Tag Archives: Peter Rowe

Once

reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre. Ipswich on 11 September

There are advantages to not being a film fan; one comes to the current stream of stage adaptations without preconceptions. So Once, in Edna Walsh’s version with the music and lyrics of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, has to stand on its own merits.

Peter Rowe’s production at the New Wolsey Theatre is a shared one with Hornchurch’s Queen’s Theatre. Libby Watson, who often works at the Queen’s, has devised a setting which combines realism (Dublin pubs, work places and shared homes) with fantasy.

Another Queen’s regular, Mark Dymock, and projection designer Peter Hazelwood complement her setting. These characters are people partly trapped by the endless plodding of everyday existence – but who still have aspirations. And dreams.

The hero is simply called the Guy, as in Everyman. Daniel Healy makes him likeable, as he works in his father’s shop and struggles to make his way as a composer-performer with his guitar and help-hindrance from his mates.

When he encounters the Girl (Emma Lucia), a Czech national trying to balance life and responsibilities in both her own country and this new (to her) one, their attraction is mutual. She has a job in a music shop, and also composes.

So you think you know where this is all going? Wrong, very wrong. it’s a story in some way out of time, like a medieval morality play or a legend with even older, deep roots. That visual sense of fantasy in the designs is not there just to engage our eyes.

Francesca Jaynes is the choreographer, creating both Irish and Czech folk-dance inspired set pieces. Musical director Ben Goddard makes the most of the most effective numbers – the Girl’s own solos at the piano, the Dubliners’ a capella anthem, the women’s voices trio and what one might define a the Boy’s prize song.

The Girl is the quiet pivot for what happens – and might happen, later. Lucia gives her a luminous quality and a gentle stillness which is never mere inactivity. Rachel Dawson and Kate Robson-Stuart also make a lasting impression. Susannah van den Berg, Sean Kingsley and Samuel Martin also give good performances.

Four star rating.

Once continues at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 22 September with matinées on 12, 15, 19 and 22 September. It transfers to the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch between 3 and 20 October with matinées on 4, 6, 11, 13 and 20 October.

 

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Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Our Blue Heaven

reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 6 May

If you’re an older Ipswich resident with an interest in football, then 6 May 1978 is probably a date etched indelibly into your consciousness. That, for the rest of us, is the day on which Ipswich Town Football Club won the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium.

Obsessions, whether with sport, music or anything else, are very odd things. They have the ability to obscure, even blot out, everything else. Based on actual recollections of the Final and the matches leading up to it from individual fans, Peter Rowe has constructed the stories of three interlocking families.

The central one is the Coombes family. Father Paul (James Daffern) is out on strike, so money is tight and the main breadwinner is his nurse wife Sheila (Sarah Whittuck). Teenage daughter Sue (Anna Kitching) is supportive of her father – and even more so of Ipswich Town. Older daughter Mel (Josie Dunn) is about to get married to Scott (Joe Leat).

He’s the son of better-off Brain Tillotson (Jon House) and his wife Eileen (Nicola Bryan). Then there are the Traynors – football-obsessed Smudger (Dale Mathurin) and his heavily pregnant wife Ange (Katia Sartini), who is under the care of Sheila Coombes. Smudger – whose enthusiasm is enjoyably put before us by Mathurin – has ideas about both the timing of the birth and the names to bestow on the baby.

Peter Peverley plays the inspirational and charismatic team manager Bobby Robson, linking the club’s progress towards that ultimate goal. The other stand-out performance is that of teenage Kitching, a girl trying to balance all manner of conflicting emotions with a slowly maturing sense of responsibility. Actions do have consequences, as she discovers at an away-game against Millwall.

Designer Amy Jane Cook gives us a minimalised setting with Dan de Cruz’s four-piece band on a platform at the rear of the stage. Musically, it’s all very loud, though the a cappella rendition of “Abide with me” in the Wembley sequence has a magical effect.

Rather than attempting a realistic reconstruction of the series of home and away games, choreographer Tom Hobden has created a slow-motion stylised succession of movement pieces, ably performed by the community chorus wearing neutral black and white strips.

