Wednesday, 27 September 2017

"The Boy Who Fell Into A Book"
Nottingham Arts Theatre.
The first production in the People's Theatre Company and Arts Theatre Autumn/Winter season is a bid success.
Written by Alan Ayckbourn, it's the story of Kevin who loves his books and reads them, and especially his favourite book featuring ace detective, Rockfist Slim and his battle against the Green Shark Gang.
Kevin falls to sleep thinking of where he had got up to in the book and suddenly finds himself within the pages of his latest partly read tome, and teaming up with Rockfist himself. To get out of the situation Kevin and Rockfist have to work their way through the rest of the books on Kevin's shelf.
They meet many interesting characters on their way, but can they escape the clutches of the evil Monique and the Green Shark Gang as they are pursued through the various books.
Kevin is played by Sophie Owen, an actor I've seen several times just around the corner at The Lace Market Theatre. This is her debut for the People's Theatre Company and what a way to make a debut.
Sophie has an air of complete naturalness and calm as Kevin, a real cool cookie who you immediately warm to and get behind.
Rockfist is played by Rob Suttle, and while the accent isn't typical Bronx, that doesn't matter because in your imagination, he is numero uno from wherever he wants to hail from. A typical 1940's film noir character who was great fun to watch.
Kayleigh Lupton was Monique, and what an evil laugh, worthy of panto baddie. Not sure which accent Monique was supposed to have but as I said before, the wonderful thing about this being a kids based book and play, is that you can use your imagination, so it didn't matter that much.
I loved the "Woobly" family, they made me smile more than any other character, and I smiled a lot at this play, Christine BootheRoy Smith and Paul Duffy played Mummy, Daddy and baby Woobly, complete with their own language.Adam Chapman played the narrator for the Wooblys, just in case you couldn't understand Woobly language.
Glenn Murphy lost his head as the monk and also played Gareth, The Red Knight.
Richard Fife exercised his manicness as Rumpelstiltskin as well as Ebeneezer. I loved the Scots accent.
Christine Boothe also doubled up as a wolf/Grandma with poetic, but deadly intentions with the equally poetic but kindly intention-ed Red Riding Hood, played by Charlie Evans.
Although Leilani Papworth was only in the play for a short while, her White Queen was memorable with some of the best make up and costume in the story, courtesy of Blind Eye Productions.
The White pawns were played by Charlie Evans, Molly Fitches and Barbara Benner (who also played Jennet).
Mike Pearson was the voice of Kevin's dad as well as part of The Green Shark Gang, along with Paul Duffy and Molly Fitches.
Paul also played the Red Bishop as his third role in this play. I had to look twice as Paul looks just a bit different to how I last saw him!
Although the set was not one of those busy sets, it worked really well an d was well designed by the Director, Chris Mercer, who also designed the very effective lighting. A labour of love for Chris, and I for one love the labour he and the cast have put in to this production.
The story is well written, as you'd expect from Mr Ayckbourn and, although the story is aimed at children, it doesn't patronise them. Even though the story is for a younger audience, this is an enjoyable fantasy jaunt for all ages. Think panto crossed with Harry Potter and it's that kind of feel.
A magical start to the season, for which you can book your tickets for up until Saturday 30 September 2017.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

“Escape For Dummies/ Wrecked” by Nottingham New Theatre
Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside.
A double bill from the talented and award winning Nottingham New Theatre in this Edinburgh Festival special.
“Wrecked” is a devised work directed by Chris Trueman and produced by Amy Crighton; two students who’s work I’ve seen and really rated in the past.
The writing is stylised and reminds me of the likes of Oscar Wilde with the writing's rhythm and approach. like Wilde's work, it's also very funny. The language has an old feel but there's a lot of modern comedy flashes of inspiration, often breaking the fourth wall with a cheeky glance or a wink in this piratical romp.
A talented cast who, on a couple of occasions had rise to think on their feet, or was that a well executed part of the script as well?
Chris Trueman stepped into the breach as Maggie, replacing Maddy Strauss, who was unwell.
Emma Whitewas magnifique with her accent Francais, which could have gone over le top, but was quite restrained, which made it all the more funny.
