Tag Archives: Milton Keynes Theatre

Cendrillon

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 14 November

Some folk- and fairy-tale characters have the images of our first encounters with them so firmly fixed in our minds that it is difficult to imagine them otherwise. In Britain, generations of pantomime productions have further reinforced this glue.

Operatically speaking, Rossini’s 1817 Cenerentola with its philosopher-tutor as the deus ex machina, has been permitted to enter the charmed world of this acceptance. Now the Glyndebourne Tour suggests that Massenet’s 1889 Cendrillon attempts to prise the gates wider open.

If you’ve never seen the opera before, which is almost certainly true of most of us in this country, Fiona Shaw’s production creates something of a bewildering introduction. Set designer Jon Bausor makes the staging a matter of deceptive mirrors (not always helped by Anna Watson’s lighting).

Massenet was a supreme master of lush lyricism – the audible equivalent of art nouveau. The sound swirls around us, both from the orchestra pit under Duncan Ward and the large cast on stage. At times the action (including Nicky Gillibrand’s costumes) is overly distracting.

Lucette, the Cinderella of the title, was sung at the Norwich first night by understudy Jennifer Witton, who thoroughly deserved her curtain applause. Another stand-out performance is that of Caroline Wettergreen as the glinting grey-furred Fairy, tossing off her vocalise in steely Queen of the Night fashion.

Pandolfe is Lucette’s loving but basically ineffectual father, and William Dazeley conveys both aspects of the man, especially in his Act Four scenes with his daughter. A battle-axe guaranteed to slice fierce and hard sums up Agnes Zwierko’s stepmother Mme de la Haltière; she sings as well as she acts.

Librettist Henri Cain and Massenet makes the Prince a breeches role; Eléonore Pancrazi takes us effortlessly into his rôle-seeking teenage world where the boundaries between everyday reality (even for royalty) and scarce-perceived yearning extend yet crumble.

The chorus and the dancers blend seamlessly together, thanks to Sarah Fahie’s inventive choreography. Massenet’s skill is in wrapping a diaphanous web of sound around us. I’m not sure that we also need its mirrored reflexion.

Four star rating.

Cendrillon has another performance at the Norwich Theatre Royal on 17 November and is also at the Milton Keynes Theatre on 28 November and 1 December. It plays in repertoire with La traviata (Norwich on 16 November, Milton Keynes on 27 and 30 November).

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Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Fame

reviewed at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich on 29 October

Fame is a dangerous as well as elusive will-o’-the-wisp. What does the word really signify? Pre-eminence or notoriety? The pinnacle of achievement or merely its distorted shadow?

Wrapped in a dance-musical about aspiring students at an 1980s performing arts academy in New York, this is the story of young people with hopes and dreams all too aware that most of them are training only to be unemployed.

This new touring production is fast-moving with spirited direction and choreography by Nick Winston. The young cast radiate commitment and create thoroughly believable characterisations as we focus on personal and professional dilemmas.

On the surface Carmen (Stephanie Rojas) has everything going for her. She a talented lyricist as well as performer, but becomes hooked on drugs to enhance her performance.

Budding composer Schlomo (Simon Anthony), lovelorn Serena (Molly McGuire), show-off Joe (Albey Brookes) and chip-on-shoulder Tyrone (Jamal Kane Crawford) are all excellent, as are Hayley Johnston’s Mabel and Keith Jack’s career-dedicated Nick.

Mica Paris as Miss Sherman, a disciplinarian who really does care that her students will have a future and Katie Warsop as dance instructress Miss Bell are the main adults with whom we engage.

Ultimately, this is a show which relies on its younger performers for its impact. They don’t let us down.

Four star rating.

Fame runs at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich until 3 November with matinées on 31 October and 3 November. It is also at the Milton Keynes Theatre between 24 and 29 June as part of an extended national tour.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 16 October

This is probably Mischief Theatre’s most extravagant offering in its series of theatrical-mishap comedies to date in this new Birmingham Repertory Theatre production. The set (David Farley), quick-change costumes (Roberto Surace), lighting (David Howe) and quirky clever special effects provide part of the visual spectacle.

Split-second timing by an ensemble whose members know just how to play off each other enhances this; tour director Kirsty Patrick Ward keeps tight control. There are visual, as well as plot, nods to Hitchcock (The Birds) as well as to other heist capers  such as The italian Job and Topkapi.

Technical (Alan Bartlett) and stunt (Jami Quarrell) consultants help to keep the audience’s eyes focused and minds engaged – there’s one particular sequence in the second half which is an absolute show-stopper (though you’ll have to see the show to work out what it is).

