Category Archives: Music Music theatre & opera

Our Blue Heaven

reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 6 May

If you’re an older Ipswich resident with an interest in football, then 6 May 1978 is probably a date etched indelibly into your consciousness. That, for the rest of us, is the day on which Ipswich Town Football Club won the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium.

Obsessions, whether with sport, music or anything else, are very odd things. They have the ability to obscure, even blot out, everything else. Based on actual recollections of the Final and the matches leading up to it from individual fans, Peter Rowe has constructed the stories of three interlocking families.

The central one is the Coombes family. Father Paul (James Daffern) is out on strike, so money is tight and the main breadwinner is his nurse wife Sheila (Sarah Whittuck). Teenage daughter Sue (Anna Kitching) is supportive of her father – and even more so of Ipswich Town. Older daughter Mel (Josie Dunn) is about to get married to Scott (Joe Leat).

He’s the son of better-off Brain Tillotson (Jon House) and his wife Eileen (Nicola Bryan). Then there are the Traynors – football-obsessed Smudger (Dale Mathurin) and his heavily pregnant wife Ange (Katia Sartini), who is under the care of Sheila Coombes. Smudger – whose enthusiasm is enjoyably put before us by Mathurin – has ideas about both the timing of the birth and the names to bestow on the baby.

Peter Peverley plays the inspirational and charismatic team manager Bobby Robson, linking the club’s progress towards that ultimate goal. The other stand-out performance is that of teenage Kitching, a girl trying to balance all manner of conflicting emotions with a slowly maturing sense of responsibility. Actions do have consequences, as she discovers at an away-game against Millwall.

Designer Amy Jane Cook gives us a minimalised setting with Dan de Cruz’s four-piece band on a platform at the rear of the stage. Musically, it’s all very loud, though the a cappella rendition of “Abide with me” in the Wembley sequence has a magical effect.

Rather than attempting a realistic reconstruction of the series of home and away games, choreographer Tom Hobden has created a slow-motion stylised succession of movement pieces, ably performed by the community chorus wearing neutral black and white strips.

Four star rating.

Our Blue Heaven runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 26 May with matinées on 9, 10, 12, 16, 14, 19, 23 and 26 May.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Plays, Reviews 2018

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 1 May

Film to stage show is a trickier combination than it sometimes appears. This is particularly true of musicals. One path to success is to stylise the settings and fully integrate the orchestral accompaniment with the action.

This is what director Douglas Rintoul and designer Joanna Scotcher have done. There’s a false proscenium suggesting corrugated tin, minimal furniture and costumes which rely heavily on black, white and red – not to mention shoals of glitter and gaudy fluff for the drag acts.

Central to the story is Bernadette (Mark Inscoe), the transsexual we meet at her partner’s funeral. Inscoe’s performance has a control that never masks the inner person; this is someone who has encountered nearly everything that life can hurl but keeps a central core of integrity.

Balancing this is Tom Giles’ Tick, the troupe leader who takes them ona cross-country trek to Alice Springs. That’s because his wife Marion (Clara Darcy) wants him to meet his young son Benji (Frankie Day) – oh yes! there is also the small matter of a gap in her casino’s entertainment programme.

The third troupe member is Adam (stage name Felicia), played by Daniel Bailey. he’s the ultimate in camp, one of nature’s stirrers who is bound to find himself in trouble – as he does soon enough in the outback. Bailey’s is one of those over-the-top bravura performances that leave you in two minds – applause wildly, or ring the character’s mischievous little neck.

Musical director Adam Gerber is not evenly served by sound designer Adam McCready; the balance on the opening night was very uneven. Michael Cuckson as Bob, the mechanic who manages to get the tour bus Priscilla back on the road (or as much of a road as there is) and stays along for the ride is an excellent portrait of a simple man with complex feelings.

Four star rating.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert continues as the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 26 May with matinées on 3, 5, 10, 12, 17, 19, 24 and 26 May.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Pieces of String

reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 27 April

Attitudes change from one generation to the next, and it’s easy to forget how recent the past can be. Gus Gowland’s musical play offers us three generations of a family whose house-clearance after the death of a grandfather opens a Pandora’s box of memories, not all of them welcome. Fin Redshaw’s multi-location set suits it very well.

Jane (Carol Starks) is the pivotal character, a woman who has grown a thick shell as she brings up her gay son Ed (Andy Coxon) and with-it teenage daughter Gemma (Ella Dunlop). She cannot tolerate Ed’s boy friend Harry (Gary Wood) and is brusque to the point of rudeness when elderly Rose (Marilyn Cutts) wanders in.

