26 December 2019

2019 Theatre Top 10

With the year nearly over it's time to look back on our 10 favourite productions. 2019 has been a great year for theatre and I've seen some amazing productions, so much so that choosing this list was really difficult. Let me know what your favourite productions have been in the comment section.

10. Six
The smash-hit musical re-tells the stories of Henry VIII's Six wives from their perspective. Its pop-concert feel has made it continues to sell out in London's Arts Theatre as well as hugely successful runs on a UK tour, Broadway, Chicago, Australia and more. Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss it's just a storming joy and you can't help but be swept up entirely by this piece and the magnificently designed production. I saw the show twice this year in London and look forward to catching the UK tour next year when it visits Curve.

Six continues at London's Arts Theatre as well as productions touring the UK, on Broadway and beyond. Visit https://www.sixthemusical.com/ for more.
Six The Musical. Photo by Eleanor Howarth
9. The Taming of the Shrew
The Royal Shakespeare Company have had a great year and I loved their productions over the summer season but the stand out was the gender-swapped production of The Taming of the Shrew. Justin Audibert's production gives the play a fresh feeling and made it feel more alive than I've encountered previously. A tremendous company led by Claire Price as Petruchia and Joseph Arkley as Katherine deliver this great Shakespeare play outstandingly.

The Taming of the Shrew plays in rep with As You Like It and Measure For Measure at the Barbican in London until 18th January. The three productions then tour the UK and the world. Visit https://www.rsc.org.uk/ to book.
Joseph Arkley as Katherine and Claire Price as Petruchia in The Taming of the Shrew. Photo by Ikin Yum
8. The Season
Northampton's Royal and Derngate and Ipswich's New Wolsey Theatre co-production of new musical The Season was magnificent. Jim Barne and Kit Buchan's production followed Dougal as he headed to New York on Christmas Eve for his Dad's wedding. He's greeted at the airport by Robin, as it's her sister who is marrying Dougal's father. The pair get thrown together for a wild weekend and a blossoming romance. A brilliant two-hander with Alex Cardall as Dougal and Tori Allen-Martin, both of whom were superb. I adored this festive rom-com and hope there's a future for this show.

Read our 5-star review for The Season here https://www.beyondthecurtain.co.uk/2019/11/the-season-review.html
Alex Cardall and Tori Allen-Martin in The Season. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography
7. War Horse
War Horse might not be a new piece but this year was the first time I'd seen the stage version. I was absolutely transfixed by this remarkable story and the stunning staging during it's run at Curve. Michael Morpurgo's tale of Albert Narracott and his horse Joey is moving and gripping. Despite the fact I'd previously seen the film I was on the edge of my seat for the entire performance.

The production is currently in Paris and on a world tour. Visit https://www.warhorseonstage.com/ to book.
Scott Miller as Albert in War Horse. Photo by Brinkhoff and Mogenburg
6. West Side Story
Curve's production of West Side Story delivers powerful effective storytelling. Nikolai Foster directs this compelling production of what is often referred to as the greatest musical. The music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim is gorgeous and with a talented company and one of the best orchestras you'll find on any production, this is a must-see. Jamie Muscato as Tony and Adriana Ivelisse both give wonderful performances as the star crossed lovers.

West Side Story plays at Curve until 18th January. Visit https://www.curveonline.co.uk/ to book.
West Side Story. Photo by Ellie Kurttz
5. Emilia
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's rousing play Emilia enjoyed a West End transfer earlier this year after opening at Shakespeare's Globe in 2018. A passionate and funny all-female production, both on stage and creatively, richly deserved the transfer and needs to be seen by all. Telling the story of Emilia Bassano who wanted her voice to be heard at a time when women simply weren't. Saffron Coomber, Adelle Leonce and Clare Perkins shared the title role playing her at different stages in her life. The remarkable final speech was worth the ticket fee alone. Revival, please.
The company of Emilia. Photo by Helen Murray.
4. The Boy In The Dress
The Royal Shakespeare Company have transferred David Walliams's The Boy in the Dress from page to stage in a musical adaptation. Adapted by Mark Ravenhill and with music and lyrics by Guy Chambers and Robbie Williams, it's a joyous production for all ages. The combination of the humour, heart and great music makes a magical theatre production. Four children share the lead role of Dennis, but both times I've been I've seen Toby Mocrei who is a complete star. Strong supporting performances from Rufus Hound as Dad, Forbes Masson as Mr Hawtrey and Irvine Iqbal as Raj further enhance this new musical which will run for years.

The Boy in the Dress continues at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 8th March 2020. Visit https://www.rsc.org.uk/the-boy-in-the-dress-musical/ to book.
The company of The Boy in the Dress. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
3. Dear Evan Hansen
The long-awaited West End transfer of the Broadway smash Dear Evan Hansen opened in November and rightly deserves its place on the West End stage where I suspect it'll play for quite some time. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul prove their quality as songwriters once again with songs that will be musical theatre classics in years to come. 'You Will Be Found' is a message that carries across the show and in this modern era of social media, this show is powerfully relevant. On the matinee I saw we had Marcus Harman in the lead role and he was breathtaking. Take tissues - you'll need them.

