Tag Archives: Lisa Hickey

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.

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

The Producers

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 31 August

Catherine Lomax’s summer musical at the Gordon Craig Theatre stands comparison with many a more expensively lavish touring production – in fact, it deserves a tour of its own. The Producers, that in-joke about how to stay out of the bankruptcy courts as a Broadway impressario, is a bold choice for a small regional theatre.

The settings and drop-curtain scenes follow each other slickly, aided by Pete Cramer and Al Rivers’ lighting and enhanced by Lisa Hickey’s clever costuming. from the opening number – bridging the gap between the first and closing nights of Max Bialystock’s latest production – a musical skit on Hamlet called Funny Boy – Khiley Williams and Philip Joel’s choreography sparkles.

Pail Easom as Max dominates the show throughout; we may wince at his exploitation of elderly female “angels” and shameless manipulation of everyone with whom he comes into contact, but we can’t help rooting for him. Even when he and the  hapless accountant Leo Bloom (Ryan Owen) he has recruited launch that farrago called Springtime for Hitler to lose rather than to make money.

Owen makes an excellent foil to Easom, as does Oliver Stanley as the unrepentant Nazi with his cages of storm-trooper-drilled pigeons (a set designer is not credited in the programme) but s/he and the stage crew deserve plaudits of their own. Ali Bastian as sultry Swedish bombshell Ulla looks and sounds charming but rather pales into the background of the character studies around her.

These include Daniel Page as the campest of cross-dressing directors, Joel as his other-half and their coterie of flamboyant thespian homosexuals (Joseph Connor, James Donovan and Adam Shorey) and one butch lesbian (Catherine Millsom) (remember that this all takes place in 1959).

Sound balance (Luke Hyde) is excellent with Phil Dennis’ orchestra allowed to make its musical points whle never swamping the actors’ words. The ensemble comprises ten young performers just launching their professional careers who display impressive talents in song, acting and dance.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Producers runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 9 September with matinées on 2, 7 and 9 September.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Charlotte’s Web
(reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 15 April)

The Stevenage theatre’s artistic director Catherine Lomax has been building up an impressive portfolio of in-house productions over the pa few years. The latest is a new staging of the Joseph Robinette and Charles Strouse’s musical version of the well-loved children’s story Charlotte’s Web by EB White, first published in 1952.

Set in White’s Maine, this is the story of a piglet who escapes slaughter, thanks to the feisty Fern, and is sent to be reared at the nearby Zukerman farm. There he makes the acquaintance of an assortment of farm animals, including an exceptionally greedy and know-all rat called Templeton (well, when did you last see a rat on stage cast as other than a devious specimen?) and the generous and intelligent spider called Charlotte (who lives in the same barn).

It is Charlotte, spinning ever more intricate webs, who saves Wilbur from the knife, much to Fern’s delight – though less so in the case of her stroppy brother Avery, their parents the Arables and the Zukerman household. White deals subtly but firmly with the sacrifice which Charlotte’s labours and her need to provide the next generation of spiders will exact.

The staging is very good with a succession of farm sets and some eye-catching costumes for the animals (Lisa Hickey), notably the geese (with goslings), the sheep (fleecy lambs by their side), great-coated Templeton and Charlotte’s bustled black with pendulous legs and extra eyes perched on her head like an aviatrix’s goggles. The country ‘n’ western-derived score is tuneful, if not memorable, and Khiley Williams has provided some energetic choreography for it.

Cameron Leigh’s Charlotte is a clever portrayal and well-sung as well as acted. Will Breckin’s Wilbur is as perky as such a prize porker ought to be with the forceful Harriet Payne as his human advocate and Matthew Collyer as a Templeton who has a distinct whiff of Animal Farm in his deviousness. Ed Court is quite funny as the Zuckermans’ clumsy farmhard Lurvy and Alistair Higgins stomps around as the archetypical teenage grump.

The five-piece band is led by Phil Dennis, and sounded at time a little under-powered. At the opening performance, Luke Hyde’s sound team hadn’t quite got the balance right, so that the opening numbers and verbal exchanges were over-miked while Leigh’s final scene and song seem to fade rather more than the spider’s own fragility at that point really warrented.

Charlotte’s Web runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 19 April.

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Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015