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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.

Heathers

Heathers

Photos: Pamela Raith


Teenage angst, murder and love…

Based on the 1988 film ‘Heathers’, this musical’s dark story line, with 3 brutal teenage murders and a tragic suicide, is a show full of great comedic moments, strong characterisation and cracking vocals!

Leading lady, Rebecca Wickes, commands the stage as Veronica Sawyer and pulls the audience into her journey as a teenager craving love, a desire to fit in but ultimately, the goal to end the high school ‘war’ and unite her peers.

Wickes is one to watch, with incredible vocals! Her portrayal of Veronica is captivating and she brilliantly conveys that awful teenage angst that we all remember so well as she battles a desire for popularity, the intoxication of her first love (and his monstrous acts) and her true self. Although she gets lost along the way, fabricating suicide notes to cover up the murder of her class mates by love interest JD, all she really wants is to enjoy being ‘Seventeen’.

Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan, a dynamic double act portraying high school ‘jock’ bullies, work perfectly in sync with each other and are another highlight of the show and, spending all the second act in their ‘tighty whities’, they are hard to miss!

The delicate balance between the dark and light in this show is elevated by the memorable and varied score with witty lyrics and rich harmonies, all delivered by an energetic cast.  You know a good show when you are singing the songs all the way home.

It is easy see how this show has gained such a cult following, with audience members even turning up in the iconic “Heathers” outfits. The show does an exceptional job of tackling what, on paper, is a horrific tale, and we even find ourselves sympathising with the bullies and murderers.

The show continues to tour the UK for the rest of 2021 and even has a short spell in London from November to February – catch it whilst you can!

Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Having not actually read D.H. Lawrence’s 20th Century scandalous-yet-popular novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I wonder if it was a bad idea watching a comical parody of the book this week (currently touring to London ‘s Greenwich Theatre). One thing that isn’t in doubt is the hilarity of the piece, which was confirmed – from start to finish – by the thrilled audience on press night.

After a few checks to make sure the ‘parody’ was actually true(ish) to the book I can report that LCL is arguably the perfect story with which to base a comedy on. Performed by Happy Idiot theatre company, the four-hander plus a narrated voice – complete with minimal set and props – is quite brilliant and well worth a visit.

Written by Lawrence Russell, who takes on the role of Clifford Chatterley (husband of the infamous ‘Lady C) and confined to a wheelchair after being paralysed from the waist down during the First World War, the comedy looks easy like it’s all made up on the spot. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The trick here is of course not letting the ‘gag’ run dry. As soon as an audience grows tired of the big  ‘joke’ then your show is doomed to fail. Not here. There is plenty of good writing and D.H. Lawrence’s storyline to wait for exactly the right moment to get the rug out (so to speak). The nude scene where a very buff Mellors (Wesley Griffith) and Constance (Christina Baston) name their balloon-like private parts ‘John Thomas’ and ‘Lady Jane’ respectively is inspired and well played out.

Baston makes an excellent leading lady, loud when necessary but also smouldering, and also I loved how Clifford has had a female dancer’s legs transplanted onto him – stockings and all (as if). Rebecca McClay has the tricky task of supporting the cast with the extremely loyal Mrs Bolton and delightfully doubles as Constance’s sister, Hilda.

It’s arguably no coincidence that the new musical version of this same story has also played in London so recently, but what the heck!

It’s all very silly, weirdly sexy, yet constantly funny.

More info can be found at: https://happyidiot.co.uk/tours/

Lee Mead – My Band and Me

Lee Mead – My Band and Me

The best entertainment I’ve enjoyed for months!

It is rare to get a chance to listen to a West End star in the close confines of a small venue like the Concorde Club in Eastleigh, Southampton. The Concorde is best known as the home of jazz in the area and has an intimate space, laid out cabaret style, with a dining area behind; both with an excellent view of the stage.

Lee Mead, perhaps recognised by most for winning the television programme Any Dream Will Do: The Search for Joseph, which saw him going on to perform in the West End revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and for appearing as hapless nurse, Lofty, in Holby City, is actually a veteran of a number of West End musicals and has five hit albums to his credit. His touring show is a pared down version of his recent show at the London Palladium. Gone are the backing choir and special guests and the twelve-piece band has shrunk to a four-piece. Does it matter? Not one jot!

