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Pinocchio

Pinocchio

Lewis Renninson and Company in Chichester Festival Youth Theatre’s Pinocchio. Photo: Manuel Harlan


Performed by CFT’s Youth Theatre.

A year ago I watched this show on Zoom because Covid regulations were tightening by the hour. Then, they had to cancel the rest of the run. What a joy, this year to see it revived and to be there in person.

Now in the hands of revival director, Bobby Brook, Pinocchio which was originally directed by Dale Rook has a cast of sixty-eight, about half of whom were in last year’s aborted production. Some young actors are back but in different roles, all demonstrating what a marvellously developmental experience CFT’s Youth Theatre is.

Anna Ledwich’s adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s novel stresses the family values, forgiveness and redemption which underpin this story of a puppet turned boy who runs away, tells lies and makes lots of mistakes but is eventually reunited, contrite, humble and relieved with his puppet maker father.

It’s a piece which lends itself to working in bubbles (if you need to) because it’s episodic – most  sections using immaculately well directed ensemble to good effect. And I still like the way Ledwich’s text manages to work in a bit of environmental awareness in the underwater scene.

There is a certain amount of cast rotation. On press night I saw Lewis Renninson as Pinocchio, wobbling his way to boyhood with professional panache. I especially liked his donkey dance during that sinister episode when he is turned into a donkey by a cruel circus owner and forced to dance as an attraction.

Funmi Ajayi gives us a very commonsensible but glittery fairy who acts as a sort of invisible guardian to Pinocchio. And Honami Davies does a fine job as the cricket who is Pinocchio’s forthright voice of conscience. Of course he often ignores her and she gets very cross.

It isn’t easy for a teenager to portray an old man but Spencer Dixon is pretty convincing as Gepetto whose unconditional love for his “son” is quite moving. I was moved too by the way they hugged each other. Last year hugs had to be mimed because of social distancing rules.

Tom Brady’s music purrs happily along in the capable hands of an (unseen, unfortunately) six-piece live band led by Colin Billing. There’s a duet between Pinocchio and Geppetto which stands out for its attractive harmony. And as last year I especially liked slinky Cat and Fox number with its hint of Kurt Weill.

I can’t finish this review without a word of praise for Isobel Buckler’s delightful, shiny orange Lobster with the Russian accent. Her nonchalance and stage presence gets a well deserved audience chuckle every time she speaks.

It’s a fine show of its type – and I see quite a lot of youth and student work. As ever Chichester does it splendidly.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Image: Eliza Wilmot


Rarely have I enjoyed an evening in the theatre so unequivocally. The warmly familiar show itself packs more smile-factor than almost anything else I can think of. And CTC’s practice of using its vibrant, enthusiastic, talented youth theatre alongside very competent non-professional adults works a treat.

Director/Choreographer. Chris Cuming. sets the show in a school library with primary school children reading books so the set is a bit Matilda-like but it’s an inspired idea. The children and teachers are re-enacting the story of Joseph in assembly so the headmaster becomes Jacob, the PE teacher becomes Pharaoh and other roles emerge from the community. As the story starts we move from grey school uniforms into colour (costumes by Liz Milway). And it works splendidly; fizzing with visual and aural energy throughout.

Vikki Jones is outstanding as the teacher/narrator, holding the book she’s pretending to read from, “directing” her charges, singing and dancing well  and making it  all look smilingly, professionally effortless.

Ben Lewis, initially a puzzled bespectacled teenager in his school tie, morphs into a charismatic and ultimately authoritative Joseph and sings with maturity.  Rodger Lloyd has enormous fun with the Elvis/Pharaoh number gyrating his hips and pointing at women in the front row and Lake Falconer finds gentle gravitas in Jacob.

But the real star of the show is the ensemble which moves continuously with volumes of slick, well disciplined exuberance. Cuming really knows how to get the very best from them. Even the finale/curtain call is a choreographic gem.  And let’s hear it too  for Jennifer Edmonds’s eight piece band on a high platform at right angles to stage right. Lovely clarinet work from Graham Dolby and I know the xylophone in “Any Dream Will Do” is just a key board switch but it sounds great.

