The Wolves of Willoughby Chase Review

Jack Studio Theatre – until 6 January.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick


Joan Aiken’s classic novel is brought to magical life as a fantastic festive feast of villainy, bravery and cheese appreciation.

Russ Tunney’s adaptation, with a cast of five portraying the quirky characters that people Aitken’s alternate 1832 England, is jam-packed with knowing wit and a pervasive sense of jeopardy. Bonnie Green and her cousin Sylvia are left in the care of distant relative Miss Slighcarp when Bonnie’s parents voyage abroad for the sake of her mother’s health. Miss Slighcarp’s motives soon become clear as she sacks the house servants and half starves the girls as she and her oafish companion Mr Grimshaw feast on champagne and oysters. With only footman James and Simon, the goose boy as allies, can the girls escape and bring justice down upon the wicked Slighcarp?

Well, this is Christmas, so obviously – yes. But even though the lucky coincidences of characters appearing in the nick of time and handy secret passages being found are performed with a wink and a glance to the audience, director Kate Bannister manages to keep the danger the children are in feeling urgent and real – even in the increasingly frantic final scenes as the multi-roling male actors excuse themselves to switch characters. The audience are all in on the gag, having been called upon to participate as servants and schoolchildren, and this sense of community and intimacy makes this production thrilling for young and old alike. The movie quotes may be lost on the children, but there is one cartoon reference that had the child next to me howling with laughter.

Speaking of howls, the soundscape and music created by Jack Barton and Elliot Clay is spookily atmospheric, from the ominously ticking clock to the wolfpack in full chase. Add to this Karl Swinyard’s simple but evocative set, with it’s panelled walls and mobile trees, the casts’ shared narration and songs, and Aiken’s England comes to life. The wolves aren’t exactly terrifying, but the puppets are used imaginatively in a very effective chase scene.

Rebecca Rayne and Julia Pagett are delightful as the plucky young heroines, with Pagett excelling in the arch humour as events come to a head, while Andrew Hollingworth is suitably sweet and noble in the roles of James and Simon. Adam Elliott’s Miss Slighcarp is a sneering, preening masterpiece, skewering the audience with disapproving glares, and is a fantastic comic partner to Bryan Pilkington’s cheese loving duo of odious Mr Grimshaw and alt-Dickensian Mrs Brisket.

Wonderfully nostalgic and anarchic at the same time, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a warm theatrical hug that is the perfect remedy for the Winter blues. Grab a ticket while you can.

Its Panto Time

The Majestic Theatre, Darlington opened its doors today (29 December 2017) and welcomed in just under 200 children and families to see Cinderella as part of the charity Cash For Kids.


The Majestic gave out free tickets for disadvantaged families, giving them a Christmas treat, with many of the children never attending a pantomime before.  Artistic Director, Matthew Campbell, was on hand to welcome the families to the theatre.  He commented The children are all very excited, this will be a fabulous audience for the cast to play to


Donations of chocolate was given from Tesco in Newton Aycliffe and Purity Soft Drinks provided bottles of Juice Burst for every child to enjoy during the interval.  Simon Powell from Purity Soft Drinks said This is such a worthy cause, we are very happy to be helping out and providing a drink for every child. Shirley Cormack the Charity/Community Champion at the Newton Aycliffe Extra said Tesco’s is more than happy to help.

Cash for Kids is currently running its annual Mission Christmas Appeal – The largest annual Christmas toy appeal in the UK.

In 2016 the appeal generated upwards of £2 million in gifts and donations which were distributed to more than 47,000 disadvantaged kids across the North East.

With 1 in 4 children across the North East living in poverty this December, for many families Christmas is simply a luxury they can’t afford. This year’s Mission Christmas aims to beat last year’s fundraising total and help make sure it can help as many children as possible.

Cinderella is playing at the majestic until Friday 5 January and tickets can be purchased here

Season’s Greetings




To wish you all

A Very Merry Fairy Powered Christmas


A Fairy Powered New Year

Here’s to lots of lovely shows, fabulous reviews, interesting interviews and magnificent theatre experiences in 2018

Nativity The Musical Review

Leeds Grand Theatre – until 6 January 2018

10 stars out of 5

The best show of the year is currently in Leeds with Nativity the Musical.  Full of Sparkle and Shine, this is a proper feel good show, a wonderful alternative to pantomime, and full of festive joy.