Four star rating.

Our Blue Heaven runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 26 May with matinées on 9, 10, 12, 16, 14, 19, 23 and 26 May.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Plays, Reviews 2018

Quartet

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 3 April

“If only youth knew, if only age could…” It’s as true in 2018 as 500 years ago. In many ways it sums up Peter Rowe’s touring production of Ronald Harwood’s “Quartet”, the story of four once-famous opera singers living their last years (until shunted off into specialist care) in a retirement home for retired musicians.

Three are reasonably long-term residents. Reginald Paget (Jeff Rawle) is an embittered tenor, who once itched to sing Wagner but whose career confined him to the 19th century Italian repertoire. Baritone Wilfred Bond (Paul Nicholas had been viewed as a plausible successor-rival to Gobbi.

Mezzo-soprano Cecily Robson – “Cissie” – played by Wendi Peters teeters on the brink of Alzheimer’s, much to the concern of the two men who recognise that their NSP motto (no self-pity) cannot stretch to the home’s requirement that residents must basically be able to lead independent lives.

They squabble, Bond fantasises about sexual adventures past but not present or future and look forward to the performance all are required to give on 10 October to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. Then new resident Jean Horton (Sue Holderness) arrives. She was a much-lauded soprano who quit at what seemed to be the height of her powers – and fame.

Rowe’s direction paints all this with a broad brush which at times has the peculiar effect of distancing the four characters from our understanding, and so our sympathies. Rawle’s real pain at now being forced to rub shoulders on a daily basis with his ex-wife does come over clearly but some of the humour still seems forced rather than natural.

Peters dodders amusingly enough as Cissie while Holderness radiates the crumbling arrogance of the diva clinging onto past glories. Nicholas is successful in showing us a performer able to step occasionally outside the personality he once inhabited to accept the realities of what is now and (inevitably) will have to be.

There’s an excellent set by Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick-Smith which gives the impression that the comforts afforded by the home are superficial rather than actual. The costumes donned by the quartet for the Verdi have an air of something salvaged from one of those cash-strapped touring companies I remember from the 1950s.

Broad brush-strokes may account for the awkwardness of the karaoke-style performance of the Rigoletto quartet with which the play ends. I don’t recall audience titters from either the 1999 London première or the 2010 tour which in Rowe’s production swamp the actual music. But memory is a fallible thing, especially as one grows older.

Four star rating.

Quartet runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre as part of a national tour until 7 April with matinées on 5 and 7 April.

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Red Riding Hood

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.

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

The Ladykillers

reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 13 September

It by no means detracts from the excellent performances by the animated cast members to say that the runaway star of Graham Linehan’s stage version of the Ealing Studios 1955 hit The Ladykillers is Foxton’s set.

This is the beautifully detailed exterior (we are still mired in postwar scarred buildings with make-do interiors) of Mrs Wilberforce’s house in the noisy shadow of St Pancras railway station, complete with working signals and billowing clouds of steam.

Mrs Wilberforce (Ann Penfold) and Constable Macdonald (Marcus Houden) are solving what she thinks is a refugee Nazi problem and he knows is simply the local newsagent who has a strong North Country accent. It isn’t the first time he has had to correct her imagination. Her next visitor, hoping to rent the room she has advertised to let, is Professor Marcus (Steven Elliott).

Swathed in a serpentine college scarf (which provides a running joke throughout the play) he is, of course, the mastermind behind a planned bullion heist. His brain may have worked it out to the last detail and split second, but that’s to discount his motley crew of accomplices.

They include Graham Seed’s Major Courtney, a self-proclaimed war hero with a penchant for women’s clothes; this is a cleverly nuanced performance which shows the pain behind the necessary pretense of thorough-going masculinity. Then there’s Cockney spiv and wideboy Harry (Sam Lupton), who’s not as bright as he thinks he is.

Brain-damaged former boxer One-Round is played by Damien Williams as everybody’s stooge while Louis Harvey is that thoroughly nasty piece of flick-knife violence Louis Harvey. Director Peter Rowe keeps the action fast-moving while lighting designer Alexandra Stafford and composer-sound designer Rebecca Applin make notable contributions.

