Tag Archives: Norwich Theatre Royal

Abigail’s Party
reviewed in Norwich on 27 March

Mike Leigh’s play about the residents of a suburban London enclave is now 40 years old. Each revival brings a new and appreciative audience as well as returning admirers, ths proving that this particular social satire is one for all decades and all generations.

We may not want to acknowledge it aloud, but most of us can number at least a couple of Leigh’s characters in our aquaintance. Which is not bad going when you realise that there are only five people on stage, plus of course the offstage teenaged Abigail, who is throwing her increasingly boisterous parent-free party a few doors away.

Queen bee and lynch-pin of the whole affair is Beverly, a wife so mesmerised by her own two-dimensional façade that other people only exist to reflect her appearance, her tastes in music, home décor and social entertaining. Amanda Abbington has the measure of the part; from the moment we glimpse her arranging the room for her drinks party through the windows of Janet Bird’s dolls’ house set, Abbington presents the whole woman.

Dressed in a totally unsuitable white pleated dress, constantly slithering off one shoulder, Beverly makes a god job of upstaging first new neighbour Angela (Charlotte Mills), a nurse whose slightly too-girlish dress only accentuates her comfortable plumpness. Ciarán Owens is Frank, the disenchanted former footballer now computer operator who is natural prey for Beverly.

Both Rose Keegan as middle-class divorcée Susan, doing her best to bring up Abigail and Jeremy with some support from her architect ex-husband, suggests the woman who would love to put Beverly back in her proper place but is too polite to force the issue. when she does do so it is completely ineffectual.

You can see why Ben Caplan’s work-obsessed estate agent Laurence might find in Susan a more congenial spirit than in wife Beverly, though even he tries too hard and too obviously to clamber onto her guarded wavelength. Caplan times Laurence’s develpment as the evning wears on very subtly, from “heard it all before” mild irritation to the downright irascibility as the play reaches its climax.

Sarah Esdaile is the director for this Theatre Royal Bath Productions tour. Bird’s co-designers are Mic Pool (sound, which is very cleverly graduated as the evening wears on) and Paul Pyant (lighting). Blending deliberate articiality with the right degree of realism is a harder visual and audible task than an audience might imagine. I suspect that Abigail will be still throwing her party forty years from now. This production certainly doesn’t impede that progress.

Four and a half-star rating.

Abigail’s Party
runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 1 April with matinées on 29 March and 1 April. It can also be seen at the Cambridge Arts Theatre between 10 and 15 April.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

Mamma Mia!

There are a lot of them about at the moment. What one might define as “catalogue musicals”, based on the work of one or other particular song-writing group or band. The story might be the biography of that ensemble, or it might be harnassed to a completely new senario.

That’s the case with Mamma Mia!, a musical which uses the lyrics and music of ABBA and has now been with us for the better part of two decades. Most people probably know it from the film version of 2008; this touring production by the orginal director Phyllida Lloyd has a simple, pared-down set by Mark Thompson cleverly lit by Howard Harrison.

We ae faced by two stories, one mirroring the other in many respects. Lucy May Barker’s Sophie is about to be married to Phillip Ryan’s Sky. She’s the daughter of a single mother Donna (Helen Hobson) and, as she confides to her friends Ali (Fia Houston-Hamilton) and Lisa (Blaise Colangelo), wants her father to walk her down the aisle. The problem is that he could be one of three different men.

There’s British banker Harry (Jamie Hogarth), US architect Sam (Alex Bourne” and Australian explorer and writer Bill (Chrisopher Hollis). Unknown to her mother and to her fiancé, she has invited all three to the wedding, hoping thereby to solve the mystery. The differences between their personalities is well brought out right from their initial, slightly bewildered, exchanges.

Donna has invited two close women friends; all three were the Donna and the Dynamos group. Tanya (Emma Clifford” is a wealthy divorcée, svelte and sharp-tongued. Rosie (Gillian Hardie) is plumply happy-go-lucky, man-free but not necessarily happy with it. Richard Weedon’s’s musical direction is enthusiastic, as is Anthony Van Laast’s choreography – this gives athletic as well as humorous opportunities to the boys of the ensemble.

You can’t have a modern musical without microphones, and the trick is to keep the balance between clarity of words and their underlining accompaniments. On the official opening night of this latest tour, that took some time to establish itself, so that Barker’s “I have a dream” lost some of its impact first time round. “Money! Money! Money” and “Under attack” worked much better.

Four star rating.

Mamma Mia! continues at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 25 March with matinées on 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, 16, 18, 21, 23 and 25 March.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

The Red Shoes
reviewed in Norwich on 21 February

Seeing the Powell-Pressburger film The Red Shoes for the first time (for me that was in 1949) is, as the programme notes for this Matthew Bourne danced adaptation emphasise, something of a defining mark for anyone with an interest in ballet as well as the cinema.

Bourne keeps to the film story but adds some subtle hommage to the choreography of, among others, Fokine (Les Sylphides), Massine (Beach) and Cranko (The Lady and the Fool) in the episodes featuring the ecclectic repertoire of the déraciné company run so autocratically by Lermontov (Sam Archer).

There are nice humorous touches, notably when the soon to be supplanted prima ballerina Irina (Michela Meazza) and her posturing partner Ivan (Liam Mower) monopolise an over-worked and under-staffed stage crew in order to ensure that their follow-spots for Les Sylphides are becomingly bright and accurate.

