Churchill Theatre Bromely – until 3 November 2018
Reviewed by Elizabeth Smith
Stephen Sondheim’s Follies is the story of the last days of the Weisman Theatre, now a crumbling shell of its former self, it is hosting one last party where all the former performers reunite and reminisce about the glory days, while trailed by their ghostly memories of their younger selves. Against this backdrop is the decade old love quadrangle between Follies dancers Sally and Phylis and their respective husbands, Buddy and Ben, who were once the best of friends. The whole night brings memories of romance and regret and test the two marriages.
The curtains raise and we see the dishevelled remnants of the theatre and begin to meet the characters in all their emotional ups and downs.
Sally, Tracy Prizeman, has reached her middle age, still holding a torch for her long lover Ben. Tracey gives you all the emotions of a dissatisfied drunk who wastes her life wishing it had turned out differently. Her rendition of “I think I’m losing my mind” was filled with the angst of a broken hearted woman.
Phyllis, Jacqui Morris, a well healed socialite, carries herself with grace and charm. When asked if she could leave her husband Ben, she tells us what she does for him and Yes she could leave it all behind. Jacqui gives a strong performance with this number and you believe she may just of had
enough of her marriage to leave.
Buddy, Kevin Gauntlett, still madly in love with Sally after all these years but knows he plays second fiddle to Ben in his wive’s heart. “The right girl” leaves you in no doubt of his love for his wife and the frustration he feels at her wasting her life on a man who doesn’t care.
Ben, Gari Glaysher, a successful lawyer and politician, has issues as to how to really love someone, can he ever be that person?. “The road you didn’t Take” another song of regret performed with passion and conveys the turmoil he puts himself through even after all he has achieved.
All the characters were well acted with Hattie, Emma Back, standing out from the crowd with her performance. A small part but well executed.
The younger members had super voices and you could see the characteristics of their older selves. Ellen Gauntlet, draws you to her with her infectious smile and lovely voice. The ensemble filled the stage and created the atmosphere of “one last time” kind of a party.
The dancers performed timely and stylishly. With some amazing show costumes.
Some parts of the performance where a little flat but over all the singers sung and the performers performed, what is a difficult Sondheim musical.
New Wimbledon Theatre – until Saturday 3 November
Reviewed by Jason Rath
Willy Russell’s masterpiece Blood Brothers is an all time classic, there is no disputing that. Following its acclaimed 24 year run in the west end the show has been constantly touring up and down the UK, calling at theatres big and small and bringing theatre to the masses, whether they be young or old, rich or poor, there is something relatable for everyone in Russell’s script. And to me that is the beauty of blood brothers. Its not a show for snobs that just like “fine art” but neither is it a cheap show with no heart. To me, Willy Russell has written the true every man show and that is a beautiful thing.
Blood Brothers follows the lives of two twins separated at birth and the impact that superstition can have on someone’s life. The boys are played by adult actors throughout the piece and we physically see them grow from being small eight year old’s until their tragic conclusion as fully grown men.
I have seen many casts perform blood brothers over the years, it’s one of my favourite shows, but I have to say this cast is one of the best I have seen in a long time for delivering on the heart breaking moments of the script. Linzi Hately was strong as Mrs Johnstone, with a beautiful slow burn of a performance leading up to her truly soul shattering moment of despair at the end with “Tell me its not true”. She is one of the best to play this part that I have seen in years, although I do feel at the beginning maybe she was a bit too happy, I get that you need to show the light before the dark but I feel maybe this went too far the other way. Sean Jones was fabulous as Mickey. You can really tell that Jones has lived and breathed this part for many years and, while this obviously means his head is deep inside the material there is an enormous elephant in the room… maybe it’s time to let a younger lad have a crack at Mickey. My thoughts about Mark Hutchinson as Eddie are much the same, but I don’t want this to seem like a negative, more of a cue to pass on the reigns. Daniel Taylor was fabulous as Sammy, playing hilariously as the eight year old version of the character while subtly nodding to the awful man he would become. Danielle Corlass was strong as Linda, playing great opposite Jones. Sarah Jane Buckley was fair as Mrs Lyons, although from an audience perspective her performance felt very rehearsed to me. I felt that it lacked spontaneity and this then took the gravity away from some of her more crucial scenes. The absolute show stealer for me however was Robbie Scotcher as The Narrator.
With a brilliant sense of devilish charm and an unnerving air of cool to his performance this was one of the best portrayals of the narrator I have ever seen.
