Charlie & Stan Review

Wilton’s Music Hall – until 4 February 2023

Reviewed by Phil Brown

4****

If nostalgia, fantasy, and slapstick are your thing, you will love Told by an Idiot Company’s  “Charlie & Stan” at Wilton’s Music Hall.  Actually, If you’re just looking for an evening of innocent fun, laughter and escape from the grind and cynicism of city life, “Charlie & Stan”  – part of the London International Mime Festival. – will do the job in spades. 

Just being in the magnificently vintage surroundings of Wilton’s is an experience to savour.  It’s surely the perfect venue for a trip back to 1910 when the SS Cairnrona set sail from Southampton bound for the US with Fred Karno’s vaudeville company aboard.  Amongst the troupe of artists are Charlie Chaplin, already a music hall star in Britain and one Arthur Stanley Jefferson, known as Stan Laurel, his understudy and cabin mate.  

That is the starting point for a high energy series of comic episodes including real events, flashbacks and also flash forwards.   All much in the style of the silent movies with occasional directional texts projected onto the curtain that doubled as cabin privacy for Charlie and Stan.  The surreal voyage has no discernible chronological thread, but is a well judged 80 minutes without an interval, packing in a lot of cleverly choreographed content and playful pratfalls.  Whilst the brisk pace, timing and subtlety of mime demands and rewards close attention,  the action comes so thick and fast, a second viewing is likely to reward in equal measure.  As writer and director, Paul Hunter has brought to life, an original, intricate and highly accomplished entertainment.

The four main performers are on top form – the dainty Danielle Bird (a magnetic Chaplin), the athletic Jerone Marsh-Reid (a thoroughly convincing Stan Laurel), the marvellously shape-shifting Nick Haverson taking on a portfolio of roles (Karno, Chaplin’s father, Oliver Hardy, butler, drummer) and, last but not least, the versatile Sara Alexander on excellent live piano and doubling up as Chaplin’s mum.   Essential to the performance was the superbly crafted “silent film” soundtrack by Zoe Rahman and the extraordinary multiplatform stage set, very evocative of a chaotic 1910 passenger ship, by Ioana Curelea.

There were so many, individual episodes are difficult now to recall.  So, not being a fan of audience participation moments, it’s a source of frustration that the couple in this show linger in fine detail.  For me, the most memorable scene involved Laurel (Jerone Marsh-Reid) with Havering’s brilliant Oliver Hardy playing golf with the threat of a real golf ball being driven the length of the hall.

Overall, “Charlie & Stan” showcases a quite awe inspiring array of performing industry talent in an imaginative, unique and timeless show. The Wilton’s crowd gave it a well deserved standing ovation.

Have I None Review

Golden Goose Theatre – until 28th January 2023

Reviewed by Emily Cliff

1*

One of the many rules in life we are taught is to never judge a book by its cover. We are taught that from primary school all the way up into adulthood, whether that be judging an album by its cover, a film by its poster or, in my case, a play by its poster and title. I can say now honestly that I will never judge a play by its title and poster ever again – universe, I have learned my lesson.

The story follows Sara (portrayed by Abigail Stone) and her husband Jams (portrayed by Brad Leigh) as they navigate domestic life in a dystopian future taking place in the year 2077 when Sara’s ‘brother’ (portrayed by Paul Brayward) comes to visit. Threatened with ecological disaster and economic chaos, governments have become authoritarian and repressive. Domestic family life struggles to survive in a world of fleeing refugees, mass suicides, ruined and deserted suburbs with soldiers patrolling the streets. The old cities are in ruins and people have been resettled in regimented suburbs.

It goes without saying that these fantastic actors were let down enormously by an abysmal script. Abigail Stone’s acting was impeccable, given what she had to work with. She carved that character and performed it with everything she had even with the strange twists and turns this play took.

The play itself was trying to be Shakespeare in modern language, however there were just too many metaphors in the dialogue for it to make sense. Along with completely out of context costume choices most of this play felt like a fever dream on acid. At one point Stone’s character came out wearing a coat with spoons on it and that was never explained or visited ever again.

Upon first glance, “Have I None” by a “giant of British theatre” – (Guardian) is a black mirror-esque post apocalyptic dystopian thriller which, on paper, is everything I love about theatre. However, upon seeing the play in the flesh I can firmly say that was the most bizarre, confusing and downright terrible 50 minutes of my life that I will never get back. The most heartbreaking thing about this play is that it was supported by a fantastic cast that put their heart and soul into performing writing that was just not good.