Such characterisations are neatly pointed by all the dancers. It’s great fun picking up the in-jokes, such as the Wilson and Keppel sand dance and the music-hall girls’ abundance of slightly moulting feathers – but you lose nothing if you just take it as it unfolds.

Archer radiates the certainties of a man who has no time to waste on anything which isn’t for the good of his company and even more importantly, his vision for how it should be. So he recruits struggling composer Julius Craster (Dominic North) but reacts violently when Craster and his latest protegée Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw) fall in love.

Emotion is the enemy of art, Archer maintains; which was basically Diaghilev’s reaction to Nijinsky’s doomed marriage to Romola de Pulszky. The irony is, of course, that Lermontov is strongly attracted to Victoria. Glen Graham’s ballet-master and character dancer Grischa can foresee disaster looming; his tempter in the actual Red Shoes ballet sequence plays out both sides of the scenario.

There’s great fluidity as well as style in Bourne’s choeography, both in the ensemble dances and the mre formal pas de deux. The settings by Lez Brotherston take us effortlessly from front of stage to back-stage, from the luxury of Monte Carlo and a Mayfair salon to East End music-hall and garret lodgings – and swirl us in between through a surreal world which is neither realistic stage set nor pure abstraction.

This is a show where the lighting matters; Paule Constable achieves this superbly. The story is multi-layered and the choreography and visuals mirror this in perfect synchrony. The pre-recorded score has been arranged by Terry Davies from the film and concert music of Bernard Herrmann. It’s an evening whee a story and how it’s told balance perfectly.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Red Shoes is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 25 February with matinées on 23 an 25 February. The national tour continues until 22 July, including Curve, Leicester between 16 and 20 May.

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Filed under Ballet dance & mime, Reviews 2017

La fille mal gardée
reviewed in Norwich on 27 January

In the UK we have become accustomed to the 1960 version by Frederick Ashton with its quirky Osbert Lancaster sets, which used mainly the Hérold score of the 1820s and 30s. The music which Pepita and Ivanov chose for their 1885 St Petersburg staging was that by Hertel, originally created for the 1864 Taglioni production in Berlin.

This story of the farm-girl Lise who hoodwinks her widowed mother Simone and her potential suitor to marry Colas, the boy she really loves, has a pretty distinguished parentage. Ironically, this pastoral idyll all first reached the footlights a mere fortnight before the fall of the Bastille; it was the creation of Dauberval and used a medley of contemporary popular songs and dances. It reached London in 1791.

The version which the Russian State Ballet of Siberia is currently touring across the UK adds choreography by Alexander Gorsky and Mark Peretokin to that of Dauberval; the score is that of the now little-known Hertel. So it has pedigree, with proper weight given to the mime narrative elements of the story (Dauberval was one of the pioneers of the ballet d’action). The mixture of choreographic styles – late 18th, early 20th and 21st centuries – though not entirely seamless.

As always, the corps de ballet makes the most of its chances, as does Dmitry Diachkov as Colas, whirling across the stage in a sequence of virtuosic displays while always remaining in character. His Lise is Elena Svinko, a dancer who does not seem to be his natural partner, and whose wrist and hand movements are not as elegant as they should be, though her pointe work is impeccable. She also missed that sense of innocent mischieviousness which should bring Lise alive.

Almost walking away with the whole show is Alexey Balva as Simone. British audiences, brought up with the pantomime dame tradition, tend to take this sort of travestie character to its heart, and the final scene’s clog-dance proved it. Denis Pogorely as dim-witted Alain and Maxim Dashidondokov as his well-to-do father complete the line-up of principals.

Balva and Diachkov apart, it is difficult to escape the feeling that the joins in choreographic styles are altogether too visible. The kermesse-like buccolic dance at the end of the first act has great liveliness, but this Rousseauesque tale of simple country life remains just a little two-dimensional. Yes, the characters are all types rather than flesh-and-blood people, but I couldn’t help but be reminded that the genesis for the story was an engraving – La reprimande.

Three and a half star rating.

La fille mal gardée can also be seen at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich on 23 February. The Russian State Ballet of Siberia tour continues with Swan Lake at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 28 January, at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 29 January and 26 February and at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich between 23 and 25 February.

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Filed under Ballet dance & mime, Reviews 2017

La Cage aux Folles
reviewed at the Theatre Royal Norwich 17 Jan

Every show has its special audience, one to whom the story and its characters seem to speak personally. What transforms that show into one with universal appeal requires a special sort of magic. That can be provided by the writing, or the music, the design elements or the performances. You may not be able to pinpoint which of these it is (or indeed a fusion of them) but you know when you’ve experienced it.

That’s what happened on the opening night of the new tour of the Herman-Fierstein musical La Cage aux Folles in Norwich last night. It’s a visual extravaganza, this deceptively simple story of a drag-act nightclub in Saint-Tropez, thanks to designers Ben Cracknell, Gary McCann, and Richard Mawbeyand to choreographer Bill Deamer. Martin Connor’s direction keeps the action brisk when it needs to be – though the first half seems a trifle over-long, due I suspect to the telescoping of a three-act piece into two parts.

