Company Review

Gielgud Theatre – booking until 30 March 2019

Reviewed by Claire Roderick

5*****

Company returns to the West End in a neon glow of stylish brilliance. Marianne Elliott’s gender-swapped production is contemporary, funny, smart and quite possibly genius. The naysayers who refuse to give this production a try as they bemoan “PC gone mad” are missing out on one of the best shows to open in London for years.

Working with Stephen Sondheim to create a show that has modern resonance, Marianne Elliott turns Bobby into Bobbie (the luminous Rosalie Craig), whose 35th birthday forces her to evaluate her life and her approach to relationships. Surrounded by married friends, Bobbie’s biological clock is ticking – visualised terrifyingly as she watches multiple versions of her possible future self with her boyfriends and babes in arms in Tick Tock. George Furth’s book is still instantly recognisable, with simple twists like the swapping of Jenny (Jennifer Saayeng) and David’s (Richard Henders) lines creating a more modern couple where the wife goes out to work and the husband is a stay-at-home dad. Changing the gender of best friend Amy to Jamie (Jonathan Bailey) also adds a more familiar and realistic dynamic to the group of friends in 2018.

The set is deceptively simple and stunning, with neon rooms fitting together below Joel Fram’s orchestra. There are shades of Alice in Wonderland as Bobbie feels the walls closing in on her trying to avoid her surprise birthday party, and crawls around the stage finding handy glasses of whisky.

Sondheim’s songs are sublime; this is one of those rare musicals that has no “filler” – every number is a wonder. The entire cast are phenomenal, and you may find it hard not to jump up and cheer after Every. Single. Number. Rosalie Craig is spiky, cynical, funny and vulnerable as Bobbie, and is an emotional powerhouse in Marry Me A Little and Being Alive. Patti LuPone is phenomenal as Joanne, prowling around the stage with an acerbic smirk and conveying more with an “Uh huh” than some actors can in seven verses. The Ladies Who Lunch is a masterclass in musical theatre – grabbing you by the throat and the heart and leaving you in a euphoric heap. Jonathan Bailey’s meltdown as groom-to-be Jamie is hysterically sweet and almost steals the show.

Company is proof that brilliant musicals can survive, and may need, changes to resonate even more with modern audiences. In Marianne Elliott’s hands, Company speaks to us all. And with a cast as good as this, Elliott has created theatrical perfection. This is THE must-see show of the year. Grab a ticket while you can.

Jersey Boys Review

New Victoria Theatre, Woking – until 27 October 2018

Reviewed by Alexandra Sykes

5*****

One of the most iconic musicals of all time, “Jersey Boys” never fails to disappoint audiences.  A documentary style jukebox musical it tells the story of four young men from New Jersey and their rise to fame. With music by Bob Gaudio, himself a member of The Four Seasons, lyrics by Bob Crewe and a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, this rags-to-riches story gives an insight as to what it was like for the band members on their way to the top along with the hardships they all struggling with such as divorce and debt problems.

The musical opens with “Ces Soirees-la” a rap/pop mashup of the classic “December 1963 (Oh What a Night) which Tommy DeVito (Simon Bailey) explains is the song that put Jersey on the map. Tommy explains that he formed a band with his brother, Nick, and friend Nick Massi who performed as “The Variety Trio” before discovering Frankie Castellucio (later Frankie Valli), whom Tommy took under his wing and teaching him everything he knows.

The story is split into four sections, each relating to a different season and each narrated by a different member of the band so as to highlight the bands highs, such as their string of number one hits, and lows, such as the death of Frankie’s daughter and the various prison stints they all did in the early days.

One of my favourite West End shows I did wonder how well it would work on tour but the set is still the same, with the cage like structures and the bridge working to set the scene, be it the Sea Breeze lounge or a New Jersey street. The costumes are still the same with the iconic red blazers from the posters playing a part in the show as well.

Dayle Hodge stole the show as Frankie Valli, receiving not one but four standing ovations, a true testament to the character he was playing. Hodge had the audience captivated not only with his acting skills but with his ability to hit the notes in the now iconic songs “Sherry” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” “Beggin’” and “Who Loves You?” all of which had the audience singing along.