Of the cast, with several changes from the printed programme, Julia Frith as free-spirit, go-getter Caprice makes a lively “heroine” with Eddy Westbury as her absconding criminal lover Mitch Ruscitti and Damian Lynch as her bank-manager father Mr Freeboys.

Also extremely active are Ashley Tucker as a sort of chorus to the action, David Coomber as criminal sidekick Neil Cooper, Killian Macardle as police officer Randal Shuck, Jon Trenchard as Warren Slax and George Hanniagan as the accurately-titled Everybody Else.

Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, as always for Mischief, are the writers.

Four star rating.

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 20 October with matinées on 17, 18 and 20 October. The tour also includes the Milton Keynes Theatre (20-24 November) and the Cambridge Arts Theatre (19 February-2 March). Cast details may vary.

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Il barbiere di Siviglia

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 15 November

It begins with a stylish chortle of an overture firmly controlled by conductor Ben Gernon. Ten a curtain sweep aside to drop us into mid-20th century Seville, with Joanna Parker’s set reminding us of the city’s Muslim heritage and its lingering echoes in the roles of men and women.

This touring revival of the 2016 Glyndebourne Festival production is directed by Sinéad O’Neill. It’s frothy, never takes itself too seriously and is studded both with well-sung and acted characterisations and visual treats. That cloudburst of keyboards in the Act One finale, Basilio’s novel take on a thunderclap in “La calumnia” and the deliciously sent-up serenades “Ecco, ridente” and “Se il mio nome” all work well.

Jack Swanson’s Almaviva is vocally agile and displays just a hint of the social and sexual voraciousness which is more fully revealed in the second of the Beaumarchais trilogy. Laura Verrecchia as Rosina sails through “Una voce poco fa” and her duets with Marco Filippo Romano’s testy Dr Bartolo and Tobias Greenhalgh’s likeable fixer Figaro.

Slide-slithering Basilio gives Anatoli Sivko a host of opportunities, upon which he seizes. Janis Kelly’s sneeze-prone Berta stumps her way as Rosina’s chaperone until bursting out with “Il vecchiotto cerca moglie” and ending it with a cascade of heel-taps and stamps which would do credit to any flamenco dancer.

Three masked actors, two with horned bull-visors and one with a plumed headdress reminiscent of traditional Sicilian puppets, circulate around the action, managing both to remind us that this is a traditional buffo comedy with stock characters but also that the ritualistic strikes deep chords.

I’ve always thought that Il barbiere was probably not the best opera with which to introduce the genre to pre-teens. Judging by the rapt attention and thorough-going enjoyment shown by a primary school party, that may not necessarily be the case. They certainly loved the visual aspects, but they also were engrossed by the music. Top marks all round!

Four and a half-star rating.

Il barbiere di Siviglia has a Saturday performance on 18 November. It can also be seen at the Milton Keynes Theatre in repertoire with Così fan tutte and Hamlet between 21 and 25 November.

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Hedda Gabler

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 7 November

Women usually find something to sympathise with in fictional woman characters. In the case of the title character of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, that’s difficult. Hedda, in Patrick Marber’s version,  stirs no empathy.

Ivo van Hove’s production abetted by Jan Versweyveld’s set and lighting is modern Scandi noir. it suggests a penthouse almost devoid of furniture and in which Hedda’s old-fashioned upright piano is so out-of-place that it becomes a doppelgänger for the woman herself. Threads of Tom Gibbons’ sounds drift through the miasma of the action.

At the performance I saw, Cate Cammack – who played the part when this National Theatre production went to the USA – was Hedda. Her movements, at times almost as disjointed as the character’s tormented inner being, occasionally seemed at odds with her gentle voice.

Annabel Bates’s Thea Elvsted contrasts well, her apparent fluffiness (which both infuriates and intrigues Hedda) underpinned by a level of determination only Adam Best’s unpleasant Judge Brack can equal. His is a man who knows only his own law.

The two men – Tesman who has taken this pretentious apartment partly to reflect his new wife’s status as the daughter of a general but mainly because he is initially sure that he will be awarded a well-paid professorship and researcher-writer Lovborg – appear almost like twins in Abhin Galeya and Richard Pyros’ characterisations.

Galeya is the eternal optimist, though a degree of uncertainty soon crumbles the façade. Pyros, the former alcoholic who is tempted to one disastrous relapse, comes over a this sort of distorted mirror image. Tesman may survive for the moment by reconstructing his friend and rival’s masterpiece, but his future looks bleak.