Spontaneous standing ovations – real ones I mean , not the carefully orchestrated variety – are rae in regional theatre. It was a deserved tribute to the magnificent performance by John Patridge as Albin, the trasnvestite diva in command of the stage but much less sure of his long-term relationship with Adrian Zmed’s Georges and Georges’ son – the result of a one-night stand – Jean-Michele (Dougie Carter). The peacock flock of Cagelles, with their on- and off-stage personae so lighgtly yet three-dimensionally sketched for us, also merit their plaudits.

It’s the sort of story where young, heterosexual love isn’t really to the fore. Both Carter and Alexandra Robinson as Anne, the girl Jean-Michele wants to marry and whose parents’ meeting with his own triggers the major flashpoints of the drama, do very well with words, song and dance. There are two enjoyable cameos from Marti Webb as Jacqueline (the restauretrice who saves the day, at a price) and Su Douglas as Mme Dindon, Anne’s mother – who turns out to be more of a scorpion than the worm which husband Paul F Monaghan thinks she is.

All in all, it’s got my reviewing schedule for 2017 off to a champagne start. Let’s see what else the year has to offer.

La Cage aux Folles runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 21 January with matinées on 20 and 21 January. The national tour until 26 August includes the Milton Keynes Theatre between 8 and 12 August.

Five star rating

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Jack and the Beanstalk

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 15 December)

What can you do with a favourite pantomime story which both keeps the traditional narrative flow and yet brings it into an unusual context? Richard Gauntlett as writer, director and Dame with costume designer Kisteen Wythe and choreographer Dee Jago seem to have re-discovered the magic formula with a Jack and the Beanstalk given a country’n’western makeover. We’re in prospecting country sometime in the late 1890s.

Another twist is that the Giant is not the main villain of the piece, rather that’s his boss Phineas P Stinkworthy. As this extremely dodgy and mercenary character is played by Wayne Sleep, he really gives the good guys a run for their money, let alone their ultimate success. What’s more, Sleep not only shows that he can still do fast turns from one side of the stage to the other – he also contributes a show-stopping tap number.

Gauntlett knows just how to play Dame; Nigella Trottalot runs the eponymous cattle and chicken ranch with minimal assistance from her sons Jack (David Burilin) and Billy (Ben Langley). Langley measures up to the comedy sequences, including the ghosties and ghoulies scene and the kitchen slop scene. Burilin conveys a nice sense of Oklahoma!-style naïveté, like that musical’s hero Curly, as he does his best to be helpful while wooing Jolene (Mira Ormale), the daughter of David Gant’s Sheriff Hiccup. Their voices blend together extremely well.

Pantomime fairies come in all shapes and guises these days. Here we have saloon proprietress Dolly, who arrives air-borne and runs an establishment which patently caters for our its frequenters’ needs. Harriet Bunton lays on the glitter as well as the required brashness to good effect. led by David Carter makes a sparkling contribution to thhe song and dance numbers. It’s all enough to send one out of the theatre prepared to go out West the very next day. Top marks to all concerned.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 15 January. Check the theatre website (theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk) for performance times.

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Filed under Pantomimes & other seasonal shows, Reviews 2016

Madama Butterfly

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 23 November)

Once you’ve seen Annilese Maskimmon’s production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, specially created for the Glyndebourne Tour 2016, you’re likely to find the more usual, traditional stagings lacking. Not that this one is flawless – dropping the main curtain, rather than a gauze, to cover the scene change between the two parts of the second act just doesn’t work.

At the end of the “humming chorus”, the stage darkens leaving the upright back-turned figures of Cio Cio-San (Karah Son) and her son silhouetted as they wait for dawn and Pinkerton (Matteo Lippi). It’s a memorable and heart-breaking image (for we know what will happen next morning) that is completely negated by that curtain. Not to mention that the intermezzo bridging the two scenes is then smothered by excited audience applause followed by chatter.

Son sings with passion and lyrical fluidity; she also acts superbly as the teenager trying so uselessly to make herself into an acceptable American wife. The director and her designer Nicky Shaw have updated the action to the 1950s, and set the first act in Goro (Alun Rhys-Jenkins)’s office where we experience his production line of short-term Japanese brides for US officers in full swing. The little house above Nagasaki is a neat model for display purposes – no more real than all those brisk ceremonies we witness.

Whatever the production, it’s hard to muster much sympathy for Pinkerton, though Lippi characterises his immature personality well, epitomised by his toast to his future American wife clashing with his Japanese bride’s lyrical arrival, complete with a coterie of relations. There’s an excellently sung and acted Sharpless from Francesco Verna and an equally fine portrait of Susuki by Claudia Huckle, pragmatism always warring with sympathetic understanding.

Conductor Gareth Hancock allows the score to breathe, though never to wallow. The arrival of the Bonze (Michael Druiett) and his curse on his apostate neice is a blood-chilling moment, one which hovers in the air throughout the love duet. Seeing the uneasy hybrid which is an ancient culture fitting itself into another, more modern and brash one is the dominant theme of this production. Cio Cio-San’s adoption of western dress (she wears a kimino only for her first and last appearances) and Goro’s cynical counting the day’s takings as the last ecstatic phrases of “Vieni! vieni!” fade into the night underlines the point.

Madama Butterfly is also at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 26 November.