Callum Walker was James, the Londoner with the rather posh accent who was washed up on the shore who found love in a rather unexpected place!
Felicity Chilver was an almost panto style Anne who, for some unexplained reason had a full beard, making this comedy even more off the wall. Silly but great fun.
Andrew Houghton pulled off (ahem) a rather camp Billy. Again, there could have been the urge to portray Billy as an over the top camp character, but he wasn't, which made Billy a lovely character instead of a caricature.
Miguel Barrulas was Henry. Completing a perfect cast with some more restrained comedy.
The second performance is “Escape For Dummies”, created and directed by and Laurence CuthbertJosh Mallalieu and produced by Joanne Blunt; three students who I’ve had the pleasure of seeing their work over the last few years and loving what I've seen.
This comedy is of a very different kind. Whereas "Wrecked" script was funny, this comedy had no words, well none that were recognisable. Think back to the silent movie comedies or even "The Plank" or "Roobarb" and that's the comedy here. A complete contrast.
There's brilliant physicality in the comedy and the timing is spot on. Set in a department store where two mannequins come alive and plot an escape, with hilarious characters and situations.
The female mannequin is played by Emma Pallett, with her male counterpart played by Sam Morris. Wonderfully funny characterisation from both. in fact all the actors have got under the comedy skin of the various characters they play, and it's that physical comedy that really makes this play the success that it is.
Jack EllisGeorge Waring and Kate O'Gorman play all of the various other characters. From Jack's Dolly Parton obsessed character, to Kate's scaredy cat security guard and George's crazy store manager and his wonderful portrayal of a pensioner shopping with his wife for saucy underwear.
Very very funny. Brilliantly acted and a brilliantly novel script, and when there is no script as such, just noises, bringing out that comedy through physical theatre makes this comedy all the more special.
I've always been proud to spread the word about the New Theatre and this double bill just goes to show how good this theatre group are and the talent they all have as well as enhancing my love for new writing and The New Theatre.
An excellent night of comedy which also is raising money for the University of Nottingham's Life Cycle 7 Charity.
This double bill is only on for two nights, Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 September 2017, so make sure you don't miss out if at all possible

Friday, 22 September 2017

“Chum” by Matt Lamb
Create Theatre, West Notts College
This is the second of two days that “Chum” has been performed at The Create Theatre in the performance space at West Notts College just on the outskirts of Mansfield.
This is the fourth production from Smelly Sox Theatre and focuses on Harry Bishop, a successful, blue comedian at the height of his career, and while his career is looking healthy, his personal life doesn’t quite match up to his professional life.
It’s Harry’s birthday and he has decided to leave it all behind. He is set on leaving his newly pregnant wife and two kids behind and packs his case but is then paid a visit by Billy Moore, his best friend. Why has Billy called on Harry right at this pivotal time in Harry’s life?
It's payback time for Billy and his almost psychotic sense of humour wreaks havoc in Harry's life for a short while.
There are several red herrings which we interpret as such, but as these two know each other so well, it's as if they are both in on the info we see as red herrings.
Shocking as this play starts out to be, the ending is a slice of comedy in the style of Tom and Jerry or of the old silent movie era with the pair burying their grievances and working together to move on with their lives.
Tom Wilson plays Harry who is a "star" of the comedy scene. Every woman wants a piece of him. He is
arrogant, or so we think because Tom shows us a different side of the comedian when behind closed doors and we soon learn that the public face of Harry can be so different to the private side of him.
With the intimacy of the studio space, you get to see every nuance of the character played, and Tom is a confident performer, he has to be with his first introduction to us. Not only does he not overdo the anger scenes but he smashes the quieter, more thoughtful scenes, giving us an extensive view of his character's emotions.
Dan Wilkinson plays Billy. When we first meet Billy he comes across as a bit of an annoying mate who is a proper "lad". But there's a dangerous side of Billy because you don't quite know when he is being
truthful.He is cunning and pre thinks his actions to get the maximum impact from, what he sees as a joke, but to the viewer, could be a psychopath in the making.