So all in all, I would highly recommend buying a ticket for Blood Brothers at New Wimbledon Theatre. It’s a show jam packed with emotions that is sure to get everyone thinking… do we really believe in superstition?
The Other Palace – until 24 November
This was a difficult ask to review a play about the Armed Forces, the sacrifices they make and the effect these sacrifices have on themselves, their families and their friends. I was an Army Wife for 18 years and now the wife of a Veteran for 8 years. So whilst some of the play struck a massive chord – others parts didn’t ring true.
The premise is that Harry (David Soloman), an actor who was fired for stage fright now turned Director, wants to put on a community play about the lives of the military in the community. We meet the aspiring actors at the auditions. Maggie (Rekha John-Cheriyan) and Beth (Lizzie Mounter) are part of a WAGS choir. Beth is married to a Soldier, she is happy for him to do anything he needs to to decompress after exercises and tours – whether this is drink, drugs or prostitutes as long as she doesn’t know. Maggie has been married and divorced twice from the military and is now the mother of a serving soldier. Tanya (Sarah Jane Davis) is a widow, her husband was killed in battle. Sophie (Ellie Nunn) is married to a soldier with severe PTSD, she sings with her friend Sal (Zoe Zak) a reservist Doctor whose girlfriend is also a reservist. Trees (Hayley Thompson) is the daughter of a Falklands Veteran.
Under the leadership of widowed ex Sergeant Major, Len (Jonathan Lewis stepping in for Thomas Craig) the males in the company are all ex forces struggling with their inner demons. Jacko (Nicholas Clarke) is homeless after being thrown out of a veterans hostel, Rickshaw (Mark Griffin) is separated from his family due to his violent tendencies, TC (Max Hamilton-MacKenzie) is a similar story. Woody (Cassidy Little) is an amputee, Tom (Robert Portal) suffered a stroke and cancer whilst away on tour but his stiff upper lip prevented him from seeking help as other people were more important. James/Jenny (Mike Prior) is going through gender reassignment to become a woman. Hoarse (Steve Morgan) and Flaps (Shaun Johnson) have similar PTSD problems.
Through the staging of the community play we see in to the lives of the aspiring actors and try to understand their lives, what they go through daily and how hard it can be. A stand out piece for me was when Sophie was acting out the scene of refereeing her three children over breakfast and her husband rang. He had no other time in which he could ring back, she needed to talk to him, to discuss important things like their child needing an operation, the children are all fighting, the phone line is crackly and Sophie can only be strong for so long before falling to pieces and that phone call is the proverbial breaking straw. And I’ve been stood in that kitchen, with three children and a crackly phone line and I know how easy it is to break.
Made up of a mixture of professional actors and members of the Soldiers Arts Academy – a platform for the arts for serving and ex-service personnel soldierartsacademy.com – Jonathan Lewis has written and directed an interesting idea. But is it a play or is it a cause? It’s hard to decide.
If it’s a metaphor for the way the the armed forces, ex- services and veterans are treated then the scene in which a stage hand sweeps away a stage full of battle boots, as if they were rubbish, speaks volumes.
This is a thought provoking piece, with laughs, gallows humour and raw emotion. On at the Other Palace until 24 November.
The Lowry, Salford – until Saturday 10th November 2018
Reviewed by Julie Noller
Calendar Girls, there can’t be many people who don’t know the heartbreaking tale of how a fight against cancer led the sunflowers of Knapely Women’s Institute to seek an alternative way to fund raise enough for a settee in memory of a much loved husband to be placed in the family room of Skipton Hospital. Quite possibly it would be thanks to the 2003 mega blockbusting film. But now the story is back having had a good old spit and polish by Tim Firth and Gary Barlow (who is indeed another great British institution). The music is catchy with a hint I suspect of a few Take Thatisms, the words are witty, moving and delivered with joy and sadness. For this story has been cut open like a scone and placed out for judging with a great big dollop of plum jam and cream on top. I would say it is fair to say that there was more than a few members of various Women’s Institutes in the audience tonight and they loved it. I felt like a member of the Women’s Institute tonight, such is the small village feeling and warmth of the actors onstage, they feel like old friends we are instantly drawn to. Of course there were chuckles around me as little quips and jokes were recognised, I suspect there may have been an odd couple of blown bulbs in projectors before a presentation on the history of broccoli. Calendar Girls isn’t about that Pirelli influenced calendar it’s about how that calendar affected all their lives. It’s about life.
