Image: Lewis Renninson and company in CFYT’s Pinocchio. Photo: Manuel Harlan
Society/Company: Chichester Festival Youth Theatre
Credits: Adapted by Anna Ledwich. Music by Tom Brady. From the original novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Venue: Festival Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester West Sussex
Performance Date: 22 Dec 2020 | Reviewer: Susan Elkin | Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
It has long been my contention that Chichester Festival Theatre has one of the finest youth theatres in the country and this show proves it – again.
CFT knows how good it is too which is why it confidently turns the theatre over to the ever-talented Dale Rooks and her young performers every Christmas and allows them to stage the venue’s Christmas show with all the production values any other CFT show would get.
Sixty performers (there are two teams) are selected by audition from the youth theatre’s eight hundred members and what a professional job they do with Anna Ledwich’s fresh, affirmative script. This take on Pinocchio focuses on personal integrity and development. Like every child in the world this puppet boy makes a lot of mistakes but he learns from them and, eventually, comes through with flying colours when presented with the ultimate challenge. And Ledwich even works in some observations about marine pollution without labouring the point too much.
Archie Elliot is delightful as Pinocchio, wobbling as he turns human, learning to speak, communicating in bubbles when he’s under the sea and dancing when he’s turned into a donkey – well, exactly as a donkey would, but he does it with neat grace.
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Alfie Ayling’s Geppetto is warmly convincing and Meg Bewley is very strong as the Fairy who watches over Pinocchio from a distance. Annalise Bradbury is feisty as the exasperated Cricket who accompanies Pinocchio and acts as his usually ignored conscience. And I liked Ella O’Keefe’s powerful performance as Madam Silversaw.
The set is based on an old farm cart which revolves to reveal different scenes. It works well because it provides a small stage in the middle of the playing space and has a balcony on top so at times the action is on three levels. With set design by Simon Higlet and costume by Ryan Dawson Laight, the very commendable policy decision for this show was to work entirely with recycled materials. Thus fabrics were accessed from charity shops and re-dyed and the farm cart is just that. And it all looks terrific.
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A show of this sort stands or falls on its ensemble work and this one more than stands. Pinocchio is an episodic piece (Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio is a series of short stories).
And that’s ideal for youth theatre because you can use different performers in different scenes and everyone has something to do. The shellfish scene is great fun as is the finale when Pinocchio and Geppetto finally get home and set about building a roundabout – which is enacted below the workshop by an ensemble group.
Tom Brady’s music is tunefully full of earworms and ably played by a six-piece band above the stage with Colin Billing as MD and playing keys. Especially memorable is the very jazzy rhythmic song sung by the Fox and the Cat, with the saxophone weaving slithery musical magic, as they dupe Pinocchio and steal his money.
And all that has been achieved in safety, observing restrictions and practising social distancing in rehearsal as well as onstage. When two characters really have to hug they mime it – and it works. Well done, all.
At the last minute I decided that perhaps, even for work, I should not drive seventy miles from my London (Tier 4) home to see this show in Tier 2 as I’d planned – so I watched the livestream from home.
But oh, how when I saw and heard the audience and the excitement of live theatre, I wished I were there with them. Next year I hope…
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By Paul Johnson
Thursday, 12 March was a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life. That is the day I travelled to Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre to watch Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson in the 40th anniversary tour of Willy Russell’s seminal play, Educating Rita. After the matinee – possibly featuring an auditorium of more walking-sticks than books in Frank’s onstage study – I interviewed Stephen and Jessica, the result of which is in our previous issue (no.48). Four days later everything closed.
However, five months later and following the Government’s announcement on 4 July to restart outdoor performances (albeit with social distancing), the ‘tour’ is back and scheduled to play under the stars at Cornwall’s beautiful Minack Theatre.
In fact, the production may be in full swing as you read this, with performances scheduled to take place from 18 – 29 Aug.
Olivier and Tony Award-winning producer David Pugh explained the decision to play on the famous cliff-top: “I am a producer, so I should produce. The idea of playing Educating Rita at the Minack Theatre is not only exciting but also a step towards re-opening all of our theatres. I do worry about the rain but when I mentioned this to Willy Russell, he said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll just add a line. Rita can say: There’s a leak in your ceiling, Frank.’”