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Filed under Music & music theatre, Opera, Reviews 2016

Don Giovanni

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal Norwich on 22 November)

This production for Glyndebourne’s 2016 tour uses the 1788 Vienna version of the score. That means, among other things, that Don Ottavio is shorn of “Il mio tesero” in the second act – a pity on many ways, as Anthony Gregory both sings and acts what is arguably the most frustrating part in the opera impeccably, giving a strong as well as lyrical account of “Dalla suo pace” in the first act.

What we do hear is the duet for Zerlina (Louise Alder) and the trussed-up Leporello (Brandon Cedei) just before the graceyard scene. Alder has a Marilyn Munro air of knowing innocence which serves her better as a Sweeney Todd in the making than it did at her slightly underpowered first entrance. Her Masetto is Bozidar Smiljanic who endows the part with the right aura of buccolic bullheadedness.

Ana Maria Labin’s Donna Anna carries off her complex arias superbly, investing them with great musicianship as well as the full force of Anna’s mental torment. That is true also of Magdalena Molendowska’s Donna Elvira; her own torment runs parallel to Anna’s but is subtly differentiated. Revival director Lloyd Wood and designer Paul Brown keep the contrast between the two women clear.

Their one meeting point, of course, is Don giovanni himself. This dras a bravura performance from Duncan Rock – “Finch’han dal vino” in particular fizzes along – but the sheer nastiness of the character’s attitude to women, those who cross him and his servant is underpinned by the suggestion of equal pleasure being taken in violence.

When Andrii Goniukov’s stentorian Commendatore arrives to exact his just vengeance, it is not just Brown’s decontructed set which makes Giovanni lose control. We are throughout in a vaguely pre-and post-Second World War Seville. Costumes, like most of the triangular set, are mainly grey and black; the exceptions are occasional accents of blood-red and the more pastel-clad wedding party.

At the beginning we see a baroque painting of Mary Magdalene, luxuriant tresses, swelling draperies and look of extasy at odds with the skull she clutches. Otherwise there are only tall, dark buildings fronting slightly sinister streets and surmounted by a moon which might have drifted in from a Lorca play or poem. If you are intrigued by how a production such as this is realised, then take yourself to Don Giovanni: Behind the Curtain which explores this in depth, focussing on the Act Two finale.

Don Giovanni can be seen at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 25 November. Don Giovanni: Behind the Curtain is at the Theatre Royal on 24 November.

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Filed under Music & music theatre, Opera, Reviews 2016

A Room With A View

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 7 November)

It is not just the rooms which have views in the Simon Reade stage adaptation of EM Forster’s novel: the characters all hold views on a variety of social personal and political issues. Some of these change; others are too deeply enbedded.

Young Lucy Honeychurch has the longest psychological journey to make. It is also arguably the most difficult. Lauren Coe makes her at the same time thoroughly plausible and just a touch irritating as she runs rings around most of her elders, their strictures and restrictions – not to mention their expectations.

Another excellent character study is Jeff Rawle as Mr Emerson, the self-made man wih a genuine taste for art who is more at ease with himself than the self-consciously middle-class people with whom he comes into contact. Simon Jones as Mr Beebe and David Killick as the Surrey vicar Eager also make their pompous marks.

For me, the great disappointment was Felicity Kendal as Charlotte Brtlett, Lucy’s over-fussy chaperone, so desperately determined to let down neither Lucy, her home-abiding mother (Abigail McKern) nor her own somewhat fragile social placement. Kendal goes all out to win the audience’s sympathy and is altogether too soft-spoken.

If Lucy is drawn to the slightly farouche and wild-child George Emerson, to whom Tom Morley gives the right air of unpredictablity, her socially-acceptable choice for mate is the buttoned-up Cecil Vyse; Charlie Anson decorates him with great assurance. Jack Loxton’s Freddy Honeychurch is another good portrait.

Director Adrian Noble takes us from springtime Florence to summer in Surrey at a good pace, assisted by Paul Wills’ minimally furnished set with projections to emhasise changes in location and time, dominated by flexible shuttered walls. Tim Mitchell’s lighting aids the contrast between Mediterranean sun and English dappled shade.

A Room With A View runs as the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 12 November with matinées on 9 and 12 November. It can also be seen at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge between 14 and 19 November.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Beauty and the Beast

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 26 October)

Northern Ballet has launched its autumn 2016 tour of artistic director David Nixon’s Beauty and the Beast in Norwich. This being a Dixon production, although much of the choeorgraphy follows classical lines – and his company has the skills to make this appear just as it should be – the story, the characterisations of the main characters and the costumes combine folk- and fairy-tale elements with more than a passing nod to the late 20th and 21st centuries.

His choice of music is equally wide-ranging. Glaunov for the more-or-less traditional finale but also the uncompromising diatonic and dissonance of Poulenc and the musical picture-painting of Bizet, Debussy and Saint Saëns. The Northern Ballet Sinfonia under John Pryce Jones fused these elements at the service of the dance. Duncan Hayler’s mirrored sets are lit by Tim Mitchell, mostly to fine effect except when reflexions dazzled the audience and left the dancers in shadow.

Dreda Blow, on the opening night, makes a charming Beauty, lyrical in both her solos and in her pas de deux with the Beast and with the Prince and strong of foot for the leaps with which Dixon has endowed the part. Her Prince – initially a self-centred primping posturer – is Giliano Contadini, supporting Blow effortlessly in their pas de deux and acting well throughout.

