Tuesday, 31 May 2016

"A Steady Rain" by Keith Huff
Nottingham New Theatre.
The problem with having a play on for two days is that by the time word goes around as to how good a play is, it's gone, only to be replaced with another.
The plot bears resemblance to a real-life event involving Jeffrey Dahmer, It focuses on two Chicago policemen, Denny and Joey, who inadvertently return a Vietnamese boy to a cannibalistic serial killer who claims to be the child's uncle. When he later becomes the man's latest victim, the lifelong friendship of the two men is threatened when it becomes clear someone must bear responsibility for their failure to assess the situation accurately.
Denny is a married family man and childhood friend of Joey, who is single. After another night of trying to set Joey up with one of the local women, Denny starts off a series of events which end up with tragic circumstances.
This is a new play to me and is one reason why the Nottingham New Theatre is also becoming one of my favourite smaller theatres in Nottingham because of the choice of plays they put on.
It's a play with a great deal of passion, which is reflected in the juicy language, which pulls no punches, and maintains an air of realism throughout the one act play.
The play is a two-hander with separate and overlapping monologues performed by the two cops, occasionally erupting into violent out bursts. The lead up to the tragic ending is a masterpiece in word painting and story telling, and you don't see the harrowing ending played out until the very last minute.
Set in a stark black room with just two lights focused from above on the two actors, the concentration is all on the two men and their story.
Shannon Smith (Denny), who we last saw in "Electric Nebraska", again masters another American accent and, as in "Nebraska", looks completely at ease with the role. A very charismatic performer who completely embraces the emotional side of Denny, a racist and cheat who would do anything to protect his family.
Chris Sharp-Paul (Joey), starts out as the cooler. more placid and introverted character, but has underlying issues with his drinking, and his secret desire for Denny;s wife, Connie. The character though is a slow burner, the opposite of Shannon's explosive character, and Chris builds this slow burn up nicely.
Directed with a moody and often dangerous air by Tom Tolond, There's a subtle focus on either both, or one or the other of the characters by the dimming of the spots to highlight each character's speeches and actions. Produced by Gus Herbert.
I loved the atmosphere created by the starkness of the set and the feel these two actors emitted. You may have missed out on this excellent performance but there is more to come from the Nottingham New Theatre

Thursday, 26 May 2016

"Dancing In The Streets"
Nottingham Royal Concert Hall.

Motown's Greatest Hits all within about two hours id a big ask, but these four men and three women performers did a mighty good job of cramming in as many as possible. Travelling musically from the early 60's to the 80's, the only missing major artists I didn't hear were The Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson, but all the other big names were there.

Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, The Supremes, Edwin Starr, Temptations, Martha & The Vandellas, The Marvelettes, Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder and so many hits, all performed with a live band which created the magic Motown sound.

So many highlights I could mention but for me the showstopper was "What Becomes Of the Brokenhearted". Such a brilliant arrangement sung with great passion, it was if you had Jimmy Ruffin back in the room. i've seen Jimmy live and that song itself was an amazing tribute to the man.

I've also seen The Temptations live in the very same venue and to tell the truth Julian Cannonier, Newtion Matthews, Joseph Noble and Wayne Withers, the four male performers tonight, were better than the real thing. they really were that good!

I've seen Diana Ross live and while the three ladies, Emma Jones,Scarlet Gabriel and Joanne Sandi replicated the great songs of Diana Ross and The Supremes, no one yet can beat La Ross for a vocal performance. That is not knocking these three gorgeous women at all because there is only one Diana Ross and the girls tonight were amazing. Their harmonies, like the men, were so tight you wouldn't be able to slide a ten pound note between those vocals.

The vocals were tight, and so too was the choreography. I can remember seeing the original artists on TV and the dance steps tonight were as good as the originals. Carole Todd, the choreographer and director should feel very proud of this bunch, they all did her proud.

The costumes and wigs were also amazing. the whole show took me back years to seeing all my favourite Motown stars on grainy black and white shows from Germany and the U.S., but the style was what shone as bright as the music and songs. Tonight took me back decades.

