Monthly Archives: May 2017

Footloose
reviewed in Hornchurch on 22 May

The energy displayed by the cast of this remastered tour of the stage musical based on the 1984 film Footloose is breath-taking. The whirl of dance and movement, some of it performed while playing a brass, woodwind or stringed instrument, hardly slows down. The current vogue for all-round actors-musicians-dancers has certainly roduced some excellent performers.

In this story of a mother and teenage son, reluctantly moving ten hours’ drive south of Chicago to Bomont when her husband walks out without warning, the older characters have their lyrical moments. Reuban Gershon as Bomont’s pastor Rev. Moore and Maureen Nolan as his wife both have extremely good voices with crystal-clear intonation.

There are also two young couples – Joshua Dowen as displaced Ren, Hannah Price as the Moore’s daughter Ariel and Gareth Gates as farmboy Willard with Laura Sillett as Rusty (who rather fancies him but can’t quite make him react as she would wish) – who give very well thought-out characterisations.

Dowen is all tennage angst, Gates acts as well as sings and dances while both Price and Sillett makes us believe in these two girls. Lindsay Goodhand as Mrs McCormack, having to cope with the financial and emotional fallout from her husband’s desertion, and Connor Going as Chuck, Ariel’s dominating and abusive boyfriend also make their mark.

Matt Cole’s choreography and Sara Perks’ clever settings which allow our imaginations to fill in the physical gaps suit the show perfectly. Direction is by Racky Plews and sound (be warned: it’s loud) has been designed by Chris Whybrow.

Four-star rating.

Footloose runs as the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 27 May with matinées on 25 and 27 May. it can also be seen at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford between 14 and 17 June and at the Towngate Theatre, Basildon from 21 to 26 August as part of the 2017 national tour.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Not Dead Enough
reviewed at Cambridge Arts Theatre 15 May

Red herrings in thrillers are one thing. Shaun McKenna’s latest stage adaptation of a Peter James thriller not only trails a shoal of thm acoss Sussex’s beaches but adds a whole corkscrew drawer-full of twists and turns to the plot as DS Roy Grace finds that past and present somehow elide in the latest series of murders to land on his desk.

Michael Holt’s two-level set with some atmospheric lighting by Jason Taylor and sound effects by Martin Hodgson take us from the mortury to the police station and across to nocturnal surf-battered pebbled beaches. Ian Talbot contributes what one might define as speed-directing; it’s all so fast and furious that plot and characterisation holes are simply skated over.

There are some very good performances, notably by Laura Whitmore as Cleo, in charge of the mortuary and Grace’s latest “squeeze” and by Gemma Atkins as her vulnerable assistant Sophie. Central to the action is Brian Bishop, whose wife is just one of the victims of violent death to be laid on Sophie’s mortuary table. Stephen Billington gives a deliberately “over the top” performance of this tortured personality; you can see why he provokes Bill Ward’s Grace so much.

In the police station, Grace is supported by his segeant Glenn (Michael Quartey) and PC Moy (Gemma Stroyan). At the end of the telephone is a censorious assistant chief police constable who takes a dim view of Grace’s detecting methods. Dead bodies and the nasty ways in which they meet their fates proliferate. It’s all hokum, of course, but very well presented by a cast which takes it all with just the right touch of knowing conviction.

Three and a half-star rating.

Not Dead Enough runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 20 May with matinées on 18 and 20 May.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

Strictly Murder
reviewed in Basildon on 10 May

It’s April 1939. We’re in a farmhouse deep in Provence. Hitler’s rantings and British peace-or-war ditherings can surely have no impact on the lives of English artist and part-time grape-harvester Peter Meredith or his girl-friend Suzy. Josef, who has strayed into their lives as a derelict from the previous conflict and who dosses down in their outbuildings, may have a different reaction.

This 2008 thriller by the late Brain Clemens ratchets up the suspense quite cleverly. Peter (Gary Turner) has no good reason to give Suzy (Lara Lemon) why they don’t marry. As the radio keeps them abreast of what’s happening so rapidly in the wider world, Peter’s suddenly condenses with the arrival of Ross (Brian Capron), a former detective (or is he?), whose cheery manner hides what could turn out to be a lethal purpose.

Clemens’ son Samuel is the director and knows how to paper over cracks in plausibility. He’s aided by Alex Marker’s excellent set and David North’s lighting which reminds us that this farmhouse is dependent on a somewhat tempremental generator. The performances are all good, with Andrew Fettes’ Josef both pathetic and menacing as the war clouds gather and people have to decide where their loyalties lie.

