Monthly Archives: April 2017

Spamalot
reviewed at Colchester Mercury on 27 April

A musical version of the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail must have seemed slightly strange in 2004, but Eric Idle and his musical collaborator John Du Prez knew what they were doing. Now Daniel Buckroyd has dierected a new production as part of the 2017 Made in Colchester season; a tour is planned.

Eleven performers people the stage with Idle’s recorded Voice of God majestically accompanied by Michelangelo-inspired pointing finger or magisterial foot. The production designer is Sara Perks with costume supervision (there are many quick changes on and off stage) by Corinna Vincent. Carlton Edwards is the musical director for the instrumental quartet.

Most of the cast take on a whole court and army of wildly different characters. Bob Harms as King Arthur, Sarah Harlington as the Lady of the Lake and Dale Superville as Patsy – Arthur’s over-loaded page – are the exceptions. Both Harlington and Harms have well-trained singing voices which carry both notes and words effortlessly across the auditorium and cope featly with Ashley Nottingham’s choreography.

This involves a deliciously ecclectic mixture of styles from country dance to cabaret high-kicks – Sally Firth and Gleanne Purcell-Brown stand out as two showgirls – but the male members of the cast also make the most of the steps they are given. The sets are simple but very effective with imaginative lighting by David W Kidd to make some memorable stage pictures.

Daniel Cane and Matthew Pennington make the most of Sir Robin and Prince Herbert respectively. Other parts are played by Marc Akinfolarin, John Brannoch, Norton James and Simon Shorten – which is not to ignore the Killer Rabbit (think Trojan Horse in pink with floppy ears) and other puppet woodland creatures.

Perhaps a slight word of warning. Personally, I’d be disinclined to sit in row H seat 20 – and be perpared for some chase and search sequences elsewhere in the auditorium. For those of us sitting elsewhere, it proves to be an evening of fun, music and spectacle. I supect that Colchester has a winner on its stage.

Four and a half-star rating.

Spamalot runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 13 May with matinée performances on 29 and 30 April, 4, 6, 7 11 and 13 May. Check the website www.mercurytheatre.co.uk for tour details as these becomr available.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Educating Rita
reviewed in Hornchurch on 25 April

How do you react when you’re out of your comfort zone? Some become verbose. Others might take to drink. When we meet onstage the two characters of Willy Russell’s 1980s success Educating Rita (as with the rest of us) their lives are populated with a host of people who may be physically offstage but become just as real as Rita and her reluctant Open University tutor Frank.

Ros Philips’ production brings the action forward onto a thrust stage with the audience on three sides. I’m not sure that this makes it more immediate, even with Polly Sullivan’s suitably dishevelled set. Sally Ferguson’s lighting design is either deeply symbolic or somewhat perverse; I have a feeling that, on the opening night, it was the latter.

As Frank, Ruairi Conaghan manages to keep the uaidnece’s sympathy, no mean feat when what we are watching is a past poet now a reluctant academic (“those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach”) de-constructing his own life, his partners’ and then what’s left of his second career. Frank is the sort of man interesting to talk to when sober but profoundly irritating when he’s not and indulging in yet another round of self-pity. All this Conaghan accomplishes admirably.

Danielle Flett’s Rita erupts into Frank’s study as a whirlwind of physical restlessness and verbal overspill. Flett establishes this hairdresser who wants to improve her mind with an intensity which makes most of her first act speeches too much of an accented gabble. The part requires some extremely quick costume changes as time passes and Rita grows out of her restrictive home and work life into one which broadens both her cultural and social existence.

Three and a half-star rating.

Educating Rita runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 13 May with matinées on 27 April and 6 May.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

Rapunzel: The Musical
reviewed in Stevenage on 14 April

The Gordon Craig Theatre’s artistic director Catherine Lomax has found a winning streak with both revivals of favourite musicals and the premiering of new ones. Rapunzel has a book and lyrics by Lomax, score by the show’s musical director Phil Dennis and choreography by Khiley Williams; all are listed for book, music and lyrics. The imaginative lighting is by Pete Kramer.