This show is a massive celebration of the best of Motown and the big stars that Berry Gordy's roster of talent gave the world. The title of the show is "Dancing In The Street" and that is what this show had us all doing, but not just in the street afterwards. From the very start, this show was one big party with the majority of the audience on their feet for most of the time.

If you get chance to see this show, take it. With the current interest in Motown music on stage, succumb to the temptation and see this wonderful, supremely starr laden party..

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

"Come Back To The Five And Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean"
Nottingham Lace Market Theatre.

Written by Ed Graczyck there was a film made in 1982, based on the play by Graczyck made in 1976. The play is set partly in 1975 and 1955, the year Dean was killed in a car crash.

The Disciples Of James Dean meet up, 20 years after his death at the "Five and Dime". Some of the women have changed, some have not and one is, at the beginning, completely unrecognisable. as they start to relive the past 20 years, memories resurface and truths come to the surface and erupt.

The set is a mirror image, just two decades apart, although you may notice that the seventies set is slightly more worn, and even the floor tiles appear a little more brown than white. All creating an aged affect. There is a great attention to detail with the set and you can tell the hard work that has been put in by the set designer Stephanie Cullingford.

Attention to detail is shown even before the play starts with some mood setting music from country artists like Ronnie Milsap, B.J. Thomas, Freddy Fender, himself a born Texan, and Glen Campbell among others.

Carol Parkinson plays Juanita, the owner of the Texan watering hole. Juanita is the mother hen of the play and is the main link between the two sets in the 50's and the 70's. A lovely character driven role, as are all of the characters in the play.

Kareena Sims plays Mona who claims to have had a part in Dean's film "Giant" and that Dean fathered her child Jimmy Dean, twenty years earlier. Slightly neurotic and forever berating her unseen son.

The 1950's Mona is played by Charlie Bailey, and this is her debut stage performance for the Lace Market Theatre. This play features several debuts.....

Another brilliant debut is for Sheanne Hogarth as Sissy. Previously of the Nottingham Trent University Drama society Sheanne is a definite bonus to the Lace Market. She is bubbly and has real stage presence. You would not have guessed that this was her Lace Market debut a s she oozed confidence and humour, even in the light of the losses she has suffered as a woman in the previous years.

Younger Sissy is played by another Lace Market Theatre debut actor, Lauren Stephenson. You may recognise her though from the Nottingham Arts Theatre panto from 2015 where she played Cinderella. like Sheanne, oozing with confidence.

Dani Wain plays Edna Louise. i love this character as she is the most vulnerable of the lot. She has some lovely naive lines and takes the insults from some of the others on the chin and still seems to seek acceptance from the other Disciples. A lovely subtle performance from Dani, and she deals with the baby bump really well. Sorry let me clarify this. The character, Edna Louise is pregnant for the seventh time.

Stella Mae is played by Rosina Reading, and turns in another wonderful character-driven role in killer wedges.

There is an actual Texan in the cast and Julie Fleming is the one. Julie plays Joanne, the "stranger" who rolls up in a yellow Porsche. the other Disciples soon work out that Joanne used to be Joe.

Joe, the only male in the cast, is played by Jak Truswell. In the film Joe is a "sensitive" soul who is treated as a freak by the rest of the town, His love for Mona isn't reciprocated and this is the catalyst for his decision for a complete change, returning for the 20th anniversary as Joanne. Jak plays down a lot of the sensitive side of Joe from the film, but still manages to retain the vulnerability of the character.

I've always found that accents at the Lace Market have always been done rather well and that legacy continues. The Texan accent has often been over done but, with an actual Texan in the cast, you'd expect an accurate twang, and that's what we had, all the way through. The consistency throughout is another tribute to the whole cast.

Changing from the 70's to the 50's is done by subtle lighting changes, courtesy of Allan Green, assisted by Rose Dudley. Also setting the feel of the two periods are the costumes (Barry Holland and Doreen Hunt) and some wonderful wigs and make up.

There is of course one person I've not yet mentioned, Directed by Bex Mason, this is another massive directorial success for Bex following on from "Beautiful Thing". The pace of the play is snappy and it trundles along at a steady confident rate.