Of course it wasn’t perfect – there was the occasional bum note and missed entry. This was the opening night after all. A superb achievement, though, by any standards.

I couldn’t help comparing this show with my disappointing 2019 experience of seeing the much hyped version with Sheridan Smith, Jason Donovan and Jake Yarrow which I found forced and oddly unengaging. CTC’s lively, imaginative show is anything but and I know which version I much preferred. Thank you, CTC. This was just what I needed just before Christmas and a real antidote to some of the lacklustre pro shows I’ve seen in recent weeks.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Image: David Ovenden


What better way to spend a December evening than by being transported to the sunny French Riviera? If another show sees life as a cabaret, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels takes a gambling casino as its setting and a metaphor for the shady, if entertaining, world it depicts. On entering the Bridewell Theatre’s performance area with its black drapes and gaming tables, no sooner have you parted with your coins for a programme than, and, as the band tunes up, croupiers ply you with chips and draw you into their world.

And oh boy, what a band it is! In preparation for the show, I’d played the original American cast recording and, for just a moment, wondered if I was hearing that orchestral track. Chris Nelson’s baton inspires his fifteen-strong band to bring out all the pep and buzz of the original orchestrations in David Yazbek’s delicious score, and the bubbly company follows suit. The production is as musically sound as any big musical in the West End.

The piece itself breaks no new ground. In fact, it’s almost a throwback to the light-hearted musical comedies of the ‘twenties and ‘thirties but, as the recent success of the Anything Goes revival showed us, is just what the doctor ordered for the dismal times we’re living through. There’s even a haunting love ballad, Nothing is Too Wonderful – albeit spoofed – and some wise-cracking numbers which could have been penned by Cole Porter.

Lawrence holds sway as the resident conman in the resort. When he meets another scoundrel, Freddy, on a train he first tries to help him, then makes use of him before deciding there isn’t room for them both in town and challenges him to a gamble. Whoever manages to successfully swindle a woman out of $50,000 can stay. Whoever loses must leave.

Gangsters and other lowlife are, of course, stock characters in musical comedy and, once again, we’re in lovable rogue territory here. In her excellent Director’s Notes, Zoë Thomas-Webb suggests that even ephemeral light-hearted musicals may cause an audience to reflect on aspects of the human condition. If this one has a weakness, whilst entertaining, it doesn’t risk, as the The Producers succeeds in doing, tottering on the knife-edge of outrageous bad taste. Yet the sheer simplicity of her production, in which a couple of chairs can become a railway carriage at the twisting of a couple of waiter’s arms, ensures everything moves deftly and keeps us involved.

To be honest, I’d found the charm of the 1988 film resistible, and even this musical version, first served to us in London in 2014 didn’t totally engage me. But as sometimes happens, a fringe venue and company can bring a special magic, even warmth to the proceedings which, in this case, makes the reprobates more endearing. The production is pure joy from start to finish!

The principal conmen, Rob Archibald as the urbane Lawrence and Joey Henshaw, the socially inept Freddy, are well contrasted and make a fine double act. Archibald brings vocal versatility to the various persona required by his role, his transformation into a Viennese doctor being particularly hilarious, whilst Henshaw’s clumsy teddy bear antics are equally delightful. This is comic playing of a high order. They get good support from: Imogen Johnson as the Soap Queen who isn’t quite who they, and we, are led to believe she is; Louise Roberts as an American socialite and potential victim of the pair (her coup de théâtre at the end (no spoiler!) is brilliant); and Dan Saunders as Andre the corrupt but charming Head of Police in league with Lawrence.

Jen Bullock also shines as Jolene a wealthy young woman, who manipulates herself into becoming temporarily engaged to Lawrence and performs a riveting speciality dance with the ensemble, extolling the dubious virtues of her home state.