I've seen Dan before but this, for me is his best to date, mainly because the role and character is a meaty one that he really gets his teeth into. He looks like he is enjoying being this nasty piece of work, teasing Harry and messing with danger. Billy sees this menace with glee and is almost like Pennywise in the film "IT", but without the make up.
While Harry's overtly shocking, always looking for a reaction and making you feel uncomfortable with his
jokes and speeches, Billy is looking for the same effect but in a more subtle way. With this in mind you can see that Harry has based his whole act on Billy, which is what comes out in the play and is the reason for the revenge that Billy is after and for his visit. Happy Birthday Harry!
The play is written by Matthew Lamb and I've seen a progression in his writing in this play from his others I've seen. There's an increase in the cleverness and intelligence in Matt's writing. The intricate intertwining of the two characters and the drip fed pieces of the pair's backgrounds and lives keep us fixated on the two characters and actors.The story is well thought out, as is the revenge plot which is very dark, but then is brought back at the end with the wonderful comedy ending.

i must also commend the direction of the head-butt scene and the trust between the two actors because, from where I sat, that looked pretty close to making contact!
There are many lovely comedy touches (loved the "I Will Survive" section), and comedy is a big part of this play, and while I know the language is in there to cause reaction to shock, I thought that maybe that could have been reigned in just a tad.
At around an hour long Matt and Smelly Sox Theatre have resisted the temptation to drag the story out
because this is just about the right length to present an entertaining black comedy with a definite start, middle and end.
It says everything it needs to say in the perfect time span, and that’s important for new plays, especially dark comedy, and Matt and co have learned to read their target audience accurately.
Shame it was only on for two nights as plays like this should be seen by more. It's one I'd see again for sure.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

“Wreck” by Toby Campion
Nottingham Playhouse
Set in the upstairs bijou studio space of the Neville Studios at Nottingham Playhouse is a new piece of theatre from the pen of Leicester poet Toby Campion, This one man performance is something quite different.
Theatre is one medium that should make the audience leave discussing what they've seen and that's so true of this piece.
Tarik, played by Luke Grant, is an easy going Nottingham lad who’s been visiting his girlfriend, Sophie, in Scotland and is on the train back home. But what happens when that train journey doesn’t go quite as expected is just the start of one dark, thrilling and harrowing story.
Luke Grant's story telling skills keeps you on the edge of your seat (and I still don't believe the ending of the story). He has a versatile voice and the change in his tone from the start of his tale to the ending is
miles apart. He has passion in his voice and fire in his eyes, and with the close proximity of the Neville Suite, you get to feel that emotion at close range.
You could completely believe the football fan was there beside Tarik and the woman in Tarik's seat. I totally bought in to the pictures painted by this script and Luke's descriptive acting skills.
Toby Campion's writing is first rate and is completely believable with the language and his style. It's written partly from experience, as Toby used to travel the journey himself. It's everyday observation at it's best. That though is where the comparison to Toby's journeys and this story end. And if you come and see this powerful play, you'll see exactly what I mean.
There's a part of the play where my imagination from the story telling stopped painting pictures in my mind and a certain shock factor kicked in when I realised where the story was going. It was like being on a river which started to flow faster and faster and you then realised you were heading for a waterfall and you'd lost your paddle. That's the panicky excitement feeling you get watching this play.
Directed by Alexandra Moxon. all I can say is WOW! Such pace and passion and the build up of the story creates a rush in your stomach and heart.
The set design by Abi Keating. This was basic at first sight but then everything explodes into life, adding to the visual excitement of this piece.
Tom Mowat is in charge of the sound and light design. The soundscape sets the timeline with aural pictures and creates invisible faces; much like the way that Tarik described the invisible faces in front of him.
The lighting, at times bold to create that shock factor, at times subtle, especially in the aftershock of the wreck sets you right in the middle of what Tarik experiences..
All of the above combined pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle to create one very powerful and topical piece of theatre, and much as I would love to tell you more of the story line, that would be a shame because you really need to see this for yourself to get the full effect. it definitely had me questioning what I saw and heard, which is why i said earlier in this review that i couldn't believe the outcome of this story.