It’s packed with names of stage and silver screen who we all know and love, those clever castings help the audience bond. The other great observation is that the cast simply look like they’re having a blast on stage that left me wanting to leave my seat and join the party on stage. Of course this is a professional cast but you wonder if each night they play to individual audiences and last nights audience had a hint of naughtiness that was reflected on stage to everyone’s delight. How could anyone tire of such a wonderful musical? I cried how could you not feel raw emotion when Annie (Anna-Jane Casey) is singing her heart out firstly with optimism and then living through the grief. Annie and her John (Phil Corbitt) who is the strong silent Yorkshire man, he reassures Annie it will be okay, jokes with her and friends but then he leaves the dale via the village gate and you hear yourself inhale. I clapped along to who wants a Silent Night? Remembering my own school days and many miss sung Christmas Carols. Cora (Karen Dunbar) the single mother daughter of a vicar, that is an incredible amount of baggage to carry around and speaking of baggage, or rather enhanced baggage we have Celia (Denise Welch) the ex air hostess, trying to reign herself in for the Golf Club, but finally admitting to have had a little work done. There has to be a best friend and it’s Chris (Rebecca Storm) often acting before thinking (who hasn’t?), a heart of gold , bright and bubbly we see her reflected in the youth that’s intertwined into the story, but have their own subplot.
Danny (Danny Howker) his Mum is proud of him, pushing him into Head Boy, for Chris was far from a model pupil. Tommo (Tyler Dobbs) pushing a few boundaries, trying to be cool but ultimately is a mummy’s boy and raises a big awww from the audience when he announces Cora is the best Dad he could have. Then there’s emotionally scared and mixed up Jenny. Not engaging with her Mother; Marie (Fern Britton) who disproves of anything the ladies of Knapley may suggest especially a nude calendar, both are fighting their own demons and ultimately it is Jenny who sees the light and how, simply talking and mixing can help find purpose. Early on you see how life imitates life, it doesn’t change, the ladies inside the institute laughing at how they joined to impress their future Mothers in Law, cut to the youngsters outside looking through the windows and seeing their future Mothers in Law. My heroine of the night has to be Jessie (Ruth Madoc) ex school teacher, she hates the fact age is what defines us, through What Age Expects shes such an inspiration, act as you feel, don’t let it hold you back. There’s plenty of very typically British one liners that will delight and leave you howling. Ruth (Sara Crowe) simply could be any of us, meekly seeking acceptance, wanting to be the best, be it wife or baker even cup of tea maker. She seeks solace with her Russian friend, overcomes her fears, faces them head on and emerges through the other side. Typically wearing her very fluffy granny slippers. Showing the world her inner strength. You will leave the theatre wondering which Yorkshire lioness you might be, but ultimately you will realise you may just be a little bit of each. Life as a story could never grow old and as long as Calendar Girls continues to draw the audiences and fill the auditoriums; having a lot of fun along the way, then it will continue to receive rave reviews and be enjoyed time and time again, bravo.
Bridge Theatre – until 6 January
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Martin McDonagh dives deep into the darkness of the genesis of stories and takes the audience on a mindbogglingly absurd journey into a disturbing world where literary greats have skeletons in their attics. Literally.
In McDonagh’s world, Hans Christian Anderson wasn’t the author of hauntingly dark fairy stories; that was the pygmy woman from the Congo that he kept in a wooden box in his attic. Turns out Charles Dickens had one too, the sister of Anderson’s captive, but she died before finishing The Mystery of Edwin Drood! This bizarre concept allows McDonagh and director Matthew Dunster to let rip with a freewheeling rage-filled mickey-take about the mythology of the great white male author, the atrocities of colonisation and the whitewashing of history.
Jim Broadbent is perfect casting as Anderson – a casually racist, dim misanthrope who’s only interested in people if they are lauding him. We first see Anderson at a public reading of The Little Mermaid – unable to read the trickier words and slightly surprised at the downbeat ending he has written. This version of Anderson is an egotist with no discernible talents; Broadbent keeps him buffoonish making his thoughtless cruelty even more horrifying as it’s all done with a goofy smile. He calls his captive Marjory, because her real name is too difficult, and he can’t be bothered to try – until she has a weapon. Marjory (Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles in a searing professional debut) is most definitely the brains of the outfit, so her acceptance of her captivity is puzzling until the Red Men turn up. The Red Men are Belgians travelling back in time to kill Marjory, who killed them in the Congo, and she is waiting for her future to turn up as she has a mission of vengeance. The time travelling aspect of the play is a real curveball, which makes no sense at all – but that may be the point – as Anderson himself says about the massacre of 10 million people in the Belgian Congo “It hasn’t happened yet has it? I get so confused…” Whether Tom Waites’ narration is meant to clarify or confuse is up for debate, just enjoy those croaky growling tones.