Overall, I think the actors in this play were fantastic, it is such a shame they were let down by such poor writing and storytelling. Maybe it was me, maybe I just didn’t get it but I think for your show to be successful, you need to explain and explore plots with more depth. From a furniture rendezvous that was left unexplained to out of context costume choices, this play was a disappointing watch. I would not recommend seeing this unless confusing plot hole driven plays are your thing.

Othello Review

Lyric, Hammersmith – until 11th February 2023

Reviewed by Antonia Hebbert

4****

This is a rough, tough, in-yer-face production of Othello, first devised by Frantic Assembly in 2008. Othello is a gang leader rather than a general, and the setting is the grotty Cypress pub (rather than Cyprus), complete with pool table, fruit machine and oppressive red wallpaper. The blokes wear trackies and trainers and hoodies; the women are sassy and knowing; and violence, sex and racism always seem near the surface. The cast are good at moving in the springy, restless way of people who used to fighting, and the play starts with a choreographed fight, the first of several eruptions of violence in this fast, loud production. And it all works –Shakespeare’s text becomes completely believable and alive.

The plot? Quite simple really – Iago has a grudge against Othello, and manipulates him into a state of mad jealousy against his lover/wife Desdemona. Othello kills Desdemona and himself, then Iago gets killed, and in the meantime Iago’s machinations have caused more death and injury – heigh ho, just another night in a deprived urban area. Michael Akinsulire is Othello, the fighter who is physically super-strong but also plausibly naive and gullible; Chanel Waddock plays Desdemona, with a fresh directness and spirit that work well for a character who can be a bit drippy and passive. Joe Layton is Iago and is superb – a deviously brilliant schemer who pulls all the strings.

Most of the action takes place on and around the pool table, or in a dark, misty outside created by the cast pushing aside the walls and furniture. At one point the walls lurch and fold to highlight the drunken confusion; at another we see Desdemona talking with her friend Emilia (Kirsty Stuart) in the grimy pub toilet.

With loud, pumping music, it all makes for a believably claustrophobic world in which passions rage and become destructive. The director is Scott Graham, the designer Laura Hopkins..

West End transfer of acclaimed production of Rose, starring Maureen Lipman – Ambassador’s Theatre, 23rd May 2023 – 18th June 2023

Acclaimed production of Rose, starring
Maureen Lipman, transfers to London’s West End
Tuesday 23rd May 2023 – Sunday 18th June 2023
The Ambassadors Theatre, West Street, London WC2H 9ND

After sell-out runs at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, and The Park Theatre, London, in 2022, Maureen Lipman returns to the West End with a performance of unassailable greatness (What’s On Stage). This award winning, critically acclaimed production of Martin Sherman’s Rose transfers to The Ambassador’s Theatre for only 28 performances, from Tuesday 23rd May 2023.

Olivier Award-winning Maureen Lipman has performed with The National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and has starred in innumerable West End productions including Outside Edge, Messiah, See How They Run, Wonderful Town, Re:Joyce, Glorious, Oklahoma, A Little Night Music and Daytona. For the last five years she has been delighting television audiences as Evelyn Plummer on ITV’s Coronation Street. Other classic television appearances include The Evacuees, The Knowledge, Agony, Smiley’s People, Doctor Who and Ladies of Letters.

Rose is written by award winning writer Martin Sherman whose plays include Bent, Messiah, A Mad House in Goa, When She Danced, Some Sunny Day and Gently Down The Stream. His body of work also includes films Alive and Kicking and Mrs Henderson Presents and the Broadway Musical The Boy From Oz.

Rose is directed by Scott Le Crass, designed by David Shields with musical composition and Sound design by Julian Star with lighting design by Jane Lalljee.

Maureen Lipman reprises her award-winning performance as Rose, a woman whose tumultuous journey through anarchic times takes her from the devastation of Nazi- occupied Europe to the allure of the American dream. Through the life of one woman, Rose tells the story of a century where everything changed except the violence of the strong against the weak.

The original production of Rose was produced at The National Theatre and on Broadway in 1999. It is perhaps even more relevant today, with the plight of refugees and allegations of antisemitism continuing to dominate the news. This powerful production is a moving reminder of the harrowing events that shaped the last century.