Dear Evan Hansen plays at London's Noel Coward Theatre. Visit https://dearevanhansen.com/ to book.
The London Cast of Dear Evan Hansen. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
2. Come From Away
Another musical to transfer from Broadway, Come From Away is simply remarkable. Telling the true story of the town of Gander in Newfoundland which welcomed stranded plane passengers with open arms in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. The message of hope and kindness drives through this one-act musical. Irene Sankoff and David Hein's original piece really is one of the best productions you'll ever see. The rousing stand ovation at the end is a euphoric moment. 12 cast members play dual roles perfectly - they all combine to make the show a success. Unmissable.

Come From Away plays at London's Phoenix Theatre. Visit https://comefromawaylondon.co.uk/ to book.
The original UK company of Come From Away.
1. Amelie
The stage adaptation of the French language movie Amelie is currently enjoying a run at London's The Other Palace following at runs at The Watermill Theatre and on a UK tour. Telling the tale of shy dreamer Amelie who creates moments of kindness for those around her but once she has a chance of romance it's whether she can come out of her shell and find her own happiness. This exquisite production totally wowed me and I've seen it 7 times now. The use of actor-musicians works perfectly to create this magically Parisian world. Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messe's music and lyrics are beautiful. Audrey Brisson in the lead role is perfection. It's quirky, magical and heart-warming.

Amelie plays at London's The Other Palace until February 1st 2020. Visit https://ameliethemusical.com/ to book.
The cast of Amelie. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography.

22 December 2019

Aladdin (De Montfort Hall) Review

With just days till Christmas, pantomime season is underway up and down the country. De Montfort Hall once again teams up with Imagine Theatre for this year's offering of Aladdin.
The cast of Aladdin. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography.
As pantomime goes this has all the elements that make it a delight throughout. A delicious baddie,  fun comic performances, dazzling magic tricks, plenty of audience participation and some great musical numbers.

Antony Costa relishes every moment as the evil Abanazar, he bats away the audience's boos and extra shout outs with great effect. There's a brilliant running joke where every character recognises him but every time they get the wrong boyband (McFly, Take That, Boyzone to name a few) which leads to him snapping in his final scene to remind the characters and the audience of his time in Blue and their success (and losing to Jedward at Eurovision). For those Blue fans, there is a rendition of 'One Love' and he also sings Queen's 'I Want It All' excellently.

Sam Bailey delights as So Shi, lady in waiting to Princess Jasmine, she boasts a powerhouse vocal range and sings brilliantly, making difficult numbers seem easy. It's not hard to see why she's been asked back for her fourth year running. Sam also shows her flair for comedy and she acts well and pulls some wonderful facial expressions especially around her blossoming romance with Wishie Washee.

Leicester pantomime veteran, Martin Ballard, once again takes on the Dame role for his 30th pantomime season. His Widow Twankey is a hoot. He's fantastic, full of energy and wit. He's matched by Paul Birling who brings his multitude of impressions to his delightful Wishee Washee. From Ant and Dec to Donald Trump and Harry Hill with plenty in between. Whilst all his impressions weren't recognisable, he's undoubtedly great fun to watch.

Together Martin and Paul have the traditional audience singalong moment where they bring up 4 kids to the stage from the audience. It's always a lovely moment but the song choices, 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain' and 'When The Saints Go Marching In' could have been better.
Sam Bailey (centre) and the ensemble. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography.
Matthew Pomeroy as Aladdin and Natasha Lamb as Princess Jasmine are perfectly cast as the romantic heart of the story. They provide magic routines that take your breath away and leave you puzzled to how they manage to pull it off. Matthew radiates star quality in every moment and would be at home leading his own large scale magic show. The pair sing a lovely rendition of Taylor Swift's 'Me'.

Nathan Connor is great fun as a body-popping Genie of the Lamp. Talking in rhyme throughout, it would have been fun to see more of him. Gabriella Polcino does a fine job with the Spirit of the Ring and gives a great rendition of 'Defying Gravity' from the musical Wicked. Demitri Lampra is wonderfully charming as the Emperor. The 4 adult and the junior ensemble perform the choreography of Dane Bates with great flair.

It's a visual spectacle throughout with brilliant set and costume design from the Imagine Theatre team. Matt Ladkin atmospheric lighting further enhances the visual spectacle. The magic carpet sequence delights the younger audience members as Aladdin soars across the stage. There's no pantomime horse here but instead an elephant.

It's not the perfect production but it's not far off. Kids around me and my nephew who I took along for his first-ever trip to the theatre loved it. He'll even be asking Santa for his own magic carpet next year and already wants to go again next year!

This pantomime dazzles with delights and should be an essential part of all families lives this Christmas.

Rating: ★★★★ - a near-perfect fantastically enjoyable treat for all ages. Everything a pantomime should be.

Aladdin continues at De Monfort Hall until Sunday 5th January. Visit http://www.demontforthall.co.uk/ to book.
Martin Ballard and Paul Burling and the junior ensemble. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

21 December 2019

Best of 2019 Theatre.

With another year down here I reflect on the best theatre I saw in 2019. It's been an incredible year for theatre and I've been very lucky to see some truly remarkable productions and performances. It's all for a bit of fun and my personal choice but I hope you enjoy. I'd love to know who your own picks would be if you were to do the same - let me know in the comments or tweet me.