It's a lovely nostalgic tale or remembrance and hope as well as recognition of what's gone in the lives of a small town community group.

"Come Back To The Five And Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" is another wonderful production from the theatre who rarely fail to produce little performed but excellent plays. It's on until Saturday 28 May 2016. Go and support this incredibly talented bunch and discover one of Nottingham's hidden gems of entertainers.

Monday, 23 May 2016

"The Last Tango"
Vincent Simone & Flavia Cacace.

This is the third of the trilogy from the Simone/Cacace theatre shows following "Midnight Tango" and "Dance Til Dawn". Having seen the previous two, I can confirm that this is the best and most emotional of the three shows.That is saying something because the previous two were brilliantly entertaining.

This show has more musical numbers, 30 to be exact, many of them being vocal numbers with two incredible vocalists in Matthew Gent and an unnamed female vocalist.

Songs like "raise The Roof", "Flamenco Stomp", "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy","Alright Okay, You Win", "Save The Last Dance For Me", "Moonlight Serenade", "Straighten Up And Fly Right", "When I Fall In Love", "Blue Skies" and a gorgeous emotional arrangement of "Autumn Leaves". This particular song takes on a whole new feel with this story line.

As with the previous two shows there is a story running through the show and what a wonderful story this is. Teddy Kempner plays the narrator, who I'm sure is also the "elder Vincent" of the story. he is going through stuff in his attic and cellar and every thing he picks up brings back a memory of how he and Flavia's characters met, fell in love, married, separated by war, building a family and....... well I wouldn't want to spoil the ending, but just make sure you take a tissue because it is very emotional.

I don't need to say how good the dancing and choreography of the ensemble numbers are. This is Vincent and Flavia, of course it's amazing. Watching them on "Strictly" is exciting. Seeing them dance on stage is something else, to borrow a phrase from one of the songs, they really did "raise the roof". They are exciting, the show is wonderfully romantic and nostalgic and of course they performed the dance they are both famed for, the Argentine Tango, and it was out of this world!!

if you've ever watched a marble rolling round the floor, then this is like watching these two. The fluidity is FAB-U-LOUS dahlings and the staccato movements make the air crackle.

The ensemble have to be good to support these two world class dance masters and they all provide a wonderful support to the stars. The whole show oozes class. From the hypnotic dancing to the wonderful costumes. What do i know of fashion, I'm a bloke but Flavia's red outfit and the gorgeous silver outfit were just so beautiful. Mind-blowing. Thank you Vicky Gill who designed the costumes.

Musical director Steve Geere, produced a beautiful clear sound along with musical arrangers and orchestrators, Matt Smith and Chris Egan. Wonderful lighting, designed by James Whiteside and a marvelous set designed by Morgan Large. Many many people also made up the production team, but basically this is one of the most professionally produced and emotional and exciting dance show I've seen.

From where I sat there were not many empty seats and the whole cast received an almost 100% standing ovation, which was richly deserved.

"The Last Tango" is on at the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall until Wednesday 25 May 2016 and is an absolute must for all "Strictly" fans and fans of world class dance shows. Definitely more than seven. Len, more like an 11 out of 10.

Friday, 20 May 2016

"Lights, Camera, Action" by Beeston Musical Theatre Group
Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.

The latest production from the BMTG is a revue of songs from the movies, and my first show as the President of the BMTG. I promise nor to be too biased!

Opening the show with a medley of songs from The James Bond films, our Movie Stars resplendent in tuxedos and evening gowns, you may be mistaken for thinking you were in the audience for a West End review. The class of these entertainers showed visually as well as aurally.

The evening meandered through the decades and styles of the greatest hits of celluloid taking in classic films like "Casablanca" ("As Time Goes By") and "Shall We Dance" ("Let's call the Whole Thing Off"), through the 60's "Butch Cassidy" ("Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head") and "Breakfast At Tiffany's" ("Moon River"), the 70's "Tommy" ("Pinball Wizard") and "Rocky Horror Picture Show" ("The Timewarp"), 80's "Flashdance" ("What A Feeling") and "An Officer And A Gentleman"("Up Where We Belong"), the 90's "The Bodyguard" ("I Will Always Love You") through to modern films like "Pitch Perfect" ("Titanium") and "Despicable Me" ("Happy"). Throw in a medley of Disney favourites along with many other favourites, including a taster from the next BMTG show "The Wedding Singer" in October 2016 with an excellent accapella version of "Video killed The Radio Star".

