Category Archives: Family & children’s shows

Our Day Out

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 25 August

Willy Russell’s 1970s musical for a large cast of school-age performers and five adult professional actors may have a Liverpool and north Wales setting, but it has settled down comfortably in Suffolk, as the new Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal production makes evident.

The story concerns a class (or two) of youngsters from the sort of school which Ofsted might well rank as “failing”. They are of mixed abilities with scant interest in education but enthusiasm for exploring their burgeoning sexuality and for making mischief. Not to say, mayhem.

Directors Karen Simpson and David Whitney have coaxed some impressive performances from the Young Company members, notably from Abigail Laker as slow-learner Amy, so prone to being bullied (a quartet of hoodies makes this clear from the beginning) and wanting something different, something better which she’s unable to articulate.

Lauren Slade and Eloise Probitts as a pair of “it’s all so boring” pupils, also Robyn Painter and Jamie Musora as the two with a crush on dishy young teacher Mark McDevit (George Brockbanks) also give stand-out characterisations.

Attempting to keep order, limit the damage (literally) and ensure that the outing both begins and ends with a full complement of staff and students are McDevit’s colleagues Katie Appleby (Georgia Richardson, making her professional stage début) and Mrs Kay (Beth Tuckey).

The irascible head-teacher is Mr Briggs (James Hirst. Crag Stevenson plays the put-upon lollypop-man, the coach driver and an enraged zoo keeper who finds that some distinctly unauthorised animal liberation has been taking place. All five offer fully rounded portraits of their contrasting characters.

Musical director David Lewington keeps the songs in time and in tune. Choreographer Julia Cave stretches her young performers who respond to the challenge. Designer Heidi McEvoy-Swift has devised an ingenious set of large square boxes which are subject to arrangement as locations shift. Dave Thwaites’ lighting incorporates a clever use of projections.

Our Day Out runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 2 August with matinée performances on 26 and 30 August and 2 September.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Peter Pan

reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 2 August

JM Barrie’s play is most often seen nowadays in a Christmas pantomime version, complete with Dame. I suspect that’s what many in the audience were expecting, especially the very youngest children. What we saw is a tactful adaptation of the script by Daniel Buckroyd and Matthew Cullum (who also co-direct) with an original score by Richard Reeday.

The settings of Simon Kenny invite you to let your imaginations work – and roam. They’re deceptively simple with items manoeuvred into place by the cast of eight or swirls furling across the stage as locations shift. There’s a clever crocodile, a bath-boat and well-sustained lifts and movement for the flying sequences.

Emilio Iannucci’s Peter has the right blend of juvenile two-dimensional attitudes, athleticism and a dangerous touch of feral quality. Charlotte Mafham as Wendy shows us the inherent motherly qualities of the teenage daughter with only younger brothers; you can see why the children invading the stage at the end of the play gravitated towards her.

Mischievous, jealous Tinker Bell, in Alicia McKenzie’s portrait, makes a good contrast with Sara Lessore’s self-controlled Tiger Lily. Pete Ashmore doubles paterfamilias Mr Darling and Captain Hook (definitely no Eton alumnus) with Katharine Moraz as his wife and pirate Smee. James Peake is a properly exuberant Nana and lost-boy Slightly.

Some of the music is pre-recorded but the cast play various instruments, including Peake with a tuba, a piano and a variety of strings and woodwind. The evocative lighting is by Mark Dymock with sound design by Christopher Bogg.

Four star rating.

Peter Pan runs with an early evening start time at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 26 August with matinées on 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, 25 and 26 August.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2017

Farm Boy

reviewed in Colchester on 17 June

Daniel Buckroyd’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s Farm Boy is directed by C P Hallam for this new production about to embark on a tour of East Anglian schools. It’s the latest in the Made in Colchester Season 2017 and, as its Mercury Theatre previews show, demonstrates that small can be beautiful. What’s more, it can also fill the stage.

There are three very good performers, though Tim Brierley’s tractor is almost a fourth player. Danny Childs is the grandson torn between going to university, seeing the world and staying on the family farm. as well as a resourceful farmer’s wife and the youngster who first heard about World War 1 and its horses from his own grandfather.

Gary Mackay plays the grandfathers as well as the boastful farmer who comes a cropper (literally) in the ploughing contest. Ru Hamilton is the composer and actor-musician with a double-bass, cello and Welsh harp – not to mention the odd milk-pail called into service as percussion.

Joey, the hero of Morpurgo’s War Horse and Zoe, his stable-mate at the farm, are presented in the climatic ploughing match by two step ladders. A family audience found no difficulty in accepting this, or the sometime complex pieces of history and of human psychology which illuminate the script. Imagination is alive and well in the younger generation.

Four-and-a-half stars.

Farm Boy plays at the early evening performance at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester before its schools tour.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2017

The Secret Garden
reviewed in Stowmarket on 28 May

There have been several stage adaptations of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s story The Secret Garden over the past few years, but the latest from East Anglian touring company Spinning Wheel Theatre proves that imagination on stage and its reciprocation in the audience can be just as effective as large casts and elaborate settings.

The audience is confronted by Becca Gibbs’ fragmented set, nicely suggesting both indoors and outside, a type of topy-turvy world – which is exactly what Mary Lennox finds herself in when her parents die in India and she is shipped home to an unwilling guardian, Mr Craven. Spikier than a cactus as first, Mary learns to curb her imperious attitude to those she considers mere menials – but it’s a slow process.

Four very skilled actors make up director Amy Wyllie’s cast, led by Niamh McGowan as Mary and Samual Norris as Colin, the apparently crippled and bedridden Craven heir. Alice Osmanski takes on uptight houskeeper Mrs Medlock and ebullient maid Martha as well as the old gardener Weatherstaff. Joe Leat plays Dickon, Martha’s brother who has a special affinity with wildlife, Mr Craven and his doctor brother.

A succession of puppets also play their parts, from oriental shadow-play to represent the scenes in India to a chirruping red bird and a hungrey fox. “On your imginary forces work” suggests Chorus at the beginning of King Henry V, and that’s precisely what this production does. It was a pity that the acoustics of the John Peel Centre blurred so much of the authentically-accented dialogue.

Four star rating.

The Secret Garden is on tour across East Anglia until 18 June, including the Little Theatre, Sheringham on 31 May, the Corn Hall, Diss (2 June), Southwold Arts Centre (3 June), the Fisher Theatre, Bungay (June 4) and the New Wolsey Theatre Studio, Ipswich on 17 June.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2017