Director Ryan McBryde balances our interest skillfully between these characters. Gradually we learn that, serving in the Second World War grandfather Edward (Craig Mather) had an affair with a fellow soldier Tom (Joel Harper-Jackson). Both men are married – Edward to Anna (Lauren Hall) while Tom has a young sister Rose (Nicole Grumann).

Gowland’s score requires good singing voices, which this cast supplies, while the accompaniment by Pail Herbert, Liz Hanks and Fraiser Patterson weaves in and out of the set-piece numbers without ever overwhelming them. It’s all tuneful – a bonus nowadays – without being particularly memorable, but always fits both the action and the characters.

As the older Rose, Cutts somewhat steals the show; you’re never quite sure whether her presence is benign or mischievous. Dunlop is thoroughly credible as the teenager wanting her own spa ce and to do her own thing. Coxon and Wood also inhabit their characters; Wood’s hurt at Jane’s blatant attempts to freeze him out is chilling as well as salutary.

Both Mather and Harper-Jackson make one sympathise with their sexual and social dilemmas, Harper-Jackson’s Tom being much more open than Mather’s more hidebound Edward. The effect on their womenfolks – Rose’s discovery of the men kissing and Anna’s scarcely perceived and not articulated sense that there is something not quite right in her marriage – is not minimised.

That attitude change reflects in an audience’s reaction, though first-night audiences’ responses are notoriously difficult to assess for validity. Debates about gender, nature versus nurture and generational assumptions and misunderstandings are as old as civilisation, literature and theatre. This is a melodic addition.

Four star rating.

Pieces of String runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 5 May with a matinée on 5 May.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi

reviewed at the Snape Maltings on 14 April

“Opera that moves” is the ETO motto – and it was worth skipping the bar in the interval to watch the comic drama of the scene change between the two contrasted outer panels of Puccini’s original triptych.

Audiences often discount what happens behind the front curtain, this exposé of the rapid hard work involved certainly earned its final round of applause.

Neil Irish’s rust and wood setting on three levels for Il tabarro and Rory Beaton’s subdued lighting plot suit the gritty savagery of the story. Above the main action life has some hope of normality. Below it, this is only the stench of hopeless degradation.

Craig Smith’s Michele, the Seine barge owner, is a brooding presence as his suspicions of his wife’s infidelity with one of the stevedores are fuelled. His final explosion of anger in “Nulla! Silenzio” before the inevitable dénouement is well paced and phrased.

Giorgetta’s unhappiness, as much for the loss of her child as a yearning of her childhood home at Belleville and desire for Charne Rochford’s Luigi, also builds slowly and Sarah-Jane Lewis has the vocal resources to manage this.

In James Conway’s production, Rochford’s portrait of a young man raging against his lot in life yet unable to effect any immediate change to better this world rings true.

The smaller character parts are equally well cast, with Clarissa Meek’s Frugola outstanding among them. it’s a neat touch to have the young lovers played by Galina Averina and Luciano Botelho, the Lauretta and Rinuccio of Gianni Schicchi.

This also has a fin du siècle setting but suitably elaborate for the (deceased) wealthy Buoso and his horde of grasping relations. These superficial predators come over as a miscellany to delight any connoisseur’s eye.

Andrew Slater has the audience on his side from his first entrance, a no-nonsense Florentine new-comer in fresh-air contrast to the over-dressed Buoso kindred. His recounting of the penalties for will-forgery make their mark.

Timothy Dawkins-wild-haired ex-mayor and the female trio of Meek as the elderly Zita, Joanna Skillett as Nella and Emma Watkinson as La Ciesca throw the genuine passion between Lauretta and Rinuccio into proper focus.

Averina’s show-stopping “Oh! mio babbino caro” has a visual punch-line which doesn’t quite fit in, causing a false ending with applause thus in the wrong place. Michael Rosewell is the conductor for both operas; Liam Steel is the director for Gianni Schicchi.

Four and a half-star rating.

Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi are at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 18 and 19 April and at the Norwich Theatre Royal on 5 May.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

The Marriage of Figaro

reviewed at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall on 12 April

Artifice or reality? Do we laugh at or with the characters and situations? Da Ponte’s libretto lulls us into one form of enjoyment; Mozart’s music draws us onto a different level. Blanche McIntyre’s production corkscrews us from the one to the other almost seamlessly.