Jonathon Grant and Fiona McConachie have choreographed the show superbly and in numbers such as the latter (Oklahoma!) make full use of the deep stage area, not to mention large pink Stetsons – even if, sometimes, the dancing could be sharper.

I was puzzled – and distracted – by a cast/audience member mysteriously planted at one of the tables. Was this a Brechtian alienation device or had another critic been given a ringside seat? I could also have done with better diction from some cast members who spoke and sang a tad too fast for mature ears. Admittedly, many of the songs have quick tempos, but Yazbek’s clever lyrics and Jeffrey Lane’s witty lines are too good to miss.

No matter, it was terrific to be back once again with an enthusiastic young cast and audience at The Bridewell and be reassured that Sedos, despite the problems of the past twenty-odd months, hasn’t let its very high standards slip. The two-and-a half hours sped by in a delightful whirl of mirth, movement and melody.

Strongly recommended!

Rumi: The Musical

Rumi: The Musical

Image: Jane Hobson


Rumi: The Musical began life as a concept recording. Its creators, Dana Al Fardan and Nadim Naaman, began their journey towards the end of 2019, with the final album being released in June 2021, so this truly was a pandemic project.

Showing for two nights only at the London Coliseum for its world premiere, the musical depicts a snapshot of the life of 13th Century Turkish mystic, philosopher and poet Rumi. In 1244, Rumi meets the enigmatic Shams-i-Tabrizi, and their deep connection and friendship changes everything, not only for the men themselves but also for Rumi’s family.

Even today, Rumi’s teachings and ideologies are popular across the world, so it’s surprising that a musical hasn’t been written about him before.

The production feels somewhat swallowed up on the huge stage of the Coliseum, with its small cast and minimal set. However, I liked the relative simplicity of it all, allowing the audience space to concentrate on the story and music. I was instantly reminded of Children of Eden and Godspell, not only because of the show’s religious context but because of the measured and philosophical dialogue that takes place between songs.

This isn’t a fast-paced musical; it’s ballad-heavy, and on first listen, not all the songs have a strong hook. But the cast, led by seasoned West End performer Ramin Karimloo (Shams) and Naaman himself (Rumi), deliver strong and powerful performances. A particular standout is duet Somewhere in act two, sung by Rumi’s wife Kara (Soophia Foroughi) and stepdaughter Kimya (Casey Al-Shaqsy).

Rumi: The Musical is very much about fusion. The show is interspersed with sections of dance, a mix of contemporary and Middle Eastern, and the music deftly intertwines Persian and Middle Eastern sounds with more traditional musical theatre fare. I did find myself wishing the volume could be turned up a few notches, as the sound overall was missing that extra bit of punch, but the score has intrigued me enough to want a second listen. It was also wonderful to hear that traditional Middle Eastern instruments formed part of the orchestra.

Rumi: The Musical has a way to go before it reaches the dizzying heights of other West End debuts, but this mystical musical was a pleasant and sometimes powerful journey through the life of a man who still inspires millions today.

Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers

Lyn Paul is on her last outing as Willy Russell’s Mrs Johnstone after first taking on the role in The West End in 1997. Moreover, this week’s run at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre is the last week of the musical’s UK – and Lyn Paul’s farewell tour. To be honest, at 72 years old, COVID or no COVID, she’s lucky to be taking part in her farewell tour, and this casting is the reason for the show not being awarded the full five stars. I know she’s a Blood Brothers ‘legend’ and knows the show inside out but when the young Mrs Johnstone kicks the show off – in a seemingly constant state of pregnancy, the fact that she is now the age of an elderly grandparent cannot realistically be ignored. I’ve seen Lindsay Hateley and Melanie Chisolm (the ex-Spice Girl) play the role; they were both much more suited, age-wise to take on the young Liverpudlian mother.