Maureen Lipman comments, I am delighted to be putting Rose back on her bench for a limited run at the Ambassadors in May. I thought I could never have the power to revisit Martin Sherman’s mystical, magical deeply philosophical and wildly funny creation, but Rose is in my blood and she has to be revived.

Martin Sherman comments, Maureen Lipman’s performance as Rose is the greatest gift a
playwright could ever dream of. Performance is perhaps the wrong word; she totally inhabits the role, the woman, the space, the language, the times, the events. I’m so happy that her astonishing alchemy has the opportunity to be witnessed again, for four weeks (only!) at the Ambassadors Theatre.

Find out more about Rose at www.roseonstage.co.uk. You will be able to book tickets for Rose from 12pm, Friday 27th January.

CASTING ANNOUNCED FOR WORLD PREMIERE OF NEW MUSICAL BERLUSCONI

  • CASTING ANNOUNCED FOR WORLD PREMIERE OF NEW MUSICAL BERLUSCONI WRITTEN BY RICKY SIMMONDS AND SIMON VAUGHAN AND PRODUCED BY FRANCESCA MOODY PRODUCTIONS AND THOMAS S. BARNES AT SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE ELEPHANT FROM 25 MARCH – 29 APRIL
  • SEBASTIEN TORKIA WILL PLAY SILVIO BERLUSCONI, SALLY ANNE TRIPLETT WILL PLAY ILDA, EMMA HATTON WILL PLAY VERONICA AND JENNY FITZPATRICK WILL PLAY FAMA.
  • DIRECTED BY JAMES GRIEVE, CHOREOGRAPHED BY REBECCA HOWELL AND DESIGNED BY LUCY OSBORNE
  • TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW AT WWW.SOUTHWARKPLAYHOUSE.CO.UK

“I am the Jesus Christ of politics”

Francesca Moody Productions (Fleabag, Baby Reindeer) and Thomas S. Barnes are delighted to announce the casting for the world premiere of BERLUSCONI – a naughty, noisy exposé of the original perma-tanned media mogul turned populist politician, told through the eyes of three formidable women ready to share their side of the story and break the veneer of that million Lira smile.

The full cast includes: McCallam Connell (The Colour Purple, UK Tour) as the Judge, John Conroy (Half a Sixpence, Noel Coward) as Luigi, Susan Fay (The Girls, UK Tour) as Mama Rosa, Jenny Fitzpatrick (A Christmas Carol, The Old Vic) as Fama, Natalie Kassanga (Dreamgirls, UK Tour) as Bella, Emma Hatton (Wicked, West End) as Veronica, Sebastien Torkia (RSC’s Matilda The Musical, West End) as Silvio Berlusconi, Sally Ann Triplett (Cabaret, Lido 2 Paris) as Ilda, Gavin Wilkinson (Guys and Dolls, Théâtre Marigny) as Vladimir Putin and Matthew Woodyatt (Piaf, Nottingham Playhouse) as Antonio. Full biographies can be found in Notes to Editors.

Rehearsals begin on 13 February with first preview on 25 March and press night on 29 March.

BERLUSCONI is an urgent and prescient story about a brand of political leadership that has become all too familiar. With soaring melodies and driving beats, this hilarious and outrageous new musical assembles an award-winning team to tell the astonishing, outlandish, almost true story of one of the world’s most charismatic, charming and morally dubious political leaders.  

As Silvio tries to enshrine his legacy by grandiosely writing the opera of his life, his detractors are closing in…

Written by Ricky Simmonds and Simon Vaughan, this modern-day cautionary tale is produced by Francesca Moody Productions (Fleabag) and Thomas S. Barnes and directed by James Grieve (Fisherman’s Friends). The musical will be choreographed by Rebecca Howell (The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ ) with Set and Costume by Lucy Osborne (The Famous Five), Paul Schofield (Hair – In Concert) as Musical Supervisor, Arranger and Co-Orchestrator Jordan Li Smith (City of Angels) as Musical Director, Oliver Fenwick (Blues for Alabama Sky) as Lighting Designer Dan Samson (Heathers) as Sound Designer, Video Design by Stanley Orwin Fraser for Duncan McClean Projection (The Jungle), Music Production and Co-orchestration by Lewis Andrews and Original Vocal Score and Original Vocal Arrangements by David White (Cabaret) and Math Roberts (Merrily We Roll Along) as Associate Musical Director and Casting by Will Burton CDG. Associate produced by Alex Cooke and Alan Hayling, based on an original idea by Alan Hayling.

