Tag Archives: Cliffs Pavilion Southend

Madagascar: A Musical Adventure

reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 3 September

“Be careful what you wish for…” runs the wise old saying. This musical stage adaptation of the animated film Madagascar directed by Kirk Jameson is a visual treat while gently sounding a hot of ecological and sociological messages.

As lion Alex (Matt Terry, zebra Marty (Antoine Murray-Straughan, hippopotamus Gloria (Timmika Ramsay and giraffe Melman (Jamie Lee-Morgan) discover when they make their initial escape from New York’s Central Park Zoo, human-beings react differently towards wild animals on display and when on the loose.

Duly sedated and crated up, they find themselves on Madagascar, where food doesn’t just deliver itself and there is a distinct animal pecking-order. This is headed by ring-tailed lemur King Julian (Jo Parsons), who makes up in ferocity for his diminutive size.

The dancing is very good and suitably athletic – Fabian Aloise is the choreographer. Tom Rogers’ designs for the animal costumes and puppets, and his simple but effective crate-based settings, suggest the different species and locations with a clarity which leaves room for the audience’s imagination to elaborate.

Mischievous monkeys and platoon-regimented penguins manoeuvre their own ways to security, whether within the confines of a zoo or returned to their native habitat. It’s one of those shows aimed at children which adults can also appreciate. Proper family entertainment.

Four star rating.

Madagascar: A Musical Adventure runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 8 September with matinées on 4 and 8 September. It is also at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich between 16 and 18 October.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, 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.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Beautiful

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 3 October

As shows hewn out of  back catalogues go, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is much more enjoyable than most. Just launched on its post-West End tour, it juxtaposes two couples.

The main one is song composer Carole King (Bronté Barbé) and her future husband lyricist Gerry Goffin (Kane Oliver Parry). Then there’s a less intense and more wise-cracking pair – lyricist and singer Cynthia Weil (Amy Ellen Richardson) and hypochondriac composer Barry Mann (Matthew Gonsalves).

Carole’s mother Genie Klein (Carol Royle) and music publisher Donnie Kirschner (Adam Howden) act as their stimuli as the story moves from 1958 to 1971, from young beginners fighting for their first vital contracts and professional contacts to Carnegie Hall itself.

Visual impressions are no longer a mere matter of smoke and mirrors. Their place has been taken by lights and scaffolding, give or take the odd item of furniture, staircases and a couple of pianos.

Derek McLane’s sets, Alejo Vietti’s costumes and Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting ensure that Marc Bruni’s production keeps on the move.

Josh Prince’s choreography also reflects the decades in question and is very well danced by the 12-person ensemble with Esme Laudat and Khalid Daley in particular making their presence felt.

As King, Barbé manages the transitions between eager schoolgirl, young wife and solo performer effectively and puts over the feelings as well as the words and notes of her numbers. Richardson makes a fine contrast. Parry and Gonsalves play far less sympathetic characters equally well.

Four star rating.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 7 October with matinées on 4, 5 and 7 October. it also plays at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend between 10 and 14 October and at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich between 17 and 21 April 2018.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

The Wedding Singer

reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 15 August

Yet another stage version of a musical film is on tour this summer. This time it’s The Wedding Singer, set in the 1980s (how long ago that now seems!) and decorated with hit numbers of the period.

The story centres on Robbie Hart (Jon Robyns) who really wants to compose his own songs for his band – friends Sammy (Ashley Emerson) and George (Samuel Holmes) – but who scrapes a living by singing at weddings.

Robbie is engaged to Linda (Tara Verloop), but she jilts him (literally) at the altar and his only consolation comes from grandmother Rosie (Ruth Madoc) and waitress Julia (Cassie Compton), herself on the verge of becoming engaged to businessman Glen (Ray Quinn).

You can guess how it all pans out.

Under musical director Sean Green the numbers go with a swing, even if none of them are particularly memorable, and the choreography of director Nick Winston is excellent and very well performed. Designers Francis O’Connor (set and costumes), Ben Cracknell (lighting) and Jack Henry James (video projections) use the stage imaginatively.