That said, The ex-New Seeker (I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing) is quite brilliant in the role. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Blood Brothers is about Mrs Johnstone who gives one of her twin babies away to Mrs Lyons – her well-off employer who has discovered she and her husband cannot have children themselves. Hence, Mickey Johnstone and Eddie Lyons grow up apart until fate brings them together… twice. SPOILER ALLERT! – Things don’t end well for the two brothers.

Willy Russell’s iconic musical, loosely adapted from Alexandre Dumas’ The Corsican Brothers (1844) has been critically hailed alongside his other two masterpieces, Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine. The musical content of Blood Brothers is quite brilliant, reprising its tunes throughout. Highlights includes the iconic Marilyn Monroe, Bright New Day, Shoes Upon the Table and the celebrated Tell Me it’s Not True. All the numbers don’t seem to overtake the story and are nicely integrated into the plot.

Russell’s other masterstroke is through the use of a Narrator who comes and goes speaking rhyme throughout. To that end Robbie Scotcher has returned to the role that he excelled in over past years, and makes an imposing figure. I saw Wet Wet Wet’s Marti Pellow play the narrator five years ago but Scotcher has really nailed this part. Elsewhere, as the twins, Alex Patmore (Mickey) and Joel Benedict (Eddie) also give a fine account of the brothers both growing up – Dennis Potter style – and as their eighteen-year-old versions.

Paula Tappenden is delighfully posh as the unhinged Mrs Lyons, Danielle Corlass makes a very pretty Linda and Tim Churchill plays some funny multiple roles including Mr Lyons, the Milkman and Mrs Johnstone’s gynecologist. There are several other multi-role performances going on such as Matt Slack’s two Teachers and a Policeman and Danny Taylor returns to the familiar role as Mickey’s idolised elder brother, Sammy.

It’s powerful stuff and emotionally charged. The show’s climactic final scene is the best I’ve ever seen.

Blood Brothers is extremely popular with amateur companies in usually the non-musical version but when this tour finally ends perhaps we’ll see some amateur productions of the musical.

Anything Goes (Cinema Screening)

Anything Goes (Cinema Screening)

This is the screening of the “Show of the Year” (the show’s strapline) filmed at the Barbican Theatre during its sold-out run in the summer.

It received 5-star reviews across the board and, after seeing this screening – which I know can never quite match up to the ‘live’ experience no matter how slick its production values – I can only agree with every single one. This show is simply perfect. Directed and choreographed by the multi-award-winning Kathleen Marshall and produced by the Midas touch of Trafalgar Theatre Productions (Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire) its final masterstroke was in the casting of Sutton Foster, Robert Lindsay, Felicity Kendal and Gary Wilmot.

The role of Reno Sweeney was to originally be played by Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) who had to pull out citing an ‘injury’ as the reason. However, after seeing Sutton Foster reprise her award-winning Broadway performance – seemingly with consummate ease – I can’t help wondering if the role proved too demanding for Mullally. One thing that’s for sure is how popular this musical is with non-professional societies up and down the UK. Every creative who has any level of decision-making for their musical group should see this screening on either 28 November or 1 December. The inspiration to be gathered is so valuable.

The skill of the entire company is there for all to see, but one cannot help but notice how much fun the leading quartet are having throughout the show. The trick is, of course, the easier it looks usually means the more skill is involved in the performance. For this one need look no further than Lindsay and Foster. The pair’s chemistry is one of laid-back fun. I had the good fortune to interview Lindsay a few years ago when the actor was preparing to make his pantomime debut as Captain Hook. He won an award that time and should do so again for his role as Moonface Martin. The confidence needed to underplay a role so well is sublimely delivered by this pair. Foster is every bit the leading lady and it shows.

Away from the four top billers, great credit must also go to Samuel Edwards (Billy Crocker), Nicole-Lily Baisden (Hope Harcourt), Haydn Oakley (Lord Evelyn Oakleigh) and Carly Mercedes Dyer (Erma).

Not a single comedic opportunity has been missed by anybody which is worthy praise for both cast and director. In fact, what ever area of theatre you might specialise in, there is a master-class waiting for you in Anything Goes. Show of the Year may become ‘Show of the Decade’ …and so it should.