Voice over artists announced for Idiots Assemble – Spitting Image Saves the World at Birmingham Rep

VOICE OVER ARTISTS ANNOUNCED TODAY

IDIOTS ASSEMBLE:

SPITTING IMAGE SAVES THE WORLD

LIVE ON STAGE

World Premiere on 1 February 2023

Birmingham Rep

www.SpittingImageLive.com

Twelve voice-over artists, a mix of actors, impressionists and comedians have just started work on recording voices for over one hundred Spitting Image characters for the World Premiere of the stage show,  Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image Saves the World which previews at Birmingham Rep from 1 February.

They are:  Al Murray (The Royal Variety Performance, Al Murray’s Happy Hour, Why Does Everyone Hate the English? We Have Ways of Making You Talk), Debra Stephenson (The Impressions ShowDead RingersRich Hall’s Election BreakdownNewzoids, Coronation Street and Bad Girls), Jess Robinson (Spitting ImageThe Last LegStars in Their Ears, and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and Britain’s Got Talent, Jojo Lin (Spitting Image Puppeteer), Jason Forbes (The Tracy Ullman Show, The Mash Report and Horrible Histories: The Movie and Borg Mcenroe), Josh Berry (Josh Berry’s Fake News,  NewsJack, Dead Ringers, The Tracey Ullman Show and The Michael McIntyre Show), Kathryn Drysdale (Bridgerton, Meghan Markle in The WindsorsChristmas on Mistletoe Farm, The Bubble, The Queen and I and Plebs)Lorna Laidlaw (Mrs Tembe in Doctors, Aggie in Coronation Street, Getting It Straight and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Birmingham Rep), Luke Kempner (Spitting Image, Steph’s Packed Lunch, The Last LegStand-up Sketch Show and The Imitation Game) Matt Forde (Spitting Image, Unspun with Matt Forde, The Royal Variety PerformanceHave I Got News for You, The Political Party podcast and British ScandalRonan Summers (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Krays: Code of SilenceDoctor Who and Episodes) and Shri Patel (Rishi Sunak in This EnglandEmmerdale and Pennyworth)

With a creative team that includes original Spitting Image co-creator, Roger Law, alongside a comedy tour de force writing team of Al Murray, Matt Forde and Sean Foley,  Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image Saves the World promises to be the unmissable, laugh-out-loud show to kick-start 2023. 

The full creative team is:   Director Sean Foley, writers Al Murray, Matt Forde and Sean Foley, Caricaturist Supremo Roger Law, Set Designer, Alice Power, Video Designer Nina Dunn, Sound Designer Paul Groothuis, Lighting Designer Tim Mitchell, Puppet Master Scott Brooker, Costume Designer Lotte Collet, Choreographer Lizzi Gee, Composer Felix Hagan, Associate Composer and Musical Director Alexander Bermange Production Manager John Rowland, Associate Director Nyasha Gudo, Associate Sound Designer Simon King, Assistant Set Designer Catherine Morgan, Puppet Casting Director Mikey Brett, Creators of Spitting Image Peter Fluck and Roger Law, Producer for Birmingham Rep Chloe Naldrett, General Manager Emma Brunjes and Executive Producers Richard Allen-Turner and Jon Thoday for Avalon.

The puppeteers are:  Will PalmerTom QuinnKatie BradleyRayo PatelPaula Brett, Jojo LinKaidan DawkinsChand MartinezPena LiyamboFaye WeerasingheBertie Harris and Helen Parke. 

World famous celebrities will be thrown together as Tom Cruise is tasked by King Charles with saving Great Britain. Greta Thunberg duets with Stormzy as Putin and Xi watch on from their premium seats in the stalls. Have they just come out for a night on the town? Or will they wipe out all of civilisation?  A show simultaneously inspired and appalled by real events.

Sean Foley said:   ‘Trying to develop a satirical comedy based on the shifting politics of today has been the original fool’s errand: we’ve already thrown away 3 entire scripts – and several famous puppets aren’t even going to make their stage debuts anymore… But the sheer joy of casting Tom Cruise alongside King Charles, Greta Thunberg, RuPaulPrince Harry and Meghan Markle has made up for it. To be premiering this theatrical extravaganza in Birmingham, the home of the original ground-breaking television series, is a wonderful thrill.’