An enjoyable night out for both young and old the show had the audience singing and clapping along and fully engaging with the show. 

Missing Review

York Theatre Royal – until 20 October 2018

Reviewed by Marcus Richardson

4****

The contemporary theatre company Gecko has come to York with their show Missing, an ensemble piece which explores memories and how childhood affects us as adults. Gecko takes three years, make a show, break it and remake it, with the end result being Missing in this case. We watch the main character Lily progress through life with her childhood lingering on her and her ability to form relationships. Twisting through time, everything seems broken and unnatural, however having an essence to real life with real experiences and relationships.

The cast made of five actors, creates a world trough working with various languages and through physical theatre. Katie Lusby plays Lily, this character for me, was the most emotionally demanding with having the burden of the past and the strain of the present. What sticks with me is her face, the ability to both convey love and shock at the same time. Lucia Chocarro is the other female in the cast taking on the role of Lily’s mother a dancer, the dancing in this show goes so well with the physical theatre, working in unison to create a story without the need of words. The other members of the cast being all male are Amit Lahav, John Ross and Arten Perkins-Gangnes; these three did an amazing job of working with their bodies to bring a demanding energy to the stage, from powerful and fast movements to their characterisation. You can tell that the cast is comfortable with each other and with being such a small cast there is this harmonious relationship between each of them on stage.

Amit Lahav is the artistic director of Gecko and the play is based off his experience of delving into the past and how that has made him what he is today. The set is incredibly imaginative and cleaver using a long treadmill as a main tool in the show this innovative aspect really show what theatre has the possibility to be, the stage was just as impressive as the cast.

This show is right up my alley, however I know it may not be everybody’s cup of tea, contemporary theatre is an acquired taste after all. If you want  to see new theatre, I would suggest seeing this, both thought provoking and entertaining.

Horrible Histories Review

Hull New Theatre – until 20th October 2018

Reviewed by Catherine McWilliams

5*****

Hats off to the cast of Birmingham Stage Company’s production of Terrible Tudors, what a fun, fast, fabulous romp through Tudor history you gave us last night at Hull New Theatre.

This is a stage adaption of one of Terry Deary’s popular Horrible Histories and it has been skillfully adapted for the stage by John-Paul Cherrington, who ensured that the action zipped along with never a dull moment.

According to the programme Simon Nock plays Dr Dee, Izaak Cainer is Drab and Lisa Allen is Dross, but in actuality these three talented actors play a myriad of characters from Kings to Queens to criminals as they whizz through the history of the period. Costume changes are fast and furious, with songs and rap and puns galore. Add in plenty of gory bits, sound effects, audience participation and some 3D and it was easy to see why the youngsters in the audience were entranced, I was hooked!

The show started with how the Tudors came to power and went through key points of each monarch’s reign, throwing in information about how criminals were treated and the medicine of the day. Everything is presented in such a fun way but the historical facts are accurate and everyone will have come away having learnt something – I certainly did.

But back to Simon Nock, Izaak Cainer and Lisa Allen, these three actors were never off the stage and their energy levels and stamina never faltered and the pace of this production was incredibly fast. It is not easy to keep an audience of children entranced, but they made it look like a walk in the park. They had a wonderful interaction with the audience and were clearly enjoying every minute!

This would be a wonderful trip to the theatre for any youngster, with the added bonus of learning some fun facts as well! If this is coming to a theatre near you than book yourself tickets for this fabulous show. Now let me think, who can I take to see their other show Awful Egyptians…

 

Dracula Review

Churchill Theatre – 20 October 2018

Reviewed by Elizabeth Smith

3***

Every body knows the story of Dracula, the blood drinking vampire. It is the stuff nightmares are made of, so I was looking forward to this new take on an old tale. With promises of stunning illusions and spine chilling effects, I was bracing myself for a terrifying experience.

The story opens with a bang that made me jump out of my seat, I had high hopes, then the story starts to unfold.

The opening scene sets a dark atmosphere and it feels like your watching an old black and white movie, giving that Dracula foreboding. With the young couple Jonathan Harker (Andrew Horton) and Mina Murray (Olivia Swann) saying goodbye at the railway station as he heads off to Transylvania to meet Count Dracula. We are then introduced to Lucy,(Jessica Webber), an attractive young virgin pursued by many a suitor but none of which excite her passions, until she
has dreams of a ghostly figure that comes to her in the night, Dracula. Here we see the first illusion as Dracula disappears before our eyes.