One after another classic movie song rolled on and off to make way for another, well over 35 songs in just under two hours. Two hours that flew by so fast I had to check my watch hadn't stopped!

And these just weren't karaoke style versions. NO! there were some very clever new arrangements of these songs, bringing a new freshness, courtesy of musical director Nathan Truesdale and the wonderfully tuneful orchestra of six who sounded amazing.

I'm not going to pinpoint any one performer in this show because the BMTG played to their strengths and produced, not only some brilliant solo performances , but some beautiful ensemble choral pieces, creating a wall of sound. the start to Act Two brought the hairs on the neck up with an evocative medley from "The Lion King", as did "Nearer My God To Thee" from the film "Titanic". Turning the genders on their head there was a brilliant twist to the Dolly Parton song "9 To 5" sung by the leading men, making the women the bosses in question.

With wonderful use of video as a backdrop, it created a colourful setting, oh and talking of colourful, the lighting was so very good, thanks to Dave Martin. Some nifty choreography by Craig Butterworth and a really crisp, clear sound by Sean at Sounds Technical, This show is one brilliant trip through the annuls of movie music magic. There is something for everyone and this was proven by the rapturous applause from the audience, who obviously know a great group of talented performers when they see and hear them.

You have until Saturday 21 May 2016 to catch this excellent, happy show that will have you leaving the theatre with your head awash with some shoop shooper tunes.

And I wasn't biased at all, was I?

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"
Nottingham Theatre Royal.

One of the first films I can remember seeing as a child was "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and can remember the film being completely magical. Decades later, all those feelings of magic flooded back with this latest stage production.

The story of inventor Caractacus Potts, his two children and his father, Mr Potts senior. Caractacus saves an old racing car from being sold to the scrap man and works his magic and creates a car that can float and fly. Meanwhile news has spread to the Baron and Baroness of Vulgaria and they send their two hapless spies to retrieve the car for the Baron.

The spies Goran and Boris mistake Potts senior for the inventor and skylift him over to the Baron, followed by Caractacus, the children and Truly Scrumptious, to Vulgaria, a place where children are banned and caught by the evil child catcher. With the help of the Toy maker a happy ending for all is promised with just a little team work.

Lee Mead, known for many successful musicals and "Casualty" on TV, plays Potts. You can see why this man is in such demand for musicals because he is such an easy actor to watch. You feel comfortable watching him, His voice is easy on the ear and he has bags of charisma in the role. He is comfortable working with the children and interacts with them naturally.

Truly Scrumptious, the daughter of confectionery king, Lord Scrumptious, is played by Carrie Hope Fletcher, and the character name says it all, she is most definitely scrumptious and what a lovely clear voice she has as well. You can see why she sent Potts potty with love.

Playing the dual role of Miss Phillips, Lord Scrumptious' appointment secretary, as well as Baroness Bomburst, is the equally scrumptious Michelle Collins. She is funny, sexy, can sing, do a mean samba and be authoritative all at the same time, and be a wonderful match for Shaun Williamson who plays Lord Scrumptious and Baron Bomburst.

Fellow Eastenders actor Shaun, like Michelle, cut his teeth in the theatre,as well as having a career singing, and this experience for both has served them well in this production. Both great fun to watch, and some marvellous costumes for Shaun and Michelle.

One role which gave me the creeps in the film, and also here on stage is that of the Child Catcher, played by Matt Gillett. With a stark white face, black eye make up and lips to match with a creepy looking black outfit, he sent a shiver down my spine as he crept around the Toy Makers shop, looking in the windows for the children. His presence often preceded by an eerie silhouette, or twisted shadowy hands creeping over the stage and set.