Head over to https://www.anythinggoesmusicalcinema.com/ for tickets now.

Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots

After two long years it’s a real treat to be back in the room with the ebulliently enthusiastic West Wickham Operatic Society. The cast and everyone involved with this show were clearly on a totally justifiable high.

And there is a lot to like about this production of the ever-popular Kinky Boots directed by Kevin Gauntlett who also plays the factory foreman, George, stuck in his own time warp but, like almost everyone else, on a voyage of open-minded discovery. Price and Sons, a shoe factory in Northampton narrowly avoids the buffers by a switch to niche marketing – making strong female boots for men. Most people in the audience know the story. The 2005  film did very well as did the West End  musical version and tour.

Danielle Dowsett’s choreography is splendidly slick and full of visual interest.  She has every single chorus member drilled to be totally present and a dynamic part of the action at all times.  She also gets some fine work out of the chorus of drag queens although, for me, they don’t look glamorous enough. Some of their make-up inches towards grotesque.

Michael Simpson’s lighting makes every scene look good, especially the catwalk in Milan. And the eleven-piece pit band, led by MD James Hall is outstanding.

Amongst the principals, Kemal Ibrahim  – “triple threat” fully sewn up – is a show stealer as Lola. He struts, purrs, and gleams in his nightclub numbers, sings in a range of moods and brings a really poignant sense of vulnerability to the nakedness of finally finding the courage to be his gay, male self. The toilet scene is always the best bit of any production of Kinky Boots and Ibrahim gives us a warm, moving performance here with Stephen Bradley (good actor) as Charlie.

On the other hand this Kinky Boots felt under-rehearsed on its opening night. There were too many missed mic cues, tuning problems in the singing and technical theatre problems including clumsy scene changes – you aren’t supposed to hear the thumps and bumps of things being moved about. And please could this company work a bit harder on diction in general and consonants in particular ? Several cast members are inaudible when speaking and many words disappear during the singing

The Thursford Christmas Spectacular

The Thursford Christmas Spectacular

My first thought when invited to attend The Thursford Christmas Spectacular was…can it really be that spectacular? Some of the very worst things describe themselves with a superlative. So I was curious.

But over the years I had heard good reports about Thursford from a few acquaintances who spoke of how extraordinary it was, how difficult it was to get tickets and how they would love to go again. I was curious.

The Thursford Collection, in a very rural Norfolk setting, was developed by a farmer with a love of traction engines and other farming machinery. Over the years the site has created special and rather fine buildings to house this collection, together with related shops and eateries. In 1977 John Cushing – the show’s producer and director –  had the idea to put on a Christmas show and the Spectacular was born.

It now runs from early November until Christmas, with, notably, booking for the next year starting just before this year’s show ends its run.

It’s a very big show in all sorts of ways.

The auditorium is situated in one of the huge exhibition halls – some of the traction engines, paintwork gleaming, brasswork glistening in the Christmas lights, at its edge. A beautiful fairground carousel (used sparingly in the show) is in the corner, leading the eye directly to the extraordinarily wide but relatively shallow stage.

That sort of stage could be a problem but Thursford does not do things by halves. The cast includes 55 singers and 22 dancers. An orchestra of 28 musicians occupies the stage throughout the second half of the show – with enough room for the rest of the company!

For those expecting ‘The First Noel’ as a starter there is a surprise when two pipers in full rig enter from the rear of the auditorium to ensure a lively start. What follows is a variety show featuring song, dance, song and dance, orchestral pieces and  speciality acts – a comedian, jugglers, acrobats, the Thursford Wurlitzer organ and a cyr wheel artist. The show’s programme lists no less than 33 items in two acts – all topped off by an extraordinary and totally unexpected event during the finale.

