Gatsby Review

Union Theatre 6 – 30 April.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

Not so great Gatsby.

On paper, I’m sure this musical based on the iconic novel seemed like a good idea. In reality, however, it is an unmitigated disaster. The production almost gets away with it in the sections at parties and bar scenes, but most of the show plays as if songs had to be shoehorned into the plot to fulfil a quota. Joe Evans’ music is lively but forgettable, and every song was performed at a pitch that was either too high or too low to evoke any appropriate feelings in the audience. The most badly judged is All Seeing Eyes, where the poor actors playing Myrtle and George have to act out a huge fight whilst singing/shouting trite lyrics at each other. Truth be told, I was relieved when she got run over, at least the song had ended. Evans’ habit of ending “emotional” songs with a lingering high note is increasingly irritating and caused problems amongst the male performers. Having the actors playing instruments around the room just doesn’t work in this space, whenever the trumpeter comes near, everything else is drowned out. The staging and design is messy, with over complicated lighting (the mechanisms are extremely loud – at one point I was convinced the whirring noise was F Scott Fitzgerald spinning in his grave) and needless choreographed faffing about between scenes; the climatic murder suicide almost goes unnoticed because of another badly placed song, turning what could have been a huge moment into a damp squib.

The cast do their best, and over the run I am sure their accents and singing voices will improve. But the casting is questionable, with Wolfshiem about as criminal as the Pope, Daisy blinking and gurning like an American version of Peggy from Hi-de-Hi, and Gatsby – enigmatic, charismatic Jay Gatsby – as dull as ditch water. The “romantic” duet when Gatsby and Daisy are reunited involved a lot more yawning than yearning. The actors are not helped by the tedious and uninspiring book. The scene where Tom confronts Gatsby, revealing his true past, should be seething with tension, but instead it was stilted and one dimensional, which really sums up the whole show.

Rocky Horror Show Review

Grand Opera House, York.  Reviewed by Marcus Richardson

The ‘Rocky Horror Show’ at York Grand Opera House was outstandingly orgasmic, with its sensual songs, sexy cast and strange audience (with rude remarks about the character)

Frank-N-Furter an out of this world scientist played by Liam Tamne, his two loyal servants Riff Raff (Kristian Lavercombe) a hunchback with an eerie nature and his sister Magenta (Kay Murphy) a flexible maid. Not forgetting his own little groupie Columbia (Sophie Linder-Lee) who also happens to be madly in love with Eddie (Richard Meek) a tough nut biker.

They all performed very well and the relationship between the characters are comical and slightly melodramatic. By god they all had great singing voices combining for a perfect show.

Our two lovers Brad (Ben Freeman but understudied by Ben Kerr) and Janet (Diana Vickers) were helplessly in love when the meet the sweet transvestite Frank-N-Furter.

The staging was fairly sparse besides the sides/walls of the stage, but I wasn’t looking at that since I was distracted but the rippling abs of Rocky (Dominic Anderson), all that aside I found the set to be very effective as it made for great dances with the team of phantoms and the crew.

I think alot of the plays success comes from the script by Richard O’Brian as it is both sexy and funny, the film version also made the play a much more mainstream play also this also sparked the audience participation that the show is famous for.

The cult classic blew me… Away, I found that it made for an enjoyable night with the whole audience giving a standing ovation. I have to give great credit to the actors for their confidence and amazing acting, Lavercombe is in fact a RHS veteran and has performed in the play nearly 1000 times!

The audience made the performance for me, and great compliments to the narrator (Steve Punt) for putting up with such lunacy. This chaotic relationship between the cast and audience will and forever always be a RHS necessity. With the whole audience joining in the time warp it was clear that the play please eager fan and newcomers alike. Especially for my RHS virgin partner to which they found it very shocking. I fully recommend any one to go and see this as its one of the greatest plays to ever land on this earth

Billy Elliott Review

Empire Theatre, Sunderland – 6 to 30 April 2016

Billy is coming home declares the publicity and what a triumphant home-coming it was. The theatre goers at Sunderland Empire certainly thought so, rising as one to give a very much deserved standing ovation at the end.

Set in Easington, less than 10 miles away from the Empire and we were entertained by Easington Colliery Brass band as we entered the theatre, which was a nice touch.

As the theatre waited to judge the show, it wasn’t found wanting. The accents were authentically Durham (not Geordie), with not a consonant out of place or a vowel over elongated.