Set Design
  • Beowulf Borritt - Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
  • Joanna Scotcher - Emilia (Vaudeville Theatre)
  • Basia Binkowska - Crooked Dances (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Madeleine Girling - Amelie (UK Tour)
  • Rae Smith - War Horse (UK Tour)
The UK Tour company of Amelie. Photo by Pamela Raith.
Lighting Design
  • Tim Deiling - Six (Arts Theatre)
  • Zoe Spurr - Emilia (Vaudeville Theatre)
  • Kenneth Posner - On Your Feet (West End/UK Tour)
  • Ben Cracknell - Rock of Ages (UK Tour)
  • Elliott Griggs - Amelie (UK Tour/The Other Palace)
  • Ben Cracknell - Priscilla: Queen of The Desert (UK Tour)
  • Mark Henderson - The Boy In The Dress (Royal Shakespeare Company)
The West End cast of Emilia. Photo by Helen Murray.
Costume Design
  • Gabriella Slade - Six (Arts Theatre)
  • Hannah Clark - The Taming of the Shrew (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Joanna Scotcher - Emilia (Vaudeville Theatre)
  • Mark Bailey - The Provoked Wife (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Charlie Cridlan - The Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare's Globe)
  • Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith - Priscilla: Queen of The Desert (UK Tour)
  • Robert Jones - The Boy In The Dress (Royal Shakespeare Company)
The Merry Wives of Windsor at Shakespeare's Globe. Photo by Helen Murray.
Choreography/Movement
  • Kelly Devine - Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
  • Sergio Trujillo - On Your Feet (West End/UK Tour)
  • Andrew Wright - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Kilworth House Theatre)
  • Arlene Phillips - Grease (UK Tour)
  • Tom Jackson-Greaves - Priscilla: Queen of The Desert (UK Tour)
  • Aletta Collins - The Boy In The Dress (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Ellen Kane - West Side Story (Curve)
The UK Tour Cast of Grease. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
Direction
  • Christopher Ashley - Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
  • Justin Audibert - The Taming of the Shrew (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Elle White - The Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare's Globe)
  • Andrew Wright - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Kilworth House Theatre)
  • Michael Fentiman - Amelie (UK Tour/The Other Palace)
  • Debbie Isitt - Nativity The Musical (UK Tour)
  • Nikolai Foster - West Side Story (Curve)
Joseph at Kilworth House Theatre. 
Orchestra/Musical Direction
  • George Francis - Amelie (UK Tour/The Other Palace)
  • Alfonso Casado - Les Miserables: The Staged Concert (Gielgud Theatre)
  • Dan Glover - Nativity The Musical (UK Tour)
  • Stu Barker - Pippi Longstocking (Royal and Derngate)
  • George Dyer - West Side Story (Curve)
  • Alan Berry - Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
The cast of West Side Story at Curve. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
Supporting Actress In A Play
  • Sophie Stanton (Gremia) - The Taming of the Shrew (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Laura Elsworthy (Trania) - The Taming of the Shrew (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Charity Wakefield (William Shakespeare) - Emilia (Vaudeville Theatre)
  • Sarah Seggari (Lady Cordelia/Flora) - Emilia (Vaudeville Theatre)
  • Caroline Quentin (Lady Fancyfull) - The Provoked Wife (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Boadicea Ricketts (Anne Page/John Rugby) - The Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare's Globe)
  • Nicole Jebeli (Tania) - My Beautiful Laundrette (UK Tour)
  • Evlyne Oyedokun (Zoe) - One Under (UK Tour)
Evlyne Oyedokun and Stanley J Browne in One Under. Photo by Patrick Baldwin.
Supporting Actor In A Play
  • James Cooney (Bianco) - The Taming of the Shrew (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • John Hodgkinson (Heartfree) - The Provoked Wife (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Jude Owusu (Frank Ford) - The Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare's Globe)
  • Stephen Fewell (Pierre) - Venice Preserved (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • John Hodgkinson (Antonio) - Venice Preserved (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Joseph Arkley (Lucio) - Measure For Measure (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Alan Magor (Detective Sergeant Trotter) - The Mousetrap (St Martin's Theatre)
  • Reece Pantry (Sonny) - One Under (UK Tour)
John Hodgkinson in Venice Preserved. Photo by Helen Maybanks.
Leading Actress In A Play
  • Lucy Phelps (Rosalind) - As You Like It (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Claire Price (Petruchia) - The Taming of the Shrew (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Clare Perkins (Emilia 3)  - Emilia (Vaudeville Theatre)
  • Alexandra Gilbreath (Lady Brute) - The Provoked Wife (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Jodie McNee (Belvidera) - Venice Preserved (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Lucy Phelps (Isabella) - Measure For Measure (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Jodie Prenger (Helen) - A Taste of Honey (UK Tour)
  • Gemma Dobson (Jo) - A Taste of Honey (UK Tour)
Lucy Phelps as Isabella in Measure for Measure. Photo by Helen Maybanks.
Leading Actor In A Play
  • Joseph Arkley (Katherine) - The Taming of the Shrew (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Jonathan Slinger (Sir John Brute) - The Provoked Wife (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Rufus Hound (Constant) - The Provoked Wife (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Pearce Quigley (Falstaff) - The Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare's Globe)
  • Rav Moore (Dini) - Bollywood Jane (Curve)
  • Shane Richie (Archie Rice) - The Entertainer (Curve)
  • Omar Malik (Omar) - My Beautiful Laundrette (UK Tour)
  • Jonny Fines (Johnny) - My Beautiful Laundrette (UK Tour)
  • Scott Miller (Albert Narracott) - War Horse (UK Tour)
