A Midsummer Night’s Dream Review

Greenwich Theatre  – until 26 May

Reviewed by Claire Roderick

4****

Lazarus Theatre end their season at Greenwich with a frenetic and freewheeling adaptation of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedy. Ricky Dukes’ adaptation crams the cream of the plot into 2 hours, never allowing the ever-increasing energy to ebb.

The Oberon/Titania and Theseus/Hippolyta (Lanre Danmola and the imperious Ingvid Lakou) interactions are dealt with swiftly, and the production rightly gives most focus to the four young lovers Lysander (Max Kinder) and Hermia (Elham Mayhoub – brilliantly embodying “and though she be but little she is fierce”) and Demetrius (Jonathon George) and Helena (Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen, giving Helena some real backbone), and the mechanicals rehearsing their play. The mechanicals are the highlight of the show, with John Slade’s Quince a wonderful caricature of a frustrated director, Zoe Campbell and Tessa Carmody making the hapless Snout and Snug very loveable, Eli Caldwell crossdressing with glee as Flute, and David Clayton’s Bottom is a joy.

The Athens scenes take place around a long conference table, creating a stark contrast between the stiff world of court and the wildness of the woods. Once we leave Athens, the fairy world and the real world are demarcated by simple tape lines on the floor, which sounds naff, but is extremely effective, with Puck (Tessa Carmody) creating more and more mayhem with mistaken enchantments and huge amounts of confetti. With saucily voiced fairies becoming lights on the end of sticks and no sign of the usual boy puppet, the fairy scenes are fun and don’t slow down the pace of the play as it builds to a climax with the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe. This is performed as a song set to an irresistible beat with the four lovers acting as the chorus, leaping around frantically and ending in Thisbe’s death, which for once outshines Pyramus’ with campness and audacity. Just bliss.

What a way to end a season – a night of anarchic fun and frivolity that makes Shakespeare’s work feel fresh and exciting.

Miss Saigon Review

Bristol Hippodrome – until 23rd June 2018

Reviewed by Lucy Hitchcock

5*****

In a split second, a calm auditorium is transformed into the war torn area of Saigon. There, we meet Kim, who is forced to work in a bar by the infamous Engineer. This bar is frequented by the American soldiers, one of which is named Chris and he falls in love with Kim. After a night of passion, they wed but are ripped apart by the war. For 3 years, Kim is desperate to find Chris again and her journey begins. Her fight for survival is gripping and she just wants to see Chris again; not just for her sake, but to introduce him to the son he fathered just before he left.

Right from the start, the audience is captivated by the show. ‘The Heat is On’ makes for a highly erotic scene, introducing us to the Engineer. Red Concepción excelled as this role. He relished every moment on stage and drew the audience in effortlessly. He provided some much needed comic relief during the darker scenes of the show and provided us with an absolute showstopper of ‘The American dream’. It is during this first scene that we also come across Chris, who was sensitively played by Ashley Gilmour. He was outstanding. The emotion and passion that was exerted through his role was breathtaking and we could really sympathise with his struggle at leaving his love in Saigon. His voice effortlessly soared through the auditorium and the audience truly fell in love with Chris.

With such a vast array of cast members, it is a real treat to be able to experience the hustle and bustle of Saigon. Of the 30+ people that blessed the stage, there was one stand out performance.

Sooha Kim, as Kim, was incredible. Her serene beauty contrasted with the defiance and bravery shown towards the oppressors in a way that is phenomenal. Sooha encapsulated the formidable character of Kim and really brought her to light. Her voice was angelic and she performed with great ease and ardour. She conveyed such vulnerability with a deep undertone of strength that was counteracted by the desperation she felt when Chris deserted her and showed her outstanding acting abilities perfectly. Frankly, Sooha was incredible and stole the show. Her chemistry with Gilmour as Chris was electric and the pair of them were a totally believable and impressive couple-a pleasure to watch.