‘It’s a who’s who of the good, the bad and the ugly’ commented Al Murray. ‘I know Marvel like to say it,  but our show is the greatest cross over event of all time.  Where else could you get Michael Gove, Tom Cruise, Sir Ian McKellen, Idris Elba, Daniel Craig, Fiona Bruce and Paddington Bear on a single stage?’

Matt Forde added: ‘We are living through an insane, abnormal, infuriating period, so the timing of this show couldn’t be better. It’s vital that we see our leaders lampooned with cutting satire and yes, whacked over the head with a big stick.’ 

The BAFTA and Emmy award-winning satirical Spitting Image television series originally ran for 18 series between 1984 and 1996, and was watched by over 15 million viewers. It recently made a popular return to TV on BritBox, where across official social media channels, Spitting Image content has been hugely popular with over 200 million views globally, three number 1 trending videos on YouTube and achieved critical praise across the political divide.  Three one-off specials for ITV have also seen huge success on terrestrial television: with a 4.4 million audience achieving ITV’s highest Saturday night ratings at that time in four years.

Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image Saves the World, Live on Stage is presented by Avalon and Birmingham Rep.

STATEMENT: CAST CHANGE 2:22 A GHOST STORY AT THE LYRIC THEATRE JAKE WOOD REPRISES HIS ROLE AS BEN; HUGO CHEGWIN WITHDRAWS DUE TO ILLNESS

Runaway Entertainment presents

2:22 – A GHOST STORY

The hit play by Danny Robins

Directed by Matthew Dunster
@222AGhostStory #222AGhostStory

Runaway Entertainment is delighted to announce that Jake Wood will reprise  his award-winning role of Ben in 2:22 A Ghost Story, after Hugo Chegwin has sadly had to withdraw from the production due to illness during the rehearsal period. Jake Wood will perform from 26 January until the end of the run, and previews up until that performance will be covered by understudy Ben Cutler.

The Producers have said: ‘Due to illness during the rehearsal period, Hugo Chegwin has sadly had to withdraw from the production. We are delighted to welcome Jake Wood back to the 2:22family.’

Jake Wood was one of the original cast members of 2:22 A Ghost Story when it opened in summer 2021 at the Noel Coward Theatre, along with Lily Allen, Julia Chan and Hadley Fraser. Jake won the What’s On Stage Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.

Jake Wood said“It was an honour to originate the role of Ben at the Noel Coward, winning the What’s On Stage best supporting performer in a male identifying role in a play Award for 2021, and I am so excited to be rejoining the cast until the end of April. Danny Robins’ script is funny, touching, and so entertaining and easily the best play I have ever read. If you’ve seen the show before, come back and see it again and I promise that you will enjoy it just as much as I know I will the second time around.”

Hugo Chegwin said:‘I’ve had the flu. Due to being poorly during the rehearsal period, I’ve had to pull out of the play. I’m absolutely gutted about this and I wish everyone involved in the play the best of luck. The cast are truly amazing’

This is the fourth West End transfer of Danny Robins’ edge-of-your-seat, supernatural thriller 2:22 – A Ghost Story. The Lyric is the show’s biggest house to date and follows two hugely successful seasons at the Criterion. Last year 2:22 A Ghost Story had Olivier Nominations including Best New Play, and won the Best New Play category in the Whatsonstage awards.

The production began its life in the summer of 2021 at the Noel Coward Theatre starring Lily Allen, Julia Chan, Hadley Fraser and Jake Wood. It then transferred to the Gielgud Theatre for 10 weeks from 4 December 2021. The production there, starring Stephanie Beatriz, James Buckley, Elliot Cowan and Giovanna Fletcher, completed its run on 12 February 2022. The first cast at the Criterion Theatre featured Tom Felton, Mandip Gill, Beatriz Romilly, Sam Swainsbury and the current Criterion Theatre cast Tamsin Carroll as Lauren; Felix Scott as Sam, Matt Willis as Ben and Laura Whitmore as Jenny, ended its run on 8 January. The US premiere of 2:22 A Ghost Story at the Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles opened on 29 October and ended its run on 4 December 2022.