Chloe Wilson and Rav Moore in Bollywood Jane. Photo by Pamela Raith.
Understudy/Alternative Performance In A Play
  • Laura Elsworthy (Rosalind) - As You Like It (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Aaron Thiara (Orlando) - As You Like It (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Amelia Donkor (Celia) - As You Like It (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Rosalind Steele (Aquilina) - Venice Preserved (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Aaron Thiara as Orlando in As You Like It. Photo from Instagram.
Male Understudy/Alternative Performance In A Musical
  • Stuart Hickey (Bill Austin) - Mamma Mia (Novello Theatre)
  • Jake Sharp (Dewey Finn) - School of Rock (Gillian Lynne Theatre)
  • Christopher McGuigan (Joe) - Waitress (Adelphi Theatre)
  • Alexander McMorran (Claude and others) - Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
  • Marcus Harman (Evan Hansen) - Dear Evan Hansen (Noel Coward Theatre)
  • Mark Dugdale (Kevin T/Garth) - Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
Jake Sharp as Dewey Finn in School of Rock. Photo by Twitter User @AspiringSeymour
Female Understudy/Alternative Performance In A Musical
  • Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky (Zahara) - Bat Out Of Hell (Dominion Theatre)
  • Courtney Stapleton (Catherine Parr) - Six (Arts Theatre)
  • Tania Mathurin (Hannah and others) - Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
  • Jennifer Tierney (Bonnie and others) - Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
  • Charlotte Riby (Becky) - Waitress (Adelphi Theatre)
  • Lisa-Anne Wood (Glinda) - Wicked (Apollo Victoria)
  • Emma Jane Morton (Suzanne) - Amelie (UK Tour)
  • Vicki Manser (Anna of Cleves) - Six The Musical (Arts Theatre)
  • Serina Mathews (Carmen) - Fame (UK Tour)
Lisa-Anne Wood as Glinda in Wicked. Photo by Matt Crockett
Supporting Actress In A Musical
  • Kate Robson-Stuart (Suzanne) - Amelie (UK Tour)
  • Faoileann Cunningham (Georgette/Sylvie) - Amelie (UK Tour)
  • Carrie Hope Fletcher (Fantine) - Les Miserables: The Staged Concert (Gielgud Theatre)
  • Ashleigh Gray (Jennifer Lore) - Nativity The Musical (UK Tour)
  • Charlotte Wakefield (Miss Windsor/Mum) - The Boy In The Dress (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Tabitha Knowles (Lisa James) - The Boy In The Dress (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Carly Mercedes Dyer (Anita) - West Side Story (Curve)
  • Hanora Kamen (Ebba/Mr Nilsson/PC Nyeberg) - Pippi Longstocking (Royal and Derngate)
Tabitha Knowles and Toby Mocrei in The Boy in the Dress. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
Supporting Actor In A Musical
  • Lucas Rush (Lonnie) - Rock of Ages (UK Tour)
  • Hywel Dowswell (Simeon/Baker) - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Kilworth House Theatre)
  • Jez Unwin (Raphael/Bretodeau) - Amelie (UK Tour)
  • Matt Lucas (Thenardier) - Les Miserables: The Staged Concert (Gielgud Theatre)
  • Jamie Chapman (Patrick Burns and others)  - Nativity The Musical (UK Tour)
  • Rufus Hound (Dad) - The Boy In The Dress (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Forbes Masson (Mr Hawtrey) - The Boy In The Dress (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Jack Loxton (Jared Kleinman)  - Dear Evan Hansen (Noel Coward Theatre)
  • Isaac Gryn (Action) - West Side Story (Curve)
Lucas Rush in Rock of Ages. Photo by The Other Richard.
Leading Actress In A Musical
  • Rachel Tucker (Beverley/Annette and others) - Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
  • Emma Salvo (Janice and others) - Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
  • The Queens of Six The Musical: Jarniea Richard-Noel (Catherine of Aragon), Millie O'Connell (Anne Boleyn), Natalie Paris (Jane Seymour), Alexia McIntosh (Anna of Cleves), Aimie Atkinson (Katherine Howard) and Maiya Quansah-Breed (Catherine Parr) -  Six (Arts Theatre)
  • Cecily Redman (Kate Monster/Lucy The Slut) - Avenue Q (UK Tour)
  • Christie Prades (Gloria Estefan) - On Your Feet (West End/UK Tour)
  • Lucie Jones (Jenna) - Waitress (Adelphi Theatre)
  • Audrey Brisson (Amelie) - Amelie (UK Tour)
  • Tori Allen-Martin (Robin) - The Season (Royal and Derngate/New Wolsey Theatre)
  • Adriana Ivelisse (Maria) - West Side Story (Curve)
  • Emily-Mae (Pippi Longstocking) - Pippi Longstocking (Royal and Derngate)
Audrey Brisson as Amelie. Photo by Pamela Raith.
Leading Actor In A Musical
  • Jonathan Hume (Kevin J/Ali and others) - Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
  • Jake Sharp (u/s Dewey Finn) - School of Rock (Gillian Lynne Theatre)
  • Danny Mac (Nino) - Amelie (UK Tour)
  • Christopher Weeks (Buddy Holly) - Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (UK Tour)
  • Scott Paige (Mr Poppy) - Nativity The Musical (UK Tour)
  • John Partridge (Emcee) - Cabaret (UK Tour)
  • Toby Mocrei (Dennis) - The Boy In The Dress (Royal Shakespeare Company)
  • Alex Cardall (Dougal) - The Season (Royal and Derngate/New Wolsey Theatre)
  • Marcus Harman (Evan Hansen) - Dear Evan Hansen (Noel Coward Theatre)
  • Jamie Muscato (Tony) - West Side Story (Curve)
  • Chris Jared (Nino) - Amelie (The Other Palace)
Alex Cardall and Tori Allen-Martin in The Season. Photo by Pamela Raith. 
Best Plays
  • The Taming of the Shrew (Royal Shakespeare Theatre)
  • Emilia (Vaudeville Theatre)
  • War Horse (UK Tour)
  • Crooked Dances (The Other Place Studio)
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare's Globe)
  • Measure For Measure (Royal Shakespeare Theatre)
  • My Beautiful Laundrette (UK Tour)
  • One Under (UK Tour)
War Horse. Photo by Brinkhoff and Mogenburg
Best Musicals
  • Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)
  • Amelie (UK Tour)
  • The Boy In The Dress (Royal Shakespeare Theatre)
  • The Season (Royal and Derngate/New Wolsey Theatre)
  • West Side Story (Curve)
  • Dear Evan Hansen (Noel Coward Theatre)
  • Six (Arts Theatre)
  • Pippi Longstocking (Royal and Derngate)
The Original London Cast of Come From Away.

