Tuesday, 20 August 2019

“Dangerous Obsession” by Tabs Theatre Company
Nottingham Theatre Royal
It really doesn’t seem like three weeks ago when the first of this year’s Classic Thriller Season plays started, and here we are in their last week for this year. Every year Tabs Productions bring four excellent pieces of theatre to the Nottingham stage; this year it seems that they have had the best season ever, in every way.
Written by N J Crisp, this play is widely considered to be his finest piece, and he certainly knows how to write an "edge of the seat" piece of theatre with twists that you don't see coming.
The action all takes place in the conservatory of Mark & Sally Driscoll's wealthy home. A stranger, John Barratt has been watching Sally as she comes in from the garden and tends the plants in the conservatory. He knocks on the window and Sally lets him in when she realises that they had met at a business function in Torquay.
When Mark comes home from work he and Sally think that John is here to talk about a business proposition. They do not notice the clever way that John seals off the conservatory but the audience do,and this creates suspicion from the auditorium.
John's wife has recently been involved in a car accident and he seems devastated, gaining Sally's sympathy but Mark's patience is running out. He finally asks John to leave. Sally hands John his 'rather heavy' briefcase. John pulls out a gun. Shots are fired. Sally and Mark are scared witless. What on earth is John really here for? But the audience will have to wait until Act Two to find out and there are many twist and turns to come before John's real purpose is revealed.
Angie Smith (Sally Driscoll) straight away attracts the audience's attention with her costume, but I digress. Angie shows a wide range of emotions with this role and character and you can feel the fear that she shows. Another emotion starts to show though as we get into the second act!
Mark Huckett (Mark Driscoll) also shows a wide range of emotion and also in Act Two you do start to feel just a little bit sorry for him, although morally, maybe we shouldn't as his story unfolds. You can almost feel and smell the nervousness, and at times utter desperation, creeping up on Driscoll.
Michael Sherwin (John Barrett) plays an absolute blinder with Barrett. His delivery of the script remains calm but so menacing and his stilted, but measured delivery makes you feel decidedly uneasy from his first appearance. You feel that Barrett is dangerous, but why?. Michael delivers a frighteningly unhinged performance, one that would make you sleep with the light on, especially if you had something to hide!!
Directed by Karen Henson who delivers four out of four wonderful theatre pieces, showing that not only is she a wonderful character actor but her Direction and ability to get these kind of performances from her cast, leaving you just a little on edge....when she wants to.
The set was designed by Duncan Hands and again, like Sarah Wynne Kordas's designs for the previous three productions, the attention to detail is very commendable. You don't have to read up on the period the productions are set in as the set tells you straight away.
Lighting designer was Duncan Hands and the Sound design by David Gilbrook. Just the opening of one of the conservatory windows allows the birdsong soundscape to flood in, again creating an idyllic atmosphere to match the idyllic life style the Driscolls, seemingly have.
I hung on to every word this trio delivered. I'd not seen or heard this play before and they had me hooked right from the start. It's a very clever and well scripted play, and the three characters are all stand alone characters. I lost track of the twists in this story. The final one will make you wonder what happened next. One thing I think we can be sure about though, not one of these characters will be revealing the events of that evening, to anyone. Why? Go and find out for yourself.
“Dangerous Obsession” is at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 24 August.

