Tag Archives: Norwich Theatre Royal

Macbeth

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 30 October

It’s the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies and, on the surface, perhaps the most straightforward. A successful, loyal general is seduced by prophecies and egged on by an ambitious wife. He kills his king, takes the throne, disposes of those who might threaten him – and then unravels into death.

Macbeth was written at a dark time, as the newly-crowned James I eased himself onto Elizabeth’s throne and the Gunpowder Plot proved just one of the challenges to the crown. Rufus Norris’ production for the National Theatre presents us with a world where small countries’ conflicts can spillage dangerously.

Designer Rae Smit depicts this as a dark grey causeway with its paving flaking. Poles, suggesting those gallows-trees familiar from Callot engravings, support flutters of crow-torn rags. The witches (Elizabeth Chan, Evelyn Roberts and Olivia Sweeney) writhe up these as they contemplate the evil past and to come.

Sparse rooms suggest castles and dug-outs where comfort takes second place to security. Paul Pyant’s lighting adds to the sense of embattled menace. Only briefly, in the scene with Lady Macduff (Lisa Zahra), her son and her cousin Ross (Rachel Sanders) does a suggestion of normal domesticity appears briefly.

Kirsty Besterman’s Lady Macbeth is the dominant performance, radiating a dangerous level of tightly repressed frustration on many levels. Michael Nardone as Macbeth almost matches her, but not quite manages it. There’s an excellent Banquo by Patrick Robinson, suggesting the inner ease which Macbeth has probably never experienced.

The sleep-walking scene, with Reuben Johnson’s doctor and Sweeney’s gentlewoman petrified by what they see and hear is magnificently played. Tom Mannion’s Duncan, swathed by costume designer Moritz Junge in eye-blasting scarlet (Macbeth’s assumption of the regal colour appears far more tentative) is impressive.

Shakespeare wrote for a time and a place. His universal appeal over four centuries later shows that this transforms into many cultures, languages and eras. Ambition, and the illnesses which attend it, have no boundary of place or time. We watch in horror – but also with recognition. A play for all seasons.

Four and a half-star rating.

Macbeth runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 3 November with matinées on 1 and 3 November.

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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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Awful Auntie

reviewed at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich on 19 September

Ghost legend? Morality tale? Horror story? All and any of these for a young audience? It was to be David Walliams’ Awful Auntie. The title character really does live up to her name as she tries to take over the ancestral home from its rightful owner.

Neal Foster’s stage adaptation doesn’t try to simplify the issues involved. Young Lady Stella Saxby wakes from an induced coma to find her parents dead and her father’s sister Alberta trying just a little too obviously to obtain the deeds to the family estate – we’re in the 1930s, by the way.

Doors creak, Alberta’s tame Bavarian owl Wagner menaces, there’s an elderly butler Gibbon straight out of Dracula and a 19th century chimney-sweep materialises in the coal store.

Set and costume designer Jacqueline Trousdale, sound designer Nick Sagar, special effects designer Scott Penrose and puppet maker Sue Dacre make sure that we’re caught up in the drama.

The setting is basically four towers which revolve to display various locations and their rabbit-warren of secrets. Visually it makes the actors work pretty hard to make their own impact, especially when Wagner ((Roberta Bellekom) and an enormously long (and lazy) dog are concerned.

Georgina Leonidas makes a sparkish heroine, every bit as obstinate as Richard James’ ferocity as Aunt Alberta. Harry Sutherland dodders engagingly as Gibbon, and Ashley Cousins’ Soot offers a sense of what his short life must have been like, passed from an orphanage to an inhumane master.

Touring shows, such as this Birmingham Stage Company one, have to adapt rapidly to the acoustics of the theatres they visit. For my taste, on the opening night in Ipswich, the actors were over-miked  almost to the point of distortion.

This is a pity, because it’s one of those shows which give pleasure in many ways to the older members of the audience as well as to the youngsters.

Four star rating.

Awful Auntie runs at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich until 23 September with matinées on 22 and 23 September. It also plays at the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 8 and 10 November.