The songs are a mix of carols, songs from the shows and others. The carols were beautifully arranged and, like other songs put into medleys – nothing lasted too long, which I think was a good judgement. The quality of singing and presentation is very,very good and the singers’ visits to the auditorium in procession for the carols make this something special. I especially liked the a cappella rendering of I Want to Hold Your Hand and very funny Christmas Can-Can but all of the singing is top rate.

As with the singers, choreographer, Tracey Iliffe makes maximum use of her very talented girl dancers who perform some numbers as a troupe and others with the singers – numbers from It’s De-Lovely (100% showgirl, complete with fans – a real challenge) and an exotic, oriental, interpretation of Bolero impressively done.

Those looking for songs from the West End won’t be disappointed…Blow Gabriel Blow, Be My Guest, All That Jazz, Lambeth Walk and White Christmas all feature as big production numbers with all hands on deck to wonderful effect!

I also have to make mention of the monologues, Toast (about a Duchess of Devonshire’s joyous discovery of electric toasters and sliced bread) and the drunken Christmas Cake Recipe. Funny and well done.

Not forgetting the orchestra, brilliantly led by Ben Ellin. Hidden and working hard behind the scenes in the first act but allowed to join the party for the second, Duelling Violins and Dominique being highlights for me. And it was a rare treat and a privilege to be able to hear and see Phil Kelsall play the Wurlitzer organ.

Deep breath … as if that were not enough the whole is interspersed with other, speciality acts. Delfina and Bartek show their acrobatic skill; I felt their second set, performed with no equipment at all and relying simply on counterbalance was beautiful and breathtaking – as the many gasps from the audience proved. Bibi and Bichu juggle fast and furious to Perpetuum Mobile and Billy George demostrates huge skill on the cyr wheel – which had to be seen to be believed.

Completing the picture is Kev Orkian, who I could write a whole review about. An Armenian comedian Kev  is, simply, a very funny man. Playing on his underdog ‘immigrant’ status – but never demeaning himself for a cheap laugh – Kev was a real treat. Clever, with the ability to get the audience on his side almost as soon as he took the stage, he was also compere. And, a very accomplished pianist, Kev also uses this to fine effect – I loved his attempt to copy the Elton John scratched CD the ‘management’ had given him to learn from and the ‘missing page of music’ gag was priceless!

The whole show was sumptuously costumed (commendations to the costume department and wardrobe staff – with all those costume changes backstage must be so busy!), well-lit with an excellent sound balance between the orchestra and the singers (not always the case in even the best West-End productions).

What a show!

Your correspondent is pleased to report that The Thursford Christmas Spectacular is indeed nothing less than…spectacular.

Matilda the Musical 10th Anniversary

Matilda the Musical 10th Anniversary

Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin at Matilda The Musical’s 10th Birthday. Photo: Ellie Kurtz


Revisiting long-running shows can lead to disappointment, but there was no chance of that at the Cambridge Theatre for the 10th anniversary gala performance of Matilda the Musical, developed and directed by Matthew Warchus and the RSC. The show is in excellent shape, with the latest cast more than the equal of their predecessors. Where the role of Matilda is concerned, some of those earlier performers were watching the performance, with an amazing 42 of them attending. The elation with which each of their numbers was greeted was then followed by them listening with rapt attention, probably eager to spot the small nuances which each talented (and well directed) performer brings to the role.

The adult performers were on fire too, whether that might be the amazing contortions of Matt Krzan as Rudolpho, or Sebastien Torkia, who manages to dilute the seediness of Mr Wormwood with an endearing lack of understanding. Opposite him is Annette McLaughlin, adding Mrs Wormwood to her roll call of great musical roles, and making the most of every line, song and high kick.

At Crunchem Hall, Landi Oshinowo is an endearing and authoritative Mrs Phelps, working well with her young co-star, and Carly Thoms is everything that is required as the saintly Miss Honey, and also has a crystal clear singing voice so that every word can be heard. The latest performer to take on Miss Trunchbull is Elliot Harper, and he is more than equal to the task. His Trunchbull is by turns wistful about her sporty past and determined to get her young charges in line, and he handles the setpieces like the punishments for the children and the awful PE lesson with aplomb.