14 December 2019

Pippi Longstocking Review

Astrid Lindgren's much-loved stories of Pippi Longstocking arrive on the stage at Northampton's Royal Theatre in time for Christmas. Adapted for the stage for the Royal and Derngate by Mike Akers. This magical tale of a 9-year-old girl is fantastically imagined on stage in a swashbuckling musical adventure.
Matthew Churcher (Tommy), Emily-Mae (Pippi), Hanora Kamen (Mr Nilsoon) and Philippa Hogg (Annika).
Photo by Manuel Harlan.
Telling the story of nine-year-old Pippi. After she and her father get shipwrecked in a storm, she is separated and alone except for her monkey and her horse. They head for the small town called Little Town where she knows the family villa, the Villa Villekulla is and where she can live. Along the way, Pippi causes chaos as she doesn't stick to the rules and meets a colourful collection of characters once she arrives in the town. Naturally, by the end Pippa does becomes the hero of the story by the end.

There's no denying that the first act is the weaker of the two. The production feels like it's stuck under the initial storm clouds for the first 20 minutes or so before it really takes off, but once it does it becomes really enjoyable with the second act being much slicker and moving along at a better pace.

Emily-Mae does a fantastic job in the title role. She has boundless energy and lights up the stage with her presence. Alex Parry does a fine job of characterising Mr Settegren, especially in the second act as the festival comes around and everything goes wrong around him. Hanora Kamen gives an outstanding performance in three roles. Playing the monkey Mr Nilsson, schoolteacher Ebba and PC Nyeberg.
Hanora Kamen as Mr Nilsson.
Photo by Manuel Harlan
The music for the production is composed by Stu Barker. The style as described by Stu in the programme notes is gypsy swing/gypsy ska for Pippi and for the villagers given a more folky feel. It's a lovely collection of songs and I've been humming the Pippi Longstocking number where Pippi sings about her name ever since I heard it. The actor-musician company really works bringing this score to life.

Katie Sykes design is a bit bare but as she describes this allows you to create the world in your mind. It's a clever concept that ultimately works well especially alongside Sally Ferguson's lighting design. Co-directors Jesse Jones and Helena Middleton use the Royal Theatre space brilliantly, with the action spilling of the stage a couple of times including a wonderful chase as the two police officers try to catch Pippi. Cressida Carré's movement is energetic and enhances the characters and production.

There's lots in the piece for young and old to enjoy and that's what makes this production a success. With lots of audience interaction, great comedy sequences (particularly with a gateau!) and great musical numbers. Pippi Longstocking and her adventures are well worth sharing in.

Rating: ★★★★ - brilliantly imaginative staging with a great score and a strong company.

Pippi Longstocking plays at Northampton's Royal Theatre until Tuesday 31st December. To book visit https://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/whats-on/pippi-longstocking/
The company of Pippi Longstocking. Photo by Manuel Harlan

12 December 2019

Giraffes Can't Dance Review

Guy Parker-Rees and Giles Andreae's best selling picture book, Giraffes Can't Dance, is wonderfully reimagined for the stage in a co-production between Curve, Rose Theatre Kingston and Simon Friend.
The cast of Giraffes Can't Dance. Photo by Pamela Raith.
Julia Thomas has done a fabulous job with her adaptation and direction. She makes the piece instantly interactive as the cast mingles with the audience prior to the show starting. This really helps the younger audience members get involved. That inclusive message of self-belief and acceptance carries through the piece.