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Miss Saigon

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 17 August

This touring production of the Boublil and Schönberg musical Miss Saigon is a spectacular affair. So much so that the story – a transposition of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly to the frenetic conclusion of the Vietnam conflict – can seem lost in the precision of the choreography and the kaleidoscope of effects.

Sooha Kim is moving as the girl adrift in 1975 Saigon who falls in love with an American soldier Chris (Ashley Gilmour) and finds herself trapped by an émigré nightmare in Bangkok from which there is only one exit.

Dominating the action is the night-club boss with his fingers in a whole mess of very sticky pies known as the Engineer. Christian Rey Marbella swashbuckles his way into the audience’s attention; he provides a classic example of the villain who steals the show.

Two characters with more principles, albeit radically differing ones, are Chris’s comrade John (Ryan O’Gorman) and revolutionary Thuy (Gerald Santos). Elana Martin’s Ellen, Chris’ American wife, has a strong personality as well as a good voice.

Miss Saigon is through-composed and the score is well supported by a fifteen-piece orchestra directed by Matthew J Loughran. “It’s all done with smoke and mirrors” runs the adage, but in Laurence Connor’s production, the special effects and lighting make the saying come true.

Five star rating.

Miss Saigon runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 15 September with matinées on 18, 22, 25 and 29 August and 1, 5, 8, 12 and 15 September as part of a national tour.

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Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi

reviewed at the Snape Maltings on 14 April

“Opera that moves” is the ETO motto – and it was worth skipping the bar in the interval to watch the comic drama of the scene change between the two contrasted outer panels of Puccini’s original triptych.

Audiences often discount what happens behind the front curtain, this exposé of the rapid hard work involved certainly earned its final round of applause.

Neil Irish’s rust and wood setting on three levels for Il tabarro and Rory Beaton’s subdued lighting plot suit the gritty savagery of the story. Above the main action life has some hope of normality. Below it, this is only the stench of hopeless degradation.

Craig Smith’s Michele, the Seine barge owner, is a brooding presence as his suspicions of his wife’s infidelity with one of the stevedores are fuelled. His final explosion of anger in “Nulla! Silenzio” before the inevitable dénouement is well paced and phrased.

Giorgetta’s unhappiness, as much for the loss of her child as a yearning of her childhood home at Belleville and desire for Charne Rochford’s Luigi, also builds slowly and Sarah-Jane Lewis has the vocal resources to manage this.

In James Conway’s production, Rochford’s portrait of a young man raging against his lot in life yet unable to effect any immediate change to better this world rings true.

The smaller character parts are equally well cast, with Clarissa Meek’s Frugola outstanding among them. it’s a neat touch to have the young lovers played by Galina Averina and Luciano Botelho, the Lauretta and Rinuccio of Gianni Schicchi.

This also has a fin du siècle setting but suitably elaborate for the (deceased) wealthy Buoso and his horde of grasping relations. These superficial predators come over as a miscellany to delight any connoisseur’s eye.

Andrew Slater has the audience on his side from his first entrance, a no-nonsense Florentine new-comer in fresh-air contrast to the over-dressed Buoso kindred. His recounting of the penalties for will-forgery make their mark.

Timothy Dawkins-wild-haired ex-mayor and the female trio of Meek as the elderly Zita, Joanna Skillett as Nella and Emma Watkinson as La Ciesca throw the genuine passion between Lauretta and Rinuccio into proper focus.

Averina’s show-stopping “Oh! mio babbino caro” has a visual punch-line which doesn’t quite fit in, causing a false ending with applause thus in the wrong place. Michael Rosewell is the conductor for both operas; Liam Steel is the director for Gianni Schicchi.

Four and a half-star rating.

Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi are at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 18 and 19 April and at the Norwich Theatre Royal on 5 May.

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The Jungle Book

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 20 March

Stories, whether set in the past or in fantasy setting, inevitably reflect the culture in which they are written. Kipling nowadays is seen as the laureate of the Raj, a view which (while perfectly legitimate from a 2018 perspective) can overshadow his real and deep understanding of India, both social and natural.

We’ve become accustomed therefore to prettied-up, emasculated versions of the Jungle Book stories. The Children’s Touring Partnership’s new production is certainly of our time and place, but – for me, at any rate – it captures most of the essence of the original.