With Billy Elliot, dance is the thing. Adapted from the 2000 movie of the same name, the musical (two hours and 35 minutes with intermission) is the story of an aspiring dancer who also happens to be a motherless lad living with his father, brother and grandmother in a rough British coal-mining community.

It’s an especially tough time. As the play opens, the year is 1984, and the community is threatened by a battle of wills between the unionised miners and the intractable prime minister Margaret Thatcher, heard in vintage footage as the play begins. The first song, The Stars Look Down, is a shout-out to a not-dissimilar 1940 movie of the same name about a young man who attempts to break out of the mining community in which he was raised.

The role of Billy is shared between 4 exceptionally talented young men: Adam Abbou, Matthew Lyons, Lewis Smallman and Haydn May who performed for us on his 11th birthday. Billy is just a kid with extraordinary expressive potential, who may or may not make it as an adult, and that is exactly what this show delivers. The strength of the emotional connection flows to the rest of

Billy’s family: his beloved but dotty gran (played by Andrea Miller) and his brother Tony (Scott Garnham). Garnham’s deeply wrenching performance made me believe for the first time that his Tony was cut from the same cloth as young Billy. In other productions, he often seemed just angry, but in this he seems to be remembering his broken dreams. And his gruff dad (a suitably marshmallow-centred Martin Walsh, who gives a sensitive and honest performance)

Annette McLaughlin is absolutely wonderful as the inspiring Mrs Wilkinson. She sings with a cabaret singer’s sexy, smoky voice, has a fantastic sense of humour and dances like a professional. She also gets one of the most moving moments of the play as this surrogate mother sings a duet with the ghostly real one, Nikki Gerrard.

Billy is hooked, although he worries that male dancers are deemed “poofs.” That anxiety is addressed in Billy’s subsequent encounter with his cross-dressing friend Michael (Henry Farmer, Elliot Stiff, Samuel Torpey all sharing the role) in the comic number Express Yourself (“Get some earrings, some mascara, heels and a fan/Pretty soon you will start to feel a different man.”) Surreptitiously taking a few lessons from Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy proves to be a dancing prodigy. The teacher he believes he has what it takes to go to a professional ballet school in London.

That effort will require a radical change of attitude, not just from Billy’s macho family, but from an entire community seemingly built on a foundation of masculine bluster. With great comic interaction from Debbie, Mrs Wilkinson’s 10 year old daughter (Lily Cadwallender, Evie Martin and Italia Ross)

The interplay between ballet lessons and battles on picket lines is well done and gives the stage version a harder edge than the film. The first half is tremendous fun, assisted greatly by Sir Elton John’s music which is often anthemic and uplifting. Whilst the show seems to just be about an unlikely kid from an anti-arts environment trying to get into the Royal Ballet School it’s really about how artistic truth flows from deep within us and how a dancer dances because

nothing else makes him or her feel the same way. And it’s about how as parent, one thing matters most of all: that you get behind your kids

Yes, the language can be fruity and maybe more shocking when uttered by a 10 year old – but this is a wonderful show. It’s a living, breathing, feeling musical, one of the most political ever created for the theatrical stage.

In Sunderland until 30 April and on tour around the UK

To Kill A Machine Review

King’s Head Theatre 6 – 23 April.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

To Kill a Machine tells the story of Alan Turing in a hard-hitting yet tender production.

Catrin Fflur Huws, inspired by Cabaret, presents pivotal moments in Turings’ life from his time at Sherborne School, through the war years at Bletchley and finally at Wilmslow, between grotesque rounds of a game show he just can’t win. The gurning hosts gleefully plot his downfall as Turing insists on truth and tries to understand the ever changing rules of society. The Imitation game is shown very cleverly, and Turing’s ideas about machines and intelligence are explored in simple and inspiring terms.

The set, with a metallic tree of life containing significant props, is starkly effective, allowing continuous references to Snow White and the poisoned apple hanging over Turing’s head.

Having only seen Gwydion Rhys in Only the Brave, where he shows his comedy and musical chops wonderfully, I was a little dubious about him playing Turing, but he blew me away. It helps that Huws has written the character with affectionate humour, but Rhys gives Turing an almost otherworldly innocence. His mannerisms and ticks do not define the character, being just one layer of his performance, creating a much more natural and sympathetic Alan Turing than other recent portrayals. One of the best performances you’ll see this year. Francois Pandolfo plays Turing’s brother, his beloved school friend, and Bletchley colleague, and manages to show each character’s exasperation and love for Turing with a deftly subtle touch. Robert Harper as the Interrogator is a very creepy gameshow host, and is fantastically dour as policeman, lawyer and other pillars of the establishment. Rick Yale just made me want to slap him as Arnold Murray, so he did a fantastic job! His sly response in court when asked if he was a homosexual is all the more shocking as it is taken from an actual court case, and the hypocrisy of the establishment is shown brilliantly with the actions accompanying his questioning.