“Wreck” is at the Neville Studios at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 30 September 2017. Go and see it, and take a friend or two so that you can compare your thoughts with theirs.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

“Hannah and Hanna/The Jewish Wife”
Lace Market Theatre
“The Jewish Wife”, written by Bertolt Brecht, which is the first part of this double bill and is a one-act play focusing on the issue of a Jewish woman having to tell her German husband that she is planning to leave him to save his career as a first class physician at the clinic he works at.
You can see the hurt in her eyes as she is still so in love with her husband but she is willing to make the sacrifice for his career
Mandy Hodgson (The Wife) tells the story as she slowly packs her case and makes calls to friends to ensure that her husband is cossetted in her absence. The emotion shows in Mandy's eyes and her voice at times cracks. Even though you know the inevitable is drawing near, you still want her to change her mind.
Daniel Bryant (The Husband) comes in near the end and you really want to shout out that his wife isn't just going for a few weeks. You can imagine Daniel as a doctor as he has that air about him.
Lorna McCullough has directed this play and one of the few directors who can make a minute of silence say more than words can say.
The second half of the double bill is "Hannah and Hanna".
It is 1999. Hannah is sixteen. She loves karaoke and her bloke Bullfrog; she hates her home town of Margate and the Kosovan asylum-seekers who have come to live there. Hanna is also sixteen. She loves karaoke and loves Margate and hates her home town of Kosovo..
What soon becomes apparent is that there are real similarities between Hannah's green and pleasant land and Hanna's bombed-out hell of Kosovo. In both, hatred is always bubbling just below the surface. The outlets for the hatred are very different though.
The two girls are eventually brought together through their love of singing and pop music. Kylie Minogue, Steps and Britney Spears have travelled to Kosovo and present a common language. Soon, English Hannah has to make the decision to become an adult and befriend the stateless Hanna or slavishly follow Bullfrog.
Their lives criss cross and one explosive incident one evening changes their opinions of the other forever.
Both plays are very moving and are willing to address serious political and racial issues. The language is, at times, shocking, and it's supposed to be to get the point of this play driven home.
The second play also provides a showcase for two excellent young actresses who give robust but sensitive performances.
Rhiannon Jones (Hannah) is the aggressive one with fire in her eyes. The gradual softening of her character is a delight to watch.
Ellie Searston (Hanna) is the one with fire in her belly. I had to ask Director Wayne Parkin about Ellie as I was so impressed with her Kosovian accent which never faltered once throughout. Only when she changed character and changed voice did I even think that she wasn't South Eastern European.
Both of these young actors really got under the skin of their characters and produced an emotion packed, gritty performance which will get the fire in you ignited, for several reasons.
Directed by Wayne Parkin, this debut is, I imagine, what every first time director could wish for, A whopping success. The direction and the actors made me feel anger at the way that Hanna was treated by Hannah, and then empathy for how Hannah was treated by Bull and his gang. The ending, which I won't reveal is a bit of a shock!
Both performed in the studio upstairs which gives both of these emotive plays that extra something because of the close proximity, you get 100% sight of the emotion given by all four actors.
Both sets are minimal but with the wonderful scripts, who needs sets, but Keith Parkinson has provided just enough in both.
I've said in the past that if you don't notice the soundscape, then that is also a job well done. There's the Simon Carter. Hand in hand with the lighting design by Rose Dudley they created a perfect atmosphere for both plays.
subtle background sounds and then there's the upfront karaoke scenes in the second play all done with spot on timing by
Why the upstairs space was not full to see these two plays, which are linked by their subject matter, I don't know because all involved in these presentations deserve to have their talents seen by more than the two thirds full audience. It was good to learn though that Tuesday night was full.
This double bill is on at The Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 23 September 2017 and I can guarantee that you'll be in the pub (or the upstairs bar) by 9.30 to have a chat about these plays.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

“Pride & Prejudice”
Nottingham Playhouse
Adapted from the Jane Austen novel by comedian Sara Pascoe with music by Emmy the Great, at first sight, a musical of “Pride & Prejudice” sounds outrageous.
How dare Sara Pascoe mess around with such a classic piece of literature? That's what some people may say, but being under no preconceptions in what I was going to see, I sat back to see what would unfold.
