20 January 2020

The Woman in Black UK Tour Review

It's been over 30 years since Susan Hill's novel The Woman in Black was adapted to the stage and it's more than showing it's age.
The West End Cast. Matthew Spencer (The Actor). Photo Tristram Kenton
The tale is a fairly simple one to follow but a bit puzzling. A lawyer who has been obsessed with a curse that he feels is cast over him by a spectre, The Woman in Black. He engages a sceptical young actor to help him tell his tale and relieve him of the fear that is gripping him.

Two actors play the roles. Daniel Easton does a fine job with the role of the actor. He is engaging and plays the arc of the character with great skill. He's easily the best thing about this production. Robert Goodale acts well playing numerous roles but is ultimately a little quiet and I found myself struggling to hear him at times. Losing some of the dialogue certainly detracted from my experience.

This production feels dated visually and that detracts away from the atmosphere that the two actors try to create. Michael Holt's design is quite bare. Lots of hanging sheets and a large wicker basket. Kevin Sleep's lighting and Sebastian Frost's sound design is where much of the atmosphere is created but neither make it a particularly chilling experience.
The West End Cast. Matthew Spencer (The Actor) and Stuart Fox (Arthur Kipps). Photo Tristram Kenton
The play runs around an hour and forty minutes, including a 15-minute interval, and quite frankly even that felt a little long. The first act especially felt slow, not until the second act did the play really get going. The end revelation is a little predictable and that takes away from it once it comes. A play that promised a lot when it comes to scares but ultimately doesn't deliver. Disappointing.

Rating - ★★ dated and lacking in thrills and chills.

The Woman in Black plays at Curve until Saturday 25th January and continues touring thereafter. Visit https://www.thewomaninblack.com/ticket-info/uk-tour for more information.
The West End Cast. Matthew Spencer (The Actor) and Stuart Fox (Arthur Kipps). Photo Tristram Kenton

Amelie - The Other Palace

Following successful runs at Watermill Theatre and on a UK Tour Amelie has settled in London at The Other Palace where it plays for 2 more weeks of a sold-out run. Based on the 2001 French-language movie which Audrey Tautou starred in the title role. Michael Fentiman's outstanding production richly deserved it's London run. It carries all the feeling of the movie and makes it into something magical on stage.
Audrey Brisson as Amelie. Photo by Pamela Raith
As soon as the musical begins with the rumbling sound of the Paris Metro and these whimsical characters all appear on the stage and 'The Flight of the Blue Fly'  begins you are hooked. The use of actor-musicians really strengthens the production. The company play with such a skill that they are a pleasure to watch.

We meet Amelie at the end of the opening number and you too instantly feel a connection to her. Audrey Brisson brings out everything character trait of Amelie to perfection.  Here is a part so perfectly cast. She is outstanding to watch throughout and you really invest in this character's journey because of how Audrey portrays her. She is a triple threat and more.

Once Amelie meets Nino by chance at the Metro Station photo booth there's an instant connection, a connection that carries throughout the piece as their love story develops until a beautiful moment where the two stand in complete silence and kiss. Chris Jared encompasses Nino and is completely believable. He is rugged but charming. Chris boasts a beautiful vocal too, none more so than his characters two stand out numbers 'When The Booth Goes Bright' and 'Thin Air'. He perfectly matches Audrey's Amelie.

Throughout this charming tale, there are numerous wonderful characterisations from the company many of whom play more than one role. Johnson Willis is excellently mysterious as Dufayel. 'The Girl With The Glass' is stunning as Johnson's and Audrey's voices combine beautifully. Oliver Grant does fine puppetry (puppets designed by Dik Downey) alongside his roles as Lucien and Mysterious Man, his standout moment coming in 'There's No Place Like Gnome'.