La Fée Magnifique (think Carabosse en pointe) is Victoria Sibson with Hannah Bateman as her beneficent counterpart Luminaire, a Lois Fuller swirl of shimmering flowing tissues. This storyline has Alfred, an ambiguous man-servant who we see first as the Prince’s valet and then as a manipulator for both Magnifique and Luminaire. Hironao Takahashi conveyed an impression of this multi-faceted master of ceremonies with just the right touch of control.

Ashley Dixon as the Beast – the Prince transformed as a result of his selfishness – is a fine characterisation as well as an athletic one, dangerous as only a feral animal can be but always suggesting that something better underlies the savagery, if only it were allowed to come to the surface. This is most apparent in the opening scenes of the second act with Beauty. He thoroughly diserved th audience’s applause at the first night curtain calls.

Beauty and the Beast is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 29 October with matinèes on 27 and 29 October. The production’s five-centre tour continues until 7 January.

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Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2016

The Full Monty

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 10 October)

The front rows of the audience for this touring production seem the province of a flight of chittering chattering young women, much like the ones who spill out onto the stage in the play itself after a performance by The Chippendales. Simon Beaufoy’s script is based on the 1997 film about a group of steel workers made redundant by their factory’s closure.

Star of the show is Robert Jones’ set, showing the vandalised factory interior with its broken window panes, which transmutes seamlessly into all the other locations. The core of the drama is the relationship between Gaz (Gary Lucy), his estranged wife Mandy (Charlotte Power) and their son Nathan (played very well on the opening night by Reiss Ward). Parallel to their story is that of former foreman Gerald (Andrew Dunn), who leaves for his non-existent work daily, though not fooling wife Jean (Fiona Skinner) for long.

You can believe in both these couples, though Gaz’s former colleagues come over much more as types than people. The Job Centre and Job Club scenes work well, as does Gerald’s thwarted interview for a new job, spoiled by his former colleagues’ impromptu Punch and Judy show – which they think hilarious but which in retrospect is just plain thoughtless, if not downright cruel.

Those occupants of the front rows do get their money’s worth in the final strip-tease routine. Choreograhpyis by Ian West and lighting (very important for this show) by Tim Lutkin. The director is Jack Ryder.

The Full Monty runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich ntil 15 October with matinées on 12 and 15 October.

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Swan Lake

(reviewed at the Corn Exchange, King’s Lynn on 5 October)

The Russian State Ballet & Opera Theatre of Astrakhan has brought an intriguing production of Swan Lake to Britain for its autumn tour (3 October to 3 December); late winter tour dates are yet to be announced. Artistic director Konstantin Uralsky sets the story in the early 19th century, reminiscent of the “peace” social scenes of War and Peace. The first act costumes are attractive and the dancers equally so with neat footwork and elegant arms.

In this version Prince Siegried (Danil Sokolov)’s tutor is Von Rothbart (Maksim Melnikov), a black-clothed mentor gliding through the palace with a disquieting aura of menace. The swans are his private preserve, a secret magical theatre to which he inveigles the brooding, restless Siegfried – though you wouldn’t know that if you hadn’t read the programme notes. It’s much less of a mime and more of a dancing role than in other versions and well executed.

Benno is danced by Vslovod Tabachuk, whose jumps and turns provide some of the evening’s most exciting moments. Sokolov is somewhat upstaged (and out-performed) by his Mercutio-like friend throughout. The dainty pas de quatre performed as entertinment for the Queen (Anna Nikonova) is danced by Karina Manopova, Victoria Chuvyleva, Arthur Almukhametov and Bulat Gareev; the boys are less assured in their footwork, jumps and landlings than the girls.

When we reach the first lakesid scene, the corps de ballet provide the right mixture of technique and lyricism. Unfortuntaely Anastasia Turchina’s Odette is short on visual expression and personality; she dances with assured, well-finished arabesques and pointe work and Sokolov partners her throughout sympathetically. But still that vital spark and suggestion of instant, total passion proves elusive.

For Act Three we are in the middle of a costume ball with early Renaissance headdresses for the women and houppelande gowns for the male courtiers. Enter Odile (Maria Stetc) with her sidway glances and clever use of her arms to all-but mimic Odette’s own movements. She pulls off the firework fouettés and jétés so that it’s no wonder this malleable young prince is instantly besotted.

Eather than the usual ghostly apparition at a window as Odette recognises how she has been betrayed, there follows a well thought-out pas de quatre for Odette and Odile, Siegfried and Von Rothbart in which each pair shadows the other’s steps. For the final scene, the backcloth shows a sythe of a moon, stabbing down into the water which will finally envelop the lovers and their nemesis. Again, the corps de ballet shine as the real stars of the production.

Swan Lake (with several alternative casts) can also be seen at the Grove Theatre, Dunstable on 9 October, the Key Theatre, Peterborough on 14 October, the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft on 19 October, the Harlow Playhouse on 20 Octobe and the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 8 November.

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Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2016

Pride and Prejudice

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 27 September)

Deorah Bruce’s revival for the Regent’s Park Theatre of her original 2013 production is now on an autumn tour. The script, which weaves much of Jane Austen’s dialogue with some excellent pastiche, is the one by Simon Reade; dramatist and director keep the action fast-moving, thanks to Max Jones’ flexible, revolving set which involves Regency-style metalwork and a staircase (the more athletic cast members have their own shortcuts with this.