To Kill a Machine succeeds in portraying the unfairness and hypocrisy of Turing’s treatment in a beautifully brutal way. A fantastic piece of thought-provoking writing performed brilliantly.

Flare Path Review

Civic Theatre, Darlington – 12 April 2016

What R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End says about the First World War, Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path tries to say about the Second, as a fine new production at Darlington Civic  this week demonstrates.

Flare Path differs from Journey’s End, which was written some years after the conflict, in being a report direct from the heart of the war, its outcome still unclear in 1942, presented by Rattigan with all his experience of the grim realities of the times.

This play has the virtue of authenticity in that Rattigan, as a young air gunner, was clearly writing about a world he knew. His setting is a Lincolnshire hotel where RAF pilots and their crews hang out after their night time sorties over German territory. Part of the suspense depends on who will, or will not, return, after one particular raid.

Rattigan’s real concern, however, is with the battle between individual longings and the collective ethos. Peter Kyle (Lynden Edwards), a waning Hollywood star, turns up to reclaim his lost love, Patricia (Hedydd Dylan), now married to bomber pilot, Teddy (Daniel Fraser) for whom she has only polite regard. The moral dilemma lies in Patricia’s decision as to which of the two men needs her more.

Two other squadron wives are also spending the weekend at the hotel with their husbands: Claire Andreadis’ cheery down-to-earth West Country barmaid married to a Polish Count, and now Countess Skriczevinsky, or as she likes to pronounce it “Scratch-your bum-sky”; and despite catching the wrong bus launderette worker Polly Hughes’ Mrs Miller manages to find her way to visit tail gunner Sergeant Miller (Jamie Hogarth).

Leading actor Graham Seed, as Squadron leader Swanson bounces on stage like an exuberant child full of enthusiasm and vigour, William Reay as Polish Flying officer Count Skriczevinsky, amuses with his broken English, as does Audrey Palmer’s no-nonsense hotel landlady, Mrs Oakes.

Rattigan’s sentimental 1942 hit gives the audience an insight into the real-life emotions of a wartime bomber and the strain on the women they leave behind – Andreadis’ Countess, gives most resonance to this.

The production lays on impressive sound of the hefty old bombers taking off as if about to drop their deadly payload on a gawping audience by Dominic Bilkey

Hayley Grindle’s 1940’s hotel set is a joy of a design and the costumes exquisite.  The lights for the flare path and the explosions are fabulous but Alex Wardle and Paul Williams triumph with a sublimely beautiful coal fire, which appears to be lit throughout the play

The ending seems too upbeat to ring true but apparently Rattigan did not want his audiences to go home feeling depressed and the audience in Darlington were surely not so.

In Darlington until 16 April and on tour around the UK

A Flea In Her Ear Review

Tabard Theatre 29 March – 23 April.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

Sacha Bush’s new translation of Feydeau’s classic farce is a whirlwind of madcap laughs and lunacy. The opening number – Flight of the Conchords “Foux du Fafa” meets Sondheim – sets the ludicrous tone for the evening and the wonderful nonsense that follows.

Parisian lady Raymonde thinks that her husband Victor is having an affair so, with the help of Lucienne, she sets up a honey trap to lure him to the Frisky Puss hotel and catch him in the act. Victor, however thinks that the letter must be for his friend Tournel and sends him instead. Doppelgangers, spinning beds and a hot headed Spanish husband combine to create a gloriously daft second act.

The fantastic cast are hysterical in their roles, Jamie Birkett is a very unsettling Dr Finache, and the moustache gimmick is a triumph. Rachel Dawson’s Lucienne is straight out of Chelsea and as Raymonde, Haley Catherine’s little tantrums are delightful. Dominic Brewer does befuddled brilliantly as Victor and Poche, Clark James’ Carlos is a superbly OTT Spanish stereotype, and Richard Watkins nearly dislocates his jaw as sweet Camille, and is wonderfully slimy as the hotelier dishing out cartoon beatings like the lovechild of Fawlty and Walliams.