This is a musical version, scripted by Jessica Swale with an original score by Joe Stilgoe. Max Webster’s direction sets his cast on a revolve with a scaffolding set by Peter McKintosh (who also designed the costumes) and choreography by Lizzi Gee which exploits both the pack and the solo nature of wild animals.

A succession of puppets by Nick Barnes ranges from the simplicity of those representing the child Mowgli  and the kite Chil to the glistening coils (lots of them) of the python Kaa (Rachel Dawson). Central to the story is Mowgli, feral in more than one way, who Keziah Joseph fully brings to life (and our sympathetic understanding).

Lloyd Gorman’s Shere Khan is a commanding villain with the height and presence to command his scenes as well as the jungle denizens; he also has a very good singing voice. His opposite number is Dyfrig Morris’ Balloo, a sloth bear with just a touch of Paddington and Winnie the Pooh – not to mention the pantomime comic.

As the wolf-pack leader Akela, Tripti Tripuraneni radiates the right sort of authority as in the different way does Deborah Oyelade’s Bagheera with a panther-like disregard for slower creatures. Most of the cast take on other roles, including the dangerously mischievous Bandar-Log tribe of monkeys.

Costumes, movements and Charles Balfour’s lighting remind us that we are in an Indian jungle butting onto human villages, villages whose relations with the water-holes and vegetation around them both nurture and threaten. It’s probably not a show for very young children, but it is one to provoke thought.

After all, that’s what story-telling has been doing for millenia.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Jungle Book continues at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 24 March with matinées on 22 and 24 March. The tour also includes the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 10 and 14 April.

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This House

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 13 March

How is it done? That’s an intriguing question for most people, whether the subject is cookery or politics, plays or cookery. James Graham’s play is based on and in the House of Commons between 1974 and 1979.

It shows us in fictionalised form what happens when Governments with small or no absolute majorities have leaders who fail to keep tight control of the slippery and fluid situations.

We hear about these Prime Ministers (actual or ambitiously waiting) but we are watching the backroom-boys (and occasional girl) of the Whips’ offices as they manipulate Members to achieve those all-important knife-edge majority votes.

Jeremy Herrin and Jonathan O’Boyle’s production emphasises the bear-garden aspect and associated callousness which underpin contentious votes. Acting as chorus is the Speaker (Miles Richardson in Act One, Orlando Wells in Act Two).

Designer Rae Smith uses various on-stage levels as well as the auditorium to draw us into the action. A rock band adds to the surreal effect, but the production’s impact has to rely on the main characters.

Giles Cooper is the eager new recruit to the Tory whips’ office, run with a certain degree of cynicism by old-school William Chubb and businessman Matthew Pidgeon. But it is with the Labour whips, frantically shoring up increasingly wafer-thin majorities, that the real drama lies.

Chief Whip Tony Turner and his energetic deputy Martin Marquez both give fully fleshed characterisations of men who never forget who put them into Parliament – and why. James Gaddas and David Hounslow give fine support while Natalie Grady shows us a young woman developing both confidence and authority.

There are a succession of well-defined cameos and vignettes to remind us that politics at this level is a matter of priority juggling both within the House and outside it.Does a vote count for more than a life?

As befits a play and production of Chichester Festival Theatre, Headlong and National Theatre provenance, it is an object lesson in ensemble. One which has its audience as keyed up with tension as the drama onstage.

Four and a half-star rating.

This House runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 17 March with matinées on 15 and 17 March. it can also be seen at the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 8 and 12 May.

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Cinderella

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 27 February

The essence of a fairy-tale is that it has neither time nor roots to ground it. So Matthew Bourne’s riff on Cinderella takes place not n 16th century Germany, nor early 18th century France, nor even the early 19th century of Rossini’s opera but London during the Blitz.

Bourne and Etta Murfitt keep the basic elements of the story – the daughter turned into a drudge by her father’s second wife and her children, the intervention of a quasi-supernatural force to bring her to the man who will marry her – but translates the family and the price into characters we recognise from the classic iconic films dealing with the Second World War.