This is a co-production between the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch and the Salisbury Playhouse. I suspect it will be just as enthusiastically received in the other venues as by the Ipswich audience. We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Five star rating.

The Ladykillers runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 30 September with matinées on 16, 19, 20, 23, 27 and 30 September. It transfers to the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch between 3 and 17 October.

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Sinbad

(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.

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Filed under Pantomimes & other seasonal shows, Reviews 2016

The Last Five Years

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 1 March)

Jason Robert Brown’s one-act musical The Last Five Years could be defined as a chamber opera. It’s based on the film of the same name and tells the story of two young people – an aspiring writer Jamie Wellerstein (Chris Cowley) and an equally ambitious actress Catherine Hiatt (Katie Birtill). They meet, fall in love, marry and separate.

Catherine’s story is told backwards, from her reception of Jamie’s letter saying that he’s left her. Her opening lament with its bitter-sweet refrain of “I’m still hurting” suggests her melodic line throughout; there’s occasionally a hint of a waltz during the good times when their lives seem to run on such smooth parallel lines. The characterisation is in the two characters’ musical idioms, hers the more lyrical, his with rather more of a rhythmic rasp.

Brown knows how to write a tune and the five-piece band, perched high above and at the back of the action in James Perkins’ simple but effective multi-location set, sustains the singing actors without ever overwhelming them. Peter Rowe’s direction wisely allows for the basic simplicity of the story – so old, and always so new – to shine.

He’s lucky in his cast. Birtill shows us the fragility of Catherine’s life, as the failure of her marriage is mirrored in the collapse of her career – a sequence of failed auditions. Cowley is a whirlwind of hopes realised, but at a personal cost. His acting out of a Jewish story in front of a decorated Christmas tree is deservedly something of a show-stopper. He knows that he must leave (his part in the story runs forward, not backward), that there is an emotional price for this – and that he accepts its payment.

The Last Five Years runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 11 March with matinée performances on 2, 5 and 9 March.

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Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2016

The Sword in the Stone

(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.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015

Miss Nightingale

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 1 October)

Last year’s Peter Rowe-New Wolsey Theatre production of the wartime-set musical Miss Nightingale has been re-imagined by the Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal artistic director Karen Simpson. Matthew Bugg’s story may have a singing entertainer as its title character but, as one of the numbers makes plain, it’s far more a Mr Nightingale drama.

!942 in London was a frenetic time and place. Bombs were falling, morale could easily have crumbled, refugees sought to find themselves a place of safety (both intellectually and physically) and morals were loosened, though the law was liable to come down heavily on those who transgressed – such as homosexuals.

We meet two of the three main characters in a dim street. Sir Frank (Nicholas Coutu-Langmead) picks up Polish Jew composer and songwriter George Nowodny Conor O’Kane), but the transaction is interrupted. When they next meet it is at an audition by Maggie Brown (Clara Darcy) who her boy-friend and agent Tom Fuller (Christopher Hogben) hopes to place as a star attraction in Frank’s nightclub.

O’Kane’s gives the stand-out performance and his first act number “Meine Liebe Berlin” is the best in the show. You believe in his displacement agony as he contempates the fate of his parents, academics who couldn’t believe that they were vulnerable, and the complexities of his relationships with Maggie, who achieves success as Miss Nightingale, and the ever-more devoted Frank.

Frank and George’s “Mister Nightingale” duet and the quarter which ends the first half are also very effective. I wish I could say the same for Darcy, who has the right sort of gamine spark but somehow fails to radiate the charisma such a cabaret star should surely generate. Hogden makes an effective villain as he sinks into blackmail and Bugg makes a small-scale but credible sketch of Harry, Maggie’s soldier brother. His score is played by the cast, displaying skill with a wide range of instruments

From being not particularly sympathetic through his attempts to balance his three separate worlds to his admission of two quite different but equally sincere types of affection, Coutu-Landmead grows in out understanding. The set by Carla Goodman makes the right sort of tawdry-until-lit impression and is suitably flexible as the action shifts between the various locations.