Tesman’s aunt Juliana is crisply delineated by Christine Kavanagh and the ever-present, no doubt ever-watchful maid Berthe becomes a brooding presence by Madlena Nedeva. It’s an effective staging, but at the end we are left in the cold of a winter without end.

Four star rating.

Hedda Gabler runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 11 November with matinées on 8, 9 and 11 November. It also tours to the Royal & Derngate Northampton (28 November-2 December) and the Milton Keynes Theatre (27 February-3 March 2018).

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La Cage aux Folles
reviewed at the Theatre Royal Norwich 17 Jan

Every show has its special audience, one to whom the story and its characters seem to speak personally. What transforms that show into one with universal appeal requires a special sort of magic. That can be provided by the writing, or the music, the design elements or the performances. You may not be able to pinpoint which of these it is (or indeed a fusion of them) but you know when you’ve experienced it.

That’s what happened on the opening night of the new tour of the Herman-Fierstein musical La Cage aux Folles in Norwich last night. It’s a visual extravaganza, this deceptively simple story of a drag-act nightclub in Saint-Tropez, thanks to designers Ben Cracknell, Gary McCann, and Richard Mawbeyand to choreographer Bill Deamer. Martin Connor’s direction keeps the action brisk when it needs to be – though the first half seems a trifle over-long, due I suspect to the telescoping of a three-act piece into two parts.

Spontaneous standing ovations – real ones I mean , not the carefully orchestrated variety – are rae in regional theatre. It was a deserved tribute to the magnificent performance by John Patridge as Albin, the trasnvestite diva in command of the stage but much less sure of his long-term relationship with Adrian Zmed’s Georges and Georges’ son – the result of a one-night stand – Jean-Michele (Dougie Carter). The peacock flock of Cagelles, with their on- and off-stage personae so lighgtly yet three-dimensionally sketched for us, also merit their plaudits.

It’s the sort of story where young, heterosexual love isn’t really to the fore. Both Carter and Alexandra Robinson as Anne, the girl Jean-Michele wants to marry and whose parents’ meeting with his own triggers the major flashpoints of the drama, do very well with words, song and dance. There are two enjoyable cameos from Marti Webb as Jacqueline (the restauretrice who saves the day, at a price) and Su Douglas as Mme Dindon, Anne’s mother – who turns out to be more of a scorpion than the worm which husband Paul F Monaghan thinks she is.

All in all, it’s got my reviewing schedule for 2017 off to a champagne start. Let’s see what else the year has to offer.

La Cage aux Folles runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 21 January with matinées on 20 and 21 January. The national tour until 26 August includes the Milton Keynes Theatre between 8 and 12 August.

Five star rating

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An Inspector Calls

(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 6 October)

That JB Priestley’s 70-year old play An Inspector Calls is now on its 25th national tour is a tribute to director Stephen Daldry’s now iconic production of 1992. Daldry has kept a firm, occasionally revisionist, eye of these re-cast productions, and the effect is as taut and mind-provoking as first time round.

Ian MacNeil’s set – that doll’s house cage teetering at an impossible angle above rain-washed cobblestones and wartime débris, too small to house its Edwardian occupants with all their pretensions and complacency – still rivets the audience’s attention as the curtain (itself part of the action) rises. Reality has clashed with abstraction visually, just as it does in the script. The discordant sounds which punctuate the action add their own frisson.

Liam Brennan is something of an oddball Inspector Goole, though he holds one’s attention. Tim Woodward’s Arthur Birling, self-satisfaction in a starched shirt-front, and Caroline Wildi as his wife Sybil, a soft-spoken, hard-edged matron in glittering crimson are the Inspector’s first interrogatees. Matthew Douglas as Gerald Croft, whose engagement to the Birlings’ daughter Sheila is being celebrated as the play begins, takes the character away from jeune premier territory to interesting effect.

Sheila and her brother Eric contrast well in Katherine Jack and Hamish Riddle’s characterisations. Katherine Jack manages to win understanding – for Sheila’s selfishness and the girlish petulance which contributed to Eve Smith’s grim end – and final sympathy for her acceptance of that responsibility. The trouble with Hamish Riddle is that his Eric starts on too high – one might even say, hysterical – a note, so that his final outburst with its alcohol-fuelled maudlin self-pity has no platform on which to build.

An Inspector Calls is at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 10 October. It also plays at the Theatre Royal, Norwich (1-5 December) and the Milton Keynes Theatre (23-27 February).

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