Prokofiev’s score has been prerecorded and transformed into surround sound (Paul Groothuis and Brett Morris) as at the cinema. The colour palette used by Lez Brotherston (set and costumes) and by Neil Austin (lighting) and Duncan McLean (projections) is predominantly monochrome.

The cast I saw is led by Ashley Shaw as Cinderella, Liam Mower as the silver-clad Angel who guards and guides her – and will go on once the happy ending is achieved to work magic for another disconsolate soul – and Dominic North as the wounded pilot Harry.

Fine characterisations also come from Dan Wright as the foot-fetish stepbrother and Mark Samaras as his youngest brother. Madelaine Brennan’s Stepmother, drink- and man-obsessed with a protective attitude to her own brood that leads her down increasingly nasty paths, is equally eye-riveting.

Shaw, both as the drudge and the beautiful young woman has the measure of the turns and lifts Bourne gives her which echo the angularities of the score. it is a cast which acts as well as dances, well demonstrated by North, Brennan and Mower. 70-odd years ago is for most of us an era vanished into smoke. But what else is a fairy-tale, even an adult one?

Four and a half-star rating.

Cinderella continues at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 3 March with matinées on 1 and 3 March.

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Gallowglass

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 20 February

Gallowglass is one of the psychological crime novels which Ruth Rendell wrote under the name of Barbara Vine. It weaves numerous threads into the web of its story. It is a tale about the effect of the past on the present and adapter Margaret May Hobbs is skillful in the way she draws us into the mystery.

We begin on one of Paddington Station’s Underground platforms. Joe Herbert, a young drifter is about to thrown himself under an incoming train but is prevented by Sandor Wincanton. He’s a young man on the graft in more ways than one, with a moneyed as well as troubled background.

The developing relationship of dependency between these two opposites is well brought out by Joe Eyre (Sandor), all black-clad educated arrogance, and Dean Smith (Joe), one of life’s malleable nonentities. Smith has the more difficult of the two rôles to sustain and gathers our sympathy as Joe is swept ever deeper into Sandor’s plans.

Central to these is former model Nina Abbott (Florence Cady). Nina is now the wife of an older wealthy East Anglian landowner, the second such match she has made. In the course of her previous marriage she had suffered a horrendous kidnapping; the fear that history might repeat itself sears both herself and her husband Ralph Apsoland (Richard Walsh).

As protection for her he hires Paul Garnett (Paul Opacic), a man who has to make a stable home for his young daughter Jessica (Eva Sayer) while sorting out the fallout from his failed marriage. Then there’s another appointee to the Apsoland staff – Colombo (Matthew Wellman) who doesn’t quite to fit in.

Sandor’s doting mother Diana is also on the periphery; Karen Drury gives her gullibility pathos in her two scenes. Joe’s foster-sister Tilley is a far more lively and brash personality; Rachael Hart gives this young woman in a camper-van a sharp edge, of the sort born from experience.

Director-designer Michael Lunney sprawls the fast-moving action through fast-changing locations with a judicious use of scenes played in front of projected backgrounds with appropriate sound effects (White Tip Media) alternating with realistic room settings split across the stage.

It does keep the action – and therefore the tension – fast-flowing but perhaps inevitably never quite allows the fullness of the characterisations to mature. For example, Cady’s Nina seems almost a shadow in her own drama and Walsh’s Ralph remains a conventional two-dimensional country toff. Opacic and Eyre break out of this mist, perhaps because their parts have more of an extended edge.

Four star rating.

Gallowglass runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 24 February with matinées on 22 and 24 February. The Middle Ground Theatre Company tour is also at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff (Southend) between 24 and 28 April.

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Art

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 15 February

This new tour of Yasmina Reza’s play is directed by Ellie Jones with a starkly white set by Mark Thompson and intriguing lighting by Hugh Vanstone that suggest the timeless-placeless quality which is so cleverly brought out in Christopher Hampton’s translation.

Art is the story of three long-time friends in modern Paris whose relationship is suddenly tested when one of them, Serge (Nigel Havers), buys a contemporary painting which at first glance is simply a white canvas.

Neither fellow-professional Marc (Denis Lawson) not the third member of the trio, not-so-successful businessman Yvan (Stephen Tompkinson) can bring himself to approve.