Both Compton and Verloop have strong voices and personalities to match while Robyns makes as much as he can of the title character; Robbie’s a nice guy but one wonders if he’ll ever make the big time, even with Julia (and grandma)’s help. Madoc as usual steals all the scenes she’s in.

Three and a half-star rating.

The Wedding Singer runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 19 August with an early evening performance on 18 August and matinées on 16 an 19 August.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 18 July

Mark Haddon’s book about a teenage boy with Asperger Syndrome has been adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens. The National Theatre production by Marianne Elliott is currently on the second leg of its UK tour. Elliott may be the director, but Bunny Christie’s graph-paper design concentrated on a cube, Paule Constable’s complex lighting plot and Finn Ross’ video certainly don’t take second billing.

It’s not a comfortable story. Christopher Boone (Scott Reid), caught in a neighbour’s garden with the pitchforked body of her dog, is a central character with whom at first we struggle to find any degree of empathy, just as his parents and those around him do. If you’ve ever had anything to do with a friend or family member with autism, you will find yourself in familiar territory.

Reid’s portrait of a brilliant, logical and gifted mathematical youth trapped in a world whose lack of sequential reasoning seems so incomprehensible to him is a searing one. Siobhan (Lucianne McEvoy), one of his teachers,  comes closest to understanding his wavelength; McEvoy’s study of a woman who tries to comprehend – and to accept – is equally fine.

The other three main characters are Mrs Alexander (Debra Michaels), an elderly neighbour  who doesn’t condemn Chris out-of-hand, his uncomprehending father Ed (David Michaels) and Judy (Emma Beattie), the mother he was told had died but in fact who left her husband for a lover, Roger Shears. There is also a large ensemble.

Movement is an important part of this hypnotic production. Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett use the players in angular, often formal, groupings which echo Chris’ inner turmoil. This is a staging where what we hear – spoken dialogue apart – chimes in with the movement; Adrian Sutton’s score and Ian Dickinson’s sound design provides this. It’s akin to the incidental music familiar from films and, increasingly, television drams and documentaries.

What matters in the end is that it’s Christopher’s story, seen largely through his eyes and filtered through his off-kilter mental processes. Stand ing ovations are becoming a bit of a curtain-call cliché these days. The one for Reid (and, by inference, for the whole staging concept) was thoroughly merited.

Five star rating.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 22 July with matinées on 19 and 22 July.

 

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

Funny Girl

reviewed in Southend on 19 June (preview)

An old theatrical cliché has the understudy taking over from the leading lady and stealing the show. Natasha J Barnes is not precisely an understudy – she alternated with Sheridan Smith during the London run of this musical version of the Fanny Brice story, and won plaudits – but the audience in Southend knows a superb performance when one is placed before it, and responded.

Barnes inhabits the role completely, both physically and psychologically. Her face becomes that of a woman who found out the hard way when still a young girl that she was never going to be pretty. So she compensated by developing her comedy talents, controlling and turning mockery into applause. I imagine that many a court jester developed the same carapace. While Barnes shows us this feisty side of Brice, she also makes the woman’s vulnerability clear.

This is particularly noticeable in her scenes with Darius Campbell’s Nick Arnstein, the suave gambler and con man who sweeps her into a marriage in which he demands freedom and she cannot give it wholeheartedly. Both sing well and make Bob Merrill’s lyrics and Jule Styne’s score an integral part of Michael Meyer’s production. There are also a very good performance from Joshua Lay as Eddie Ryan, who helps Fanny through an almost unspoken love for her.

Myra Sands, Zoë Ann Bown and Rachel Izen make a marvellous trio of New York Jewish ladies of a certain age and there a good cameos by Michael Callaghan as Mr Keeney and Nigel Barber as impressario Ziegfeld. The dancers are versatile and show off Lynne Page’s choreography as well as Matthew Wright’s quick-change costumes. Michael Pavelka’s asymmetrical set frames it all splendidly with Mark Henderson’s lighting and projections adding place and time.