Friday, 16 August 2019

“We Love Musicals 2019” by Nottingham Arts Theatre Summer School
Nottingham Arts Theatre Studio
You know me, I love musicals, so when I was invited down to review week 2 of the Nottingham Arts Theatre Summer School sessions, finding out that this week they would be learning and performing songs from the musicals, well, I was there like a shot!
Last week was such a success, it was a sell-out, with Summer School staff having to hunt out additional seats for folks to sit on.
This week it was back in the main auditorium and we got to see the gorgeous new seats and carpets and sink into them - the seats, not the carpets. The seats are so comfortable and chunky though, you may find giving a standing ovation may take a little longer to get up, or maybe that's just my age and waistline holding me back!
The scheme is run for three weeks during the holidays and the children start on Monday, and by Friday evening they are presenting what they have learned throughout the week; no easy task.
This week, I don't know how they learned everything we saw tonight in just four and a bit days. Nine different musicals and 34 children from the age of eight years' old presented a wonderfully entertaining evening, and the energy these kids have is enough to light up the National Grid.
Music from The Greatest Showman, Shrek, Hairspray, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, Blood Brothers, The Addams Family and Seussical.
There are some brilliant ensemble pieces and equally some brilliant solos, duets and group work from the three groups, and you can see that every single child on that stage had worked immensely hard for our entertainment, as well as their enjoyment. How do I know that? Because I just had to look at their faces to see the joy they radiated.
The Pink Group were Emma, Freddie - great confidence -, Holly, Jenna, Judd - you are a star in the making with your dance skills and characterisation - Lacey, Neave, Sophie D and Sophie K. I wish I had a smidgen of all of your talents.
The Green Group were Ava, Billy, Courtney, Darcey, Dion, Harriett, Isobel, Lucy H, Maisie, Naomi, Scarlett and Sophie B. Again what a talented group of kids.
The Blue Group were Amelia, Carmen - what a lovely performer and so cute - Emily, Harry - another performer with bags of confidence - Jasmina, Josh - I hope that you continue with drama and dance because it looked like you loved being on stage - Libby, Lucy HL, Roland, Tabitha, Thomas and Willow.
It was good to see so many young lads taking part and you know, they gave the girls a run for their money in the dancing stakes. Normally the girls are the more dominant in these Summer schemes but the lads balanced the girls out well in this show.
And of course while massive credit goes to these young performers, the back stage crew and the teachers need to be credited to, especially Rowan Arnold who wanted to be involved in the Summer Scheme but behind the scenes, so good on you Rowan.
I'm not going to list everyone who were in tutor roles, production, sound and light because they know what a great job they did this week, because the proof was there on stage. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, well we ate like kings tonight, thanks to a group of amazing chefs.
Everyone of these kids have the ability to become local theatre stars with a start like they have had this week, and I hope that they keep it up. I've seen so many local actors start from beginnings like this and end up on the London stages and in touring productions.
I've also had the pleasure of reviewing young actors at a local level and then years later reviewing them on tour in productions; and it always gives me the greatest of pleasure to say that I was there to experience their initial steps into the wonderful world of theatre.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

“Anybody For Murder” by Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner
Nottingham Theatre Royal
Every year Tabs Productions who perform the Classic Thriller Season include one thriller that is a little more light hearted than the other three, and this is the one for this year. In fact this is more of a farce than any other light-hearted production Tabs have put on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal as far as I can remember.
On a remote Greek Island, a scheming husband, Max Harrington, is set on murder.He is planning to collect his wife Janet’s life insurance, but she just won’t stay dead! He wanted to enjoy life with his girlfriend, Suzy, when old family friends Mary and George arrive on their Greek island with news they are beneficiaries of a huge fortune, and soon everyone is hell bent on murder. The only thing that stands in their way is the presence of a neighbour who knows a thing or two about murder, crime writer Edgar Chambers.
John Goodrum (Max Harrington) practically skips across the stage while trying to do away with Janet; you could almost see the £ signs in his eyes as his mind started to work double-time.In every production John is in, he always brings a sliver of comedy to his performance, so this play is right up John's street as he gets to show off his wonderful comic skills.
Anna Mitcham (Suzy Stevens) also shows another acting side, and again another side of Anna's acting skills in this role, again a lovely comic side is revealed.
Karen Henson (Janet Harrington) makes her only stage performance this season in this play, and what a memorable one. Karen has a natural comedy streak, on and off stage, and that with the character's speech impediment made this a lovely role for Karen, as well as the audience.
David Martin (Edgar Chambers) plays a drunk very well. This surely must be a tribute to his method character acting ability
Susan Earnshaw (Mary Ticklewell), well it's no secret how much I love Susan's work and with Mary, she brings out the bossy, but also very devious and murderous character. The whole physicality of this role lets you know that she is the boss in this relationship
David Gilbrook (George Ticklewell), again lets loose the comic side of his acting repertoire.Under the thumb of Mrs Ticklewell and it's the character's slight bumbles that are well highlighted by David. Like John, he is also a quick thinker and an excellent ad libber when needed, which added even more comedy to this brilliant comedy farce/thriller.
Directed by Karen Henson, so it's guaranteed that it's going to be a wonderful production as she brings out the very best performances from her cast.
The set was designed by Sarah Wynne Kordas and depicted a typical Grecian feel to the apartment, even the exterior backdrop made you feel the warmth of the sun seeping through those patio doors.
Lighting Design is by John Goodrum and Sound Design by David Gilbrook.
The play has Brian Clemens' writing and comedy all the way through it. I'd not seen this play before so knew nothing of the twist at the end. Not your typical thriller but a wonderful farce with a clever script and brilliantly acted.
Every week this year the productions have exceeded the previous week, which believe me is not easy when the quality of Tabs Productions' work is of the high standard we see throughout the Colin McIntyre Thriller Season, year on year.
“Anybody For Murder” is the third play in this years Colin McIntyre’s Thriller Season and is at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 17 August 2019.
Photos by Sarah Wynne Kordas.