Marc’s taste is conventional; Yvan’s appreciation of art is limited to his own father’s amateur efforts. Neither wish to offend their friend; neither can disguise that the acquisition not simply leaves him cold. Marc’s reaction is more confrontational; Yvan has his forthcoming wedding on his mind with the extended family disagreements this has brought to the surface.

It’s beautifully paced, with a snap-scond timing which never falters. Marc’s mounting frustration at being unable to convince Serge that he’s wasted his money and (what’s worse) damaged his standing with his closest friends as a result is beautifully nuanced by Lawson.

Havers communicates Serge’s equal sense of having his artistic judgement queried and belittled; urbanity can be only skin-deep in certain circumstances. Tompkinson makes the most of Yvan’s own frustration – this is not really to do with art of any kind. Rather it concerns his family tussles over the wording of the wedding invitation with his mother and stepmother battling for precedence.

His extended tirade (in the proper French sense of the word) deserves the round of applause is receives. The play’s quietly open ending is underlined by the final sequence, when the white painting, after its own adventures, is finally hung. You are left feeling that this is certainly not the end of the story.

Things swept temporarily under the carpet have a nasty habit of re-emerging at inopportune moments.

Five-star rating.

Art continues at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 24 February with matinées on 17, 22 and 24 February. The national tour runs until 9 June  and includes the Norwich Theatre Royal (23-28 April) and the Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton (14-19 May)

 

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Sleeping Beauty

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 15 December

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Music Music theatre & Opera, Pantomimes & Christmas season shows, Reviews 2017

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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Around the World in 80 Days

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 14 November

A forest of furled umbrellas, topped with bowler hats. A stepped pyramid of portmanteaux and suitcases. A clock ticking relentlessly behind a jumble of station sounds. One of those 19th century maps where splodges of imperial red mottle the globe. This is the work of designer Lis Evans.

This is the background to the Stoke-on-Trent New Vic’s tour of Laura Eason’s version of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. A multi-talented, multi-skilled cast of nine  whirl us through the adventures of Phineas Fogg (Andrew Pollard) and his resourceful but accident-prone valet Passepartout (Michael Hugo).

Hugo is undoubtedly the star of the show, wooing the audience and apparently endowed with more than the usual allocation of flexible joints. Pollard gives Fogg a precise combination of certainty (he’s a Victorian gentleman completely assured of his place in society) and selfless generosity, as when he and Passepartout rescue Mrs Arouda (Kirsten Foster) from her husband’s funeral pyre.

Then there’s Inspector Fix (Dennis Herdman). He’s single-mindedly in pursuit of a daring bnk robber. Not only does he grasp eagerly at the wrong end of every stick which pokes itself into his limited vision, he resorts to skullduggery on a thoroughly nasty scale. By which time, Herdman very properly enters and leaves stage left, as a villain should – and is heartily booed for his wrong-doings.

Darting in and out of multiple characterisations are the rest of the cast, demonstrating circus skills as well as mime and dance. The use of props is clever and beautifully timed. Movement director Beverley Norris Edmunds deserves equal billing with the show’s director Theresa Heskins. The soundscapes of composer James Atherton and designer James Earls-Davis are equally commendable. It all ads up to a thorough-going theatrical delight.

Five star rating.

Around the World in 80 Days continues at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 18 November with matinées on 16 and 18 November. The tour also includes  the North Finchley Arts Depot (29 November-3 December) and the Norwich Theatre Royal (16-20 January 2018).

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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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How the Other Half Loves

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 30 October

If any director knows how to bring out all the nuances in an Alan Ayckbourn play, that director is surely Alan Strachan. As anyone who remembers his productions at the Greenwich Theatre in the late 1970s and early 80s will bear fond witness.

This staging of How the Other Half Loves benefits from the split-second timing of its six-strong cast, notably in the crucial dual dinner-party scene. What also comes out strongly is the way that the three men, of such dissimilar ages and classes, employ each a different sort of violence in their relationships with their wives.