Austen’s lines can be amusing, which lends itself to being adapted in such a way by Sara to bring out the comedy and push it to the forefront. The lyrics of the songs in this production also have a lovely comic touch as well, almost parodying Austen’s work. It was almost like a dissection of the play which was then reassembled but maybe with not all the pieces in the right places.
That said I felt that the music didn't really add anything to the play. As a separate entity, the music was comical and clever but in the context of then play, it didn't do it for me, I'm afraid.
Maybe if Jane Austen were alive today she would be making a living out of musical theatre, who knows?
The story flip flopped from what "school kids" thought of the play from a modern view, and then from a director's point of view, remaking a film of the book going through, what i imagine could be the rushes (film folk will know what they are), and then to the actors within the play, playing the characters in the play that they were performing within this particular production.
At times the acting was deliberately hammy, which also added that comic, almost panto feel. Other times it was like watching "Horrible Histories", the TV show for kids.
Look, it's different but lovingly produced to be different and modern theatre needs to do this sort of thing to keep live theatre fresh. And it's going to get people talking which is never a bad thing. It was always going to be an exciting risk, which I think just paid off for Sara and the team.
A clever cast who took on several roles each but I'll mention a few of my standout characters.
Rachel Partington (Mary/Modern Mary / Miss de Bourgh / Mrs Hurst) was wonderfully "sandwich short of a picnic" who had a thing about envelopes for some reason. A wonderfully scatty role which added some lovely comic moments to the play. A nice professional debut for Rachel.

Kerry Peers (Mrs Bennet/Modern Mrs Bennet/Lady Catherine de Bourgh/Housekeeper) was the highlight for me, From the over excitable Mrs Bennet to the modern day director ( I think that was the role that she was going for) to the marvellous Lady Catherine (possibly based on Maggie Smith in Downton with the
cutting remarks). Loved them all.
Matt Whitchurch (Mr Darcy) was cool calm, collected and quite rude about the women. A fore runner to the modern sexist pig, but a brilliant character role.
Matthew Romain (Mr Bingley/Mr Collins). Another marvellous character driven fun role with a touch of hyper going off there with Mr Collins. great fun.
Alex Sawyer (Mr Wickham/Modern Wickham/Mr Gardiner). Wickham was a real slime ball but the ladies of the era seemed to love him. Another fun role to watch.
Adrian Irvine (Mr Bennet/Graham). It's amazing how donning a pair of glasses and waistcoat can age a character so much from Graham, the film director to Mr Bennet, the father of the family. Shows how clever props and costume can change an actor's performance to portray a role.
Directed by Susannah Tresilian and you can feel the love that she has for this story, and the fun that she obviously had with this pacy rom-com romp..
There's some lovely comic dance sections in the play which show the serenity in some of the characters and also the awkwardness in Mr Collins character. Thanks to the cleverness of Adele Parry's Movement Direction (is that a new name for the choreographer?)
I loved the set which was simple but clever, and incredibly effective, also showing a lot of class in the era of Austen's novel. Designed by Carla Goodman.
Go and see this production with an open mind. Don't expect a faithful interpretation of Jane Austen's novel of love and romance, expect something that maybe you didn't expect!
”Pride & Prejudice – the Musical” is at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 30 September 2017

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

“Reasons To Be Cheerful” by Graeae Theatre Company
Derby Theatre
For anyone who likes the music of Ian Dury and The Blockheads, this is a real treat. I love the music of Ian Dury and The Blockheads.
The show is a celebration of Dury’s music. A play within a play as explained by Vinnie at the start. It's wrapped around a coming of age story and includes classics like “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”, “Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll”, “What A Waste”, “Sweet Gene Vincent”, “Reasons To Be Cheerful pt 3” and the disability rights anthem “Spasticus Autisticus”.
The musical also features a new song by Blockhead Chaz Jankel called “If It Can’t Be Right Then It Must Be Wrong”.