Telling the story of Gerald the Giraffe who longs to go to the great Jungle Dance (think Strictly Come Dancing but with jungle animals!), but can't due to the fact he can't dance. With the help of a kind cricket (and the support of the audience - who are referred to as ants) Gerald is encouraged with the notion that everyone is different and we can all succeed when we find our own song. Predictably by the end finds Gerald finds his rhythm and wows with his own dance routine.

Tasha Taylor Johnson has created a great soundtrack which brings the beats of the jungle to life. The songs are catchy and enthusiastically performed. Clever design by Simon Kenny and with lighting by Jane Lalljee enhance the feel of the jungle with a vibrant colour scheme. Mel Knott's movement is fresh, with a classy feel to numbers like the Tangoing Tigers or the Waltz Walruses. There is also nods to more modern dances including those made famous by the game Fortnite.
Sophie Coward as Gerald the Giraffe.
Photo by Pamela Raith.
The 5 cast members are full of energy and are clearly having a fun time performing the piece. Sophie Coward is tremendous as Gerald, particularly in the scenes where he's lost hope. She conveys the emotions of the character really well. Phyllis Ho is charming as the cricket, she's instantly likeable. Joshua Coley, Gracia Rios and Jason Yeboa carry a lot of the show with numerous quick changes and playing various jungle friends, they do a fantastic job in all the roles. All 5 interact well with the audience and the audience interacts well back - at no time does it feel forced.

It's wonderful to see audiences members, especially the younger ones, so engrossed with the piece. Getting younger ones into the theatre is so vital and there can't be many better shows to get the youngsters on board than this. It carries a beautiful message that we all may be different, that it's okay to feel lonely and perhaps you just haven't found your own song yet. 55 minutes of jungle joy.

Rating: ★★★★ - brilliantly crafted engaging family theatre with an important message. A joy for the young and the young at heart.

Giraffes Can't Dance plays at Curve until Sunday 5th January 2020 visit https://www.curveonline.co.uk/ to book. It plays at the Rose Theatre Kingston between 8th and 19th April 2020 https://www.rosetheatrekingston.org with a tour planned.
Gracia Rios and Joshua Coley as Jungle Friends. Photo by Pamela Raith

3 December 2019

Christmas at the Turbine Theatre.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, at The Turbine…

The Christmas season is officially underway at The Turbine. From Sunday 8 December – Sunday 22 December the Battersea Power Station based theatre launches their Christmas At The Turbine. Artistic Director Paul Taylor-Mills, has curated a series of special one-off events with some of the West End’s most talented stars.

These unique events include intimate performances, Q&As and a workshop with: Luke Bayer (Everyone’s Talking About Jamie), Natalie Paris (Six), Samantha Barks (Les Misérables/Pretty Woman), Jodie Steele (Heathers/Rock Of Ages), Sophie Issacs (Heathers/Cruel Intensions), T’Shan Williams (Heathers/The Life), Louise Dearman (Side Show/Wicked), Laura Pitt-Pulford (Side Show/Falsettos) and Tyrone Huntley (Jesus Chris Superstar/Memphis).

Other events include a night with Rumour Mill (the revue and cabaret show), Matthew Shaw (one of the UK's most celebrated singing teachers), and Carnaval del Barrio (the stars of the London production of In The Heights re-uniting for a one off concert).

Paul Taylor-Mills said, “I’m over the moon that we are marking our first Christmas at the Turbine with a series of special one off events. These events will compliment our main Christmas offering which is the family favourite, The Cat in the Hat. I’m going to be joined by some of the most incredible artists who have informed my career to date and to have them with us at The Turbine for our first Christmas is a real honour.

“We’ve got intimate cabarets with some of the leading names in musical theatre, special one off reunions and even a bit of naughty burlesque! I like to think of it as our very own advent calendar of delights! A bit of something for everyone. Come and have mince pies and mulled wine with us all.”

Christmas At The Turbine will run in conjunction with the theatre's first family show, Dr Seuss’s much-loved classic, The Cat In The Hat. The production is adapted for the stage by Katie Mitchell, directed by Lillie Collier, and runs from 11 December - 11 January 2020.

Full Listings:

LUKE BAYER & NATALIE PARIS SING SONGS FROM THE MOVIES
Sunday 8 December – 8pm

Luke Bayer, star of Everyone's Talking About Jamie and Natalie Paris, star of Six join forces for a special-one off concert that will showcase some of the best numbers written for the silver screen. The evening promises to be a magical night not to be missed.



RUMOUR MILL: A NIGHT OF BURLESQUE
Thursday 12 December – 8pm

Just like a rumour, everyone is talking about Rumour Mill and we are thrilled to be showing off at the fabulous Turbine Theatre! A spectacular theatrical feast, combining the very best in Burlesque, Boylesque, slick choreographed showgirls and showboys. Rumour Mill is a 5 star show with a 5 star cast. Like nothing you've seen before, but you'll definitely want to see again!




MATTHEW SHAW AND FRIENDS
Friday 13 December – 8pm

Matthew is one of the UK's most celebrated singing teachers. He shares his approach to singing and will share practical advice on his antidotes and methods. Matthew has worked as a voice coach for various West End performers and also regularly coaches in the pop world. He has worked with artists including Rita Ora, Pixie Lott, Billy Ocean, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Saturdays, Pussycat Dolls, Liberty X, Steps and The Wanted. Expect some surprise appearances from some of his favourite clients.




