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.
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.
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.
(reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 27 October)
A musical thriller says the programme cover for Daniel Buckroyd’s new production of the Sondheim musical for the Mercury Theatre in Colchester and the Derby Playhouse. Sara Perks has designed a triangular set on a central revolve which adapts seamlessly to the environment of different areas of Dickensian London.
The score has been re-arranged by Michael Haslam for a five-piece band, tucked away stage left on the platform which surround the main acting area. On the official opening night, it often seemed as though sound designer Adam P McCready still needed to correct the balance between musicians and stage performers considerably. Too many lines of the opening “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd” ballad were lost – and I was sitting only four rows from the stage.
Hugh Maynard’s performance in the title role takes no hostages; you can understand the man’s thirst for revenge and even the way in which he utilises his professional skills to achieve it. He also know that the part requires the audience’s sympathy to leach away as just requital is overwhelmed by an indiscriminate blood-lust. His baritone is strong, an excellent foil for Sophie-Louise Dann’s luciously lascivious Mrs Lovett.
Christina Bennington is a winsome, well-sung and acted Johanna, her lyricism counterpointing Dann’s more streewise tones. Kara Lane’s Beggar Woman leads us gently into the realisation that this raucously sluttish mendicant was once Todd’s beautiful and virtuus wife Lucy. David Durham makes much as Judge Turpin’s villainy with Julian Hoult a dulcet-toned slimily insinuating Beadle. Jack Wilcox gives Anthony strength as well as niceness and his voice is a good match with that of Bennington.
If Simon Shoren’s Signor Pirelli is another in the cast of “nasties” whih inhabits the story, Ryan Heenan, both in his Dulcamara-style snake-oil salesman introduction to Pirelli’s barbering and tooth-drawing abilities and in the subsequent portrait of a lad grateful for any casual kindness (let alone the odd p or two), comes close to stealing the show. There is strong support also from the Colchester Community Chorus.
Sweeney Todd runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 12 November with matinées on 5, 10 and 12 November.
(reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 25 May)
Noël Coward’s 1930 comedy Private Lives is deceptively simple. The plot – a divorced couple finding themselves honeymooning with new spouses at the same hotel rekindle both their passion and the causes for the break-up – calls for the two main characters to dominate the stage, notably in the second act, while the subsidiary pair need to establish themselves just a forcibly but without tipping the balance.
In the event, Esther Richardson’s new production as part of the 2016 Made in Colchester season slightly perverts this. That’s because Krissi Bohn’s bright and brittle Amanda has the perfect foil in Olivia onyehara’s steely fluff of a Sybil. It’s easy to visualise this Amanda as the fast-set darling, sparkling in drawing-rooms and cocktail bars. Sara Perks has given her costumes which are right for the period and which subtly reflect the photographs of Gertrude Lawrence (who created the role).
Sybil wears pink – soft, pleated and tending towards the feathery. From Onyehara’s first entrance, preening as though a society photographer was lurking on the balcony, she gives an impression that this kitten has teeth as well as claws. That’s something which Robin Kingsland’s Victor discovers as they set off in pursuit of their errant mates.
Kingsland puts great sincerity into his Paris exchange with Amanda; this is one of those moments when both author and director lift the veil of frivolity to suggest that these are real people, who can feel real hurt. Pete Ashmore’s Elyot has a touch of petulance about him, whih slips dangerously near to being camp; those 40 minutes in Act Two when Amanda and Elyot are fired with all their previous feelings with each other never quite sustained themselves.
The maid for Amanda’s Paris flat is one of those cough-and-a-spit parts which provide the right actress with a chance to steal the show. Christine Absalom, a Mercury audience favourite, does just that in the third act, earning herself several rounds of applause. Adam P McCready’s sound design and original score (which incorporates snatches of Coward’s own music) adds to the atmosphere.
Private Lives runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 4 June with matinées on 26 and 28 May, 2 and 4 June.