The set and lighting design is cleverly cheesy, and fits the show perfectly. The use of lighting and music to highlight certain characters didn’t lose its novelty. The strobe lighting effects during the “action” sequences is great, adding a Keystone cops feel to the evening.

The pace of Alex Sutton’s production is frenetic and sometimes chaotic, with the cast sharing the roles of the remaining characters, depending on which major character is already on stage. The cast’s reactions to technical mishaps – flying moustaches, broken knobs and a jammed door – were brilliantly in character. Even after lots of drilling and banging in the interval, that door wouldn’t open! But the feeling that the production is teetering on the knife-edge of disaster just makes this show even funnier.

If you are looking for an evening of escapism and laughter, then this is the show for you.

Frank N. Furter/Jesus/David Bowie hybrid new rock musical at the Arts Theatre in May

Hannah Elsy Productions presents:

THE QUENTIN DENTIN SHOW
16 May – 28 May 2016, Above the Arts Theatre

The cult hit Edinburgh Fringe rock musical is reborn in London! This new, original musical by Henry Carpenter set tongues a-wagging at the Edinburgh Fringe 2015, and now runs Above the Arts Theatre this May.

“Frank N. Furter/Jesus/David Bowie hybrid new rock musical: what’s not to like?”  (The Play’s The Thing)

Keith and Nat’s relationship needs intensive care. So when they accidentally summon the supernatural therapist Quentin Dentin out of the radio, it seems like a dream come true. But the charming Mr Dentin’s mission of happiness has an altogether darker purpose… also, he just won’t stop singing.

★★★★ “A weird and wonderful show that keeps you guessing” (Arts Award Voice)

The Quentin Dentin Show is an “extraordinary and eccentric” (Broadway Baby) exploration of life, love and therapy, featuring a live rock band and a full chorus of fish, ‘friends’ and lemons.

Significantly reworked since last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the show is now in its seventh iteration after a residency at Rich Mix and research and development at the National Theatre Studio.

★★★★ “unique, startling and very funny (…) like nothing I’ve ever seen” (MusicalTalk.co.uk)

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea Review

Theatre N16 4 – 14 April.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

I fear I’ve become a jaded old lady.

When John Patrick Shanley wrote the play in the 1980s, this may well have been a hard hitting piece. But since then, every writer wanting to be taken seriously has churned out something about two “broken characters finding redemption in each other”. It may be that I have seen far too many of those plays and films, or watched an unhealthy amount of Jerry Springer whilst at uni, to see two Americans provoking, shouting at or fighting with each other and actually care about them.

Danny is a violent thug called the Beast by his workmates, who only finds peace when he’s beating the living daylights out of someone, and Roberta is a divorced mother living with her parents and hiding her “crime”. Neither thinks they deserve happiness or love, and then they spend the night together.

The Apache Dance sequence of violence and sex is interesting, but the most successful scenes show the fanciful couple planning their wedding. Shanley writes much better tender scenes than violence, and the cast excels in the moments of gentle sweetness. Danny’s outbursts are petulant and pathetic rather than intimidating, and become predictable, with each incident better signposted than most London roundabouts. Gareth O’Connor gives his all in the role, as does Megan Lloyd-Jones as Roberta, but the characters are written as if Shanley wanted to include as many audition pieces for young actors as he could in one play. It’s just too much self-absorbed angst that makes the characters irritating rather than sympathetic, and you switch off. I have been to this theatre many times, but this is the first time I have ended up counting the trains as they passed.

SHEFFIELD THEATRES APPOINTS ROBERT HASTIE AS ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

image001 (18)

SHEFFIELD THEATRES APPOINTS

ROBERT HASTIE AS ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

 

Robert Hastie (photo by Richard Davenport) Lower ResSheffield Theatres today announces the appointment of Robert Hastie as the company’s new Artistic Director. Hastie takes up the position in July 2016, taking over from Daniel Evans who steps down as Artistic Director at the end of June to join Chichester Festival Theatre. This appointment sees Hastie return to Sheffield Theatres, where he began his professional theatre career as an actor in Edward Bond’s Lear in 2005.

 

Robert Hastie said today, “I am overjoyed to have been asked by the Board of Sheffield Theatres to be their next Artistic Director. The Crucible, the Lyceum and the Studio together constitute one of the finest theatre complexes in Britain. Their reputation has been strengthened under the inspired leadership of Daniel Evans and Dan Bates, as a destination for audiences from both near and far who come in search of brilliant theatre and have their hopes more than fulfilled.