Other characters of note are Ryan O’Gorman as John and Elana Martin as Ellen. Both supporting roles but aided the progression of the show and provided gripping scenes. Ryan O’Gorman’s stand out scene was ‘Bui Doi’. His strong voice was a perfect match to the forceful message he was conveying about the war. At times, it was difficult to hear his speech over the dramatic music coming from the band. Elana Martin as Chris’s new wife Ellen showed her prowess during ‘Maybe’. Her vocals were exceptionally strong and she showed the complex and deep thoughts of Ellen with ease.

This show will bombard you with lights, music, screams, sex and pain. However, the most impressive part that set this show apart from the rest is the entrance of the Helicopter. A life size helicopter glides from the upper gantry, complete with working propellers. In accordance with the flashing lights, smoke and sound effects, this was extraordinary. This was spectacular and was the most jaw dropping and technically superb part of the show.

The choreography also deserves a huge well done. It was very fast paced during ‘The Morning of the Dragon’ with leaps and jumps, flags and life size Dragon complete with smoke bellowing from the nostrils. ‘The American Dream’ was more of a showgirl from Las Vegas number and the two different styles of dance showed Richard Jones’ (the Choreographer) skill, precision and attention to detail.

This tragic love story is definitely one to watch and you will not be disappointed. Your senses will be overwhelmed by the heartwarming power of Miss Saigon.

Parental Guidance Advised.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN CROWNED AS THE WINNERS AT THE FOURTH ANNUAL WEST END BAKE OFF IN AID OF ACTING FOR OTHERS

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN CROWNED AS THE WINNERS AT THE FOURTH ANNUAL WEST END BAKE OFF IN AID OF ACTING FOR OTHERS

 

Young Frankenstein announced as the winners of the fourth annual right royal West End Bake Off in aid of Acting for Others. As his Royal Highness Prince Harry prepares to marry Meghan Markle the winners, chosen by returning judge Christopher Biggins alongside Wendi Peters and Ruthie Henshall, were revealed at the event held today at St Pauls Actors Church in Covent Garden.

Young Frankenstein was crowned the winner of this year’s West End Bake Off after competing against 16 other West End shows, including The Play That Goes Wrong, The Mousetrap, Les Misérables, Phantom Of The Opera, Book of Mormon, Th Comedy About a Bank Robbery, Mamma Mia!, Thriller live!, The Great Gatsby, Iris Theatre, and industry paper The Stage. They follow in the footsteps of 42nd Street which won the third West End Bake Off in 2017 and which raised over £5000 for the charity.

Commenting on the winner, West End Bake Off judge Christopher Biggins said: “It’s so fantastic to be here again judging for the fourth year of this amazing competition which helps so many people in the West End. Every year gets more and more exciting and the cakes get more and more phenomenal, it really is such an exciting day!”

 

West End Bake Off is supported by Official London Theatre.

 

www.westendbakeoff.com        Twitter: @westendbakeoff        Facebook: Westendbakeoff   

www.actingforothers.co.uk        Twitter: @ActingForOthers

Preview of Dusty – The Dusty Springfield Musical

Voted one of the last century’s most influential people in music, Dusty Springfield was and still is an icon of individuality, creativity and inclusivity. Her hits spanned the world and remain as popular today as they did on first release, but behind the public façade is a life less well known, that is until now as a brand new show is about to tour which will peel back the layers and allow us to peek into the real life of the US & UK Halls of Fame inductee.

First, let’s be clear – this is not a jukebox musical like so many shows currently touring, some of which are, to coin a phrase, ‘just bobbins’ – this is a fully rounded play with a fiercely funny & emotionally charged script by BAFTA and Olivier nominated writer Jonathan Harvey. Directed by Olivier Award-winner Maria Friedman and supported throughout by Dusty’s close friend, manager and authorised biographer Vicki Wickham this promises to be a super-charged trip through her life. “Audiences will come out surprised at what a life she had, the challenges she faced and how she overcame them” said Wickham, the lady who first met Dusty in 1963 on the TV show Ready Steady Go!.

Dusty has always had a huge following who love her style and music – to many she has become an empowering icon for them to follow but what is probably less known about her is that it was Dusty who introduced many of the black artists of the 60’s into UK mainstream TV – The Temptations, The Supremes and Stevie Wonder were all invited to perform on a special edition and was just one example of how Dusty wasn’t just against racism, she abhorred it (to the extent that she was barred from South Africa for refusing to play to a segregated audience). A lady of principals far ahead of her time, her story still rings true today, in fact it is probably more relevant now than ever before.