Emma Jane Morton understudying for Gina does fine work and 'Window Seat' is a touching number that she sings with real heart. Caolan McCarthy boasts one of the strongest voices in the company and the act one showstopping finale number 'Goodbye Amelie' where he becomes Elton John is brilliant. Rachel Dawson as Amelie's mother is charming and 'Halfway' sung by Audrey and Rachel in the second act is a magical number.

Jez Unwin is powerfully moving as Amelie's father Raphael and as Bretodeau who hides all his childhood possessions in a metal box which Amelie returns to him with during the number 'How To Tell Time', it really pulls at the heartstrings. Jez has a great quality of how he emotes how a character is feeling. He's a fantastic presence and performer. Kate Robson-Stuart is outstanding throughout. She gives her absolute all to every moment of her performance. She has such a warm and likeable quality that make her so watchable.
The company during 'Goodbye Amelie'. Photo by Pamela Raith 
Madeleine Girling's tremendous design effectively takes us to the heart of Paris. The stage resembles a Paris Metro station initially but with the use of props and lighting by Elliot Griggs it moves to various locations seamlessly. The use of a lampshade that carries Amelie into her apartment is a stroke of genius.

The music and lyrics of Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen which was completely re-worked for the UK production are gorgeous. It's lyrically superb and with the actor-musician, its resonates stronger as you get to watch the skill of the performers first hand. It'll be a great shame if this production disappears without a UK cast recording.

This is really theatre at it's finest. 2 and a half hours of charming, quirky and magical theatre. You'll leave feeling uplifted and warm. Musical theatre does not come any better than this.

Rating - ★★★★★ an outstanding Parisian delight. Magical theatrical perfection.
The company of Amelie. Photo by Pamela Raith

8 January 2020

Mame Review

It's been some 50 years since Mame opened in London, then starring Ginger Rogers, but this new production led by Tracie Bennett which premiered at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre sizzles brilliantly.
The company of Mame. Photo by Pamela Raith.
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's story of free-spirited Mame and her passing through a series of misadventures possibly wouldn't connect emotionally if it wasn't for the arrival of Mame's 10-year-old nephew who is entrusted into her care. This relationship ties everything that happens together brilliantly and adds a layer of emotion to the chaos that Mame's world.

Nick Winston's production delights from the start, his choreography is pulled off excellently by a large company in a small space. Philip Witcomb's art deco inspired set is effective although the doors used for entrance and exit points could have been quieter.

Jerry Herman's score sounds tremendous with Jason Carr's orchestration and performed by talented on-stage musicians. The performance was dedicated to Jerry's memory as he sadly passed away on Boxing Day. He'd be so proud of this production and the work done on his music.
Harriet Thorpe (Vera) and Tracie Bennett (Mame). Photo by Pamela Raith.
Amongst the cast, there's fine work by a fabulous Harriet Thorpe as larger than life best friend Vera - the second act number, Bosom Buddies, is a real highlight. Darren Day short-lived role as Beauregard is effective on his first performance. Jessie May characterises maid Agnes Gooch superbly. Lochlan White (who shares the role with 2 other boys) does a fine job as Young Patrick and Chase Brown carries on the work in the second act as Older Patrick.

There's no denying the star of this show - Tracie Bennett. She more than conveys every emotion of the character. She's incredibly charming and instantly you feel connected to her. She conveys every emotion through the character's journey fantastically. As soon as she enters for her first scene floating down a staircase you know you're watching a world-class performer at work. Her big vocal moment comes with the second act number 'If He Walked Into My Life', an emotionally charged unforgettable moment.

If this production was a bottle of champagne or a cocktail it would be the best and most charming drink you've ever had. It's West End quality and West End ready and I hope there's more life for this yet. A triumph.

Review - ★★★★★ - an outstanding Tracie Bennett leads this joyous unmissable revival.

Mame plays at Northampton's Royal Theatre until Saturday 11th January - visit here to book. The production then plays at Salisbury's Playhouse Theatre from the 21st to 25th January - visit here to book
The cast of Mame. Photo by Pamela Raith
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