Zoe Curnow, Executive Director of the Minack Theatre added: “We are delighted to be able to reawaken the Minack from its lockdown sleep and put the soul back into our theatre with live performances. Having sadly had to postpone our previously scheduled 2020 season, we are delighted to be forging new friendships with producers like David and are really excited to welcome Willy Russell and Stephen and Jessica to our beautiful theatre. Our fingers are crossed that the sun shines on us for the remainder of the summer.”
Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson said of playing the Minack Theatre: “On March 16, we thought that was it, that we were never to perform in our favourite play ever again. Now, we are beyond excited to be doing Educating Rita one more time at the Minack, the stunning open-air theatre in Cornwall.”
Educating Rita tells the story of married hairdresser Rita, who enrols on an Open University course to expand her horizons, and her encounters with university tutor Frank. Frank is a frustrated poet, brilliant academic and dedicated drinker, who is less than enthusiastic about teaching Rita. However, Frank soon finds that his passion for literature is reignited by Rita, whose technical ability for the subject is limited by her lack of education, but whose enthusiasm Frank finds refreshing. The two soon realise how much they have to learn from each other.
Willy Russell’s play was originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and played at the Warehouse Theatre, London in 1980, starring Julie Walters and Mark Kingston. Julie Walters reprised her role in the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning film opposite Michael Caine. The set, as they say, is history.
This ‘new’ production is full of energy and provides potential amateur performers with the perfect masterclass in not only how to play these two complex characters but also how to social distance onstage!
Read more at: educatingrita.co.uk & www.minack.com
More rescheduled productions
Companies and societies have been cancelling and postponing shows all over the place, including most of the big ones…
Although Chichester cancelled all of its 2020 Festival shows on 4 May, the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre production of Pinocchio is still scheduled to play from 12 – 31 December.
Back in May, Kathy Bourne and Daniel Evans, Executive and Artistic Director, respectively, told us: “We are working on a new schedule for 2021 which we hope will include some of the planned Festival 2020 shows, in addition to South Pacific and The Unfriend. Ticket holders will be contacted with the option of exchanges, credits, refunds or donations in good time.”
While The Unfriend has yet to confirm any rescheduled dates, South Pacific will now play 5 July – 28 August 2021.
After more push-backs than a game of American Football, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s brand-new musical will finally world premiere at The Gillian Lynne Theatre in London on 7 April 2021, with previews from Friday 19 March 2021.
The production, a complete reinvention of the classic fairytale, is based on an original idea by Emerald Fennell, the Emmy Award nominated lead scriptwriter of the second season of Killing Eve, with a brand-new score from Lloyd Webber and lyrics by David Zippel.
Carrie Hope Fletcher will play Cinderella in the highly anticipated production. She has starred in Heathers (West End), The Addams Family (UK Tour), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (UK Tour), Mary Poppins (West End), and most recently played Fantine in Les Miserables at the Sondheim Theatre. She is also a bestselling author and social media personality.
More at: www.andrewlloydwebberscinderella.com
JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNOCOLOR DREAMCOAT:
Joseph… will neatly defer its dates exactly 12 months, and Jason Donovan and Jac Yarrow are both confirmed to star again in the acclaimed show next year. Performances will now begin on 1 July 2021 for a 10-week season to 5 September.
Andrew Lloyd Webber said: “The team and I are working hard behind the scenes to get the world’s most beloved theatre The London Palladium open and entertaining audiences this Autumn. We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to find a safe route to provide access both backstage and front of house. I am delighted that Joseph will be back on The London Palladium stage next Summer.”
Joseph… enjoyed a completely sold out season last year. Audiences and critics were unanimous in their acclaim for the legendary musical – the first major collaboration by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber – as it returned to the Palladium.