With 16 UK Chart hits and 20 in the states, the challenge for writer Harvey was how to ensure the songs were woven into the thread of the story, not just shoe horned in “You don’t want it to feel like you do a scene, stop for a song, do the next scene…it has to feel organic” and it will be this approach that will undoubtedly set this show apart from all the other tribute/jukebox musicals. Agreed by all the cast, Harvey has written a really visceral, raw script that is also very funny. Dusty herself was a very funny lady and so there’s a lot of banter between her and her entourage of best friends, but he hasn’t shied away from showing the darker, less happy times too – times which may shock and surprise the casual fan and leave them more in awe at the challenges she had to overcome to be such the legend she is.

Of course, any show is only as good as it’s cast and for this Producers Eleanor Lloyd Productions in association with Tris Penna and Vicki Wickham have brought together Katherine Kingsley (Piaf, Singing in the Rain) as Dusty, Roberta Taylor (The Bill, Eastenders) as Dusty’s mom Kay and Rufus Hound (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as her manager Billings. All three were visibly excited to be a part of this new production, with Rufus Hound explaining “in these current times it is brilliant to be a part of a show that celebrates powerful, successful women who achieved it in a time where male dominance was not only accepted, it was expected. Dusty took charge in her own way and fought has hard as anyone to ensure she got what she needed to be the success she was and still is”

The recent press launch was hosted in the Arcane cocktail lounge in Manchester – a very intimate setting, and introduced the stars, writer and director and gave Katherine an opportunity to show a glimpse of why she has been chosen to play Dusty. As she admits, Dusty’s songs are instantly recognisable and so too is not only her voice, but her style of singing – “This is not me trying to do a Dusty impression”, she explains “but trying to capture the essence and presence of an icon in such a way that it tells her story without fans being distracted by trying to compare like for like”. “What was most surprising when researching Dusty, was how incredibly shy she was away from the public persona she created….I have immersed myself in her world…to show people what was really going on in her life” Treating all to a rendition of The Look of Love it was instantly clear why Katherine has been chosen – she exudes a sensuality which is hypnotic, mesmerising and yet strangely familiar and is certain to have audiences holding their breath. Taking the tempo up a notch or ten and backed by Joelle Dyson and Micha Richardson she then gave us possibly Dusty’s most famous “Son of a Preacher Man” in all its raw, gospel-driven power.

It goes without saying that fans of Dusty Springfield will be in raptures over this new production but its reach, its impact and, not to forget, its brilliant script and cast will mean this show will delight anyone who enjoys great music and wonderful acting.

Dusty – The New Dusty Springfield Musical opens on Saturday 23rd June at Theatre Royal Bath before going to Sheffield Lyceum (from July 10th), Newcastle Theatre Royal (from July 17th) and finally at The Lowry, Salford (from July 24th). Website www.dustyspringfieldmusical.com or venue box offices for tickets and full list of showtimes.

Awful Auntie Review

Hull New Theatre – until 20th May 2018

Reviewed by Catherine McWilliams

4****

Last night, the foyer at the Hull New Theatre was teeming with excited and very noisy children waiting to see Birmingham Stage Company’s production of David Walliams Awful Auntie and what a fabulous play they enjoyed. A measure of children’s engagement is the level of wriggle and noise, once the play started the children were hooked, not moving and watching intently, it was a total pleasure to witness their enjoyment.

Awful Auntie has been skillfully adapted from David Walliams’ book by Neal Foster and tells the story of young Stella Saxby who wakes to discover she is now an orphan being looked after by her Aunt Alberta. Aunt Alberta’s intentions however are not so good and Stella soon finds herself fighting against her own Aunt. Essentially this is a wonderful tale of goodness against evil, full of humour and wonderfully scary parts with added into the mix a ghost, an owl and a suitably eccentric butler. A lot of the humour is very visual and “toilet” related, which the children of course loved, but I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it too, often anticipating what would happen and laughing ahead of the joke!

