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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.



There are some excellent things in this Aladdin. Cavin Cornwall, whom I fondly remember at Caiaphas in Open Air Theatre Regents Park’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar, is the best Abanazer I’ve ever seen. Styled as a slimy estate agent in a very loud striped suit he minces, wheedles, cackles and commands the stage every time he appears. He also has hilarious legs – very slim in tight trousers, completed by show off pointy shoes and attached to an actor who has a John Cleeseian knack of making them funny. Then there’s that basso profundo voice. Yes, even the six year old I took with me said she thought he was the best thing in the show.

Siobahn Athwal gives a witty performance as both Genies – with different voices, two costumes, a lot of quick changes and a crack about theatre having been through two terrible years and therefore  unable to afford two actors. Emma Ralston is entertaining as Frankie, Aladdin’s sister who replaces the Wishy Washy role and Rosie Cava-Beale sings beautifully as Princess Amirah. Toby Miles as Aladdin is a fair singer once he gets going and he can certainly dance and act convincingly.

I was also impressed by the use of projection including the Horsham photographs which form part of the set and the flying carpet sequence which uses images to create the illusion of movement. And putting the (very good) four piece band stage left in a band stand, steps to which form part of the set, is an original idea which makes deals with potential timing issues and makes the music feel coherent. It looks pretty too.

But  –  and of course there has to be one if not several – Morgan Brind’s script is witty but far too wordy and some of the songs are too long. The long narrative preamble is not a happy start when you have an audience full of very young children. There are a lot of good jokes tucked away but most of them are also thrown away. I have rarely seem comic timing so woefully mismanaged by so many actors in a pantomime. There is, for example, a sequence of quite clever fish puns which ought to produce a lot of laughter and groans. In fact it’s raced through so fast that most of it is lost. Of course there’s a place for word play in a panto but children need a lot of visual humour too and there’s very little slapstick in this show which has no slosh scene. The only time the children really got excited in the performance I saw was during the ghost scene (Yetis in Iceland in this instance) –  just five minutes in a two and half hour show. The result of all this was that many children in the audience were very restive although “my” six year old was more engaged in the stronger second half than the first. If panto doesn’t fully work for children then it’s missing the point.

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.

  • : admin
  • : 23/11/2021
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



Dan Goggin’s musical comedy, Nunsense, has spawned six sequels and three spin offs since it first appeared on Broadway in 1985. In all my years as a theatre reviewer, I had never seen the musical Nunsense before, and looked forward to Bembridge Little Theatre Club’s production.

After the warm welcome from the front of house team, who were dressed as nuns and monks, the show itself was a hilarious, irreverent, laugh out loud, madcap helter-skelter ride of a musical. Nunsense was right up my cloister – I loved it.

 At the very start of the show, the nuns explained that they belong to the order of Little Sisters of Hoboken and needed to raise funds to bury four nuns whose corpses were “on ice” in the convent freezer. The other fifty-two dead nuns having been buried, Mother Superior bought a new DVD player and ran out of money to bury the other four, hence the fund-raising show. The dead nuns were the unfortunate victims of botulism, thanks to the Vichyssoise soup cooked by Sister Julia Child (of God). The surviving nuns staged their show at Mount Saint Helen’s Catholic School on the set of the school’s eighth-grade production of the musical Grease, which the Reverend Mother referred to as ‘Vaseline’.

Amongst the many sisters, all named Mary, was an amnesiac nun who had lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head, a former circus performer and a wannabe ballerina. The show began with the sisters singing and dancing to “Nunsense is Habit Forming”, followed by the Little Sisters solo acts which consisted of a quiz, a ventriloquist act and ballet dancing. There was more hilarity as nothing went quite as planned and dramas developed between each of the sisters’ performances.

All sixteen members of cast gave stellar performances. A standout performance for me, was from Libby Pike, as the initially upright Reverend Mother. There followed a hilariously funny routine when the Reverend Mother gets as high as a kite after sniffing an illegal substance and gets stuck after falling off a stool. A master class in comic timing. There was a wonderful send up of Shelly Winters swimming in the ‘Poiseidon Adventure’, as the Reverend Mother flailed about on the stage. The duet ‘Just A Coupl’ A Sisters’ with Sister Mary Wilholm, Maureen Sullivan, and the Reverend Mother was another winner.