Simon Lipkin leads the adult cast as Mr Poppy, the teaching assistant with a heart of gold and child like enthusiasm.  Lipkin is a joyful revelation – full of fun and natural comedic timing, he also has pathos and depth especially in his budding friendship with Mr Maddens.

Daniel Boys is primary school teacher Paul Maddens.  Heartbroken after the love of his life Jennifer (the woefully underused Sarah Earnshaw) left him to chase her dream in Hollywood and vowing to never do another school Nativity after critic Patrick Burns (Jamie Chapman) gave minus 2 stars for his last performance.  He finds himself in charge of this year’s show at St Bernadettes Catholic Primary.  An angry exchange with old friend and now teacher at rival school, the private Oakmoor, Gordon Shakespeare (the fabulously snarling Andy Brady) finds Paul bragging that Jennifer and Hollywood are coming to the Nativity.  This then causes mass mayhem as the school and town prepare to be famous.  

The children are the complete stars of the show, 3 groups of 8 youngsters* performing the most elaborate over the top production of the Nativity ever, in the hope to impress Hollywood but also to prove that, despite what everyone thinks, they’re not useless and they can perform and perform they do.  The actual show itself they are magnificent, but Dear Father Christmas is heartbreakingly beautiful and the mother in me wanted to hug them all.

Debbie Issit and Nicky Ager’s songs are wonderfully catchy and you find yourself humming the tunes long after leaving the theatre and Andrew Wright’s choreography is fabulous in its simplicity.

Nativity the Musical is the perfect Christmas show, happy and sad in equal measure, this should become everyone’s new festive tradition

*Oratile Chele, Alexander Hogg, Betsy Jiggins, Zak Lackenby, Jasmine McKenna, Moosa Mostafa, Amy Mulhall, Gerald Ngwenya, Chantelle Jane Tonolete, Chaelissa Gray, Kheiri Isaac-Osmani, Harry Martin, Joshua Millard-Lloyd, Celie Newman, Lyla Peters, Layla Grace Quaid, Katelyn-Janet Rollason, Nicholas Vakis, Jamie Bates, Evie Bennell-Low, Layla Gavin, Grace Green, Angelina Martin, Fintan McGrory, William Redican, Beatrice Scholefield, Archie Turner and Pepper as Crackers the dog




Live stream: 28 December 2pm


Theatre Royal Stratford East today announces the live-streaming of their acclaimed pantomime Rapunzel to children at Newham University HospitalSt Francis Hospice and Richard House Children’s Hospice on 28 December at 2pm. Using the latest digital technology, the theatre will share this year’s seasonal treat, Rapunzel written by Trish Cooke and Robert Hyman and directed by Associate Director of Theatre Royal Stratford East, Pooja Ghai. This special project has been made possible thanks to generous support from Galliard Homes and follows the success of last year’s production of Sinbad the Sailor which was live-streamed to Newham University Hospital and Richard House Children’s Hospice.

In addition, the cast of the production went to Newham University Hospital (Rainbow Ward) and St Francis Hospice, Romford on Friday 15 December to meet the staff, children and patients who will be receiving the live stream.

The pantomime will be beamed live from Theatre Royal Stratford East to enable children who otherwise would not have opportunity, to enjoy a traditional Christmas pantomime. They will be able to come together in communal spaces at both locations to enjoy together with their families.

Artistic Director of Theatre Royal Stratford East, Nadia Fall said today ‘’We’re thrilled that people from all over London return to see our pantos year after year however it is also important for us to reach children in our local community who are not able to make the journey down to the theatre. By live streaming Rapunzel to local hospices and hospitals, in Christmas week, we’re continuing our aim to reach as many people as possible who otherwise would not get to see it’’.

With a tradition of featuring original music, laugh-out-loud comedy and hilarious audience participation, Theatre Royal Stratford East’s annual pantomime, Rapunzel plays until 13 January.

Pooja Ghai directs Raj Bajaj (Papa bear/Iggy), Michael Bertenshaw (Witch Maddy), Stephen Hoo (Toby/Albert Mouse)Juliet Okotie (Mama bear/Lizzy), Gemma Salter (Baby Bear), Joanne Sandi (Rapunzel), Gary Wood (Egor/Grace) and Julie Yammanee (Goldilocks).