Four and a half-star rating.

Funny Girl runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 24 June with matinées on 21 and 24 June. It is also at the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 26 June and 1 July.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, 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

Cats

(reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 18 July)

Those felines versified by TS Eliot and magicked into stage life by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn, Gillian Lynne, John Napier and Howard Eaton have migrated on a UK tour after a new London residency. This fresh production builds on the original one 35 years ago in many ways while taking a subtly different approach.

Reviewing that original production I suggested that potential theatre-goers should make their canaries sing for their supper and put the dog on own-brand food for as long as it would take to acquire the money for a ticket. Those cage birds and canines need to be on similar rations in 2016 – it’s a marvellous total theatre experience.

Lloyd Webber’s score, so eclectic in the nuances of composition and orchestration with the words for both concerted and solo numbers given proper precedence, is conducted by Tim Davies. We’ve become accustomed to through-composed scores in musicals, but the through-choreographed show puts a special burden on its performers, most of whom sing while bending, stretching, whirling and lifting in Lynne’s dance patterns.

Cats insinuate themselves in the aisles as well as on the stage; one little girl at the performance which I attended decided that these alley-cats were far removed from the docile moggie she cuddled at home. Of the large and incredibly hard-working and committed cast, Marianne Benedict’s Grizabella and Kevin Stephen-Jones’ Old Deuteronomy stand out for sheer vocal power, Sophia McAvoy’s balletic white cat, Matt Krzan’s Munkustrap, Marcquelle Ward’s Rum Tum Tugger, Shiv Rabheru’s Quaxo and Mistroffelees and Javier Cid’s Macavity are particularly noteworthy.

Ringing the auditorium with coloured globes and making us aware that we are intruders on some very soecial rituals during the overture with its pairs of cats’ eyes winking at us ll over the stage are Eaton’s lights, as much an integral part of the experience as those animal costumes, masks and make-up so far removed from the concept of the pantomime “animal skin”. It really is total theatre throughout.

Cats runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 23 July with matinées on 20 and 23 July.

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Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2016

Chicago

(reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 27 June)

The touring version of the Fred Abb-John Kander-Bob Fosse musical comes over as fresh now as when it was first produced. The formal setting – the ten-person band facing the audience from steeply raked seats literally framed in gold, costumes basically in variations of black and a clever use of lighting – distances the audience from the 1920s story of women who kill and then (mostly) wriggle away from the gallows while at the same time involving it in their histories.

In Southend the opening night of the run brought understudy Lindsey Tierney to the central role of Roxy. She has a strong voice and is a good actress as well as dancer; that also holds true for Sophie Carmen-Jones as her prison mirror-image Velma. Frances Dee also holds attention as the girl who fails to convince a jury, and duly pays the penalty. Payment of any kind (except in cash or favours) is not within the remit of Sam Bailey’s prison dominatrix Matron “Mama” Morton.

Among the male characters, Neil Ditt’s Amos, Roxy’s credulous and ultimately hard-done by husband, stands out as someone towards whom one cannot help but feel both sympathy and exasperation. The fast-thinking, smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn (John Patridge) grabs his moments, notably in “All I care about” and “Razzle dazzle”, though his histrionics have strong competition from musical director Ben Atkinson. AD Richardson has the creepily androgynous part of Mary Sunshine; an operatic training shines through “A little bit of good”.

Chicago runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 2 July with matinées on 29 June and 2 July. It can also be seen (with cast changes) at the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 31 October and 5 November.

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Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2016

Cinderella

(reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 15 December 2015)

It’s billed as the greatest pantomime of them all, but Kathryn Rooney’s production of Cinderella for the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend ticks far too many of the wrong boxes. In its favour are the ugly sisters (David Robbins as Claudia and Martin Ramsdin as Kate). Their costumes are fantastic, their nastiness is eminently booable and Ramsdin’s false nose deserves a credit to itself.