More at: www.josephthemusical.com
The photo above was taken by Sardines back in February at the launch of Michael Ball’s West End return as Edna Turnblad. Originally, the feel-good musical was due to open at The London Coliseum on 23 April before being pushed back to the autumn. However, the musical will now play rescheduled 2021 season dates with the originally announced cast which includes the aforementioned Michael Ball alongside Paul Merton, who makes his West End debut.
Acclaimed West End star Marisha Wallace will take the role of Motormouth. Marisha won rave reviews when she took over from Amber Riley in the smash hit Dreamgirls (West End) and also starred in the original West End cast of Waitress (West End). Lizzie Bea will make her West End debut in the role of Tracy Turnblad and Rita Simons (EastEnders) and Jonny Amies will also star as Velma Von Tussle and Link Larkin respectively.
The production will now begin performances on 22 April 2021 and play a 19-week season finishing on 29 August 2021.
More at: www.hairspraythemusical.co.uk
STRICTLY BALLROOM THE MUSICAL:
The 2020 UK tour of Baz Luhrmann’s musical, starring Kevin Clifton and directed by Craig Revel Horwood, has been rescheduled and will now begin in Autumn 2021.
Kevin Clifton said: “I’m really delighted that the Strictly Ballroom tour has been rescheduled. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s my all-time favourite film and Scott Hastings is my dream role, so I can’t wait to bring this musical to theatres across the UK next year. In the meantime, please stay safe and keep well everyone.”
Craig Revel Horwood added: “I’m thrilled that our new production has been rescheduled for 2021/2022. The tour may be a year later, but you can still expect those same sexy dance moves, scintillating costumes and a simply FAB-U-LOUS show for all to enjoy, starring the one and only Kevin Clifton!”
Featuring a book by Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce, a cast of over twenty world-class performers, Strictly’s iconic songs include Love is in the Air, Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps and Time After Time. More at: strictlyballroomtour.co.uk
The West End revival starring Imelda Staunton at the Adelphi Theatre has been postponed, with the production now not set to open until 2022!
New season details and all further info will be announced at a later date. Ticket holders do not need to do anything. The point of purchase will be in touch with ticket holders soon about refunds.
Dominic Cooke’s new production will have a cast of 34 and an 18-strong orchestra.
When it does eventually begin its run, multi Olivier and BAFTA Award-winning Imelda Staunton will play meddlesome socialite-turned-matchmaker Dolly Levi, as she travels to Yonkers, New York, to find a match for the miserly, unmarried ‘half-a-millionaire’, Horace Vandergelder. But everything changes when she decides that the next match she needs to make is for herself.
According to the producers “plans are already underway for the new season … Dolly will most certainly be back where she belongs.”
MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING:
Rescheduled dates for the world premiere of My Best Friend’s Wedding The Musical will see Alexandra Burke as Julianne Potter.
The show will open at the Manchester Palace Theatre on 20 September 2021 ahead of a UK and Ireland tour.
Whoopi Goldberg’s highly anticipated return to her iconic role as Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act has been rescheduled at Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo exactly one year later than first planned.
The show’s London dates have now been rescheduled to open 20 July 2021 where it will play until 29 August 2021. Original tickets purchased for this year will be valid in 2021.
Multi award-winning actress, comedian and writer, Jennifer Saunders, will join Whoopi onstage as Mother Superior – the part played by Maggie Smith in the original 1992 film.
Current ticketholders for the London run have been moved into the same seats for equivalent performances by day of week for the 2021 run. Patrons will be able to use their current ticket for performances next year. Performance times remain unchanged.
Based on the iconic movie, this sparkling tribute to the universal power of friendship, sisterhood and music tells the hilarious story of the disco diva whose life takes a surprising turn when she witnesses a murder. Under protective custody she is hidden in the one place she won’t be found – a convent! Disguised as a nun and under the suspicious watch of Mother Superior, Deloris helps her fellow sisters find their voices as she rediscovers her own.
Written by the multi Olivier, BAFTA and Academy Award-winning playwright and screen-writer Martin McDonagh, the play which was due to make its West End premiere this Summer, is to be delayed to 2021.
New season details and all further information will be announced at a later date.
The play will star Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Steve Pemberton.