2.22 – A Ghost Story is written by award-winning writer Danny Robins, creator of the hit BBC podcast The Battersea Poltergeist and it is directed by Matthew Dunster. Intriguing, funny and scary, it takes audiences into one adrenaline-fueled night where secrets will emerge and ghosts may appear….What do you believe? And do you dare to discover the truth?

“There’s something in our house. I hear it every night, at the same time.”

Jenny believes her new home is haunted, but her husband Sam isn’t having any of it. They argue with their first dinner guests, old friend Lauren and her new partner Ben. Can the dead really walk again? Belief and scepticism clash, but something feels strange and frightening, and that something is getting closer, so they are going to stay up… until 2.22am… and then they will know.

2:22 – A Ghost Story features set design by Anna Fleischle, costume design by Cindy Lin, lighting design by Lucy Carter, sound by Ian Dickinson for Autograph Sound, casting by Matilda James, CDG, illusions by Chris Fisher, and associate direction by Matt Hassall.

2:22 – A Ghost Story is produced by Tristan Baker and Charlie Parsons for Runaway Entertainment, Isobel David and Kater Gordon. 

TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW FROM WWW.222AGHOSTSTORY.COM

Tosca – Opera North Review

Leeds Grand Theatre – until 2 March 2023

Reviewed by Dawn Smallwood

5*****

Puccini’s Tosca returns to Opera North’s repertoire in their 2023 Winter Season. This well-known opera is set to Giacomo Puccini’s music, Giuseppe Giacoso and Luigi Illica’s libretto and is based on Victorien Sardou’s play. This production, premiered in 2018, eagerly returns and is directed by Edward Dick. Tosca is tense, passionate, political, and powerful – themes which one can resonate with today’s current affairs. Tosca, like many stories, there is a villain, courtesy of Baron Scarpio who is Chief of Police, and a hero, Flora Tosca who is a singer.

Tosca explores the unrequited love between Floria Tosca (Giselle Allen) and Mario Cavaradossi (Mykhailo Malafii). The narrative is complicated with the arrival of Cesare Angelotti (Callum Thorpe), a political prisoner and escapee, and the unwelcome arrival of Scarpia (Robert Hayward) and his agents who are on the hunt of Angelotti.

The narrative unfolds with Scarpia’s abuse of power and with the support of his agents, Cavaradossi is unlawfully arrested, and the insurmountable interrogation begins. Scarpia’s misuse of power turns to passionate lust for Tosca, and he emotionally blackmails her for Cavaradossi’s release. This only leads to tragedy and the final opportunity for both Tosca and Cavaradossi to requisite their love.

Puccini’s powerful and melodramatic musical score is done under the musical direction of Garry Walker and the well-known arias are sung such as the energetic Te deum, the soulful Vissi d’arte and the poignant and tragic E lucevan le stelle. Excellent and evocative portrayals of Cavaradossi, Scarpia and Tosca by Malafii, Allen and Hayward (who the latter two played the characters in the production when it premiered in 2018). They are supported by a strong and talented cast and the chorus of Opera North and with Maxine Braham’s choreography.

What must be mentioned is Tom Scutt’s eye catching and captivating set which is staged versatility for its different spaces and positions throughout the opera. The golden dome and the colourful and attentive fresco of Mary Magdalene, who is immortalised, works ever so well with the characters and plots. The staging compliments with Lee Curran’s lighting which the light and obscurity transpires to the narrative’s general moods and Fotini Dimou’s haute couture’s costumes are exclusive for the characters. `

This popular opera was certainly written ahead of its time and whenever it’s played as a new production or a reprisal, it resonates to everyone and everywhere now as much as when it did. Tosca reminisces dramatically and powerfully now and in the future.

The Johnny Cash Roadshow: Through The Years Review

Forum Theatre, Malvern – 19th January 2023

Reviewed by Courie Amado Juneau

5*****

Last year I was fortunate enough to review The Johnny Cash Roadshow and loved it. So it was with great anticipation that I jumped at the chance of catching the gang again this year. And man oh man, did they warm this old heart on one very cold night in frosty Malvern!

The lights dimmed, the massive video wall gave us a snippet of The Man in Black talking about his music and the band soon tore into a trio of hits from the great man’s early days of Sun Records, including “Hey Porter”. This year’s show is a tour through the years and each era and significant milestone was covered.

Clive John is a wonderful Cash, not an impression – more an inhabitation. He sounds, looks and dresses like him and has his mannerisms. And he has a warm, funny, personable stage presence that I could very happily spend hours in the company of. But, of course, his principle job is to pay homage to the man and his music and he does this with commendable artistry and obvious affection.