37 years after Dury and Jankel wrote the song “Reasons To Be Cheerful”, it’s still causing a storm on stage and being introduced to a younger audience so that they can discover what a great British songwriter and performer Dury was. I’m sure that if Dury was alive today he would be a major force to be reckoned with and that he would give this show his special seal of approval. Clever and witty lyrics never go out of date.
The timeline is 1979 and the Labour Government have lost the election to the Tories. Vinnie and Colin are massive Dury fans and they are on a mission to see the man in concert at the Hammersmith Odeon; the only problem is, they don’t have a ticket and it’s sold out. When they get their hands on tickets, things don't quite go tom plan as life gets in the way.....
Performed by Graeae, who are a disabled-led theatre group. All performances include captioned dialogue, British Sign Language interpreted songs and audio description, so there’s no reason for anyone to miss out on this show.
Vinnie is played by Stephen Lloyd, What an energy Stephen brings to this show as he leaps all over the stage. In contrast the scenes where he is involved with his father, Bobby, have an emotional and sincere edge.
Colin is played by Stephen Collins. It's great fun watching Stephen perform. His character is like a naughty little boy who has grown up to be a naughty big boy. Again, a great energy brought to this play by Stephen.
Janine is played by Beth Hinton-Lever. Janine is the turning point in the play, and it's lovely to see her get the conclusion she gets. I'm saying no more!
Pat is played by Karen Spicer. The Mum in the play. This character is the Mum we'd all love to have, if we're really being honest. She is fun to watch and looks like she is having fun in this role. You feel for Pat as she is at her wits end with the man she loves but can't cope with the situation she is in.
Bill/Bobby is played by Gerard McDermott. Bobby is the father in the play within the play. Bill is the alternative role as Pat's new partner.
Nick/Dave is played by Max Runham. Another dual role, mainly as Vinnie's and Colin's supermarket boss and Janine's boyfriend. With an eye for the ladies, sometimes quite literally, under him, he is a jack the lad in many ways who loves to wind up our two heroes.
The main vocalist for Dury's songs is John Kelly. I've seen John, as well as some of this wonderfully talented cast, before. With Dury's songs his vocals are well matched and especially with the contrasting style of the country tinged "Crippled With Nerves" to the other punky/disco/rock songs.
This is one of those plays where the actors are also required to be fully fledged musicians as well as performing their roles in the play.Joey Hickman,
Nixon Rosembert, Paul Sirett (who also wrote this brilliant musical), Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth, Louis Schultz-Wiremu, Jude Mahon and Wayne "Pickles" Norman provide the music live.
Directed by Jenny Sealey, she has given us a lively, exciting, emotive and thoroughly entertaining piece of modern musical theatre.
Choreographer is Mark Smith, and while in parts it looks like it's a free for all pogo fest, the choreography is spot on for the era. With the "ensemble" choreography it's as good as anything form the West End.
Sound designer is by Lewis Gibbon and Lighting Designer is by Ian Scott. Both creating an exciting stage atmosphere.
The projection design (Duncan McLean) and Video Design (Mark Haig) add to that visual excitement.
Graeae Theatre Company is a blend of disabled and non-disabled actors. They're proud to show this and often use the disability they have humorously, and why not? They're all talented actors and after the first five or ten minutes you see past their disability and you see an actor, not an actor who has a disability.
Part concert, part theatre. "Reasons To Be Cheerful" will have you on your feet by the end as you're drawn into the party. I defy you to stay in your seat for the ending. Yes even I was up on my feet shaking my booty and making my hands red by clapping to Ian Dury's infectious anthems.
“Reasons To Be Cheerful ” gives you more than three reasons to see this wonderful show, which is at Derby Theatre until Saturday 16 September 2017.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

“South Pacific” by LAOS
Loughborough Town Hall
The musical focuses on Nellie, an American nurse, Nellie Forbush, stationed on an island in the South Pacific during World War 2, who falls in love with a French plantation owner, Emile De Becque, but struggles with the fact that he has two mixed-race children by his late Polynesian wife.
There’s a secondary romance involving young U.S. lieutenant, Joe Cable, and a young Tonkinese woman, Liat, daughter pf Bloody Mary. Both situations highlight the racial prejudices of the period.