The cast played this with just the right amount of verve and “over the top-ness” to ensure that the children grasped what was happening. Georgina Leonidas was a very convincing Stella with just the right level of fear and bravery. Timothy Speyer was suitably awful as Aunt Alberta and the audience happily laughed, groaned at him and willed him not to win. Richard James played the eccentric butler Gibbon to perfection, with wonderful timing, usually appearing when things had got a little too scary. Wagner the owl puppet (worked by Roberta Bellekom) was a very good addition to the play and I would have quite happily taken him home with me!

The play is set in the grounds and interior of Saxby Hall, a huge mansion, and the lighting and scenery is superb, the way the rooms could be moved around as the cast moved around the rooms was inspired. The background music and lighting build up the tension and atmosphere beautifully and make sure you watch out for the ice.

Awful Auntie would be a wonderful introduction for any child to the theatre and a great night out for the family. One to make you laugh, gasp, groan, boo and cheer – all in all a fun filled night!

War Horse Review

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton – until 8 June
Reviewed by Jo Gordon
5*****
Now into it’s tenth anniversary, the National Theatres stage adaption of Michael Morpurgos War Horse is currently trotting its way around the country delighting audiences far and wide.

Set in World war one, in a sleepy Devonshire village, Albert (Tomas Dennis) develops a close relationship with a horse his drunken father Billy (Jasper William Cartwright), won in an auction, paid with the money meant for the mortgage. Promising his mother that he will train the horse to be sold on, Albert names the horse Joey and a beautiful friendship begins, Joey can do all from running at great speeds to pulling a plough. War breaks out and Billy sells Joey to the Calvary.  Joey first serves in the Calvary under the charge of Lt.Nicholls (Ben Ingles) alongside another horse who goes by the name of Topthorn. With the first waves of the Calvary being unprepared for the Germans use of machine guns, Lt.Nicholls sadly dies and his sketchbook and a letter are sent back home to Albert. On hearing the news, heartbroken Albert signs up to the Army aged just 16 in hope of finding his beloved horse and returning him home to the safety of Devon. We then follow how their lives run parallel in war torn France, Joey once fighting alongside the British ends up working for the Germans and Albert suffering the horrors of the trenches. Can they find each other again in the face of such harrowing conditions?

With a simple “torn paper” backdrop that has simple sketches,maps dates and times projected upon it, your full focus is on the many characters and situations drawing you right into the epicentre of the action with scene changes accompanied by the song man (Bob Fox) who musically narrates you through the story in a traditional folk style.

The Handspring Puppet Company are the real ingenuity behind this production. I have never seen puppetry that fully absorbs the audience like this before, to the point you no longer really see the group of puppeteers controlling them. The puppets themselves are truly breathtaking and combine this with the skill of Handspring breathing life into the magnificent beasts, something magical happens. To be able to convey the utter devastation war brings in such a stunning way is no mean feat yet they have achieved it to an incredibly high degree.

A beautifully emotive piece of theatre that is possibly the best stage production I have ever seen.

Darlington Hippodrome – Barbara Nice: Raffle

STOCKPORT’S FAVOURITE HOUSEWIFE BARBARA NICE IS ON HER WAY TO DARLINGTON

Critically acclaimed comedy actress Janice Connoly brings her colourful creation, Barbara Nice, to Darlington on Wednesday 30 May.

Janice Connoly was spotted by Peter Kay playing her character of Barbara at The North West New Act final – a competition he had won the previous year. Other notable winners include Caroline Aherne, John Thompson and Dave Spikey.

Peter asked her to be in his new TV series ‘That Peter Kay Thing’ and Janice then went on to star in both series of ‘Phoenix Nights’ as god fearing Holy Mary. Oher TV credits include playing Peter Kay`s mother in Coronation Street, ‘Max and Paddy’ as Holy Mary again, Dave Spikey`s ‘Dead Man Weds’ as Carole and in the BBC 2 skating rink comedy ‘Thin Ice’.