CARNAVAL DEL BARRIO AT CHRISTMAS
Sunday 15 December – 8pm
Stars of the London production of In The Heights re-unite for a special one off concert, which celebrates the musical they made together and their careers since. This promises to be a once in lifetime, not to be missed event.
 

NIGHT CAP WITH SAMANTHA BARKS
Monday 16 December – 8pm

Star of the Les Misérables film and fresh from her run in Pretty Woman on Broadway, Sam is one of the first lady's of musical theatre on both sides of the pond. This special Night Cap will see her singing songs from the shows that shaped her whilst sharing stories about her journey to become one of the UK's most celebrated artists in musical theatre.



JODIE STEELE, SOPHIE ISSACS & T’SHAN WILLIAMS PRESENT THE ULTIMATE HEATHERS WORKSHOP
Thursday 19 December – 10.30am-1.30pm

In a rare one off opportunity the three original UK Heathers are joining forces to lead a practical workshop that will focus on some of their numbers from the multi-award winning show. They will also share their experiences of being involved in the show and how it has informed their careers. This is a practical workshop so please be prepared to move. All abilities welcome. Early booking is advised. 15+. (Please note this workshop will not be at The Turbine. Those that book will be advised on venue once places are booked.)
 


LOUISE DEARMAN AND LAURA PITT-PULFORD: WE SHARE EVERYTHING
Friday 20 December – 8pm

Two of the first ladies of musical theatre join Paul Taylor-Mills in an intimate one off concert. Laura and Louise first worked together on the award winning production of Side Show. Expect songs from the acclaimed show with some surprises thrown in for good measure.



NIGHT CAP WITH TYRONE HUNTLEY
Sunday 22 December – 7pm

Evening Standard Award winner Tyrone Huntley joins Paul Taylor-Mills in an intimate Night Cap. Expect songs from some of shows that shaped his career and stories about his celebrated career to date.


CHRISTMAS AT THE TURBINE THEATRE
SUNDAY 8 DECEMBER – SUNDAY 22 DECEMBER 2019

Address: The Turbine Theatre, Arches Lane, Circus West Village, London, SW11 8A*

*All events will be held at the Turbine Theatre, apart from the Heathers Workshop, which will be held at a nearby location – venue TBC.  

Box Office: 0207 851 0300
Tickets: Tickets from £20*
*The Heathers Workshop on Thursday 19 December will be £40 per ticket
Facebook/Twitter/Instagram: @TurbineTheatre

#PoweringTheImagination

28 November 2019

The Boy In The Dress Review

Hot off on the back of Matilda's success both in the UK and beyond, the Royal Shakespeare Company now turn to the modern-day Roald Dahl and give The Boy In The Dress, a novel by David Walliams, a dazzling musical adaptation.
The Company of The Boy in the Dress. Photo by Manuel Harlan (C) RSC.
Mark Ravenhill has done a fantastic job of adapting the novel. The script is witty and full of great humour in keeping with the book. There are jokes and lines that land both with the young and the older audience members and it's a joy to hear roars of laughter from all ages. Director Greg Doran has clearly had a fun time working on this show.

We follow 12-year-old Dennis, the school football team's star striker. After his mum leaves home he begins finds things difficult. The only reminder he has of his mum is a family photo where she's wearing a bright yellow dress. A similar dress appears on the new edition of Vogue magazine on sale at the local newsagent. He meets Lisa James in detention and she is sketching a new dress, a dress she asks if Dennis will model. After he turns up at school in the dress disguised as a French exchange student and is ultimately found out, he is expelled leaving his Dad unimpressed and his team's chance of winning to the football final in tatters.

It's a clever tale of acceptance and the message of being who you want to be is one that resonates with everybody. After Dennis bemoans the style choice boys get Lisa James reassures him that "I love putting on dresses and I bet some boys would too, it's not a big deal".

Enhancing the plot is a fabulous soundtrack of songs written by Guy Chambers and Robbie Williams. The numbers they've created are tremendous. Two numbers in particular "Is There Anything More Beautiful Than Lisa James" and "Disco Symphony" you'll be humming all the way home. The latter is the show's standout number, it could easily be a chart-topping hit. "A House Without A Mum" is a lovely number, as the family sing of their connection and the Dad struggling to come to terms with his responsibility without Mum. The off-stage musicians make a fantastic sound under the musical direction of Alan Williams.

Designer Robert Jones makes the world come to life brilliantly. The set fits in with the original novel illustrations by Quentin Blake. It's a pop-up book of visual treats. The football sequences are ingeniously staged. The "Disco Symphony" sequence sets the auditorium into a dazzling world of glitter balls and sequins.
Tabitha Knowles (Lisa James) and Toby Mocrei (Dennis). Photo by Manuel Harlan. (C) RSC.
It's the young performers who carry much of the show and it's a huge credit to Toby Mocrei (who shares the role with 3 other boys) who is outstanding as Dennis. He sings beautifully well and his acting is more akin to a seasoned star than someone of younger years. Toby shows every bit of star quality. Tabitha Knowles as Lisa James does a perfect job. She is clearly a talented dancer and singer. She is a great fit with Toby's Dennis. Together the pair sing the number "When Things Fall Apart" to great aplomb. Alfie Jukes charms with comic timing and another strong vocal as older brother John, he certainly deserves a magnum or three for his performance.