The young Potts, Jeremy and Jemima, played on Wednesday night by Henry Kent and Lucy Sherman. it always leaves me in awe when you see such young actors giving such perfect and professional performances, especially in a musical. These two very talented kids were just brilliant and they have a great future ahead of them.

I loved Grandpa Potts and Andy Hockley was faithful to the original film Grandpa. A wonderful character role for Andy.

The Toy maker, played in the original film by Benny Hill, is played on stage by seasoned West End actor, Ewen Cummins, and the two very comical spies, Boris and Goran are played excellently by Sam Harrison and Scott Paige.

You'll instantly remember most of the songs from the production,"Toot Sweets", "Truly Scrumptious","Hushabye Mountain", "Me Ol Bamboo", "Chu Chi Face", "Doll On A Music Box" and of course the title song.

The up to the minute technical elements of this stage musical are just amazing to watch. The cinematography makes you feel like you're travelling with the Potts in Chitty and places you in with the action. it's like watching a four dimensional film just feet away from you. The animation is just magical to watch as it all unfolds before your eyes, especially in the scene where Caractacus sings "Hushabye Mountain". the video design by Simon Wainwright.

A fresh and punchy direction by James Brining, matching the wonderful choreography by Stephen Mear. Wonderfully modern set design by Simon Higlett, the lighting design by Tim Mitchell, a clear and rich sound by Ben Harrison, and the musical director being Andrew Hilton, All the above creating a powerhouse production backbone for the show.

The magic of the film has been refreshed and brought to life on stage. You will find yourself re-visiting your childhood while introducing this classic to your children, and Grandchildren and you'll all love the show. Tickets, like the car, are flying out for this show.

"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Sunday 29 May 2016.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

"Breakin' Convention 2016"
Nottingham Royal Concert Hall.

From the title of the show you may be mistaken that this show will be non stop hip hop and break dancing, well not so because the title of the show actually could mean that this show is breakin' down conventional ideas of dance.

What do i mean by that? Well I'll tell you.The dance performances covered quite a few genres of dance, as did the music. i know that a lot of people, probably my age and older, some younger, may not be fans of today's hip hop, grime, two step, whatever the latest term is, but the music itself borrowed from classical, jazz, r 'n' b and a wonderfully hypnotic routine to the music of Nina Simone.

The billing is "An International Festival Of Hip Hop Dance Theatre" and the clue is in that last word, "theatre". This show is theatre, it is performance. It tells a story in vignettes of music and dance.

Hosted by the legendary Jonzi D, dancer, spoken word artist and director and local dance legend, Duncan Mitchell aka "Frisco Boogie", they presented seven amazing but very different dance acts on Tuesday night.

Local dance group, Take 1 Dance, kicked the show off with a tribute to 90's hip hop artist Lauryn Hill. the dancers aged between 8 and 15 years olds clearly showed their love for dance in this uplifting and joyous celebration.

Hal Mayer, from Nottingham,gave a performance with a mannequin, called "Mannequin" about a young man obsessed with the female form. Quite a startling piece of contemporary dance depicting a certain amount of violence to the mannequin, which then came to life.

Then came BeatBots consisting of dancers from Nottingham and Derby, They presented a fascinating piece called "Runners".Loved this group.

The incredible Iron Skulls Co.kick off the International feel of the show as they hail from Barcelona, Spain. They mix acrobatics with contemporary dance and hip hop with a stylish fast moving piece of dance theatre to close the first half of the show,

Part two of the convention ramps up the class with Compagnie Antoinette Gomis from France. A beautiful woman who pays tribute to the music and words of Nina Simone with a brilliantly seductive and hypnotic piece of dance theatre.

And finally, from the Netherlands, the most amazing set of dancers I've seen on a Nottingham stage, The Ruggeds. With an incredible light show they show why they are at the top of the B-Boy league with some incredibly athletic moves. They show amazing strength and a wonderful fluidity in their moves. The enthusiasm, comedy elements and physicality of their dance just blew the roof of the place. A brilliant close to an excellent evening of dance.

"Breakin' Convention 2016" is back on Wednesday night at the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall with the second part of this show and is not just a must for dance fans, but for anyone who loves great entertainment in dance.