Costumes are by Tom Piper, and in period, though I did feel that neither Mr Bingley (Jordan Mifsúo) nor Mr Darcy (Benjamin Holloway) would have committed the solecism of wearing boots in a ballroom. Mrs Bennet ((Felicity Montagu) begins the play with what must be one of the most famous opening lines in all English-language literature and rounds it off at the end with a reprise.

The cast includes a number of professional débuts; Anna Crichlow as Kitty Bennet and Georgina Darcy), Hollie Edwin as Jane – making the eldest sister into something more than just meek and attractive – and Kirsty Rider as a waspish Caroline Bingley. Matthew Kelly is Mr Bennet (more on the cuddly than the caustic spectrum). Montagu has most of the audience on her side from the beginning.

She is however a figure of fun; Steven Meo’s Mr Collins tips over into the grotesque with his obsequeousness towards Lady Catherine (Doňa Croll) and her nephew. One does feel that Carlotte Lucas (Francesca Bailey) will end up just as much of a domestic tyrant as Lady Catherine. Daniel Abbott plays Mr Wickham, that untrustworthy smiler, well matched by Mari Izzard’s feckless Lydia.

Music and dancing were key elements of social intercourse in the Regency period. Some of this, for the keyboard, is a little too obviously pre-recorded with the sound not quite balanced; the original music is by Lillian Henley. Siân Williams has devised some neat choreography for the dances with occasional frozen-action moments to allow us to concentrate on the Elezabeth-Darcy confrontations.

Tafline Steen is a delightful Elizabeth, a girl who cares for her sister’s distress, recognises her father’s weaknesses as well as his strengths and who never quite lets her tongue run away with her opinions to breach decorum. Holloway’s Darcy has an air of Byronic brooding as wel as a in-born hauteur, so that his impassioned and ill-phrased declaration to Elizabeth really makes an impact. Reserve, just like outspokenness imposes its own limits.

Pride and Prejudice runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 1 October with matinéeson 29 September and 1 October. It transfers to the Corn Exchange, Cambridge for the week 4 to 8 October.

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Sans Objet

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal Norwich on 17 May)

To say that Aurélien Bory’s Sans Objet is a mesmerising as well as technically brilliant piece of theatre scarcely does it justice. Purposeless it is most certainly is not. As the stage slowly lightens we are confronted by an enormous mass a black plastic which turns and rises as though the earth’s landmass was breaking out of the seas.

This reveals our two, neatly business-suited performers Olivier Alena and Olivier Boyer, who unveil the most extraordinary robot with a lethally flexible arm. It is as though Kafka and Orwell had commissioned a Duchamp creation. Partly it can seem an hommage to Audrey (of Little Shop of Horrors fame), at first almost playful, then savagely devouring. Tristan Baudoin is the programmer and operator, fully deserving the audience’s applause at the curtain calls.

Before the stage is once more enveloped in the black sheeting, Alenda and Boyer dance and play, perform acrobatics and indulge in a half-fun, half-danger sequence of movements with the creation’s robotic arm. The sheeting then becomes the background for a dazzling light display until a door opens in it to reveal the two men with black heads. Have they been annealed in the depths of the robot? Or is it that they have recovered humanity once more? Make up your own mind.

Sans Objet is part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2016.

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Filed under Circus & physical theatre, Reviews 2016

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 26 April)

Erica Whyman’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which alighted at Norwich’s Theatre Royal this week as part of its five-month national tour, is part of the Shakespeare quatercentenary celebrations. At each venue, adult amateur actors play the mechanicals (here they are members of Norwich’s own The Common Lot) and children from a local school (Sprowston Community High School) make up the fairy train.

So far, so slightly unusual. Designer Tom Piper takes it all further with a set suggesting the aftermath of Second World War damage and the actors wearing clothes which evoke the 1940s. Interestingly, Oberon’s entourage are actor-musicians (Sam Kenyon is the composer of the sparsely evocative score) led by Tarek Merchant.

In Theseus (Sam Bedford)’s court, Peter Hamilton Dyer stands out as a military Egeus whose desire to force his daughter Hermia ((mercy Ojelade) into marriage with Chris Nyak’s self-satisfied and posturing Demetrius growls with menace. Nyak’s performance is one of the production’s gems, well contrasted by Jack Holden’s softer-keyed Lysander. An equally spiky relationship is that of Laura Harding’s Hippolyta with Bedford.

Laura Riseborough’s Helena looks right for the girl thrown over by Demerius, but – and the women of the cast with two major exceptions are mostly guilty – I had no sense that she really understood what her lines actually meant. That’s not something of which Ayesha Dharker’s sinuous Titania can be accused. Nor Lucy Ellison’s cabaret turn as Puck, all mischief with just a hint of actual wickedness underpinning her relationship with the audience.

Oberons come mainly in two guises; light and dark. Chu Omambala tips slightly towards the dark side – there is malice in his trick on Titania if not in his intervention on behalf of love-lorn Helena. The Common Lot has a Bottom in Owen Evans who practically steals the show from the professionals, though deliciously upstaged in the closing sequence of the play scene by Dan Fridd’s Flute.