Miss Nightingale runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 3 October and then tours nationally until 20 February. It can also be seen at the Towngate Theatre, Basildon between 13 and 16 January.

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Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015

Sweet Charity

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 8 September)

Happy endings don’t always occur, even in fairy tales. At one level the musical Sweet Charity by Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields, Neil Simon and Bob Fosse is a variation on the Cinderella myth. it is also a wry study of the way in which a woman can be her own worst enemy, something which Peter Rowe’s radical new production for the New Wolsey Theatre emphasises.

The Ipswich theatre is one of those which specialise in actor-musicians, as opposed to using a more conventional pit orchestra. Musical director Greg Last has some good instrumentalists in the acting-singing-dancing performers who keep to the sides of Libby Watson’s deceptively simply framing set when not occupying centre stage.

It is Katie Birtill in the title role of dance-hall hostess Charity Valentine who really dominates. She has the kookiness of the small-town girl who is hopelessly adrift both in New York and in her relationships with the various men she repeatedly views ‘from the off” as The One – only to be let down each time.

The first of these is Charlie, who steal her cash and lets her half-drown in the Central Park lake. Her encounter with film star Vittorio Vidal (Jeffrey Harmer) leaves her less bruised. Harmer has a very good voice as well as the right sort of flamboyant personality; his ballad number is deservedly applauded.

Just before the interval, Charity meets Oscar (James Haggie), an introverted youngish man with acute claustrophobia – just one of his multiple hang-ups. But he’s no Price Charming, not even a Frog Prince. it’s a tribute to Haggie’s performance that the character (as opposed to the performer) was roundly booed at the first night curtain calls.

Choreographer Francesca Jaynes has devised some good routines for Charity’s fellow hostesses – Katia Sartini, Sophie Byrne, Nicola Bryan, Giovanna Ryan, Elisa Boyd and Lindsay Goodhand – as they await their customers and then have to entice them to dance and the stylised movement for the various New Yorkers work very well.

Perhaps, though Rowe uses the space and cast cleverly throughout, the fault in the production lies in the show being tuneful enough but without real stick-in-the-memory show-stopper numbers, “Big spender” and “The rhythm of life” apart. It’s all properly slick with some nice visual touches and good performances, especially that of Birtill, but the only heart in which you can believe is that of Charity herself. And that’s pretty bruised by the end of the evening.

Sweet Charity runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 26 September.

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Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015

Feed the Beast

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 7 May)

There’s something deeply ironic in watching a play about a fictitious British prime minister set in his Downing Street office on the evening of a real General Election. Steve Thompson’s Feed the Beast is a co-production between the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre. It’s a comedy with bite.

Our protagonist is Michael (gerald Kyd), swept into office as the new broom which will sweep clean. He intends to start as he means to go on to (as he hopes) a second term by standing by every one of his pre-election promises. He starts by firing his former deputy and continues by banning any contact (open or covert) with the media – that’s the beast of the title, of course.

At first Michael’s Chief of Staff Sally (Kacey Ainsworth) is happy with the squeaky-clean image, though realist enough to know that both print and on-line journalists can (and will) fabricate a story if one is not handed to them. Enter a real rottweiler in the pugnacious form of Scott (Shaun Mason), foul-mouthed and ferocious as he grows his apparently minimal job as Michael PR person.

While Michael’s wife (Badria Timini) and daughter (Aimée Powell) attempt with minimal success to to settle into their new goldfish-bowl existence, there’s a piranha also circling for blood, columnist Heather (Amy Marston). In the world of politics, innocence is always going to be a victim and the scapegoat.

It’s directed at a rattling pace by Peter Rowe with an effective set by Libby Watson and vividly energetic lighting effects by Simon Bond. This all shows off Kyd’s heartfelt performance; there are times when you want to shake some realism into the man – while acknowledging that he may (just may) be right to stick to his principles.

Mason is another actor who gives a larger-than-life performance. There’s a deliciously cool menace in Marston’s journalist and an eagerness well tempered by pragmatism as Ainsworth shows us the limitations of apparent power. it’s a play for its season, certainly. But a day is a long time in politics.

Feed the Beast runs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 16 May.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015