Anderson’s torturous 5 week stay with Charles Dickens (Phil Daniels) is the comic highlight of the play. Alongside the running joke of Anderson calling Dickens Darwin, the men’s linguistic difficulties are turned into a sweary pantomime. Broadbent morphs into the Spanish interpreter from Blackadder’s idiot Danish cousin, while Daniels is an explosion of frustration and bile.
Anna Fleischle’s set is a masterpiece – Anderson’s attic is a gothic nightmare with puppets hanging from the rafters – and Philip Gladwell’s lighting design creating a spooky thrill reminiscent of the chills experienced hearing dark fables as a child.
A Very Very Very Dark Matter is very definitely theatrical Marmite. I loved it – a funny and ferocious fable that will set your head spinning.
REVIEW: Miss Saigon (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★
October 30, 2018
For: West End Wilma
The heat is on as Miss Saigon lands at the Sunderland Empire for just under a month.
Produced by Cameron Mackintosh, directed by Laurence Connor and with music and lyrics by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, Miss Saigon – a reworking of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly – started life at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1989. Running for 10 years, it then had a reworking at the Prince Edward theatre in 2014. It is has been on a UK tour ending in Sunderland.
Set against the backdrop of the Vietnamese War of the 1970’s; innocent country girl Kim (Sooha Kim) escapes to Saigon from her village and planned arranged marriage to Thuy (Gerald Stantos). Found by The Engineer (Leo Tavarro Valdez) he takes her to his seedy bar Dreamland which is populated by the American GI’s who use the girls who work at the bar. Sensing he can use her innocence and sell her virginity to the highest bidder, The Engineer does the mock “Miss Saigon” contest to show off her purity against the other working girls. Gigi (Aicelle Santos) wins the contest but not before a bidding war as started on Kim. GI John (Ryan O’Gorman) is the winning bidder and gives Kim to his friend Chris (Ashley Gilmour) as a present to cheer him up. She willingly gives up her virginity and Kim and Chris fall in love.
Fortune however deals them a series of cruel blows and when Saigon falls to enemy forces, in the musical’s iconic moment Chris is airlifted to safety in a helicopter and the pregnant Kim must fend for herself. Three years pass, Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh. Thuy is now a Commissar and sends the very down at heel Engineer to find Kim. Thuy wants his arranged marriage. The Engineer finds Kim surviving on the streets with her son Tam (Ava Lui, Bethany Ng, Evie- Rose Mak Foster, Francesca Rose Jangonase and Lavinia Tran sharing the role). Whilst The Engineer sees a mixed race child as his passport to America, Thuy see’s as a betrayal and means to kill the child until Kim kills him, shooting him with Chris’s gun. Kim, Tam and The Engineer escape to Bangkok.
Back in the USA, Chris is married to Ellen (Elana Martin). The Vietnamese war and losing Kim broke him and he fell into a depression. Ellen helped pick up the pieces but he still suffers with nightmares and was still trying to find word of Kim. John, now working for a charity that helps with war orphans, gets word of Kim and her son Tam and tells Chris. John, Chris and Ellen go to Bangkok to find Kim and his son.
Sooha Kim exudes vulnerability and has an effortlessly beautiful singing voice, clear and sweet, Ashley Gilmour is a suitably simplistic Chris. Ellen is sensitively played by Elana Martin, helping to understand how conflicted a woman she is. Gerald Santos as Thuy, Kim’s intended husband, has a rich, powerful voice and brings an intense dignity to his efforts to win her back. But the star is Leo Tavarro Valdez who plays The Engineer. He is charming and yet conniving, seedy, funny, savage, ruthless and sleazy and commands even an empty stage; everything The Engineer should be.
Miss Saigon, at almost 3 hours long, is packed full of songs. Based on an opera, it is nearly all sung through with very little dialogue. Big songs like The Movie in my Mind, Why God Why, Sun and Moon and the Last Night of the World are sung in very quick succession. American Dream casts an ironic commentary on the dreams and ambitions of the ‘fixer’ character of the Engineer. Bui Doi, normally never fails to have me in tears but I remained dry eyed at press night.
The moment everyone waits for – the life size helicopter descending on to the stage, was partly done with a projection but is still quite impressive. Miss Saigon will always be a massive spectacle – a wave of raw emotion, gritty, violent and sexy. Suffocating but sincere the show reflects much more of the reality of war.