Designer: William Fricker; Lighting Designer: Matt Daw

Choreographer: Wayne Parsons; Sound Designers: Andrew Johnson and Chris Murray

Special Effects: Scott Penrose; Fight Director: Rc-Annie


Theatre Royal Stratford East Listings

Gerry Raffles Square, London E15 1BN

Until 13 January

Box Office: 020 8534 0310

Facebook: theatreroyalstratfordeast 

Twitter: @stratfordeast

Access performances
Audio described: Thursday 21 December at 2pm
BSL interpreted: Saturday 6 January (matinee and evening)
Captioned: Friday 12 January at 7pm
Relaxed: Tuesday 2 January at 1.30pm

CHICAGO Now On Sale!




Tickets are now on sale for the West End run of the multi award-winning CHICAGO, the world’s longest running American musical.

Following a successful UK and international tour, CHICAGO will be transferring into London, with performances at the Phoenix Theatre from Monday 26 March 2018.


CHICAGO originally ran in London for 15 years, making it the West End’s longest running revival.  It first opened at the Adelphi Theatre on 18 November 1997 to rave reviews and immediately became a sell-out hit.  CHICAGO won the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for ‘Outstanding Musical Production’ as well as the 1998 Critics Circle Drama Award for ‘Best Musical’.  CHICAGO transferred from the Adelphi Theatre to the Cambridge Theatre in April 2006, where it ran for five years until 27 August 2011.  The show then opened at the Garrick Theatre on 7 November 2011, where it ran until 1 September 2012.

CHICAGO, which is based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, has a book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb.  The 1996 Broadway revival of CHICAGO was choreographed by Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse, directed by Walter Bobbie, and produced by Barry and Fran Weissler.


Twitter: @ChicagoOnStage


Phoenix Theatre

110 Charing Cross Road

London WC2H 0JP

Box Office: 0844 871 7629 /

Ticket Prices: From £20.00

Performances: Monday-Saturday 8pm, Wednesday & Saturday 3pm

Booking Period:  Currently Booking Until 23 June 2018

Running Time:  2 hours, 25 minutes (with interval)


Twitter: @ChicagoOnStage

A SPOONFUL OF SHERMAN’ The new musical stage show featuring the songs of the Oscar-winning brothers


Announce a special 100 year anniversary UK tour of

The new musical stage show featuring the songs of
the Oscar-winning brothers:
Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Performed by a highly talented cast led by
Olivier-nominated Sophie-Louise Dann

2018: February 14th-March 30th with more to follow at theatres across the UK
Tickets: £18-£23, see individual venues below
Featuring: A Spoonful of Sugar; I Wanna Be Like You;
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers;
Jolly Holiday; Chim-Chim-Cher-Ee 
and many more all time favourites

The double Oscar-winning Sherman Brothers – Richard M Sherman & Robert B Sherman – wrote more motion picture musical songs and scores than any other songwriting team in film history and became one of the most formidable songwriting teams in family entertainment.  From 1964 onwards their unparalleled partnership produced unforgettable music for dozens of films, particularly many of Disney’s best loved titles includingMary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jungle Book, Bedknobs & Broomsticks, Charlotte’s Web, and The Aristocats. The highly prolific brothers were the sons of the great Al Sherman (1897-1973) whose own musical talents produced songs for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and many singers of the golden American Songbook period of the 1930s-1950s.

Robert J Sherman, son of Robert B. Sherman and a successful composer in his own right brings the utterlycompelling story of one family’s century-long, award-winning musical journey to UK audiences in 2018. Three generations of Sherman songwriters are brought to life in this delightful show which includes songs from Robert J. Sherman’s own charming musical, Love Birds, which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015.


February/March: A SPOONFUL OF SHERMAN tour dates 2018 with more to follow:
Feb 14th-17th                       Tonbridge, EM Forster Theatre            
Feb 21st-23rd                       Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre            
February 26th-28th             St Helens Theatre Royal                        
March 5th-7th                      Aberdeen Tivoli Theatre                        
March 8th-10th                    Inverness Eden Court                            
March 12th-14th                  Darlington Hippodrome                        
March 16th-17th                  East Grinstead, Chequer Mead            
March 20th-21st                  Guildford, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre      
March 22nd-24th                 Windsor Theatre Royal                          
March 26th-30th                  London Greenwich Theatre                  

Cast:  Sophie-Louise Dann, Glen Facey, Jenna Innes, Mark Read, Ben Stock
Director/choreographer: Stewart Nicholls

SOPHIE-LOUISE DANN: Sophie’s West End credits include: Celia in The Girls (2017 Olivier Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical); Bend it Like Beckham and Made In Dagenham (both West End); Lend Me a Tenor (2012 Olivier Award nomination for Best Supporting Role in a Musical), 42nd Street, and Jolson.  Sophie recently played Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray, an acclaimed run in Forbidden Broadway and Dot in Sunday In The Park With George (Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris). Sophie is a regular guest on BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night Is Music Night.