The second act introduces us to Ross’ identical-twin brother – they are well characterised and subtly differentiated by Capron, who rather walks off with the acting laurels. Corinne Wicks is Miriam Miller, another person who is not what she originally appears to be. Suzy, pregnant with Peter’s child, also holds attention as portrayed by Lemon.

Turner has in many ways the most difficult role; it is hard to warm to Peter even before aspects of his past spill out. But it all holds together with conviction during the performance. And that, after all, is the essence of drama.

Three and a half-star rating.

Strictly Murder can be seen at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 23 and 24 May, the Gordon Craig Theatre between 5 and 7 June, the Mercury Theatre, Colchester between 8 and 10 June, the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft on 16 and 17 June, the Grove Theatre, Dunstable on 10 and 11 July and the Key Theatre, Peterborough on 10 and 11 September.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

Miss Meena & the Masala Queens
reviewed 9 May in Watford

“I am what I am” is the central theme of Harvey Virdi’s new play with integral music an dance for Rifco which premiered at the Palace Theatre, Watford on 9 May at the start of a national tour. The theme could be reckoned a controversial one regardless of the ethnic and cultural background of the characters, for its inspiration derives from the British Asian drag queen and LGBTQ communities.

Families – of many sorts – are at the heart of the story. The main character is Abdul, working name Meena (Raj Ghatak), who walked out on his Pakistani father and mother when they refused to accept either his homosexuality or his adoption of a female persona. Now he runs a club in the Midlands with self-interested help from Munni (Jamie Zubairi) and still mourns the loss to AIDs of his life partner. Into the club wander embryonic drag-act Pinky (Vedi Roy) and Preetho (Harvey Dhadda).

Then student Shaan (Nicholas Prasad) turns up. He also has left home and is something of a lost soul; he needs a father-mother figure, a career an an identity. Meena is prepared to help, remembering a bitter past, and Pinky and Preetho are willing to assist. Munni, with a tame councillor in tow (Ali Ariale doubles Kabir and Ranjeet – Meena’s conformist brother) sees possibilities. Financial as well as sexual politics come into play.

Offstage, Meena and Ranjeet’s father is dying. But Meena backs out of making the phone call which might set the father’s mind at rest until it’s too late. Unusually for plays which come into the “special pleading” category, this one has fully rounded characters, so that we can emphasise with the dilemmas which they face. Pravesh Kumar’s direction keeps the action on the move, aided by Libby Watson’s set which switches effortlessly from the tawdriness of a run-down club to the glitter and glamour of a successful one.

Composer Niraj Chag and movement diector Andy Kumar, who also designed the Indian dance costumes, keep our eyes and ears engaged with the ambiance created; Mark Dymark’s lighting, one might say, is spot-on. The first night audience embraced the concept whole-heartedly; I hope this is an omen for the rest of the tour. The main thing is that you need neither to be British Asian nor a drag-act aficionado to enjoy this show.

Four and a half-star rating.

Miss Meena & the Masala Queens runs at the Palace Theatre, Watford until 13 May before touring nationally until 17 June. There are matinée performances on 11 and 13 May.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Cyrano
reviewed at Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal on 2 May

Rostand was only 30 when his best-known play Cyrano de Bergerac was staged. This Northern Broadsides version by Deborah McAndrew is called simply Cyrano and decorates the action with considerable song-and-dance, which does slightly obscure the central story. It’s not precisely a musical in Conrad Nelson’s direction (he is also the composer) but does emphasis how young the characters are, including the protagonist.

Christian Edwards tries very hard as Cyrano but for me he fails to convey the deeply multi-faceted character of the proud poet, playwright, swordsman and soldier. Pretty as she is, Sharon Singh doesn’t succeed in making Roxane into more than a shadow of the beauty who wins men’s hearts so effortlessly while maintaining her own integrity. The 13-strong cast does however throw up some three-dimensional character studies.

Notable among these are Andy Cryer’s arrogsnt de Guiche, Andrew Whitehead’s Le Bret, Paul Barnhill’s Ragueneau and Michael Hugo’s Lignière; Hugo has the best of the musical numbers. Adam Barlow, in an odd-looking wig, doesn’t convey either Christian’s boyish good-looking glamour or the character’s basic decency and courage.

Lis Evans has created a succession of reasonably accurate 17th century costumes and a flexible curtain-hung set easily adaptable to indicate the different locations of the five acts and with which lighting director Daniella Beattie plays games. The choreographer is Beverley Norris-Edmunds with fight direction by Philip d’Orléans. The Theatre Royal’s stage is something of an acoustic gem, but that 21st century disease – the mumbles – seems to have afflicted some of the cast.

Three and a half-star rating.

Cyrano runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 6 May with matinées on 3 and 6 May.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017