BLOOM WITH HEADLINE SHOWS
Brian Blessed, Brendan Cole, Jason Manford, Avenue Q,
The Noise Next Door, Nick Sharratt, and English Touring Opera
now confirmed to join programme for 2019
A COMEDY BY TORBEN BETTS
2019 NATIONAL TOUR
PRIOR TO NEW YORK SEASON
Torben Betts’s biting comedy, CAROLINE’S KITCHEN, was staged earlier this year on tour and at Park Theatre, London, under the titleMonogamy, starring Janie Dee. Betts and his producers, Original Theatre Company, under the Artistic Direction of Alastair Whatley, have reworked the play and, with a new cast led by Caroline Langrishe, Aden Gillett, James Sutton and Elizabeth Boag (further casting to be announced), will begin a new national tour on 24 January 2019 at Derby Theatre, running through to 13 April 2019 at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester. This will be followed by an off-Broadway season in New York Spring 2019.
Caroline Mortimer, the nation’s favourite TV cook, has it all: a sparkling career, a big house in fashionable North London, a (golf) loving husband, smart kids and the best kitchen money can buy. But beneath the immaculate furnishings and studio lighting and away from the glare of the ever-present cameras, Caroline must face the looming collision of living a private life in the public eye. What happens when the cameras turn off and the truth comes out?
Betts’s dark domestic comedy examines how people in the public eye battle with the responsibility and demands of real life and, in true Betts style, it explores the dynamics of age, class, politics and marriage.
Caroline Langrishe is best known for her television roles as Charlotte Cavendish in Lovejoy, Georgina Channing in Judge John Deed, Marilyn Fox in Casualty and Judith Leicester in Doctors. Caroline’s recent theatre credits include the UK tour of How the Other Half Loves, the Mercury Theatre Colchester production of Feydeau’s Bang Bang adapted by John Cleese, and Countess Lovel/Rose Trollope in Lady Anna: All at Seaat Park Theatre, London. Aden Gillett can be seen playing Scrooge in Rachel Kavanaugh’s new production of A Christmas Carol adapted by David Edgar for the Royal Shakespeare Company this Christmas. His other recent theatre credits include Arthur Winslow in Rachel Kavanaugh’s production of The Winslow Boy (UK Tour), Theseus/Oberon in Dominic Dromgoole’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare’s Globe) and Sir Colenso Ridgeon in Nadia Fall’s production of The Doctor’s Dilemma (National Theatre). He is probably best known for his television roles as Jack Maddox in The House of Eliott and Edward Campbell in Holby City. He will be appearing in series three of The Crown. James Sutton is best known for playing John Paul McQueen in Hollyoaks from 2006 to 2017, and Ryan Lamb in Emmerdale from 2009 to 2011.
Torben Betts was born in Lincolnshire and studied at Liverpool University. He became the resident dramatist at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1999. Poet and dramatist Liz Lochhead said Betts “is just about the most original and extraordinary writer of drama we have.” His play The Unconquered won Best New Play 2006/07 at the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland. 2015 saw a revival of his acclaimed 2012 play Muswell Hill at London’s Park Theatre, What Falls Apart opened at Newcastle’s Live Theatre, and his version of Chekhov’s The Seagullwas staged at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. In February 2016, Betts adapted Get Carter for Northern Stage in Newcastle, running in tandem with The Original Theatre Company’s UK tour of his critically acclaimed Invincible, which had a month-long run at the 13th annual Brits Off Broadway festival in New York City.
CAROLINE’S KITCHEN is directed by Alastair Whatley, with design by James Perkins and lighting by Chris Withers. The national tour is produced by Tom Hackney for The Original Theatre Company, Ghost Light Theatre Productions and Eilene Davidson.
Facebook: OriginalTheatre #CarolinesKitc
Twitter: @OriginalTheatre #CarolinesKit
Age Guidance: 12+
24 – 26 January Derby Theatre general on-sale soon
www.derbytheatre.co.uk 01332 593939
www.royalandderngate.co.uk 01604 624811
www.everymanplayhouse.com 0151 709 4776
25 February – 3 March Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham on sale
www.everymantheatre.org.uk 01242 572573
12 – 16 March Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne general on-sale soon
www.eastbournetheatres.co.uk 01323 412 000
25 – 30 March Theatre Royal Bath general on-sale 3 December
www.theatreroyal.org.uk 01225 448844
3 – 6 April Connaught Theatre, Worthing on sale
www.worthingtheatres.co.uk 01903 206206
9 – 13 April Mercury Theatre, Colchester general on-sale 21 November
www.mercurytheatre.co.uk 01206 573948