The story then moves on and we are introduced to Dr Seward, (Evan Milton), who attends the lunatics at the asylum. Lady Renfield, (Cheryl Campbell) being the prominent loon, who eats the animals in her care and Professor Van Helsing, (Phillip Bretherton) who comes to rid the world of vampires. The count himself (Glen Fox), has a formidable presence but was this just because he is a tall chap?

There were attempts to emulate some classic horror movies, The Exorcist, but it just didn’t quite hit the spot.

The ensemble of vampires appear in terrifying lighting shows with moves that any respectful zombie would be proud of.

I was left completely underwhelmed by this production. The illusions were short on the ground and the acting seemed old fashioned, with the senior actors outshining the younger members of the cast. I didn’t believe the characters and felt no compassion for they impending fate.

The set however was exceptional and I found myself looking at that moving about more than the actors themselves.

The Full Monty Review

Grand Opera House York – until Saturday 20th October 2018.

Reviewed by Michelle Richardson

5*****

The Full Monty has hit The Grand Opera House in York this week. Based on the well loved hit movie, Simon Beaufoy has adapted his own film for this award winning play.

Set in 1997 this is a story about a group of redundant Sheffield steelworkers. Wide boy Gaz, Gary Lucy, who has been touring in the role since 2014, and best mate Dave, Kai Owen, have resorted to stealing scrap metal. With Gaz being hounded by his ex wife Mandy for child support for his son Nathan, Fraser Kelly, he needs to get money somehow. After seeing how a visit by The Chippendales to the local working men’s club racked the money in, Gaz comes up with the hair brained idea of putting their own act together.

After rescuing suicidal Lomper, Joe Gill, who just becomes one of their troupe, they audition and cajole in order to get the rest of an act together. Horse’s, Louis Emerick, audition is hilarious, the mind is willing but the body has other ideas. We are also treated to the well endowed Guy, James Redmond, who can’t dance but wows in other ways and we get an eyeful, to be honest more than an eyeful. The final member of the troupe is Gerald, Andrew Dunn, their former foreman, who hasn’t plucked up the courage to tell his wife that he lost his job 6 months previous. Railroaded into becoming their choreographer, he has the not so envious task of turning the motley crew into dancers.

The play was true to the film in as much as it could be using the stage. We were treated to all the great moments of the film, the dole queue scene was an hilarious, exaggerated example and one I was waiting for, brilliant. It wasn’t afraid to tackle touchy subjects, suicide, unemployment, depression and homosexuality, all done in a fun but sympathetic way, in some ways it was a lot more open and embraced more that the screen version. Even though the film hit our screens over 20 years ago the subject matter is as relevant today as it was then.

The strong cast were really very good. From Lucy, convincing as the cheeky Gaz, Owen as the lovable Dave, who you couldn’t help cheering on and wanting him to regain the confidence in himself and his body, to the whole ensemble.

For the finale we were the audience, whooping and cheering in that working men’s club, we were part of the show, no holds barred. It was great.

Bare bottoms aplenty, did I actually get to see THE FULL MONTY? I’m not sure I should spoil the surprise, all I will say is that I left the theatre with a grin on my face listening to the excited chatter of all around me 😉. A great night out with a few willy jokes thrown in, that is not just about men baring all.

Europe Review

Leeds Playhouse – until Saturday 3rd November 2018

Reviewed By Dawn Smallwood

5*****

Leeds Playhouse’s exciting Pop-Up Theatre season is now in full swing and the Ensemble Company brings David Greig’s Europe. The political play, written in 1994 at the height of the Balkans Civil War, is set at an unnamed disused station at a border town in Central Europe. It specifically focuses on two economic migrants, Sava (Robert Pickavance) and Katia (Jo Mousley), who seeks shelter and refuge at the station which disgruntles Fret (Joe Alessi), the stationmaster. Adele (Tessa Parr), Fret’s assistant, is intrigued with the passing trains in which she romanticises about travel and yet her husband, Berlin (Dan Parr), is opposed to foreign migrants.