Friday, 9 August 2019

“The Witches” by Roald Dahl
Nottingham Arts Theatre
The first of the Nottingham Arts Theatre’s “Play In A Week” run by their Summer School, and you just know, even before the play starts that these young children on stage are going to have an absolute blast with this play, and they did.
For a few years now I’ve had the pleasure of being invited down to review these plays and I’ve always marvelled at how fast these young people have learned and digested everything that they have created in less than one week.
They are like human sponges, and it’s lovely for me to go future “star spotting”. It’s also lovely to see who develops, going forward, into regular local actors, due to the love for acting they develop through this one week and the teachers who volunteers at the Nottingham Arts Theatre Summer School.
The Witches is a children's dark fantasy novel by Roald Dahl. The story is set partly in Norway and partly in the United Kingdom, and features the experiences of a young British boy and his Norwegian grandmother in a world where child-hating societies of witches secretly exist in every country.
The witches are all ruled by the extremely vicious and powerful Grand High Witch, who in the story has just arrived in England to organise her worst plot ever. But an elderly former witch hunter and her young grandson find out about the evil plan and now they must do everything to stop it and defeat the witches.
There were some really confident performances from these youngsters, plus some really good projection and character acting.They worked really well as a team and looked like they were having a ball, especially those witches!
Kezia Grundy (Grand High Witch), Essie Grundy (Grandma), Rhys Phelan/Se Phelan (Boy), Loren Hattachet (Narrator), Sophie Benner (Bruno Jenkins), Molly Benner (Mrs Jenkins), Courtney Ward (Mr Jenkins), Elsa Novak (Tree Witch), Zilpha Chisholm (Witch 1), Annie-Lucia Mowbray-Rees (Witch 2), Ava Barratt, Scarlett Coleman-Smith and Carmen Jablonska (Witches), Connie Hattachet (Waitress), Mack Afzak (Doorman/Head Chef and Puppeteer) and Rowan Arnold (Stage Manager).
Directed by Marie Rogers, who could add stand up comedy to her talents, if tonight was anything to go by. She made sure that everything ran smoothly, and apart from the odd prompt - I have trouble remembering my name sometimes, never mind a script - it all went to plan.
Marie's crew are Soleil Qu, Hope Wilkins, Rowan Arnold, Peter HodgkinsonEmily Wilkins,Anna Wilczewskaand, Amy Rogers-Gee and Glenise Ellis.
This cast show what can be achieved in just a few days, and I hope that they carry on what they've started here, because there are youngsters here who show loads of promise, and should be proud of what they have done over the last five days.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