The character of Mrs. Barbara Nice is a much loved headline act throughout Britain. Mother of five from Stockport she believes in bargains and getting the most out of life. Ergonomically correct she doesn`t drive and travels the country by National Express coach. Her husband knows nothing of her burgeoning comedy career, he thinks she`s either at Bingo or dog sitting.

Entrance price includes a complimentary raffle ticket. A playful life-affirming show including the chance to win a prize off Barbara’s table. Barbara will put a smile on your face and a spring in your step with this new show about chance and luck.

Barbara Nice: Raffle is at The Hullabaloo on Wednesday 30 May at 8pm. Age guidance 14+

For more information or to book call 01325 405405 or visit www.darlingtonhippodrome.co.uk

LEADING UK THEATRE PRODUCER SELLADOOR WORLDWIDE ANNOUNCE PARTNERSHIP WITH EUROPE¹S LEADING LIVE MUSIC PRODUCERS PIU ENTERTAINMENT

LEADING UK THEATRE PRODUCER

SELLADOOR WORLDWIDE

ANNOUNCE PARTNERSHIP WITH

EUROPE’S LEADING LIVE MUSIC PRODUCERS

PIU ENTERTAINMENT

 

TO COLLABORATE & BUILD A WORLDWIDE NETWORK FOR THEATRE, LIVE MUSIC & ENTERTAINMENT

 

 

Selladoor Worldwide and PIU Entertainment announced a joint venture to work closely together on producing live entertainment in the UK and Eastern Europe. The move sees Selladoor, known predominantly as a UK and international touring theatre company, move into co-presenting live entertainment and music and moving away from producing only theatre based entertainment. Whilst PIU will co-produce theatre work with Selladoor and build the international footprint of the theatre work created by both entities into the emerging Eastern Europe markets.

 

The collaboration will see the two organisations pull together their respective international offices in Bangkok, New York, London, Ankara, Dubai and Istanbul to create a major international foundation for launching and touring high quality entertainment further and wider.

 

Selladoor Worldwide have not only established themselves as an integral part of the UK regional theatre landscape, but also ever increasingly further afield as they continue to tour their UK productions internationally, including Flashdance The Musical in Ostend, Belgium, and Spamalot in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 2017 saw Selladoor Worldwide launch two International Tours, Jersey Boys and The Producers, as well as their first show in New York City, the family favourite The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the DR2 Theatre in Union Square. As Selladoor continues to expand its worldwide opportunities, the company has rooted two new offices on opposite ends of the globe, one in New York, USA and the other in Bangkok, Thailand.

 

PIU Entertainment has dominated in the music entertainment industry, organising concerts in some of the world’s most prestigious arenas and concert halls. However, as the company continues to grow, since being founded in 2012, PIU Entertainment is expanding its perspective and are following their intrigue and passion of family entertainment and theatre. Therefore, the partnership with Selladoor Worldwide was magnetic!

 

The amalgamation of the companies enables a fruitful expansion and supportive structure for both PIU Entertainment and Selladoor Worldwide, as they each learn from their varying experience, global locations, contacts and industry expertise.  They have been working closely together to learn about the music and theatre industries respectively, and are keen to ensure diversification in both fields.

 

Executive Creative Producer, David Hutchinson for Selladoor Worldwide says: “As we continue to explore the richly diverse theatre markets around the world, we are extremely fortunate to have PIU Entertainment provide excellent knowledge and experience in new regions that Selladoor Worldwide have not yet ventured. As well as expanding the locational opportunities for our productions, we are particularly keen to diversify our offering into non-theatre entertainment and move into live music and non-traditional theatre spaces. Selladoor Worldwide currently produce exclusively musicals, plays, and family theatre, and are novices in the Music Event industry, so we are enthralled by the opportunity our joint venture with Piu Entertainment unleashes”.