The plot and musical is based on a 1947 novel by James A. Michener called “Tales of the South Pacific” and Rodgers and Hammerstein believed they could write a musical based on Michener's work that would be financially successful and, at the same time, would send a strong progressive message on racism. On both accounts, they succeeded.
This is one of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s best and most loved musicals with many of the songs being so well known that they have graced the music charts over the years in various guises. “Some Enchanted Evening”, “Happy Talk”, “A Cock Eyed Optimist”, “Bali Hai”, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair”, “Younger Than Springtime”, "I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy" to name just a few.
Loughborough Amateur Operatic Society have a long history of presenting classic musicals like this and this is just another whopping success to add to their extensive CV.
Directed by James Nelson, it's pacy with some smooth and well executed scene changes. Bearing in mind that this is a lengthy musical, coming in at just under three hours with an interval, it's not an easy directorial piece.
The cast were, as usual, excellent with some very strong voices.
Jonathan Penton (Emile De Becque ) was wonderful with a French accent that didn't sound over pronounced, it sounded very natural. He also has a gorgeously rich singing voice which I could listen to for ages.
Gemma Landers (Ensign Nellie Forbush) captured the very essence of a woman torn by love and what other people may think of her being involved in a family with mixed race kids. We all knew that love would win the day!
Ollie Lewin (Lt. Joseph Cable) looked the classic U.S. young army person, like a blond Tom Cruise in "Top Gun"
Chris Wilson (Luther Billis) is an actor that I have a lot of time for. He plays to his strengths with comedy and this is the perfect role for him as the wise cracking Billis. His "Honey Bun" immediately raised smiles and his interpretation of "Bali Hai" is what I can imagine rock singers Dave Grohl or Chad Kroeger would sound like doing musical theatre.
Gemma Baxter (Bloody Mary) was another absolute joy and where as Jonathan Penton reigned in the
French twang, Gemma went the other way and produced a wonderfully funny character piece, exactly how the character of Bloody Mary should be played.
Effie Langley-Evans (Liat) again played the part just right, never over stating the role as the girl who fell in love with Cable. A lovely gentle performance which gave you the "aahh" factor.
Richard York (Capt. George Brackett) and Kevin Clarke (Cmdr. William Harbison) were solid throughout with that needed air of authority.
Ayeka Edirisinghe and Inodh Jayawardhena played the two young children, Ngana and Jerome with great confidence.
A large ensemble who were just brilliant fun to watch. The choreography executed by the dancers was spot on and shows the hard work put in by choreographer Hannah Osgood and the cast.
I must pick out one member of the ensemble who I kept coming back to for his dancing as well as his vocals in "There is Nothing Like A Dame" and that's Joe Harrison. Every piece of choreography, and there are various styles in this musical, looked very natural to Joe. His vocals actually surprised me as I was not expecting that deep voice to come from Joe.
The orchestra sounded amazing under Hazel Needham's Musical Direction.
There were a couple of first night wobbles that would have gone un-noticed by most audience members but these were minor things that in no way detracted from the sheer joy of this production.
A tip here for you. Get to your seats for 7,20pm so that you can see the added dance section to some great 1940's Big Band songs. An additional treat and look out for the nod to LAOS' next production in March 2018 in this show!
“South Pacific” is at Loughborough Town Hall until Saturday 16 September 2017.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

“West Side Story”
Derby Theatre
The classic Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein musical is performed this time around by Derby Youth Musical Theatre. This ,as far as I can remember, is the first time that I have seen this group, but many of the faces are well known on the local Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire local theatre scene.
The story is inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and it’s the story of the relationships between two opposing street gangs, The Jets and The Sharks, with the two main characters, Tony and Maria being on opposite sides of the fence. This doesn’t stop the course of true love though but exacerbates the feelings between the two gang members with fatal consequences.
This is also a good musical to counter many of the classic musicals which end on a high and happy vibe.
“West Side Story” includes so many classic musical pieces, many have become chart and popular hits, covered by some of the cream of the recording industry. “Something’s Coming”, “Maria”, “I Feel Pretty”, “America”, “Somewhere”, “One Hand One Heart” and “Tonight” being among them as well as the lyrically comic “Gee Officer Krupke”.As I was leaving, I heard a couple of women state that they didn't realise how many of the songs in the musical they actually knew.