The children, of course, are formidable as always. At the gala performance, Imogen Cole played the title role with intensity and determination, very much a force to be reckoned with. Around her, the other child performers and the adult ensemble worked together to put over the chorus numbers that are the great strengths of this piece. Peter Darling’s choreography, in particular, has a crispness and flourish which some other long-running shows would find difficult to match, and the atmosphere in the theatre, as a result, was electric. Frustratingly, the intricate and apt lyrics are not always clear and sometimes seem to be drowned out by the orchestra, at least from the Rear Stalls.

Much of the success of the show is down to Dahl’s story of course, and his ability to get inside the minds of children, but the involvement of key creatives to turn Matilda into a musical has also played a large part. Dennis Kelly’s book plays appropriate respect to the source material but also shapes it into a narrative that works as a satisfying theatrical experience. It was telling that he said during the speeches before the performance that he saw Matilda as “a little girl who just wasn’t going to put up with it” and that very much comes over in his book. Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics seem rooted in Dahl’s world, appropriate for a composer who himself grew up reading the stories and verse, and he paid tribute to the “hundreds of incredible people working for ten years” to put on the show.

Already playing around the world and recently touring the UK and Ireland, Matilda has already become a staple production (in its Junior version) at some of our more enterprising schools as well. I feel sure that the 10th anniversary is just the latest stage in the ongoing story of this phenomenal show and its ever-changing cast of talented performers.

Six

Six

All photos: Pamela Raith Photography


Oh yes, this apparently perennial show has certainly bedded in beautifully since I first saw it (twice) at Arts Theatre three years ago. Totally original and gloriously sassy, it remains the sort of spellbinding theatre which keeps you smiling for the full eighty minutes. And it can now afford high level production values so the cheerfully assertive on-stage, all female four-piece band is surrounded by some (literally) flashy lighting, courtesy of Tim Deiling’s flamboyant design. Think dozens of traffic lights changing colour … and more.

In case you’ve been on a different theatrical planet for the last three years: this show, by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, presents the six queens of Henry VIII meeting for a competitive pop concert. Using a whole range of styles from Beyonce to Adele and from Ariana Grande to Alicia Keys, each tells her own story. This means that each of the six queens gets a spot to present events from her point of view – and we see the whole six wives phenomenon through a 21st Century feminist lens. Underneath the funny, outrageous costumes – very glittery with Tudor hints – the throwaway lines, the jokes and the irreverent lyrics (“Don’t be bitter because I’m fitter”) there are some serious points being made here. And that’s why it works so well. Like all the best shows it is multi-layered.

There are three versions of this show at present: the one I’m reviewing here in the West End, a touring production and one on Broadway. The Vaudeville theatre version has six named cast members, three “queens in waiting” and two cast as swing. At the performance I saw the six on stage were Jarneia Richard-Nioel as Aragon, Cherelle Jay as Boleyn,  Collete Guitart as Seymour, Alexia McIntosh as Cleves, Sophie Isaacs as Howard and Hana Stewart as Parr. Because, presumably, this particular team isn’t fully accustomed to working together there were one or two minor hitches in the dialogue but songs and Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s entertainingly energetic choreography worked well – as ever.

All six flirt with the audience and pack sky-high levels of dynamic stage presence. I especially like big, bold McIntosh’s Anne of Cleves who, arguably gets the best deal – pensioned off to live independently in a palace as she keeps reminding us. And Cherelle Jay, who keeps popping up chirpily to point out that being beheaded is a bit final, is good value.

This show is a case study in runaway success. It began as the brainchild of two young people at Cambridge who took a little show to Edinburgh – since then, despite the pandemic which darkened it several times, it has been almost volcanic in its seemingly unstoppable growth. Perhaps it’s just what people need in these often uncertain, potentially gloomy times: lots of glitz, glamour, laughter and some good music.

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