thoughout the play and you can see the gradual change in their character and attitude to their different upbringing and surroundings.

Must also mention Graham Martin who played just about every other character in the musical. it was almost a game of spot which characters he didn't play!

They say the director is the glue that holds a show together and if that's the case, Bob Tomson is the equivalent of the extra strong variety. Wonderfully tight show with a great sense of comic timing and brooding, menacing atmosphere. Great pace and use of "dead space" to create that particular air of expectancy. 

The sound was so clear, again creating an atmosphere with the echo chamber on the songs that gave the words an eeriness i'd not really noticed that much in past productions. Dan Samson is the sound designer. the orchestra as well were top class, with an amazing percussion section, with the MD being Phil Gostelow and musical supervisor being Tom De Keyser.

There are some brilliant music pieces in "Blood Brothers". Every musicals fan will know "Tell Me It's Not True", but listen to the comedy in "Marilyn Monroe", the hope in "Brand New Day", the brooding superstition laden "Shoes On The Table", the sadness and loss of "My Child" and the loneliness of "Long Sunday Afternoon".

I've loved the show from the first time I saw it. There aren't too many musicals that feature depression, job loss, class divide, deceit, superstition, dependency, crime, armed robbery and close with a double death that gives so much emotion and entertainment value, as well as many many laughs, but this is why this show is in a class of its' own.

"Blood Brothers" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 20 February 2016. Please experience this unforgettable piece of theatre as soon as you can.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

"Anything Goes" by Musicality
Nottingham Arts Theatre.

I could sum up this performance with three words. This show is...... AMAZING!

From past experience I knew that this show would be of a high standard based on last year's "The Producers" and the previous year's "Phantom", so my expectations were already on a high. Top that with previously chatting to, and getting to know a bit about the producer, director and the actors who played Billy and Reno last month, I just knew that this was going to be a popular and talented cast and show.

Well every expectation was exceeded, and in the words of one of Porter's songs, "You're The Tops"! This show was like a perfect recipe, everything that should have been in there, was in there, and it was a tasty treat for eyes and ears and left a very nice after taste in your mouth.

Billy Crocker, a young Wall Street broker, has fallen in love at first sight with a beautiful girl he met in a taxi, Hope Harcourt. His boss, Elisha J. Whitney, is preparing to make a business deal and is going to travel to London aboard the SS American. Evangelist turned nightclub singer Reno Sweeney will be traveling aboard the same ship. Billy sees Reno as a friend, but she obviously has feelings for him. Billy stows away which is when he discovers Hope is on board with her fiancĂ© Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Throw into the mix a second-rate gangster, "Moonface" Martin, and his moll, Bonnie, and the deceit and fun begins.

Reno is played Amy Foden and what a belter of a voice she possesses. looking like a young Kylie Minogue, Amy won me over straight away with her wonderful character and powerful voice. She has a great confidence on stage and you feel really comfortable watching her perform.

Billy, played by Sam Wilson, also has a voice just made for musical theatre. i've heard Sam's vocals on more contemporary work, but singing musical theatre, and especially Cole Porter is something different, but he smashed it. Teamed with a very confidence persona in Billy, his charm shines through.

Hope, the object of Billy's affections, is played by Rebecca Lillie. She performs with emotion and is a pleasure to watch.

There are two characters who really put a smile on my face. Oliver Smith played Hope's fiance, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, with a wonderfully comic stiff upper lip and typical British misunderstanding of American terminology and slang, which makes for some very comical moments. When his gypsy is revealed, and that's not a euphemism, his whole persona changes.

Moonface Martin is a brilliant character, and in the past I've seen some actors not take the full advantage of this character and the comic opportunities, which has left the character a little flat. Not so with Laurence Cuthbert. He took every opportunity and gave an amazing performance. Such boundless enthusiasm in the dancing and character. Like everyone on that stage, he looked like he was having as much fun as we were, and that was infectious.

The very sexy Erma (Yasmin Ali) had all the sailors, at times, falling literally at her feet and some brilliant classic choreography for her main number with the aforementioned pursers, played by Jon Walker, Matthew Charlton, Joe Hincks and Kishan Soni; all four putting in some equally stylish song and dance numbers.

Jake Geleritter played Billy's boss, Elisha Whitney. Another very confident and his musical theatre history shows this confidence has been there for a while.

Jess Lacey is wonderfully over-bearing as Hope's mother with just the right amount of haughtiness.

A brilliant ensemble complement the above perfectly in all the song and dance numbers. A brilliant orchestra were crisp and punchy coupled with some wonderful lighting make this as close to perfection as you can get. It's very hard to believe that this show wasn't a professional production as it would not be out of place on the bigger stages.