This is the first full theatre production that I've seen for well over a month, due to the theatre season pause, and this company re awakened my love for this wonderful, and very energetic musical. It actually left me quite drained of emotion because of the emotion these actors put into their performances.
Tony is played by Ryan Wiggins, a young actor I’ve seen on several occasions. He fits this role so well; he’s good looking and has that “boy next door” attitude which is just what Tony should be. He also has the most wonderful voice with such range. I've seen Ryan's Raoul, and that that was good; this performance bettered that. His control, especially in his falsetto, was spine tinglingly magical.
Tony’s “Juliet” is Maria, sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, and played by the lovely Mia Mitchell. Having met Mia a few weeks ago, I knew what a gorgeously talented teenager she is. What I hadn't been aware of was what a beautiful voice she owns. Crystal clear and those notes just flow effortlessly from her mouth. These two, Ryan and Mia, are a theatrical match made in heaven.
Bernardo is played by Sam Fretwell. Another handsome young actor who, at 18 years old, delivers a very mature performance and has an ear for accents, as do most of this talented cast.
The feisty Anita, played by Holly Ann Twells. Loved her accent and the fire she has for this character. great voice and what a dancer. Enormously energetic, and so pleased that she came from back stage to show off her wonderful talents onstage.
The leader of The Jets is the incredibly talented Lucas Young. By his own admission this is one part that is unlike other roles that he has performed in the past, but boy does he pull this one out of the bag. He shows what a diverse character player he is. One of the strongest and flexible dancers he showed that he can adapt to any dance form.
Curtis Taylor-Tipton plays Action. As this character he gets to show a more comic side of his acting as he takes the vocals on "Gee Officer Krupke". I've seen Curtis in several roles over the years, and it's great to see him play a role just a little less serious.
It’s a large cast (37) who interact well and the relationships between everyone offstage help to make the relationships with the characters onstage realistic. They all work like a well oiled theatre machine.For a cast of such young actors, they put some professional shows to shame with the energy and stage craft.
The mix of first timers with Derby Youth Musical Theatre and others that have long theatrical CVs blend well, and without reading the very informative programme, you would not be able to guess the experience levels of these actors.
It's also a testament to the actors and technical crew that they made this far from simple musical look so smooth.
The relationship between Tony and Maria is passionate and you can feel this passion, which makes the ending such an emotional scene.
Likewise the relationship between Tony and Riff as long time "bros from the hood" makes you feel that emotion that raged in Tony during the fateful rumble.
Directed by Peter Waters, who must be a very happy director with results like this. It's tight and pacy and he has the perfect cast.
Great musicals need great songs, which this show has in abundance, a great story, which it also has, and great dance routines, and that is the third box well and truly ticked.
Choreographer Caroline Green, assisted by Leanne Warren, has recreated some classic routines for this show. There are many different dance styles in West Side Story and it's rather wonderful to see ballet, jazz, contemporary, salsa and more all performed so well. You can see the time and notice taken just by looking at the hand and foot extensions by both male and female dancers. The hip action with the Latin sections may not be as loose as it could be but I am being very petty here because i have to keep reminding myself how young these actors are, and that sort of flexibility and technique is very hard to develop naturally. Just watch "Strictly" and the rehearsal time they have and compare that to these kids, and you'll see what an amazing job Caroline and the cast have produced.
If i had to choose my choreographic highlight, it would have to be "America". WOW! Amazing!!
Musical Director for this wonderfully emotive and evocative score is Charlotte Daniel. The music creates the perfect atmosphere for the period and the Latin area. That totally lush feel of "Maria", "One Hand One Heart" and the amazing arrangement of the final "Somewhere" is just breath taking and emotional. The 12 piece orchestra contains some of the best musicians in local theatre.
"West Side Story" has always been one of my favourite musicals. Derby Youth Musical Theatre have made sure that my love for this musical remains.
“West Side Story” is at Derby Theatre until Saturday 9 September 2017. Do not miss your chance to see this production.