Flexible and effective settings – including the tower where our heroine is imprisoned – are uncredited but costume designer Lisa Hickey has produced a colourful medieval-style array for the principals, the ensemble and the children’s chorus. Karl (Mike Holoway) in “The precious gift of you” and his wife Sophia (Auriol Hatcher) in “Life’s sweetest thing” both have strong voices and act convincingly, though the level of miking overwhelmed the articulation for their main numbers.

Musically it’s a strong score, with the characters clearly identified in their solos and ful-throated ensemble numbers (shades of the man-hunt in Peter Grimes are there in “Find her!” which closes the first act). The book is a literate one, perhaps a little too much so for the youngest audience members, so that we are easily caught up in the plight of the childless couple.

Cameron Leigh’s Gothel, the witch-like woman who strikes her bargain for 16-year old Rapunzel with Karl, is not a straightforward villainess; she longs for a child just as deeply as Sophia and makes this clear in “The love I’m owed”. The puppet woodpecker Viktor, handled and voiced by James Donovan, acts as a commentator on her machinations as well as imprisoned Rapunzel’s only real friend.

That is, until Prince Freddie (Glenn Adamson) chances upon the tower. Both his father King Constanine) and grandmother Queen Ida (Sharon Eckman) want to him to marry royally. As befits a folk-tale hero, Freddie (egged on by his servant and frind Benedict (Ryan Owen) want real love with a real girl and not any of the eligible brides paraded for his selection.

The difficulty with this particular story is that we don’t meet its heroine as a young woman until the day comes for Gothel to claim her fee. Samantha Noel looks pretty and sings “Gilded cage” very well, but her plight fades into insignificance when the fully three-dimensional Gothel, Sophia and Karl take centre-stage.

Four-star rating.

Rapunzel coninues at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Steveange until 17 April with matinée and early evening performances on 15, 16 and 17 April. It returns for a short run between 27 and 30 July.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

The Who’s Tommy
reviewed in Ipswich on 6 April

Ramps on the Moon is a six-year regional theatre project dedicated to integrating disabled performers and audiences with mainstream-calibre productions. Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre and its strategic partner Graeae have spearheaded the initiative. The Who’s Tommy is an object lesson in how this can be achieved.

A cast of 22 performers take all the roles, sing, whirl through Mark Smith’s choreography and play the almost through-composed instrumental score under the direction of Robert Hyman. Director Kerry Michael makes good use of Neil Irish’s flexible metallic set and lighting designer Arnim Friess makes the projections, floor light patterns and spotlightng of key incidents as much an important part of the staging as the action itself.

Central to the story is Tommy himself (William Grint) who is voiced by Matthew Jacobs-Morgan and Julian Capolei. Born after the reported death in action (the story begins in 1941) of Captin Walke (Max Runham), he encounters his father first in a traumatic confrontation between his mother Nora and new stepfather Frank (Alim Jayda). Apparently deaf, dumb and blind he is easy prey for playground bully Cousin Henry (Lukas Aleamder) and thoroughly nasty wheeler-dealer Uncle Ernie (Garry Robson). The unpleasant nuances of the latter’s “Fiddling” are cleverly conveyed.

Within Tommy’s mind, his lost father becomes guide and leader – almost as though they were 20th century eqivilents of Hamlet and his father’s mentoring ghost. Nora’s dilemmas are well mimed by Donna Mullings and sung by Shekinah McFarlane. Sign language, mime and movemen throughout are clarified by projected surtitles, which make following the nuances of the story much easier for all audience members.

Almost on Tommy’s wavelength is wheelchair-bound vicar’s daughter Sally (Amy Trigg), though her over-proective parents (Stacey Ghent and Anthony Snowden) precipitate her ultimate disillusion. Peter Straker is a true scene-stealer as the Acid Queen, a gypsy with much more than fortune-telling up her sleeve, bringing the house down with both her numbers, the second one added for this production.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Who’s Tommy continues at the New Wolsey Theate, Ipswich until 15 April with matinées on 12 and 15 April. It then tours nationally until 1 July, including the Nottingham Playhouse between 19 and 29 April.

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I Capture the Castle
reviewed in Watford on 5 April

Novelists present us with persons, places and situations which our imaginations decorate at our individual pleasures. Dramatists do much of that work for us, and composers of music theatre further colour our attitudes to the story presented. It’s all even trickier when it comes to a favourite book first read when one was a very young adult.