Talking of production, I can't heap the praise enough because you can tell the hard graft that has been put into this show. Lucy Castle, the director and co choreographer, along with Luke Emery didn't put a step wrong with some brilliant, classy choreography. A theme that Luke has carried through the last three year's Musicality productions. Both choreographers could get this type of work anywhere in professional theatre with this calibre of work on their CVs.

Produced by Jordan Balkham and with Emma Kennedy (musical director), Adam Hollingshurst (assistant musical director) and Dominic Howlett (assistant director), they are the dream production team.

Great, but simple set, some brilliant Cole Porter songs, "I Get A Kick Out Of You", "It's De-Lovely", "Blow Gabriel Blow","All Through The Night" and of course "Anything Goes", wonderful costumes and a cast that, in my opinion, are nothing less than professional standard, this is one musical you'd be an absolute idiot to miss. 

The Arts Theatre was packed with a very enthusiastic crowd. Wasn't sure if anyone else gave a standing ovation at the end as I was already on my feet showing that I loved the show and wasn't bothered if I was the only one as this is one of the best productions I've seen this year.

"Anything Goes" is on at the Nottingham Arts Theatre until Saturday 13 February 2016. Don't miss your chance to see the West End stars of the future today!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

"Any Means Necessary"
Nottingham Playhouse.

Based on actual events as told to writer Kefi Chadwick, this play is really one that is going to catch your attention. It tells the story of the activist movement leading up to the Ratcliffe on Soar power station incident. The activists become suspicious that the police always seem to be present on many of the previous protests, leading them to come to the conclusion that there must be a spy within their group.

That's just the tip of the iceberg though as this is the story of the undercover police who aim to befriend, marry and even father children with the targeted women, just so that they can infiltrate the group to find out where the protests will happen and close them down. Some of these relationships lasting for decades, and all the while leading double lives. The undercover police have families of their own, who also have no idea of their husband's and father's jobs, knowing the bare minimum of what they do. Often these men are away from their real families for months on end deceiving both "families".

What this story also highlights though is the other side of the coin; from the undercover police's point of view. these men are, while being shown as the baddies, they are also the victims of the job they do and their hierarchy, often losing everything by putting their lives on the line for money and the promise of power.

It's a powerful and hypnotizing story which is still being looked into as we speak. 

The cast were amazing,and delivered a truly memorable and believable performance. One I shall not forget for a very long time. The two main characters, Mel (Kate Sissons) and Dave (Samuel Oatley) were mesmerising. Two scenes , for me which really stood out, and for two different reasons , were the one at the start with the "Abba" tribute. This is when the two mains and the two friends, Karen (Lily Lowe-Myers), and Gav (Nicholas Karimi) come together at the start and present a lovely comedic karaoke scene featuring the song "Take A Chance On Me".

The second couldn't have been more different. When Mel and Dave come back from their holiday, Mel discovers that Dave may not be quite the man she thought he was. You could almost hear an audible intake of breath from the audience. Dave managed to talk his way out of the discovery but the seeds were set.

The women on the interim of this main story are played by Louise May-Newberry and Beatrice Comins.

The set design, by Sara Perks, was modern and visually exciting, combining five different areas and locations in one open area. I loved the impact of the lighting designer (Chris Davey) as fades and sudden blackouts heightened the suspense. Giles Croft proves yet again what a brilliant director he is, keeping the action tight and direct. There's not one second where there's nothing on that stage to keep your mind occupied and active.

Proving that the romantic idea of a spy isn't the 007 type, this play shows that you can't always be sure of the man, or woman, by your side, and if they have a job that takes them away from the home for lengthy periods, are you confident that that person is who you think they are? It's also good that it also shows the effect this sort of thing has on the infiltrator as well as the infiltrated.

"Any Means Necessary" is on at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 20 February 2016.

Monday, 8 February 2016

"The Importance Of Being Earnest"
Your Chance Productions.

You know when you you find a little gem in a place that you thought you knew like the back of your hand? Well that's been my experience tonight. Over at the Studio Theatre in College Street in Nottingham the wonderfully witty "The Importance Of Being Earnest" is being performed by Your Chance Productions. But you only have until 10 February 2016 to discover this particular little gem.

Wilde's titillating tale of deceit and moral values is performed to perfection by this small and relatively new theatre group, which is also like a supergroup of some of the other amateur theatre groups in and around Nottingham.

Jack is smitten by Gwendolyn and best friend, Algernon, is also pretty smitten by Cecily, who is Jack/Ernest's ward. Gwendolyn's mother, the formidable Lady Bracknell has to give her permission for Jack to marry Gwendolyn, but it's not that simple, well it never is, is it? And when Algernon turns up unexpected at Jack's country estate and meets Cecily, under the guise of Ernest, Jack's imaginary brother, when the cat is sure to be let out of the bag sooner rather than later.