Conductor Christopher Stark takes us through the overture while we watch 21st century performers gathering, assuming costumes, getting in the way of the stage-hands. Designer Neil Irish plays this in front of his turqouise-shaded setting, as flexible as an oriental screen. An armchair and a strong-box materialise. This is the convenient space the Count Almaviva has found for his valet and his bride.

Ross Ramgobin is a dark-voiced Figaro, almost virulent in his reaction to Dawid Kimberg’s designs on Rachel Redmond’s well-sung and acted Susanna, and making us believe his heartbreak and agony in “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi”.

Not helped by an unbecoming wig and matronly wrapper, Nadine Benjamin is a stately Countess; you feel from the first notes of “Porgi amor” that this Rosina has had all the life-bubbles squeezed out of her in just two years. Gaynor Keeble’s Marcellina has vitality and malice in equal measure.

The smaller character parts are also well taken. John-Colyn Gyeantey’s Don Basilio and Omar Ebrahim’s Dr Bartolo makes the most of their interjections, though Ebrahim’s “La vendetta” rather muted its patter climax.Abigail Kelly did well by Barberina’s fourth act cavatina “L’ho perduta”

Replacing an indisposed Katherine Aitken, Emma Watkinson’s Cherubino has all the gawkiness of the adolescent boy coping with an onslaught of dangerous desires. Both “Non so più” and “Voi che sapete” flow naturally and the horseplay during “Non più andrai” suggests that military life might well offer compensations.

This production uses the Jeremy Sams version of the libretto, which sits easily with the notation and has an air of 18th century style about it. A row of footlights suggest that we’re watching at one remove. But our ears tell us differently.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Marriage of Figaro is also at the Snape Maltings on 13 April and at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 17, 20 and 21 April as part of the ETO 2018 Spring tour.

 

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Sleeping Beauty

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 29 March

Reminding young people, and their elders, that there’s more to a traditional tale than its Disney version is an excellent idea. The sequence of spring musicals devised by Catherine Lomax shows just what can be done if you strip away any pantomime and animation elements.

This Sleeping Beauty is the joint creation of Lomax (direction), Phil Dennis (musical direction) and Khiley Williams (choreography). Connor Norris’ permanent set is medieval with soaring gothic arches and flambeau-bearing towers.

Lisa Hickey’s costumes contrast period realism for the court and townspeople with flower fantasy for the immortals. The good fairies represent spring flowers – Natalie Harman’s Tulip has a jolly-hockey-sticks personality, Francesca French’s Primrose is more sedate while Rebecca Gilhooley’s Bluebell (akin to the Lilac Fairy familiar from the ballet) is quietly authoritative.

In opposition stands Ellen Vereneiks’ withering Narcissus, the Carabosse of this musical. All four have strong voices, easily coping with Dennis’ mixture of bravura singing and close harmony. Abigayle Honeywill’s Beauty, Oliver Stanley as King Favian and Glenn Anderson as Prince Rowan make the most of their individual and concerted numbers.

This production is due to be seen in Chesterfield, Middlesbrough and Skegness when the short Stevenage run closes. This is the sort of small-scale but stylish staging of new work which deserves a wider audience; that in turn means that more attention (which includes money) can be alloted to casting and overall production values.

Four and a half-star rating.

Sleeping Beauty plays matinée and late afternoon/early evening performances until 2 April at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Family & children's shows, Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

The Jungle Book

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 20 March

Stories, whether set in the past or in fantasy setting, inevitably reflect the culture in which they are written. Kipling nowadays is seen as the laureate of the Raj, a view which (while perfectly legitimate from a 2018 perspective) can overshadow his real and deep understanding of India, both social and natural.

We’ve become accustomed therefore to prettied-up, emasculated versions of the Jungle Book stories. The Children’s Touring Partnership’s new production is certainly of our time and place, but – for me, at any rate – it captures most of the essence of the original.

This is a musical version, scripted by Jessica Swale with an original score by Joe Stilgoe. Max Webster’s direction sets his cast on a revolve with a scaffolding set by Peter McKintosh (who also designed the costumes) and choreography by Lizzi Gee which exploits both the pack and the solo nature of wild animals.

A succession of puppets by Nick Barnes ranges from the simplicity of those representing the child Mowgli  and the kite Chil to the glistening coils (lots of them) of the python Kaa (Rachel Dawson). Central to the story is Mowgli, feral in more than one way, who Keziah Joseph fully brings to life (and our sympathetic understanding).