A brilliant way to kick off NEAT 2016 in the city.

Friday, 13 May 2016

"Caught In The Net" by Ray Cooney
Beeston Players

Following up last year's production of "Business Affairs" with another brilliant, yet little known farce, this time from the pen of King of the Farce, Ray Cooney, The Beeston Players do what they do very very well; produce brilliant comedies.

John Smith is a bigamist and his two wives are given the runaround from Mr Smith who has a son, Gavin, with Barbara Smith and a daughter, Vicki, with Mary Smith.Via the internet Vicki and Gavin get chatting and they find that they have quite a bit in common, surprisingly. Neither of the teenagers have the slightest idea that they have the same father, and set out to meet each other.

Well, John can't possibly have his eighteen year old secret discovered so he has to do all he can to stop the pair meeting. He engages the help of his lodger, Stanley Gardener, who only popped by because he was on the way to taking his father on holiday to Felixstowe, and the fun really starts! Throw into the mix, Mr gardener, Stanley's father and absolute chaos ensues.

And just when you think the chaos and confusion can't get any worse, there's an extra twist right at the end!

Director Lloyd Delderfield has put together a brilliant cast, made up of seasoned Beeston Players actors and newcomers, making their debut for the Players. Lloyd keeps the action rolling at a nice pace and the chaos constant, and with that, comes the laughs galore.

Samuel Williams (John Smith) is excellent as the two timing bigamist in his plight to keep the two families, one in Wimbledon and the other in Streatham; His knockabout comedy timing put to good use in this play.

Jill Griffiths (Mary Smith) makes her debut here and, while at the start her words were a little quiet, she got over this and she soon started to project and that's when we managed to get the lovely, gentler comedy feel for her role, although she looked a little too handy with that knife in Act Two. You could see Jill's confidence grow as she started to get the laughs and by the end you'd have not guessed that she was a newcomer.

Sue Frost (Barbara Smith), is a little gem of understated comedy, Sue always manages to make her roles seem like second nature to her. A little lady who delivers big laughs.

Noreen Boyle (Vicki Smith), is a newcomer to me; i can't remember seeing her in anything before but she has such an air of naturalness about her acting. As the teenage girl who falls for her, unbeknown to her, step-brother, she is everything that any father who has daughters, would recognise. Bolshy and unlistening and she knows best. a lovely character performance.

Kai Robbins (Gavin Smith) is also a newcomer to me, although for some reason the name rings a bell is cool and determined to meet this young girl he has so much in common with. Again a very natural performer and a name to look out for in the world of community theatre, along with Noreen.

Gary Frost (Stanley Gardener) is the absolute linchpin in this play. His character keeps the balls well and truly up in the air without dropping any, or losing any to Mary (you'll have to see, or know the play to understand what i mean there). A masterclass in comedy was witnessed win this play with Gary, and with, what seems like the majority of the script at times, he did an absolute cracking job with the lines and the comedy facial expressions.

And last, but definitely not least, Alistair Hudson (Mr Gardener), the elder member of the cast who had the most slapstick of roles, Several times being knocked to the floor, he's very agile. Imagine Grandad from "Only Fools And Horses" and you'll have a pretty good idea of the role. Some brilliant confused lines for Alistair to deliver and a joy to watch.

Everyone involved at Beeston Players productions are such lovely people as well. From front of house staff to the actors themselves, they really do care about their audience and want to give everyone a night of entertainment that they won't forget. Attitude like this is bound to reap rewards and keep old customers as well as new faces coming back for more.

Two days of practically sold out evenings show what brilliant fun this play is and the draw that Beeston Players have in the community. I couldn't see one face that left Roundhill School which didn't have a smile on it as they left.

"Caught In The Net" is a wonderfully funny production with some very talented people on stage, so if you need your spirits lifted, why not pop along to Beeston and exercise those chuckle muscles.

One more show for you to get your tickets for, which is the Saturday matinee on 14 May 2016 at Roundhill School in Beeston. With the popularity of the Beeston Players shows, I think that they will have to add a Saturday evening show for their November play.