 

Cemil Demirok, CEO of PIU Entertainment says: “In 2017 we opened our London office in order to bring internationally renowned artists to UK audiences – many for the first time – and to create a strategic presence on the global stage of entertainment production.  In developing the next stage of our plan to widen entertainment opportunities for world audiences, we are delighted to announce a new partnership with the award-winning UK production company, Selladoor Worldwide.  Selladoor Worldwide are already leaders in the field of producing family entertainment and musical theatre to very wide audiences; together we plan to create pioneering festival opportunities, unique concert experiences, permanent and high-quality productions in music and theatre and much more.  Selladoor is also a young company having been formed just ten years ago by its founders who were all at LIPA together – we at PIU share their boundless enthusiasm for live performing arts, for a wide slate of entertainment and a love of music, theatre, new writing, and performance.  We look forward to working with them and will be announcing a slate of productions for 2019 onwards very soon”.

 

Two leading companies, in complimenting industries, have undertaken a Joint Venture to provide expansion and diversification in their respective fields across the UK and Internationally.

Schism Review

Park Theatre, Finsbury Park – until 9 June

Reviewed by Heather Chalkley

5*****

A powerful play, punching you in the face with the reality of the daily abuse experienced within society, as an intelligent women locked inside a body that doesn’t do quite what it is supposed to. The playwright, Athena Stevens could have focused on how Kathleen overcame her disability, however this would not have been anything new or what she wanted to say. The intensity of the play is created by the relationship between Katherine, played by Athena herself and Harrison (Jonathan McGuiness). It cleverly forces you to listen by pushing Harrison forward as the narrator, a white, middle class, good looking male.

Each flashback offered by Harrison displayed a defining moment in Katherine and Harrison’s relationship. Katherine bought Harrison back from the brink of suicide, giving him a sense of purpose. By enabling Katherine, Harrison became dependant on Katherine for his happiness. Katherine grew in confidence and her academic ability was allowed to shine through. Harrison watched on with longing and jealousy, both for her and the career she was so determined to achieve, becaming more independent of him. Harrison began to lose his rational mind, to the point where Katherine was desperate to escape, purposely inducing an abortion in the process. The power that Harrison wheeled over Katherine took a stark change of direction, when he overtly physically abused her. Katherine’s success as an architect was born out of her love for him. Harrison saw it as rubbing salt into the wound of his own failure. Katherine wanted them to build something together, Harrison was determined to fail, wallow in his own self pity and loathing.

The creative team cleverly used different shades of light and dark to determine real time and flashbacks in the play. It is a small, intimate performance space, perhaps a little too snug. However the stage management and use of radio dialogue to illustrate time periods, allowed smooth expertly executed transitions in a tight space. Movement round the stage and on and off, was fluid and natural.

Harrison points out from the get go, ‘this is not an inspirational story’. Athena Stevens has written a thought provoking and refreshingly honest feminist play that challenges your perceptions, forcing an open dialogue about the experience of being a women and in particular a disabled women, in today’s western society. If you want a new take on an old prejudice that packs a punch, Schism is a must see play!

Merrily We Roll Along Review

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford- until 19 May 2018.

Reviewed by Antonia Hebbert

4****

Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s 1981 musical fizzes along with tremendous energy and sparkle, which is just as well as it’s a pretty sad tale of dashed hopes and broken dreams.

The focus is on three friends – composer/producer Frank (Lee Thomas), critic Mary (Ana Richardson), and writer Charley (Elliott Griffiths). At the beginning we see Frank seemingly at the pinnacle of success, and then successive scenes reel us back through time, showing how their loves, friendships and ideals have got mangled over the decades. All three give compelling performances, and around them is a terrific supporting cast, nimbly adapting to being TV presenters, glamorous partygoers, disapproving parents or whatever the scene requires, with great singing and nifty choreography (by Jordan Lee Davis). Oh, and they also shift the odd bit of scenery in the simple but effective set.

This is a real team effort, so it almost seems unfair to pick out names, but Adam Linstead is completely convincing as the world weary producer Joe, husband of Gussie (Anna Vardy), who draws Frank towards commercial success and relationship failure.

This show was a flop at first, perhaps because its sad storyline and technical demands were too much for its young performers. One review apparently called it a ‘shambles’. No danger of that in this production, which is very crisp and proficient. The director is Charlotte Conquest. Musical director Alex Parker leads the able band at the back of the stage, and keeps the pace bouncing along.