Meghan Thomas is the band’s June Cash, performing on Autoharp (when do you ever get the chance normally to hear one of those?), dancing and providing backing vocals. Just like the original Mrs Cash, she is an integral and most welcome part of this show.

There are so many classic country songs in the set that it would take forever to list them, but the climax of the first half is indicative of the evening’s entertainment. “City of New Orleans” (complete with horns) a song that Cash wasn’t known for – the show mixing it up, keeping it fresh for those who’ve seen the show before. “Long Black Veil” is an emotional ballad, both haunting and tender. And then there’s “I Still Miss Someone” (one of the best songs ever written, a veritable anthem to the jilted and lonely).

After the break more of the same – rightly so, why change something working so well? “Folsom Prison Blues”, into a Gospel section, into a fantastic Clive John original “September” which showcased his songwriting talent (I loved his original from last year’s set too) and then into some songs from Cash’s last years “Rusty Cage” and his last hit “Hurt”. Powerful stuff! And that’s not even mentioning the price of admission worthy “Ghost Riders In The Sky”…

Mark Knopfler’s “Next Time I’m In Town” echoed how we were all undoubtedly feeling – awaiting the Roadshow’s return before they had even finished tonight’s show, which they did in epic style with (naturally) “Ring Of Fire”.

Some nights everything comes together to produce the perfect evening – a songbook that spans decades, a band that is well drilled, performers who command the stage and an eager audience there to appreciate the spectacle on offer. Tonight was one such night. Thank you all concerned and here’s to next year. Ladies and gentlemen, “he’s Johnny Cash” (and so are his band).

The Unfriend Review

Criterion Theatre – until 16 April 2023

Reviewed by Claire Roderick

4****

Steven Moffat’s hilarious new comedy of manners has killer jokes and a cast to die for. Based on an incident that actually happened to his friend, Moffat has taken a ridiculous situation and amped the cringe factor up to 11.

Uptight middle class couple Peter (Reece Shearsmith) and Debbie (Amanda Abbington) meet the gregarious American Elsa (Frances Barber) on a cruise, and begrudgingly end up giving her their contact details, expecting her to do what all decent holiday acquaintances do – promise to keep in touch but never, ever make contact again. They haven’t reckoned with the force of nature that is Elsa, and she arranges to come and stay with them. Belatedly worrying about who exactly they are welcoming into their home, Debbie googles Elsa and discovers that she has probably murdered 6 people, but there is lack of evidence to prosecute. However, as it is too late to “unfriend” Elsa on Facebook, Elsa arrives and the couple are too polite to confront her, and their feeble attempts to broach the subject end effectively when they don’t want to upset her. Elsa’s presence in the house elicits a remarkable transformation in their two teenage children. The couple’s relationship with their children is slightly bizarre – this is a man who has forbidden his son from farting downstairs, instead banishing him to a less public area. Elsa is soon playing computer games with Alex (Gabriel Howell), and encouraging him to leave the house and exercise, while Rosie (Maddie Holliday) stops prowling around eavesdropping and begins to chat happily with her parents. “She’s Murder Poppins!”

The laughs come fast and regularly, with Barber chewing the scenery as the brash and uninhibited American and Shearsmith brilliantly squirming as he must deal with increasingly embarrassing and uncomfortable situations. The second act scene where he is trying to ascertain whether a policeman has been poisoned by Elsa is a masterclass in physical comedy as Shearsmith squirms and stutters through the excruciating situation. Abbington has a less showy role, but is wonderful as the equally uptight Debbie. “It’s been 6 days and no murders” says Peter at one stage. The couple’s almost pathological avoidance of embarrassment and conflict (except with their children) allows Elsa to settle in and get to know the neighbour (Michael Simkins nailing the passive aggressive bore) before she finally moves on after Debbie finally speaks her mind, but not without leaving an unusual parting gift. The comedy of manners is a delight and asks light-hearted questions about the emotional intelligence of traditional middle-class manners.

This isn’t a ground-breaking comedy, and has the comfortable feel of the farces of the 70s and 80s, but with a contemporary sharpness and wit. Moffat knows how to tell a story, and director Mark Gatiss knows how to sell a story. The Unfriend is fast, funny and full of cracking one liners.