Frank Foster, the middle-aged middle-class husband, bludgeons anyone he comes into contact with by his incessant barrage of opinionated nonsense. Robert Daws has his insensitivity and self-satisfaction nailed; you can understand why Caroline Langrishe as his wife Fiona is tempted to stray, emotionally, financially and otherwise.

Newly promoted William Featherstone is uncomfortable at his new social and professional level. As Matthew Cottle makes clear, he’s really only happy when making himself useful. His poor little pink mouse of a wife Mary comes in for a regular series of wrist taps – not in themselves violent, but demeaning none the less. The moment when Mary finally finds her own personality is beautifully timed by Sara Crowe who gives throughout the best performance of the evening.

The youngest couple is Teresa and Bob Phillips. Charlie Brooks makes Teresa’s frustration with her stay-at-home-and-look-after-the-baby life which eventually flares almost out of control a natural response to Leon Ockenden’s Bob, a ruffian under his show-off skin with more than a trace of sadism in his relationship with women. Ockenden’s performance at times seems to come from a different production; he fails to bring the character alive.

Designer Julie Godfrey’s set, and her costumes, evoke the late 1960s setting admirably with a well-detailed box set which cleverly amalgamate the two-homes in furniture and furnishings as six contrasted lives parade before us. They’re not in search of an author of course, just looking for a present which offers hope for the future.

Four and a half-star rating.

How the Other Half Loves runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 4 November with matinées on 2 and 4 November. It is also at the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 27 November and 2 December as part of a national tour.

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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 Little Mermaid

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 26 September

What is the worst  thing which can happen to a dancer? Or to a singer? Surely it’s to lose the faculty which is the whole centre of her being, literally her raison d’être. Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale gives the voice and movement to his little mermaid, who willingly gives them up for a life on dry land and the human man with whom she  is infatuated.

David Nixon’s new Northern Ballet creation takes the story, which is one with an unhappy ending rather than “and then they lived happily ever after”, and sets it somewhere sea-girt – his costumes suggest the Scottish Highland coast or even Greece as well as a slight Japanese influence. Lifts are either two-person to display the Fortuny pleats of the mermaids’ tails or one-person for the dry-land, human dress sequences.

Cliff-like structures are moved by the cast to take us from the ocean depths to dry land as the story switches from one location to another. Sally Beamish’s score is one with Celtic resonances, notably for Adair and his sailor friends, and uses Stephanie Irvine’s vocalise at crucial moments.

The cast I saw is dominated by Abigail Prudames’ heart-rending Marilla, the little mermaid herself. She is a fine actress as well as a graceful lyrical dancer and her beach scene as she realises that she is now dumb and that every movement of the legs and feet which have replaced her water-cleaving tail is one of excruciating agony is almost painful to watch.

Growing up is notoriously a painful business, and this is as much a fable about maturity and its obligations as well as its rights as it is about any species of fish out of its own water. Joseph Taylor as Adair suggests the young man who has dreams but perhaps not much imagination; there is a nice contrast between the inventive fluidity of his pas de deux with Marilla and the convention of the later one with Dreda Blow’s Dana.

Every fairytale needs both a villain and a faithful friend for the protagonist. Matthew Topliss’ Lyr is a mollusc-dark Lyr, lord of the sea and determined to keep its denizen in order. Kevin Poeung makes the prancing seahorse Dillion the most wholly likeable character of all, ending both acts centre stage but now doubly bereft.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Little Mermaid runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 30 September with matinées on 28 and 30 September. The national tour continues until 17 December.

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Filed under Ballet dance & mime, Reviews 2017

The Pirates of Penzance

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 15 September

 

This autumn’s tour by the National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company ends at Norwich’s Theatre Royal. Vivian Coates’ new production of The Pirates of Penzance marries the traditional G&S style of staging with something new. His set designer is Paul Lazell who provides scenery pieces to the left and right of the stage with an illustrated open book as the centrepiece. Janet Morris’ costumes give us crinolines for the girls and vaguely 18th century for the pirate crew.

Sullivan’s score flows briskly throughout; this is an operetta with considerably more music than spoken dialogue. The orchestra under Andrew Nicklin sounded a trifle scratchy in the overture but settled down once the curtain had risen and the audience tendency to sing along had subsided (well, this is a quasi-traditional production after all).