 

“As a Yorkshireman, I am hugely looking forward to contributing to the cultural life of this great city. My first theatre job out of RADA was onstage at the Crucible, acting in a production of Edward Bond’sLear. It’s wonderful to be returning here as Artistic Director to lead such an exceptional team.  I could not be happier or prouder.”

Daniel Evans said today, “I’m truly delighted the board has appointed Rob as the next artistic director of Sheffield Theatres. It’s a glorious organisation with a glorious team, and knowing that I am leaving the company in Rob’s hands, means I know the company’s future at the forefront of UK theatre is assured. Sheffield has a tradition of actors turned directors at the helm – it’s a combination that I believe draws the best from people from across the company. Rob will be no exception, and I wish him every success as he begins his tenure.”

 

Chair of the Board Lord Bob Kerslake commented, “I am very happy to confirm that Rob Hastie will join Sheffield Theatres as our new Artistic Director. Rob’s talent, his passion for the organisation and his vision for the company’s work made him the perfect choice for the role. I am thrilled that he has agreed to join us as we embark on our next exciting chapter.”

 

Robert Hastie was born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

 

He most recently directed the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the inaugural production in Artistic Director Tamara Harvey’s first season at Theatr Clywd. He is Associate Director of the Donmar Warehouse, where his recent work includes acclaimed productions of My Night With Reg by Kevin Elyot (also West End – Hastie was nominated for Best Newcomer at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards; and the production was nominated for Best Revival at the Olivier Awards), and Splendour, by Abi Morgan. Hastie recently completed the first stage of the Donmar Warehouse’s ten year long My Mark project with Michelle Terry, undertaking and filming interviews in schools nationally to document the views of those eligible to vote for the first time in the 2025 general election. He will reunite with Terry later this year, when he directs her as the title role in Henry V at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

 

His other directing credits include Carthage, Events While Guarding The Bofors Gun (Finborough Theatre), Sunburst (Holborn Grange Hotel), Sixty-Six Books: In The Land Of Uz, Middle Man, David and Goliath, Snow In Sheffield and A Lost Expression (Bush Theatre).

 

As an actor, his work included productions with the National Theatre, RSC, Chichester Festival  Theatre, Glasgow Citz, Cheek by Jowl, Frantic Assembly, Northampton Royal & Derngate, Headlong, Birmingham Rep, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Lyric Hammersmith, Derby Playhouse, Playful Productions, Liverpool Playhouse, as well as Sheffield Crucible.

 

www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

Twitter: @crucibletheatre @SheffieldLyceum

Instagram: sheffieldtheatres

 

Cult rock musical heads to the King’s Head Theatre

Hannah Johnson Productions presents:

SAUCY JACK AND THE SPACE VIXENS
26 April – 21 May 2016, King’s Head Theatre

Fringe First Award-winning cult musical Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens returns to London in its 20th year, with original writer/curator Mike Fidler returning to direct the show!

“The Rocky Horror Show for the Millennium” The Daily Mail

In a seedy cabaret bar on the dark side of a distant planet, artistes are being picked off by a serial killer with a penchant for sequins… Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens is a truly immersive theatrical experience. The audience are the patrons of Saucy Jack’s bar, relaxing at tables, drinking and dancing while the show explodes around them.

Having delighted audiences around the world for over 20 years, including three West End runs, this award-winning musical is back in the capital with a transfer of its exuberant cyberpunk production fresh from the Edinburgh Festival. Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens lands at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington for four weeks of glitter-fueled fun from April 26th. Dust off your glitterboots, set your disco beams to stunning and join in with this all singing, all dancing, disco spectacular.

“THE party night out” The Guardian

Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens was born at the Edinburgh Fringe as an alternative comedy musical in 1995. Created by an unlikely group of students, the show received the coveted Fringe First Award and has enjoyed widespread success across planet Earth ever since.

“A wild and whacky night of plasticky razzmatazz” Time Out

After a bombastic, exciting & innovative 45th year, the King’s Head continues its new artistic policy of being a crucible of new writing and critical rediscoveries, with the aim of being the best pub theatre in London. The King’s Head offers an unashamedly broad church of programming including theatre, musical theatre & opera, transfers to & from the biggest arts festivals in the world, & a trail-blazing policy of ethical employment on the fringe – if it’s on here, you won’t see it anywhere else.