Lloyd Gorman’s Shere Khan is a commanding villain with the height and presence to command his scenes as well as the jungle denizens; he also has a very good singing voice. His opposite number is Dyfrig Morris’ Balloo, a sloth bear with just a touch of Paddington and Winnie the Pooh – not to mention the pantomime comic.

As the wolf-pack leader Akela, Tripti Tripuraneni radiates the right sort of authority as in the different way does Deborah Oyelade’s Bagheera with a panther-like disregard for slower creatures. Most of the cast take on other roles, including the dangerously mischievous Bandar-Log tribe of monkeys.

Costumes, movements and Charles Balfour’s lighting remind us that we are in an Indian jungle butting onto human villages, villages whose relations with the water-holes and vegetation around them both nurture and threaten. It’s probably not a show for very young children, but it is one to provoke thought.

After all, that’s what story-telling has been doing for millenia.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Jungle Book continues at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 24 March with matinées on 22 and 24 March. The tour also includes the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 10 and 14 April.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Family & children's shows, Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Teddy

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 19 February

“The world is bigger than the Walworth Road”. In 2018 it’s all too easy to forget just how distant the horizon was for the young people of 1958. The sort of trips abroad which are a regular event for so many of school age weren’t even a pipe dream.

London was still pock-marked by the Blitz bombing, the old certainties had crumbled with it but work prospects for school-leavers were largely narrow ones. Single-parent families were another war by-product with fathers never returning from active service.

Tristan Bernays and Dougal Irvine’s musical Teddy takes us into that vanished world. One in which money (mainly in the form of a parental weekly dole-out of shillings and pence) was in short supply but the Teddy Boys and their girl-friends still made the most of it.

This Watermill Theatre musical directed by Eleanor Rhode is the latest in a succession of small-scale shows to go on tour. Central to the action is the eponymous Teddy (George Parker) who preens and postures in his second-hand frock-coat and the girl he takes up with.

She’s called Josie. Molly Chesworth shows us how much the screen glitter of a Hollywood lifestyle – luxurious Cadillacs, endless sunshine, beautiful and pristine beaches – becomes an obsession, leading both her and Teddy into dangerous territory.

The two play all the parts, including the louche bully boy who can’t work out how on earth Josie could possibly not fancy his attentions. Those early rock’n’roll sounds are provided by a four-person band at stage right and become characters in their own right.

Dylan Wood is the lead singer with musical director Harrison White, Freya Parks and Andrew Gallow. Tom Jackson-Greaves’s choreography is energetic and in period, and the designers Max Dorey (set), Christopher Nairne (lighting) and Holly Rose Henshaw (costumes) add to the atmosphere.

Four star rating.

Teddy runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 24 February with matinées on 21 and 24 February. It can also be seen at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich between 19 and 24 March.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Sunset Boulevard

reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 29 January

This tour of Nikolai Foster’s Curve production of what is arguably the darkest of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals has the advantage of a script and lyrics from Don Black and Christopher Hampton which combine the important merits of fitting the characters as well as the story and its situations.

It is based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film about a former star of the silent screen who cannot come to terms with an industry where the visual element shares – and often yields – importance with spoken dialogue. Ria Jones gives a convincing performance as Norma Desmond, mewed up with her memories in the decaying splendour of her mansion on Sunset Boulevard like Dickens’ Miss Havisham.

Jones has the stage presence as well as the vocal strength to make us understand why Norma as turned in (and on) herself. Her equally formidable co-stars are Adam Pearce as Max von Meyerling, the factotum who we learn is so much more, and Danny Mac as the penniless hack script-writer who lets himself be sucked into their twilight world.

Around these three a 12-strong ensemble peoples the stage with characters as colourful as the studio world they inhabit at so many levels. Molly Lynch has the voice and personality for Betty, the girl who wants to write screenplays and who offers Joe a possible route back into the studios.

Adrian Kirk conducts a 12-person orchestra, reinforcing this as something much nearer to one of those diva-led 19th century operas which (with the right cast and production) still command our attention. The design team – Colin Richmond (set and costumes), Ben Cracknell (lighting) and Douglas O’Connell (video and projection) – swirl us through the different locations with the aid of staircases and the shimmer rather than the concrete of furnishings.

“In my end is my beginning” is a motto attributed to Mary Queen of Scots. This bitter-sweet tragedy has the same trajectory. Unlike so many straight films given the staged musical treatment, this one works from its first notes through a succession of arias and choral set pieces to its savage climax. What’ more, the audience knows it.

Four and a half-star rating.

Sunset Boulevard runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 3 February wth matinées on 31 January and 3 February. I also plays at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich between 5 and 10 March.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018