Star of the show was undoubtably Emma Walsh’s Mabel, playing the minx with a sense of her own value and tossing off the coloratura passages with an interpolated tribute to bel canto cabalette which earned knowing chuckles for its subtlety. Her Frederic was Anthony Flaum, not the most subtle of tenors though a convincing actor.

Richard Gauntlett is an audience favourite and is moreover playing on his home turf. The “Model of a very modern major-general” patter song came over well as did this peacetime soldier’s ability to turn most situations to his own advantage. Balancing him was Toby Stafford-Allen’s flamboyant Pirate King, very well sung as well as suggesting why this particular band of sea robbers  is so very unsuccessful.

Both the flock of daughters and the pirate crew provided well-detailed character sketches and the white-faced policemen, led by Simon Wilding’s Sergeant, as always all-but brought the house down. Mae Haydorn’s Ruth is refreshingly less of a harridan than as sometimes portrayed and sung with great musicality.

Three and a half-star rating.

The season consludes with matinée and evening performances of HMS Pinafore on 16 September.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Shirley Valentine

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 5 September

Writing a play about women is one thing. Getting inside a woman’s psyche, mind and soul – her all-roundedness – is quite another. Willy Russell is one of the few playwright’s who accomplishes this feat, as the 2017 autumn touring revival of Shirley Valentine makes clear.

Jodie Prenger carries this story of the middle-aged housewife talking to herself and to a glass (or two) of wine while she prepares her husband’s evening meal. There have been few highlights in her marriage, and these are more likely to revolve around her children and the other women in her circle than her husband.

So she seizes the opportunity offered by her friend Grce to share a two-weeks Greek holiday – and to hell with responsibilities. Director Glen Walford, who commissioned the first production of the play, knows it inside out and has brought a woman’s intuition to its realisation.

Amy Yardley’s largely representational first-act set is tansformed into the cerulean skies and sea of a Greek island with dark rocks and crags. They suggest the headless remains of giant maternal goddess statues, all welcoming lap and enfolding embrace.

Prenger herself merits her standing ovation at the curtain-call. Shirley’s repressed personality bubbles over as she comes to her holiday-trip decision and finds its price-paid acceptance when she is finally in a place she can feel is a real home, not just someone else’s stomping ground.

My one niggle is that, for those audience members unaccustomed to the Merseyside area accent, not all the first-act dialogue is easy to follow – you miss the punch lines trying to work out wht was said in the preceding sentence. There were times when I yearned for surtitles…

Four and a half-star rating.

Shirley Valentine runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 9 September with matinées on 7 and 9 September.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

The Railway Childen

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 31 July

How do you stage a family classic novel by E Nesbit which has already been filmed both for television and cinema many times? Particularly when the show on question is a touring one and the story involves trains and railway tunnels – not to mention London and remote country locations.

If you’re Paul Jepson, Exeter’s Northcott Theatre director, you call in a designer who knows how to combine realistic stage settings with clever projections – Timothy Bird in this instance – and let Dave Simpson’s script find its own space in this turn of the 19th into 20th century story.

It works excellently, thanks to some strong performances delivered with just the right sort of conviction to make 21st century children and teenagers accept the manners and conventions of more than 100 years ago.

Millie’s Turner as Roberta (known as Bobbie) and Joy Brook as her mother, coping with her husband’s mysterious arrest, a total loss of London-based income and the necessity of living as cheaply and low-profile as possible in the countryside, are both thoroughly credible, as is Katherine Carlton has sister Phyllis. Turner is particularly good as showing a teenager on the cusp of womanhood and learning to cope with unexpected responsibilities.

As the old gentleman who acts as a kind of deus ex machina to the family, Neil Savage gives an object lesson in how to make every line tell, with the aid of miking. Younger actors, please take note. Stewart Wright as station-master Perks, Will Richards and Andrew Joshi give stalwart support. The backdrops are well-lit by Dominic Jeffrey and the train and tunnel sequences make their own applause-worthy impact.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Railway Children runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 5 August with matinées on 2 and 5 August. it can also be seen at the Derngate Theatre, Northampton between 19 and 24 September.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017