Anyone who has ever attempted to direct a student or amateur play will sympathise with Amelia Hursey’s Quince, faced with a leading man who knows better than anyone else what’s needed – and tht he’s the man for the job. Charles Balfour’s lighting, a simple plot for the Athens scenes and subtle shifts of colour and shapes for the woodland interlude with a sunset glow suggesting both an all-encompassing night and the aftermath of devastation.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Don Giovanni

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 21 March)

Time and place an seem irrelevant as far as Mozart’s Don Giovanni is concerned. The story of the lethal heart-breaker is universal, and we accept it as such. Lloyd Wood’s production for ETO sets us in a fin-de-siècle location with his designer Anna Fleischle has produced a dark grey setting with a grim exterior stairway to one side (leading to a long upper platform) and cavernous vaults below. In the fore-stage is a lit oubliette grating.

George von Bergen is a sinisterly athletic Don Giovanni, a many who exults in wreaking havoc, selfish to his core. His masterly interpretation is helped by Jeremy Sams’ wittily contemporary translation, clearly enunciated by most of the cast. Sams is a compose and theatre director and he knows how to balance constants and vowels with the melodic line.

Then there’s Matthew Stiff’s burly Leporello, much put-upon but never quite managing to break away from his master. The “catalogue aria” is beautifully sung; Stiff balances the bitter comedy of the list of Giovanni’s seductions (albeit “one hundred and three”, rather than “mille e tre”) with a beguiling smoothness which may leave Ania Jeruc’s Donna Elvira unhappy, but not we in the audience.

Jeruc has the hardest of the three female roles, a woman who wants her seducer back and knows in her heart that this will never happen. By contrast, Camilla Roberts’ Donna Anna is a tiger-cat in her pursuit of vengeance (though I did wonder why a woman who proclaims her extended mourning for her murdered father so persistently wears soft, spring-like colours).

Matching Roberts, who throws off both the legato and the decorative elements of her arias and accompanied recitatifs with precision as well as legato, is Robyn Lyn Evans as Don Ottavio, less of a dull stick than he sometimes appears and winning applause for his one, second-act aria (conductor Michael Rosewell uses the original Prague 1787 score).

The two young peasants whose nuptuals Don Giovanni so successfully manages to disrupt are a seductive Lucy Hall as Zerlina – a girl who knows how to make a double-entendre out of any phrase while singing – let alone acting – and Bradley Travis as Masetto. he is a thoroughly earth-bound clod while she has a thistle-down element.

Timothy Dawkins’ Commenadatore, emerging in formal top-hatted grandeur from what Don Giovanni (in one of Sams’ best throw-away lines) calls his tasteless monument, dominates the finale. If his first scene confrontation shows the enraged human father, the entry into the increasingly anarchic supper-room is as menacingly supernatural as one could wish.

Don Giovanni is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 22 March, at the Snape Maltings on 8 April and at the Cambridge Arts Theatre 27-28 April.

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Filed under Opera, Reviews 2016

Toast

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 29 February)

All trades have their own peculiar vocabulary. Richard Bean’s Toast, set in a Humberside bread-making factory in the 1970s, is no exception. Bean has based his wry comedy on his own early work experience. This new tour is directed by Eleanor Rhode

James Turner’s set presents us with the rest room where the under-paid men doing boring, repetitive jobs spin out their breaks as far as management allows (and quite a bit further). It’s a weekend night shift, so the bosses are elsewhere; Colin (Will Barton) who somehow manages to combine the oles of union shop steward and stand-in for director Mr Beckett is nominally in charge.

The workers are a motley bunch. There’s Cecil (Simon Greenall) whose physical and verbal banter with his colleagues has a barbed edge and Dezzie (Kieran Knowles) who knows he’s in a dead-end but also that there’s no comfortable way ut of it. Above all there’s old timer Walter (Matthew Kelly), known to the other as Nellie and definitely living on borrowed time.

A student appears – is he just a temporary pair of hands who needs to be shown what to do or is he on a fact-finding mission? Or is he ondeed a student at all? John Wark gives a nicely nuanced study of the fish out of too many different waters. But the play belongs to Kelly, in his detailed characterisation of an old man who knows that he’s a failure yet clings to the vaguest shred of hope that he can still be useful.

Sound designer Max Pappenheim has created a ground-bass of the off-stage ovens, the sound of instrusive noise to which the ear accustoms itself so that the audience, just as the bakers, only notice it when things go drastically wrong. Which they inevitably do. Twice.

Toast runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 5 March with matinées on 2 and 5 March. It also plays at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge between 28 March and 2 April.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Evolution (Cirque de Glace)

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 20 January)

Three words sum up Evolution – skill, ice and fire. This latest touring production from the Russian ice stars (these include performers from Estonia and Ukraine) is a far more coherent piece of work than its predecessor as it traces the progress of our universe from its beginnings in molten lava to the havoc which unfettered industrialisation generates.

Evolution‘s message therefore is an ecological one, albeit one presented with a degree of subtlety. The visual aspects – from the heaving black mass twisted into a cone central stage with which we begin, to the deforestation and relentless corporate grind as business-suited skaters rush endlessly to the dictates of their mobile phones – are excellent with costumes and settings (John Spence) complementing Chris Wilkey’s special effects.

There are a lot of these, many involving fire. Phil Water’s script keeps us in the picture as the 17 scenes succeed each other with Steve Millington and Stu Shaw’s score underlying (sometimes with a relentless brutality reminiscent of Le sacré du printemps) and action and accompanying the skaters and acrobats.