Hanna Emily Dixon was hilarious as Sister Mary Amnesia, the nun who had suffered memory loss. Her comedy skills second to none (no pun intended), and oh – what a voice! Miss Dixon brought the house down as she led the ensemble in the rousing number ‘Holier Than Thou’, her soulful, powerful, gospel voice was joyful to the last note.

John Abraham delighted as Sister Mary Leo, a novice with ambitions of becoming the first ballerina nun. I loved her dying swan. As Sister Robert Anne, Bryony Bishop gave a hilarious rendition of the song, ‘So You Want To Be A Nun’, complete with a large hand puppet, aptly named Mary Annette. Dianne Aspinall’s rendition of ‘Growing Up Catholic’ was very moving and in total contrast to her over exuberant wild character, Sister Mary Dinah, a streetwise nun.

With such a large cast any set furniture had to be easy to move, especially with such a fast-paced show. The set design and construction team utilised the space. The set was open plan and minimalistic, save for the good use of a nineteen fifties style diner counter and stools, set on a truck. The blocks serving as steps in a recess at the back of the stage were utilised as a bed. The paintings of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and a 1950’s jukebox added the finishing touches.

I had yet to see a musical production by Bembridge Little Theatre club. Thanks to Director Andrew Wilson-Jenner, who assembled this talented cast, Nunsense was a laugh out loud show, with the performances well-received by the audience who whooped and clapped along. The show was energetic with a combination of vaudeville and slapstick, all delivered with superb comic timing.

Choreographer Ruth Anderson ensured the movements were fun to watch, with some lovely ensemble pieces. Music Director Stephen Burton and the band made the tunes seem effortless.

Congratulations to all involved with this wonderful production. A well-deserved 5 stars from Sardines Magazine for Amateur Theatre.

  • : admin
  • : 13/11/2021
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.

  • : admin
  • : 12/11/2021
The Barber of Seville

The Barber of Seville

The audience laughed and applauded this jolly production of Rossini’s opera, sung in English and using the witty translation by Robert David Macdonald.  In marked contrast to the futuristic Madame Butterfly, which is the WNOs alternate production this season, this is a more traditional offering, directed by Giles Havergal, which WNO have been including in their repertoire since the mid-eighties.  The staging presents a play within a play, reflecting the joint origins of the piece. The centrepiece of the setting is a stage on three levels, some of the rear structure being visible, which has apparently been set up in a town square for a production of The Barber of Seville. The main characters enact the central story, with townsfolk (the chorus) watching and stepping in to play minor roles. In homage to the original opera by Beaumarchais, the ‘players’ are dressed in sumptuous eighteenth-century costume, while the townsfolk are dressed in early nineteenth-century costume, Rossini’s own era. This works well in allowing the characters to acknowledge the applause for the solos, although it does somewhat distance the audience from the action by placing them firmly outside the production. Nevertheless, the story charms, with youth and wit winning through and age and greed being successfully thwarted.

I loved the opening, where the chorus sit and watch the orchestra as they play the overture. This enables the superb WNO orchestra to be fully acknowledged from the start, from the stage as well as the audience. It is worth noting that some members of the orchestra and some members of the chorus have been with WNO for over twenty years. A happy company.

Once the piece is underway, your attention and admiration are captured by the virtuosity of the singing and each song receives its just reward from the rapturous applause.  Although the opera is named for Figaro (a cheekily entertaining Nicholas Lester), it really belongs to Count Almaviva (engagingly played by Nico Darmanin) and Rosina (an enchanting and humorous Heather Lowe). Each principal really owns their character, whilst stepping out of them to acknowledge the applause. Heather Lowe moved as well as sang gracefully and it comes as no surprise to find she is also a dancer.

There is no weak performance here; Dr Bartolo (Andrew Shore) embraces his comic-villainous role, Berta (Angharad Morgan) and Fiorello (Howard Kirk) amuse in their supporting roles, and it is wonderful to enjoy so much more of the rich tones of Keel Watson, seen so briefly as The Bonze in Madame Butterfly.

This production can be seen in November and December in Oxford and Llandudno but leaves the repertoire in 2022. Catch it if you can.

  • : admin
  • : 06/11/2021