reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 28 November
This yea’s pantomime season kicks off for East Anglia in Ipswich with a new Peter Rowe rock’n’roll show. So far, so familiar. However, over the past few years Rowe has begun using stories which – though familiar one – are not usually thought of as part of the traditional; pantomime canon.
So the Arthurian The Sword in the Stone and last year’s Sinbad the Sailor are now succeeded by Red Riding Hood, no longer a little girl but a feisty teenager called Maisy Merry (Lucy Wells). Familiar elements are there – a contrasted pair of immortals to set the plot spinning, a hissable double villain(Rob Falconer), his thoroughly incompetent henchmen Adam Longstaff and Daniel Carter Hope), a dashing prince in search of true love (Max Runham) and the Dame (Simon Nock).
This being the New Wolsey Theatre, the score by musical director Ben Goddard is packed full of rock’n’roll numbers. The mischievous puppet animals by Entify which are audience favourites make more appearance this year; Prince Florizel has a whole farmyard as well as a fox and a squirrel as his Privy Council. Barney George’s set is deceptively simple with clever use of gauzes and sliding flats as well as grave-traps and a central mobile platform.
All the cast take turns as instrumentalists behind one of these gauzes which shrouds the back half of the stage. Most of the action takes place on the forestage – when it doesn’t spill out into the auditorium. Elizabeth Rowe’s spring fairy Cherry Blossom contrasts well with James Haggie’s icicle-fingered Jack Frost and Red Riding Hood has Little Miss Moffet and Goldilocks (Lana Walker) and Bo Peep (Isobel Bates) to support her.
Singing honours go to Falconer when the dastardly Sir Jasper metamorphoses into his werewolf alter-ego. Nock is of the school of slightly raucous Dames with a distinctly masculine edge. Haggie doubles as the Prince’s aide, rewarded by his choice of village maidens by the end. Wells and Runham make a thoroughly engaging central couple; Rowe allows them much more personality than is sometimes the case with more traditional pantomime scripts.
Four star rating.
Red Riding Hood runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 27 January. Performance dates and times vary. Check with the theatre’s website www.wolseytheatre.co.uk for availability.
(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 29 November)
Trust Peter Rowe and the New Wolsey Theatre to come up with a variation on the traditional pantomime. Sinbad is a story which has somehow slipped from the 21st century repertoire, though it was popular in the 19th. Here Rowe has given it his theatre’s regular rock’n’roll treatment – with some unusual twists.
As one expects nowadays, the heroine is no languishing miss; Pricess Pearl (Daniella Piper) knows exactly what (and who) she wants – and that certainly doesn’t include her father the Caliph (Daniel Carter Hope)’s selection of wealthy magician Sinistro (Dan de Cruz) as her husband. Her put-upon handmaiden Jade (Lucy Wells) is also a lass with a mind of her own.
The trouble for both girls is that sailors are slippery creatures, none more so than Sinbad himself (Steve Rushton) and his bosun (Adam Langstaff). Running away to sea might have seemed an easy option on dry land, but once sails are set… Also on board are Sinbad’s mother Donna Souvlakia (Graham Hent) – no prizes for guessing just which foodstuffs this raucous Dame purveys!
Particularly interesting is the second comic role – Tinbad the Tailor, an erudite nod by Rowe and the excellent Rob Falconer in the direction of James Joyce. He comes close to stealing the whole show with his sly wooing of think-I-can-do-better Donna. Our story-teller is, of course, Scheherezade (Elizabeth Rowe), an engaging dea ex machina.
All three girls sing well, as does Rushton and (when he is finally allowed to let rip) de Cruz. Darragh O’leary’s choreography is of the step, shuffle, turn school, though the eyelash-fluttering dromendary (well, it makes a change from a cow) manages some nifty footwork. Puppets, as New Wolsey audiences now expect, pop up from grave-traps and gaps in the flats; the designer is Barney George.
Sinbad runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 28 January. Check the website
wolseytheatre.co.uk for performance date and time details.
(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 8 December 2015)
This year’s rock-n’roll Christmas show at the New Wolsey Theatre marks a theme departure by writer and director Peter Rowe. He’s based it on the TH White version of the Arthurian legends The Sword in the Stone which describes how a young foundling developed into King Arthur, with considerable help and tutelage by the wizard Merlin.
We meet the shy, amenable Sprout (a thoroughly engaging Sandy Grigelis) as he comes through boyhood at the castle of Sir Cedric Scuttlebutt (Daniel Carter-hope) and is bullied by Sir Cedric’s clod of a son Kay (Rob Falconer). What’s left of post-Roman Britain is being constantly invaded by barbarian hordes while the seven kingdoms into which it has fractured feud as much within themselves as against what should be a common enemy.