Greig’s work always raises the concerns of the characters’ connections with the impact of political, social and economic changes over time and yet there are human desires and wonders to experience what is beyond their town or community. Europe is no exception and Adele (Parr) wishes she was on a train somewhere else instead of the town that has economically declined and its disillusioned residents who have an apathetic outlook on life and a negative view of migrants arriving. With the town’s morale in mind Adele seeks her desires intimately with Katia (Mousley).

Amanda Stoodley’s set works very well with the station being the main focal point and has a rail track running through. There is also room for simultaneous and aside actions in the bar and on the station roof. David Bennion-Pedley’s lighting and the strobe effects compliment the stage with its diversity reflecting darkly the story’s sombre themes and outlook. The same is said for David Shrubsole’s atmospheric and dramatic sounds and noises of the passing trains and its reflective music which enables audience to think more about its themes and issues.

Europe resonates and relates to what people feel today particularly from socio-economic and political perspectives and how the complexities they bring particularly belonging and identity. It also explores how individual characters tested particularly with personal relationships amidst economic adversity and change. There is yearning for the town not to be forgotten and yet it dramatically and suddenly remembered for the wrong reasons at the play’s closing stages.

Under the direction of James Brining, the ensemble of seven put on an excellent performance and they portrayed well the complex characters. One too can link many of the issues that are explored and what is experienced in the past and today whether in the local community, nationally or globally.

It is concluded that one is in Europe but apart from a physical presence a lot of questions are asked but unanswered. This is due to complexity of the issues especially with regards to identity among many migrants who settle in another country and local residents whose livelihood is affected by the economic and social decline of their towns. The influence of border crossing also plays a big part particularly with monetary and social inequalities. It is left for the audience to discuss this further among themselves.

Europe is fearful, thought provoking and yet there are some human touches of optimism and hope as fantasised through trains and travel. It’s a highly recommended play to see during its run.

 

They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! Review

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until 20th October

Review by Heather Chalkley

4****

The original written by great Italian playwright Dario Fo, has been expertly adapted in to great British humour by Deborah McAndrew . Fo’s template can be used to reflect the political dialogue of any given time and place, always combining tragedy and farce carrying the message through the belly laughs. Northern Broadsides interpretation is no exception.

I loved the outspoken nature of the players and how they understood the workings of the play. The fast pace sometimes caught them off guard, with fumbled lines and costume malfunctions, which added to the humour! Unintentional hilarity was caused by a cupboard door that didn’t want to stay shut, when in fact the door had a prominent part!

Lisa Howard as Anthea, was a convincing council flat tenant and homemaker, desperately wanting to hold things together, weaving an ever growing web of fantastical tales to dodge her way through an increasingly critical situation. Suzanne Ahmet as Maggie, was a quirky, funny, younger and very gullible wife that went along with all the diversionary plans cooked up by her friend. The political idealist husband, Jack (Steve Huison), gave a clear dialogue to understand the social political environment in which the piece was set. He created belly laughs when his actions contradicted his outspoken views. Michael Hugo became the audiences hero, playing 5 parts and just about managing to avoid laughing out loud, despite a few undelivered lines!

Over time ‘The Jarrow Crusade’ has become a metaphor for governmental callousness and working-class fortitude. The reference to it at the end is a fitting tribute to Dario Fo and how he used his art to ensure the work of governments anywhere do not go unnoticed.

CILLA THE MUSICAL REVIEW

 The Grand Theatre, Leeds – until 20th October 2018

Reviewed by Sally Richmond

5*****

 

Cilla the Musical is a charming tribute to the life and work of the legendary Cilla Black.

Jeff Pope, who created the recently televised mini-series staring Sheridan Smith, has now brought Cilla’s uplifting and heart-warming quest for stardom to the stage. The question one may ask is how does it compare to the popular TV show – and the simple answer is that it compares very well! Pope has produced a feel-good, sentimental jukebox show around those songs that were hits of the time and told Cilla’s story through them. Classics such as the amazing Gershwin number Summertime, the high-energy Dancing in the Streets – all taken from the collections of other musicians appear here along with the iconic Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas (California Dreaming), Gerry and the Pacemakers (I Like It) and of course Cilla’s own hits.