Sally Nix (Jack) presents the character as cautious and slightly nervous,well Jack does have a few secrets that he hoped wouldn't be discovered, but is by Algernon, played by Chris Collins. Both Sally and Chris bounce comically off of each other; the comic lines in abundance and while there are so many witty one liners, the pace kept up by these two are almost break-neck, but not that fast paced as to lose the comic timing between the two characters. Both wonderfully and frightfully likeable characters played out just right.

Gwendolyn, played by Victoria Murphy is another wonderful character driven role. Slightly aloof but great fun. Victoria's eyes twinkling with the excitement that the role brings to the story.

Becky Statham (Cecily) really works the role with her face. Strange thing to say, I know but her expressions express every emotion going. from the spitefully playful and jealous emotions when she thinks that Gwendolyn is engaged to her Algernon/Ernest to the joy when she finds out that she has her very own Ernest. A wonderfully expressive actress who is a joy to watch.

Lady Bracknell has to be the hardest character to play, especially for a younger actress like Rhiannon Franks, but she manages to bring forth the upper class snobbishness beautifully. A character role beyond Rhiannon's years and a massive comedy role for her which she really succeeds in pulling off.

The guardian of Cecily, Miss Prism, who for anyone who doesn't know the story is the linchpin as well, is played by Jane Robertson, another lovely character actress.

Ian Bennett, who will be a familiar face on the Nottingham am dram stages plays Dr Chasuble, who also gets his gal in Miss Prism and Imogen Lea doubles up as the servant maids, Lane and Mary. understated and loyal to her respective masters.

I loved the pace of this play and director, Jessica McLean set the pace spot on.I overheard another audience member say that you can't go far wrong with "Earnest", but of course you can if you don't have the calibre of actor and this group got the calibre of actor just right. This play is all about pace on a technical level and the gaps and pauses are just as important, at times, as the script. Any comedy actor will tell you that it's all about timing and the timing and pace was simply the best.

The set was minimal but that again was good as it made you concentrate on the actor and the words. The props worked well and were relative looking to the era, as were the costumes.

This particular performance was up there with the best of them and I have seen several variations of the play over the last few years. This was loyal to the script and characters, showing that you don't need to play around with a good script and characters.

It may not be a crime to "bunbury" about and deceive others but what is a crime is that there were not more audience members. You've only got two more chances to see this very funny show at the Studio Theatre on College Street until Wednesday 10 February 2016.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

"Hairspray" by Erewash Musical Society Youth Group
Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.

"You Can't Stop The Beat" so the song goes, well you can add to that "You Can't Stop The Fun", "You Can't Stop The Energy" and "You Can't Stop The Enthusiasm" with the latest offering from the Erewash Musical Society's Youth section.

Now I'll be brutally honest here, because by the end of the first act, I was less than impressed but not with the actors, but with the sound. At times you couldn't hear the singing or talking; it made me think that that the actors weren't rigged up with a  back-pack microphone and the audience missed out on many of the very funny lines in the brilliantly funny script. so i thought, "I've got to find out what's going on here!" and found out that there was an issue with the sound mixing desk. Not human error at all. Ben Tennett, the sound tech, managed to get it all sorted out for Act 2. I imagine Ben was sweating buckets up at the sound mixing desk while fixing it up while the show went on. 

I've said this in the past, but it's the way that theatre people deal with unforeseen issues like this that gain my respect, and my respect was given to Ben on opening night for turning it around, and changing my outlook on the show. Frustrating as it was for the audience, it must have been more frustrating for the actors on stage as they had no control over the situation but carried on like troopers. I can only imagine the adrenalin coursing through their veins!

"Hairspray" is one of my Top 10 favourite musicals because it's great fun as well as presenting a brilliant message. Dealing with racism, class, weight issues and self appreciation among other issues, it presents these in an enjoyable and fun way while getting the seriousness of the 1960's segregation problems to the fore. And there are some brilliant characters here.

Tracy Turnblad was played with great enthusiasm and gusto by Eliza Charnock wither her mum, Edna, played by Benito Preite. This must be one of the hardest roles for a younger actor to play but Benito pulled off the role admirably. Wilbur Turnblad was played by Dylan Springfield.

Link, the teen heart-throb of The Corny Collins Show was played by Oliver Wheddon. Ollie showing another side of his acting, and different from his last role I saw him in as St Jimmy in "American Idiot". He twinkled as the 60's equivalent of Justin Bieber, occasionally winking at the audience showing a confident character, comfortable in his role as a teen idol, but bringing that sheen down in his scenes with Tracy to show his real side. Nicely done by one of local theatre's Mr Nice Guys.