So writer Teresa Howard and composer Stephen Edis have given themselves a problem with Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. I don’t think they’ve solved it. The score is pleasant enough with its touches of Weill and popular 1930s composers, but it’s not one to send you out of the theatre with its tunes lodged firmly in your head. The successive repeats of Cassandra’s opening number act merely as punctuation points.

Both the best musical sequences occur in the second half. One is “Only men” in which New York socialite Mrs Cotton (Julia St John) and her photographer sister Leda (Shona White) make their attitude to the other sex clear. The other is the solo, morphing into a duet, for James Mortmain (Ben Watson) and his second wife Topaz (Suzanne Ahmet) in which his writer’s block and need for a muse are shown to be uncomfortably entwined.

Brigid Larmour’s direction keeps the action mainly in the delapidated castle rented by the Mortmains with seaside excursions to Southwold and culminating in a trip to London’s West End. Shona Morris is the movement director making full use of Ti Green’s precipitous set of staircases and towers. Neil, the wealthy American who now owns the castle, and his brother Simon are particularly well characterised by Luke Dale and Theo Boyce respectively.

As Cassandra (Lowri Izzard)’s older sister Rose, Kate Batter has the more difficult – because less sympathetic – role. Isaac Stanmore as Stephen, the shy boy-of-all-trades who finds himself an artist’s model en route to a Hollywood career, makes his calf-love sncere. But the star of the evening is undoubtedly Izzard as the teenage diarist who records the sheer daftness of her family and will so obviously become a far better writer than her one-novel father.

Three star rating.

I Capture the Castle runs at the Palace Theatre, Watford until 22 April with matinées on 6, 8, 11, 13, 15, 18, 20 and 22 April. It is a co-production with the Octagon Theatre, Bolton to which it transfers between 26 April and 6 May.

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Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2017

Casanova
reviewed in Norwich on 4 April

Northern Ballet has never been afraid to present those facets of drama which are not usually fully explored in traditional ballet scenarios. Its latest première is based on Ian Kelly’s biography of Casanova and choreographed by Kenneth Tindall with an original score by Kerry Muzzey, probably best known as composer for film and television.

How you view Giacomo Casanova, the defrocked Venetian priest who fell foul of the Inquisition, led an amormously ramshackle life in various European courts and ended as a count’s librarian in Bohemia, probably depends on which dramatised adaptations of his life and loves (with the emohasis on the latter) you’ve encountered. Between them, Kelly and Tindall have scraped away some of this clutter to suggest a far more intellectual man of the Enlightenment than usually confronts us.

Touring ballet productions tend to simplify the scenic aspects and rely on costuming and lighting. Christopher Oram uses a succssion of moveable black and gilt ribbed panels (pillars or bookcases?) with an ornate baroque picture-frame lowering above. His costume palette concentrates on a complete range of greys, from almost-white to near-black. Reds, purple, gold and blue are reserved for the principal characters.

Alatair West’s lighting pours purple onto the early Venetian scenes and whitens as Casanova’s travels take him to Louis XV’s Paris. Nathan Fifield conducts Muzzey’s score which is often stridently brassy as the brass and timpani weigh in. It suits the story very well and complemens Tindall’s choreography.

This makes much use of lunging steps for the men balanced by equally forceful arm movements. These characterise the Inquisitors in particular. Casanova’s female sequence of lovers at times echo this with their extended arabesques en pointe and in the lifts. Many of these are athletic but not always graceful; the pas de deux with Dreda Blow’s Bellino doesn’t really suggest the love inherent in it.

Giulano Contadini in the title role fully deserves the acclamation awarded it at the curtain call. He acts as well as dances the part, from musical seminarian to disillused philosopher. it’s a rounded portrait of a real man. Of the other roles, Hannh Bateman as the husband-abused Henriette, Victoria Sibson as mme de Pompadour, Javier Torres as Senator Bragadin, Mlindi Kulashe as the Chief Inquisitor and Sean Bates as Cardinal de Bernis are also three-dimensional characterisations.

Four and a half-star rating.

Casanova continues at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 8 April with matinées on 6 and 8 April. it can also be seen at the Milton Keynes Theatre between 19 and 22 April.

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Filed under Ballet dance & mime, Reviews 2017