“Coram Boy”
Nottingham Albert Hall
I deliberately didn't read anything about this play or the story, just so I'd get the full effect of this story, and boy did parts of this story hit home.
The action takes place in the eighteenth century. The benevolent Thomas Coram has recently opened a Foundling Hospital in London called the "Coram Hospital for Deserted Children".
Unscrupulous men, known as "Coram men", take advantage of the situation by promising desperate mothers to take their unwanted children to the hospital for a fee. It's what happens to those babies once the Coram men have them that is quite shocking.
The story follows a range of characters, focusing on two orphans who become best friends: Toby, saved from an African slave ship; and Aaron, the deserted son of the heir to an estate, as their lives become closely involved with a true and tragic episode of British social history.
Act One was a slow burner, building the story up and introducing the characters and their relationships.
Act Two was more explosive as we saw the characters from Act One a few years older and how their lives had progressed.
Based on Jamila Gavin’s Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award-winning novel, this production is for all ages because there is something for everyone, and everyone can take something away from this production.
Not only do you get a wonderful story but you get to see a mass of local actors and singers in one place, but you also get the gorgeous choir, the imposing Binns organ as well as a beautiful string quartet - The Helix Ensemble -, so this is more of an experience than just another night at the theatre. Plus the setting of the Nottingham Albert Hall adds that special aura to the evening.
The set, designed by Kevin Jenkins is rather stunning with it's outdoor feel section of the staging. The indoor setting not needing any particular scenery because you're so wrapped up in the story and the actors that you just forget anything else.
Directed by Adam Penford, a man who is not afraid of taking on something different, and this is certainly that, The many scenes segued together well to make a fluid storyline, helped by a nifty stage management crew, but at no time did you get the sense that anything was being rushed, the pace was just right.
This immersive production uses all of the Albert Hall arena space and you feel yourself almost part of the production as you're surrounded by the chorus and dancers, the chorus filling the whole place with atmosphere.
Musical Director is Alex Patterson, and you can feel the hard work this man has invested with this talented group.If you've ever attended a recital of Handel's Messiah, you'll know just how complex the harmonies are,and with sections of The Messiah incorporated within this play, you can appreciate the hard work everyone has put in.
Choreographed by Emma Lewis-Jones, again you felt like you were part of a TV series like "Victoria" with the glamour and the respectful dancing.
Sound Designed by Adam P Macready and the Lighting Design is by Will Welch, both adding to that special atmosphere
John Keys, who has an apt name for an organist, sent the shivers up my spine as soon as that magnificent instrument started. I've never heard this played before tonight but it leaves you in awe, not only because of the size of it, but the beautiful tone.
One thing that I did note from this cast was how many black actors were involved,I've said for a long time that Nottingham theatre groups don't seem to attract black actors as we don't see them in productions locally. I don't know why this is, and I've had several conversations with local actors about this. We need more black actors on Nottingham stages, and this cast proves me right. Local theatre groups are crying out for your talent.
This cast is black, white, male, female, young and old.It includes newcomers to the stage, faces I know from several productions and theatre groups locally and people who have revisited their love for the theatre again. This is what local theatre is all about. It brings people together and creates friendships between the most unlikely of people. Between them all, along with the Playhouse professionals, they have given us a very special piece of theatre.
“Coram Boy” is at the Nottingham Albert Hall until Saturday 10 August 2019