GLEN FACEY: Glen graduated from The Arts Educational School in 2015.  Theatre credits include The Wizard of Oz (Sheffield Crucible); Mary Poppins (Zurich & Dubai); Moby Dick! The Musical (New Union Theatre); Hairspray! (UK tour) The Olivier Awards (Royal Opera House) and Friday Night Is Music Night for BBC Radio 2.  Credits whilst training include: Billy Smith in Defect, Rexford/Danny in Wonderful Town, Junior in Crazy For You and more.

JENNA INNES: Jenna has just graduated from The MTA London. Whilst training, she was nominated for Best Actress in a New Musical in Broadway World’s West End Awards 2016 for her portrayal of Charlotte Donne in Animus. She has also appeared in the title role in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Waterside, Aylesbury), Young Molly in the London premiere of Some Lovers and An Evening of Webborn and Finn (both at The Other Palace) and MAD Trust West End Christmas (The Actors Church).


MARK READ: Musician/songwriter Mark was a member of the smash hit boyband A1, who enjoyed two UK No. 1s, a further 8 Top Ten hits, 3 hit studio albums and the 2001 Brit Award for Best Newcomer. Mark was recently seen on ITV’s The Big Reunion and as part of the show’s major concert tour. Mark has collaborated with Charlotte Church, Jarvis Cocker, Ronan Keating, and Michael Ball and his musical theatre credits include Guys and Dolls (Epsom Playhouse), and Seasons of Love (West End) with Claire Richards (Steps) and Chesney Hawkes.


BEN STOCK: Musical Director and performer.  Ben’s many West End credits include Grease, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Dame Edna: The Spectacle and many more.  Ben’s MD credits include Caroline Sheen’s album Raise The Curtain (SimG Records), Stephen De Martin’s One Voice (SimG Records), Gay’s The Word (Finborough, Jermyn Street and TER Records), Over My Shoulder (West End, Sonning, Tour and TER Records), Salad Days (Tour), Hiss And Boo (Tour), Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dahand many more.

Slava’s Snowshow Review

Royal Festival Hall – until 4 January 2018.  Reviewed by Lisa Harlow
Shows featuring clowns haven’t always been held in my highest regard in the past. Thankfully this international award winner deserves all of its accolades. The audience warmly embraced this return visit of Slava and his clowns from the start. I had wondered if my own return visit would leave me as enraptured as my first. I wasn’t disappointed.
The initial dysphoric opening quickly melts into an emotive and beautifully orchestrated collaboration of light, shadow, humour and music. Each scene is intriguing enough to leave you agog at what you might find behind the next magic mirror. The set is simple but the lighting and gentle, perfectly synchronised moves of the clowns enable the most magical imaginary worlds to be created in front of your eyes. The clowns’ demeanour, with their outlandish outfits, droopy red noses and hangdog faces bring life and rip roaring humour to a range of objects and surprising scenarios. There’s the heart soaring music of Vangelis whilst sailing on a bedstead, triumphant ship hornblowing with an avalanche of bubbles, a romantic interlude with a coat stand….
The interactions with the crowd are as heart warming and engaging as I remembered: a dramatic death, spider’s webbing engulfing the entire audience, naughty water spraying, the clowns’ realising they could conduct the audience’s cheers and the most magnificent snow storm which literally takes your breath away.
There seems to be no underlying plot or thread to the events outside of surreal dream humoour, gorgeous musical soundtrack and the regular interlude of hauntingly lit balloons. I can’t explain how the general ambience of musical melancholy and occasional clown angst somehow leaves you feeling uplifted and inspired but it does.  This is a magical spectacle and it keeps the adults and children alike captivated throughout. I felt it had ended far too soon. There is the opportunity for more balloon and clown fun at the end for the whole audience but I won’t spoil the surprise – and allow you to find out for yourself (along with the snowflakes you will find amongst your things several days later!)
A show not to miss, wonderful Winter whoopee!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Review

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton – until 7 January 2017.  Reviewed by Joe Gordon


If you are looking for a good , festive and fun filled panto this season then Snow White is your girl!