Julian Deplidge is the creative director (no choreographer as such is credited in the programme). Ekaterina Belokopytova is the principal acrobat, playing Gaia – earth mother and goddess – whose delicate balance on the globe is so threatened by man’s ruthlessness. If primates lumber amid nature’s richness, the delicate winged trio of insects which precedes their arrival offer an ethereal prologue.

The invention of the wheel, symbolised by Svetlana Golubeva, and the discovery of the many properties of fire, for both good and evil, are other moments to savour. The skaters perform with dash and style as well as skill, with some extremely good lifts displaying the performers’ perfect timing. Yes, it’s blatantly spectacular almost to a point where its message becomes submerged but it is good theatre which integrates acrobatics and skate dancing to fine effect.

Evolution (Cirque de Glace) plays at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 23 January with matinée performances on 21 and 23 January.

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Filed under Circus & physical theatre, Reviews 2016

Snow White

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 17 December 2015)

If you’re looking for real value for your money among this year’s crop of regional pantomimes – not to mention a show which is visually and musically satisfying – then Norwich’s Snow White is the show for you. The curtain rises on a snowy landscape, complete with skaters, which is obviously not a million miles from Salzburg. The period is that faintly Ruritanian one just before the First World War.

Award-winning Kirsteen Wythe is the costume designer, using a simple dark palette based around reds, browns and black for the adult ensemble shown off against proper story-book sets. Richard Gauntlett is the writer and director and also plays Dame Dorothy Dumpling – which is probably something which by now he could do in his sleep, though this Dame is a very lively spark, nicely contrasted by Ben Langley’s Muddles.

Our heroine is Amie Hows with Jennifer Ellison as the slinkiest, most glittering of villainesses as her aunt Queen Evilynne. The pontifical voice of her magic mirror is BBC Look East‘s presenter Stewart White, not an authority to be trifled with (even when the Queen’s magic interferes with the video picture). Her unwilling accomplice and put-upon henchman Igor is strong-voiced Bruce Graham.

The catalyst is a joint one. Snow White is nearly of an age to claim the throne and has grown into a beautiful young lady. Enter the dashing Prince Frederick (David Burilin), in search of a bride and remembering the little princess with whom he once played. Of course, that doesn’t suit Evilynne at all; she fancies him all to herself. So Snow White is sent into the forest and Igor has his murderous instructions.

Igor refuses to fulfil his gory mission but leaves Snow White at the mercy of the elements. You think you know just what happens next? Think again. The sympathetic miners who take her in are brilliant rod-operated creations by Norwich’s Puppet Theatre, all individual and un-Disneyfied and very well manipulated by members of the ensemble. Bossy The Major, burping Windy and also-ran Boris are set to be audience favourites. Later on we meet T-Bone the dinosaur.

With Dee Jago’s choreography well suited to both the child and adult dancers, musical director David Carter has plundered a whole range of scores, not forgetting Sullivan, Waldteufel and Rodgers, to put the vocal talents of Burilin, Howes and Graham to the test. They pass magnificently. The special effects are a delight for both adults and children. I defy you to be bored with this Snow White.

Snow White runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 17 January.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015

The Nutcracker

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 24 November)

Productions of The Nutcracker cam be a little like a fancy bun – when you’ve savoured the fondant icing and the glacé cherries, you’r3 left with what can be a boring sponge cake; lots of action followed by a formality of divertissements. Northern Ballet with David Nixon’s staging avoids most of the traps.

There’s a lot going on in the first act, some of it being quite unusual in its emphases. The transition to the snow fairyland and thence to the second act and its array of set-piece dances is less fractured than can be the case through having Clara (Rachael Gillespie), dancing on full point, and her Nutcracker Prince (Ashley Dixon) as young people just awakening to romantic love. Sister Louise (Lucia Solari) and her suitor James (Javier Torres) are just that bit older and more sexually aware.

We’re in late Regency London at the house of Mr and Mrs Edwards (Sean Bates and Hannah Bateman). Also in residence are his doddery parents (Pippa Moore and Filippo DiVilio). When Uncle Drossmeyer (Matthew Topliss) arrives, he is a much younger, more flamboyant character than we’re accustomed to seeing – nearer to a stage magician than a sinister neighbour. Clara and Louise’s obstreperous brother Frederick (Matthew Koon) and his school-friends have a distinct ability to wreck any would-be polite social gathering.

Out of an elaborate oversized box Drossmeyer produces his French dolls (straight from the Sevrès factory) and a loose-limbed lanky Chinese one, like a stringless puppet in Sebastian Loe’s performance. The Mouse King looms out of an enormous hole in the skirting-board, far more fully realised in Isaac Lee-Baker’s characterisation as a full-blown villain, one of the “enter stage left” variety. Solari and Torres are the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, both showing controlled footwork as well as a partnership affinity in the lifts and jumps.

Nixon’s choreography blends the familiarly classical with neat demi-charactère sequences which show off his young dancers’ strengths as well as having audience appeal. Set designer Charles Cusick Smith blends the realistic with the disproportionate characteristic of dream locations. John Pryce-Jones conducts the Northern Ballet Sinfonia with respect to Tchaikovsky’s score (the orchestral reduction is by John Longstaff) and sympathy for the dancers.

The Nutcracker (casts may differ) is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 28 November.

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Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2015