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

“Murder With Love” by Francis Durbridge
Nottingham Theatre Royal
This is one of those plays where I can honestly say that I was NOT expecting that final twist!!
Columnist Jo Mitchell is anxious to retrieve some incriminating letters from Larry Campbell who has just returned from the United States where he has been promoting his brother Roy's new invention.
Roy's wife Dylis doesn't trust Larry, so she consults with lawyer Ernest Foster who is friendly with barrister David Ryder whose wife died while having an affair with womaniser Larry, now living with actress Clare Norman who is suspicious of his relationship with a woman he met while in the States, Beth, while George Rudd seems to have enough connection with any of them to be able to resort to blackmail.
Just when you think you may have an inkling on who may have bumped off Larry, in comes another herring of the red variety - or is it a herring? Something is definitely fishy but which one or ones are responsible?
Jeremy Lloyd Thomas (Larry Campbell) returns and Campbell is killed off in the first Act.Surely not you may cry! He seems to have a list of enemies, but who would want to see him silenced the most, and why?
Sarah Wynne Kordas (Jo Mitchell) gets to wear an incredibly glamorous wig; I had to look twice as it changed her whole look. Jo is one of those in the frame for Campbell's murder because of what was in those letters that Campbell held. In act two there's also quite a physical scene which looked so realistic, I was quite worried that Sarah may have been hurt if she had landed awkwardly. A wonderful piece of stunt work.
Susan Earnshaw (Mrs Bedford) plays such a busy character, seeing all of those visitors to the Mitchell residence. I bet Mrs B could tell some tales!! Surely Mrs B must be one of the few not suspected, she's such a lovely down to earth character.
David Martin (Earnest Foster) plays a character who seems to be in the suspect file; could this character really be involved? But if that's so, why did Earnest pay a visit to Campbell's flat on the night of the murder?
Andrew Ryan (David Ryder), also gets to don a wig, but nothing could mask those distinctive features. Ryder, from early on seems to be the murderer, but then in come those twists and turns that almost make you query what you've seen with your own eyes.
Chris Sheridan (George Rudd), gets to play two villains in two weeks,this time with a different accent. This time around his villainy is petty, a bit of underworld stuff, a bit of blackmail. Rudd sees a lot but could that be his downfall? Classic East End villain, and I was a bit worried that his flares would trip him, and his platforms up and that would be his downfall. Great costumes.
David Gilbrook (Roy Campbell) plays Larry's brother. Another character that may have an underlying motive to see his brother off. David brings just the right amount of dither to the role that kind of makes you think that it couldn't be Roy embroiled in this murder plot.
Anna Mitcham (Claire Norman) gets to play another powerful character in week two of the 2019 Classic Thriller Season, and while last week she played a blind woman, this time could not be more different, as she had her eyes wide open to what was going on. Claire is sexy, powerful and appears to be in control.....of everything in her life.But didn't she have an alibi at the time of Larry's death? Oh Anna, you really had my brain working overtime with this role.
John Goodrum (Cleaver) brings the Columbo to the stage in his character. The characteristics, movements, pauses are all similar to one of my favourite TV detectives, even down to the raincoat. Loved the way he added comedy to the role, especially in his "boyish" speech in act two, which raised more than a chuckle from the eager audience, causing an hiatus to the growing tension in the play.
Directed by Karen Henson. Need I say more? Karen is a massive Durbridge fan, so this really is a labour of love for Karen, and we loved this play. What would a Thriller Season be without a touch of Durbridge anyway?
Set Design by Sarah Wynne Kordas, and I personally love the attention to detail. The set was split in two - Campbell's orange and brown flat, even matching Claire's initial outfit, and Mitchell's green and brown flat, even down to the green phone. Both stylish designs for the 70's, and both packed with detail.
Sound Design by David Gilbrook and Lighting Design by Michael Donaghue. As with last week, the sound and light team added so much to this thriller. There were many phone rings and door bells, doors being shut etc, and the lighting focused our attention and guided us to where we needed to be looking.
It's all to do with guiding our senses in theatre where sound and light is concerned, and like the acting, this production shows a masterclass of talent on how things should be done.
Costume Design by Geoff Gilder and again attention to detail is rife here. Flares, leather coats,the dresses, heels, - for both male and female actors, all spot on. This goes as well for the wigs and make up. Everything just transported the audience back to the 70's.
This play is not one that I'd seen before, and it really had everyone on the edge of their seats trying to work out who killed Campbell, and even to start with, how he actually died, as that too was in question as to the cause of his death as the play progressed.
As I mentioned though at the start of this review, this play has a final twist that was not expected at all and I felt my jaw dropping in the final scenes because this was one twist I had not seen coming.
This is one production that truly deserves the Classic Thriller tag and a must see for Thriller fans. I may even go as far to say that this could be my favourite one to date, but it has a lot of competition over the years of Tabs Productions' successes.
“Murder With Love” is the second of this year’s plays in the Colin McIntyre’s Classic Thriller Season and runs until Saturday 10 August.