Lauren Hall makes a petite and very charming Cinders; her Prince Charming is the strong-voiced Matthew Goodgame with Steve Lees as Dandini. Lesley Joseph, from her first entrance perched on a glittering half-moon to her relationship with Cinderella is also worth watching; you can believe in her power to make things happen. The musical numbers go with a swing with the band under Mark Aspinall.

The settings by Ian Westbrook are new for this theatre, Cinderella goes to the ball drawn by real white ponies and Elliot Nixon has devised some pretty choreography for the dancing ensemble and the children. So far, so good, but (and it’s a very big but) the story is reduced to a skeleton and the dominant (not to say domineering) presence of Brain Conley as Buttons takes over.

I was irresistibly reminded of those dire so-called pantomimes in the doldrum days of the late 60s and early 70s when a sequence of speciality acts was cobbled onto one of the traditional stories. I’m sure that Conley has an enormous following, but this extended and selfish variety turn should really have been called Buttons, not Cinderella.

Cinderella runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 10 January.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015

The Last Tango

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 2 November)

You know what they say – third time lucky! That’s certainly true of the third dance drama starring award-winning and television stars Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone. The Last Tango has a strong, deceptively simple plot and showcases a range of 1930s dances, not just the tango variations for which Cacace and Simone are renowned.

Into an attic-room crammed with discarded bits of furniture – including a piano much in need of some TLC – as well as boxes and suitcases crammed full of memorabilia crawls old George. His son and daughter call to him from below from time to time, worried for him as each item brings back memories. Teddy Kempner has the audience on his side from the beginning as he unfolds his life for us on the stage below.

We see him first as a young man (Simone) chatting up and then dating a girl he fancies (Cacace). There follows a beach party and a whole range of social encounters offering the other dancers the opportunity to display their considerable dance skills in Karen Bruce’s inventive choreography. The well-designed costumes (Vicky Gill) range from the carefree early 30s to wartime and post-war.

Cacane herself has a razor-bright sharpness to her foot work, a lithe body, gamine hairstyle and a graceful extension. Simone partners her securely and acts the part of the carefree youth changed by combat and later maturing into an acceptance of loss with conviction. Singers Rebecca Lisewski and Matthew Gent underline the passage of time under the musical direction of Steve Geere. The overture, incidentally, sounded over-amplified at the first Norwich performance.

The Last Tango runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 7 November and is also at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend between 26 and 30 January.

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Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2015

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 13 October)

Recycling is generally considered to be a good thing. There are however moments when one feels that the musical theatre is just overloading the system. I’ve lost count of the number of musicals just over the past decade which have been based on films, let alone actual stage plays or indeed novels.

The latest to come my way is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, based on a 1988 film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The music and lyrics are by David Yazbek and the book by Jeffrey Lane; the original story – about conmen preying on rich women holidaying on the French Riveria – has been tweaked and updated. Yazbek’s lyrics have some clever line endings and allusions.

One of the conmen is a middle-aged smoothie Lawrence Jameson (Kevin Stephen-Jones at the performance I saw) who is well practised in his “art”. His first victim is Muriel Eubanks (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who drifts from Laurence to his factotum André Thibault (Gary Wilmot). Then along comes tyro Freddy Benson (Noel Sullivan), eager not just to learn the tricks of the trade from a master but to surpass him.

if Lawrence is happy to shake off Oklahoma heiress Jolene Oakes (Phoebe Coupe), all gun-toting and boot-stomping, both men fall for Christine Colgate (Carley Stenson). Stephen-Jones is most effective as the Viennese “doctor” Shüffhausen in one of Lawrence’s more desperate ploys to get the girl; otherwise he’s convincing enough without taking as much of the centre-stage as he should.

Sullivan somewhat over-eggs Freddy – you don’t feel that he deserves even a half-share in Christine. Stenson and Fitzgerald both come over well, though for me the most interesting and convincing performance was that of Wilmot. Jerry Mitchell’s direction and choreography are both fast-moving. Costumes are by Peter McKintosh, and some of those for the women principals and dance ensemble are very attractive. The ten-piece band is directed by Ben Van Tienen.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 17 October. It also plays at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend between 10 and 14 November.