Rufus Hound hits every right emotion as Dad. He portrays a man hiding his true emotions really well, particularly as he sings about "losing life's lottery" during the number "A House Without a Mum". Irvine Iqbal gives a likeable crowd-pleasing turn as shop owner Raj, with some big bushy eyebrows and a million special offers including "three for the price of two". Natasha Lewis sings a storm and is the epitome of an embarrassing parent as Darvesh's mum. Charlotte Wakefield brings great warmth to Miss Windsor, she's the kind of teacher you'd want to have. Her fragility comes to the fore during "Miss Windsor's Belle Chanson" and shows off her strong vocal range.

Forbes Masson is brilliantly cast as headteacher Mr Hawtrey. He's stern, strict and relishes every moment as the production's pantomime style villain especially during his act one number "I Hate Kids". The character's unexpected turn of loving to wear dresses (or a blouse and skirt) is delightfully performed as Mr Hawtrey and Raj reprise the act one closing number with "A Man in a Dress".

A strong youthful-looking company give energy to the production. Christina Modestou makes for a fun Miss Bresslaw, Grace Wylde and Charlotte Jaconelli characterise the asbo-twins well and Max Gill is warm as dumbfounded Big Mac who falls for Dennis when he's under the disguise. Ben Thompson does some magnificent puppetry with the dog Oddbod.

As in fitting with the show's final number "Extraordinary" the show is just that. It's is a joy from the get-go and warms the hearts of all ages in the audience.  A roaring standing ovation of approval ends the evening on a high. It's the perfect family show, marvellous escapism. You're going to want to "dance, dance, dance" your way to Stratford-Upon-Avon and catch it.

Rating: ★★★★★ - a joyous heartwarming triumph. Sensational theatre for all ages.

The Boy in the Dress continues at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until March 8th 2020. Visit https://www.rsc.org.uk/ for more information and tickets.
Forbes Masson (Mr Hawtrey). Photo by Manuel Harlan (C) RSC

West Side Story Review

A new production of the musical masterpiece, West Side Story, arrives at Curve for the festive season.
The cast of West Side Story. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
West Side Story might not scream festive or Christmas but this production delivers everything theatre should. Some 60 years after the musical premiered it remains relevant, and that's much in part to William Shakespeare's tale of Romeo and Juliet that it's based on. It follows two rival gangs, The Sharks and The Jets, and a blossoming romance between one from each side.

Nikolai Foster directs this new production and his vision and leadership makes it a particularly strong piece of theatre. His vision is enhanced by Michael Taylor's bleak design. At time's it's quite bare and dark but it's really effective, particularly in the powerful final sequences. Staging the rumble sequence in a cage, making the fight appear more like two boxers in the ring is ingenious. The only part of the design that doesn't quite work is the 3 tiered tower block, it gives off poor sightlines at times and it's a lot of looking up. The design is strengthened by atmospheric lighting by Guy Hoare.

Ellen Kane's new choreography is excellent, creating a fresh feel to the musical. Her ability to convey the feeling of the scene is fabulous. Her work is a striking visual feast. "The Dance of the Gym Blues" is a magical sequence of movement. Kevin McCurdy has done a fine job as fight director, making the fight sequences look realistic and conveying the hatred each of the rival gangs has for each other.
Adriana Ivelisse (Maria) and Jamie Muscato (Tony). Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
One of the biggest strengths of the piece is the music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and the assembled orchestra of 16 make a magnificent sound. Sarah Travis and George Dyer have done a fine job with this iconic score. The flair and quality of the assembled musicians make the numbers sound fresh and exciting. The stunning playout alone is worth the ticket fee.

Jamie Muscato and Adriana Ivelisse are perfectly cast as leads Tony and Maria. Jamie is an outstanding leading man, he is hugely likeable, and even after he commits the deed of murdering Bernardo you still emphasise with him. He sings up a storm too, both the iconic numbers of "Something's Coming" and "Maria" are gorgeously sung. Adriana is sweet and delightful with a stunning vocal range. She conveys the heartbreak superbly in the final sequences. Together they make a great pairing and the number "Somewhere" proves how strong they are together. Both are stars in the making.

Ronan Burns is commanding as Riff, he leads the Jets with great authority. Jonathan Hermosa-Lopez matches Ronan's Riff well as Bernardo. Damian Buhagiar gives a strong performance as Chino seeks revenge after Bernardo is murdered. Carly Mercedes Dyer is magnificent as Anita. She oozes charm and likeability. She sings and dances fantastically too. 

It's a company full of wonderful performers, there's not a weak cast member amongst them. Worthy mentions for Beth Hinton-Lever as Anybodys, Darren Bennett as Schrank and Glad Hand and Abigail Climer as Consuela who all have standout moments. The 5 Jets boys get a fantastic showstopping number in the second act, "Gee, Officer Krupke" which is a joyous bit of vaudeville in which Isaac Gryn as Action really comes to the forefront.
Carly Mercedes Dyer (Anita). Photo by Ellie Kurttz
This production proves why West Side Story is often considered the greatest musical of all time. Nikolai and the Curve team might just have staged the Curve's best show to date. Magnificent.

Rating: ★★★★★ - an outstanding new production of a musical masterpiece. Powerful effective storytelling.

West Side Story plays at Curve until January 11th 2020. For tickets visit https://www.curveonline.co.uk/
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