It is Snow Whites (Charlotte Haines) birthday and anyone who’s anyone will be attending her party, including the handsome Prince Harry of Hampshire (Oliver Savile). Evil stepmother Queen Lucretia (Craig Revel Horwood) has romantic ideas about the young Prince and is beside herself with rage when her magic mirror announces it is in fact Snow White who is the fairest in the land! The Queen hatches a dark plan to murder Snow White and orders her Henchmen (The Chuckle Brothers) to carry it out but will the kindest Henchmen in history be able to do it?

As Snow White hides in the woods with her new found friends the Magnificent Seven (Joe Douglass, Scott Hayward, Michael Joseph, Mark Laverty, Finlay McFarlane, Jacob Morris, Paul Toulson) Lucretia tricks her into eating a poisoned apple ….. can the handsome prince Harry and the beautiful Snow White live happily after?

Snow White has everything we love about pantomimes in a big bold way. Charlotte Haines plays a perfect rosy cheeked Snow White alongside the handsome hero Oliver. The Chuckle Brothers deliver hilarity in a way only they can, delighting young and old alike and Craig Revel Horwood’s evil stepmother deserves a ten held up on a glittery paddle. Throw in seven funny short guys and a dancing troupe of Queens Men (Flawless) and you’re in for a cracker of a night!

Beauty and the Beast Review

Grand Opera House York – until Sunday 7th January.  Reviewed by Michelle Richardson


This year is certainly big on Beauty and the Beast, with the live action film hitting the cinema screens earlier this year. Three Bears Productions turns the story in a pantomime and brings their version to York’s Grand Opera House this Christmas.

Not only is it bang on trend with subject matter, but they have the lady of the moment Debbie McGee, as Adorabella Angelpie, the good fairy, returning to York after her panto stint in last year’s Aladdin. Strictly Come Dancing has raised her profile and is fantastic publicity for her and this show, she certainly got the biggest cheer with Strictly references aplenty. It was great to see her managing to showcase her dancing and flexibility skills throughout the show. Her voice was struggling a bit but that just endeared the audience to her even more, she has certainly had a hectic schedule of late with rehearsals for this as well as Strictly. Well done and I hope to see her back in York next year for Cinderella.

Adorabella’s goodness is a trying to be thwarted by her evil cousin Wizardora Crabapple, played by Lynne McGranger, better known from the Aussie soap Home and Away. McGranger thoroughly relishes her role and really seems to be having a blast playing the baddie, especially with the digs at the cricket (England had just lost the Ashes to Australia). The whole audience just loved booing and hissing when she was on the stage and she just lapped it up.

Anthony Costa, formerly of the band Blue, plays the Prince/Beast. He does not have a great deal to do but does manage to showcase his voice with Rag’n’Bone Man’s Human, a huge task with the original being so powerful, but he does pull it off, and his own hit All Rise. Unfortunately, there appeared to be a few problems with his echolike booming voice when he turned into the Beast, hopefully this was just a glitch and will improve as the run goes on.

Belle is played by Charlotte Maclachlan and I did find her proficient but a bit underwhelming. Perhaps her role gets a bit lost when turned into a panto?

Talking about the dame, Steve Wickenden returns to York and puts in another fantastic performance as Misrabelle, Belle’s ugly sister. He has great stage presence and rapport with the audience with gags aplenty, some very saucy and close to the bone, which he just about gets away with. I really lost count of how many costume changes he had, one colourful creation after another. His performance was the highlight for me, and just like Debbie, I hope to see him back next year.

Holding it all together was Stuart Wade, the jester Seymour Bottom, whose name was played upon every time he came onto the stage, much to the delight of all the children in the audience. He also co-produced and directed the show. He is a natural and a born entertainer. It was a delight to see his interactions at the end of the show with the two young audience members as part of the sing song, even though he was upstaged by the adorable Freya.

The choreography by Emily Taylor, who also dances in the show, is performed well by the small group, giving polished performances, to the back drop of the colourful set and costumes.

It was great to see a packed theatre and hear all the traditional interactions of a pantomime. It was wonderful to see the joy on the children’s faces, it looked like they really loved the show, but it had something for everyone. Look out for the surprise just before the interval, something you do not expect to see in Beauty and the Beast!!