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Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015

Hetty Feather

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

How do you create something which appeals to all age groups, from nursery school through to great-grand parents? One good starting point is to take a well-loved book and then work live theatre’s own very special magic on it. That’s what happens in the Emma Reeves’ stage version of Jacqueline Wilson’s Hetty Feather, now on a second major UK tour.

Director Sally Cookson and designer Katie Sykes set it in a circus. Not the slick, balletic modern version but a tinsel tawdry one typical of the late 19th century. Foundling Hetty (Phoebe Thomas) has red hair, a vivid imagination and an enormous amount of indignation as she seeks to establish her own proper identity and reclaim the comfort and nurture of a real family. The last one seems to offer itself when she’s taken in by baby farmer Peg (Sarah Goddard).

But Peg has to return her foundlings to the Hospital once they reached an age when they can be taught and sent out as servants (the girls) or cannon fodder (the boys). Hetty and Saul (Nik Howden), her special friend among her “brothers”, sneak into a circus where bareback rider Madame Adeline ((Nikki Warwick) is the star attraction and whose red hair prompts Hetty to decide that this must surely be her real mother.

She isn’t, of course. Hetty’s “picturing” has led her, not for the first time, down the wrong track entirely. it’s all beautifully and sincerely conveyed by Thomas – the feistiest of heroines and guaranteed to win masculine as well as feminine hearts – and Goddard, who doubles the other mother figure of Ida. Warwick comes into her own in the second act and there’s an abrasive sketch of Matron Bottomly by Matt Costain. Mark Kane plays Gideon, partially crippled and vindictive with it.

The circus skills flow naturally between this talented cast; the prancing circus ponies and long-trunked elephant are particularly enjoyable. musicians Seamus H Carey and Luke Potter – instrumentalists and commentators in the clown-Deburau tradition – provide the accompaniment (the composer-arranger is Benji Bower). The folk song “Over the hills and far away” haunts the story. It’s partly a metaphor for Hetty’s longings but also an invitation to the audience to loose its own imagination fo two hours. Or even for a little bit longer.

Hetty Feather run at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 3 October and can also be seen at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend between 23 and 25 October.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2015

Annie

(reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 3 August)

Little orphan Annie is not a newcomer to UK stages, though this production by Nikolai Foster for Michael Harrison and David Ian is something of a radical re-think. Yes, it’s still a razzamatazz of a musical, set in Depression-era New York with a cameo roll-on part for President Roosevelt, but Foster has injected just a touch of grit into the syrup.

Our heroine, at the performance which I saw, is Madeleine Haynes, all ginger pigtails and attitude. Balancing the sound system at the first date in a new theatre is always slightly problematic, and her words didn’t come into proper focus until the second half. The eight-piece band under George Dyer make the most of the score and there is real dymamisim in Nick Winston’s choreography, with its cheeky salute to Jerome Robbins and Gene Kelly.

Annie’s would be nemesis is the trio of Miss Hannigan (Craig Revel Horwood), her brother Rooster (Jonny Fines) and his moll Lily (Daljenga Scott). Horwood’s drag-act is as accomplished as ever, though never quite show-stopping. “Easy street” shows them at their best, that is to say worst. “Daddy” Warbucks, the billionaire who discovers that he has a heart as well as a fortune, and his secretary Grace Farrell come over as thoroughly believable people in Alex Borne’s and Holly Dale Spencer’s characterisations.

Callum McArdle is the wheel-chaired president who tries to find Annie’s parents and somehow in the process thaws Warbucks’ stalwartly Republican convictions. Colin Richmond has designed an effective all-purpose set, based on jigsaw puzzle pieces with just the odd piece of necessary furniture – a desk, orphanage beds, a table, sofa or art déco doorway – signalling a change of location.Ben Cracknell’s lighting is equally clever.

Annie runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 8 August and at the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 17 and 22 August.

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Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015