Another young actor I have tons of respect for, and have seen in several roles, and always gives sterling performances is Hayden Fletcher as Seaweed. Seaweed is one of the main black characters but all the black characters in this production are white. At first this is a bit of a mindbender but through the acting talents of these young actors, you forget all about this. Hayden should have the middle name of "snakehips" as he can groove with soul. No surprise there as he's a bit of a ballroom master away from the stage. Again one of the nicest blokes you could meet on and off the stage.

I love the role of Penny and Lucy Ledger teased all the laughs out of the character possible. A fun and zany role for a lovely comedy actress.

Amber, the daughter of Velma, and a chip of the old block here is typically bossy and aloof; with a role model like Velma, what else would you expect? Amber is link's TV girlfriend who looses out to Link's affections for Tracy. Loved the pinnacle of bossiness as when Amber orders Link to her side and out of Motormouth's record shop, he chooses to stay with Tracy. Classic! Amber is played by Chloe Hopcroft and Velma is played by Emily Marshall. Both characters miles away from Chloe's and Emily's own.

Grace Deakin (Little Inez) has a brilliant soul dripping voice, as does Paige Sisson (Motormouth). Paige gets to perform one of my favourite songs in the musical "I Know Where I've Been" and gave me goose bumps.

Corny Collins, the presenter of The Corny Collins Show, is played with ultimate cool by Tom Judson; a new name to me I think, but shows great promise as the unflappable TV host.

A big ensemble cast consisting of a further 23 actors. The ensemble choreography was of a high standard especially when you discover that this is Steph Ure's choreography debut. She took on a mammoth job and smashed it!

Carol Lawson produced and directed the musical and she must be a very proud lady at the results of this sell out show.

Dave Dallard was the musical director, assisted by Martin Lewis. An orchestra of eleven created a powerhouse of sound which at times overpowered the singers but this was on opening night and the sound mix of orchestra and actor will be different when the theatre is full of bodies. Again by Act 2 Dave and co. had just about got this sorted. Clear and crisp with an amazing rhythm section.

Great costumes, and I was especially impressed by Edna's final dress which shone as bright as the actor wearing it. When the lights caught the dress it looked almost alight. Talking of the lights, despite a few missed spots, the lights were, if you'll pardon the pun, spot on. The stage at times awash with colour, thanks to Dave Martin.

Despite my initial outlook, this production, thanks to the cast and production people, turned me around and gave me a wonderful and fun night out. A hard working and talented cast with some brilliantly catchy songs that will have you singing as you leave, but leave you with your social conscience well and truly pricked.

Another massive success for the Erewash Musical Society Youth Group. the show is on until Saturday 6 February 2016 but check first if there are any tickets left because rumour has it that it's just about sold out.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

"Hetty Feather" by Jacqueline Wilson
Nottingham Theatre Royal

Hetty Feather is about a young girl who is abandoned by her mother at the Foundling Hospital as a baby and follows her story as she lives in a foster home before returning to the Foundling Hospital as a 5-year-old. She's on a quest to find her real mother and thinks it's a circus performer called Madame Adeline. When she discovers that the red hair connection isn't quite as accurate as she thought, she meets a brick wall, until she runs away to London.

A cast of relative unknowns dazzled the audience with circus skills and enraptured us with their aerial acrobatics, showing that today's theatre, and actors, now offer such a variety of skills. So much more than just acting and being able to remember the lines. Add to this a beautiful heart-warming story, which at times really hits home the seriousness of Victorian fostering and the way that children were treated at that time. there's the love between the children who are thrown together to make a make-shift family and the poor health system, resulting in the loss of life at the hospital.

There's a very serious side to this story but that's not to say that there's not a great deal of humour created by the "children", because there is and it's a very simplistic humour that everyone can enjoy.

Music plays a large part of the play and Seamus H Carey and Luke Potter provide the folky soundtrack live on stage, blending traditional folk songs like "Over The Hills And Far Away" to a folk tinged version of Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" for the strongman scene, which has one of the most ironic of characters ever.

There's a big technical team behind this production. Director Sally Cookson has an army of backstage crew, not least the aerial director, Gwen Hales, who created the magical aerialist sections. The set itself, designed by Katie Sykes, looked like a giant playground climbing frame but enabled all the wonderful aerial pieces to look spectacular.

A wonderful performance was put in by Phoebe Thomas as Hetty, whose energy levels, fitness and core strength was enviable. in fact all the actors, who doubled in many parts, provided incredibly athletic and graceful performances.

it's a show that you can take your six year old to as well as your ninety-six year old to and both get the same level of entertainment and enjoyment levels from. It's magical, breath-taking, educational and heart-warming and is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 6 February 2016.