Cilla the Musical tells the rags-to-riches tale of the life of ‘our Cilla’ – Cilla Black (born Priscilla White), a regular teenage girl from Liverpool who became a household name and a bright, shining star on both the stage and television. From a young office typist to a 1960s sensational singer managed by Brian Epstein, Cilla’s celebrity journey starts to grow and unfold along with her romance with Bobby Willis, who later became her husband.

Kara Lily Hayworth has been perfectly cast as Cilla and gives a flawless performance from start to finish. Anyone Who Had a Heart, sung at the end of act one, was a standout moment (for all the right reasons), a highlight of the whole show and one that sent those magic tingles down the spine.

Alexander Patmore’s portrayal as Cilla’s husband Bobby Willis is also faultless, his devoted nature highlighting why the couple were an indestructible partnership right to the end. Andrew Lancel, who plays Brian Epstein, brings some sensitive and moving moments to the show as he struggles with his own life issues, whilst trying to deal with Cilla’s.

Scott Alder’s musical score is packed with hits from the period and the atmosphere of Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club, The London Palladium and Abbey Road recording studio are all brought to life by a cast of extremely talented musicians and singers. The stage bursts with energetic musical arrangements but Hayworth’s voice steals the show every time she sings with her amazing voice.

Gary McCann’s simple but extremely effective sets, which together with Nick Riching’s lighting design, help to bring the special places of where Cilla’s career evolved alive and Leeds very own special place – The Grand Theatre – is the perfect venue to host such a fabulous, nostalgic and magical musical biography.

By the end number the audience had taken to their feet to give a standing ovation and were dancing in the aisles to the sound of the beat of the swinging sixties. Cilla the Musical is not just for Cilla fans but for anyone who wants to enjoy an outstanding evening of musical theatre, executed by first class performers.

The Band Review

Sheffield Lyceum – until 20 October 2018

5*****

The Band arrived triumphantly into Sheffield this week, so it seemed apt that I attended press night with the girl I met on my first day of senior school aged 11.  36 years later we saw a musical that epitomises friendship.

16 year old Rachel (Faye Christell) has been friends with Debbie (Rachelle Diedericks) since they were 6, together they all hang around in a tight knit group with flirty, boy-mad Heather (Katy Clayton), studious Zoe (Lauren Jacobs) and sporty Claire (Sarah Kate Howarth).  

When Debbie wins tickets to see their boys, The Band, it feels like they have had the best night of their night; vowing to be friends forever, nothing can destroy their friendship.  But tragedy strikes and the girls end up going their separate ways and never speaking again.

25 years later, in their early 40’s, Rachel (Rachel Lumberg) wins a competition to see their boys again, with a weekend in Prague.  Through modern technology she tracks down the others and meeting at Manchester Airport she is reunited with Heather (Emily Joyce), Zoe (Jane Mckenna) and Claire (Alison Fitzjohn).  A weekend of reminiscing begins and the girls reignite a friendship they thought they had lost for ever.

Set against a backdrop of Take That songs, this is one of the best shows I ever seen.  The Band (AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon) won their roles on the BBC show “Let it Shine” where they competed for the roles.  The band are lyrically outstanding, adding depth and meaning to Gary Barlow’s lyrics, giving a resonance to the scene’s in which they appear.

Tim Firth has an amazing gift to be able to write fabulously strong women characters.  There are real women, and you can identify with everyone of them. And whilst they are all amazing, it’s the character of Claire that shines for me.  Alison Fitzjohn breaks your heart when she explains how she lost her dreams of being an Olympic diver when she started to hang around with the food she was banned from eating.  Still sleeping in her single bed, at her parents house in the same town, for her the biggest journey was getting to Manchester Airport.

They realise the tragedy that broke them apart should have been the very thing that kept them together.   But when they act as bridesmaids at Rachel’s wedding to Jeff (the multi-talented Martin Miller) you have sense that nothing will ever divide them again.

The Band is an emotional rollercoaster, you will laugh, you will cry and you will be glad that you know 36 years later you have an amazing friend still by your side

In Sheffield until Saturday 20 October and on tour around the UK