Sir Cedric is in charge of martial training. For the romantic side of chivalry he has engaged Bernadette Broadbottom (a masculine sort of Dam as played by Graham Kent). Also in the household is Guinevere (Lucy Wells), a young lady who takes to action as enthusiastically as to learning how to be an object of courtly desire. Magic is taught by Merlin (Sean Kingsley), whose special concern is for the Sprout, though Guinevere proves herslef to be an apt pupil.
Then there’s fellow magician Morgana Le Fay (Georgina White), gleaming in purple,wielding a magic staff to equal Merlin’s and as ambitious for her thoroughly unpleasant son Mordred (Steve Simmonds) as Sir Cedric is for his. It is the series of combats both mental and physical between these two which really hold the story together.
If you’ve been to an Ipswich pantomime before, you’ll know that the cast play all the instruments – mainly brass and amplified guitars – as well as acting and singing. The noise level is high, only slightly softening for Grigelis’ first act song and the second act duet with Wells. There were many moments when my ears ached for something quieter, and without the double amplification of throat and hand-held mikes.
As is now the custom with pantomimes, one audience member was picked on as the main butt of Kent’ attentions; a second one targeted by Falconer proved less amenable – and who could blame her? This is a gimmick which really should be moth-balled. The excellent set (much use of grave traps) is by Barney George. The dragon guarding the stolen Excalibur is very well done and the animal puppets peeping out from time to time in wood and castle are a delight. The choreography is by Darragh O’Leary.
The Sword in the Stone runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 30 January.
(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 21 September)
Woman may be a delicate blossom, like the white flowers for which Robert Harling named his 1987 play, but women are infinitely less fragile, hence the second word in the title Steel Magnolias. We are in small-town Louisiana in the south of the USA, specifically in a hair-dressing salon. Its proprietor is Truvvy (Sarah Mahony) and she’s just taken on a new-to-town assistant Annelle (Lucy Wells) – a born-again Christian.
The clientle is a faithfull one, using the salon as a neutral meeting-ground, rather like a club. There’s a former mayor’s wealthy widow Clairee (Tina Gray), the slightly eccentric dog-loving Ouiser (Gillian Cally) and mother and daughter M’Lynn (Claire Storey) and Shelby (Gemma Salter).
Shelby is about to be married; she’s also a diabetic. In her mother’s view, the two do not go together, as we see during the course of the drama which coves two-and-a-half years in four scenes. Director Liz Marsh and designers Dinah England (set and costumes) and Chris Howcroft (lighting) take us to the time and place and through the seasons with considerable style and dialect coach Richard Ryder has done sterling work.
The trouble is that those soft Southern inflections are not easily projected into the auditorium. So, though all the performances are very good in themselves, Storey’s long speech in the fourth scene didn’t really come across with all its painful recollection until its peroration.
Which is a pity as by this point we are thoroughly engaged in the human tragedy as well as with the personal crises of various types with which the characters are involved and which they manage to resolve collectively and with considerable finesse through a policy of give and take.
Steel Magnolias runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 10 October.
(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 24 August)
Forget the Chuck Berry 1956 hit and even the Beatles’ 1963 version. Bob Eaton’s full-length musical called Roll Over Beethoven, now premièred at Hornchurch’s Queen’s Theatre, has snatches of Beethoven as well as a variation on Shakespeare’s Hamlet as the story line, iambic pentameters and all.
We are in a northern town in the mid-50s. Johnny Hamlet is in the middle of his National service; his school-friends Larry (Laertes) and Horace aka Waltzer (Horatio) have secured postponements – Larry through being at university and Waltzer by flourishing his homosexuality at the selection board.
One of the most interesting things about Eaton’s plot is that Eaton makes the Ghost into a malevolent downright vindictive figure. Fred Broom revels in the part as he seeks to manipulate his son towards murder. The not-quite grieving widow Gertie (Sarah Mahoney) and her new husband Claud (Antony Reed) are partners in a faltering music-shop business with Henry Polonius (Steven Markwick), whose attitude to changing tastes is mirrored in his repression of his lively 17-year old daughter Ophelia (Lucy Wells).
Wells has one of the best first-half numbers in “Seventeen” and the “Ghost train” sequence with Broom, Markwick and Wells is also effective. So is “Murder by silhouette”, when Rodney Ford’s lego-style design becomes a major actor in the sequence and Mark Dymock’s lighting complements this admirably. Matt Devitt’s direction keeps the pace going briskly while allowing breathing space between the numbers and the dialogue exchanges.
Ben Goddard is the musical director though, as usual with the cut to the chase… c company, all the cast play keyboards, strings, brass and percussion as appropriate. As in the original tragedy, it is Hamlet on whom we focus. Cameron Jones makes this mixed-up and angry young man very real as he struggles to find his own path through a tangle of lies and other people’s emotions.
Roll Over Beethoven runs at the Queen’s’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 12 September.