Lee looked very debonair in a three-piece suit and open-necked white shirt. Most of the predominantly female audience were clearly already fans and anyone who wasn’t, like the friend I was with, was quickly won over. It would be easy to dismiss him as a talented pretty face but, goodness me, the man can sing!

Opening with an impact with a rousing rendition of Rolling Stones’ classic Paint it Black, Lee swept apparently effortlessly through a variety of genres. We were treated to a selection of well-chosen songs from some of the shows he has been in and others from shows and artists he admires. We had the gentle Lullaby (Billy Joel) juxtaposed with the belting tour de force which is Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar, which closed the first half. To hear a voice trained to reach the back of a large theatre unleashed in a small venue and then to hear a simple rendition with just piano and bass of God Only Knows was magical. How lovely also to hear such clear enunciation – I heard words in some songs that I had never heard before.

Lee was somewhat disconcerted by being able to see the audience so clearly. Nevertheless, he introduced each song and chatted in between with an easy charm. It was positively endearing to see him rather embarrassed by his sexy homage to Tom Jones (Kiss) in tribute to his Nan. His performance of The Music of The Night from  The Phantom of the Opera left us astounded that he hasn’t yet played the lead. We then went via U2 and Bob Dylan to the final few numbers. Anthem from Chess is apparently Lee’s preferred audition song and you can certainly hear why but he had to end, inevitably, with a pair of contrasting songs from Joseph… : Close Every Door and Any Dream Will Do – featuring the very willing audience as the choir!

It is important to acknowledge that this was not a one-man show. It was fascinating watching Barry Robinson on piano also directing the music whilst playing- impressive. On the quiet numbers he teamed with Don Richardson on bass guitar and double bass (interestingly played like a cello). On the rest, Jon Atkinson on drums and Tim Rose on guitar rounded out the music. The sound balance was excellent with the music never drowning the vocals even at full volume.

Sadly for anyone reading this, this was the final night of the eleven night tour. If I could, I would definitely go and see it again. Lucky me! I have the DVD of the Palladium show, so I can do just that!

Lee will be back in Southampton in April next year at the Mayflower starring in Fat Friends – The Musical, but first he visits Bromley’s Churchill Theatre for the upcoming panto alongside Bonnie Langford and Claudillea (The Voice).

9 to 5

9 to 5

Image: Pamela Raith Photography


Review by Diana Eccleston for Sardines

Working 9 to 5 in an office has been a distant memory for many people over the last 18 months of the pandemic.

So, is this Dolly Parton (music and lyrics) stage musical version of the four decades old film a museum piece?

Yes and no. I appreciate the girl-power sentiment of working women getting their own back on a scummy, cheating, misogynistic boss. But subtle it is not. And the humour is not my sort of fun, though judging by the excited and excitable packed audience at Tuesday’s gala opening night I was in a minority of one!

It’s about three women who don’t just get mad at their nasty male boss. They get even… after they’ve got stoned courtesy of the dope generously provided by widow Violet’s teenage son.

She’s the office stalwart, who does everything and gets overlooked for promotion. Her partners in crime are busty blonde bimbo Doralee (played by Dolly herself in the movie) who others assume is being bedded by the boss. And joining them is new girl Judy, about to be divorced by her husband.

Louise Redknapp, Stephanie Chandos and Vivian Panka do their best with the two-dimensional characters.

Others are cartoons, most notably Roz (Julia J Nagle) , who fancies boss Franklin (Sean Needham), though they do get a mildly amusing big dance number together.

There are feeble “dick” jokes and some tasteless bits, like Doralee carrying a gun in her purse. Not easy to find funny these days.

There are some positives: effective settings, some zippy choreography and filmed appearances by the always enjoyable Dolly herself.

I like my musicals with a bit more oomph and more memorable music: here the title song is far and away the best.

The show is on tour. Don’t think about it too deeply and you may enjoy it!

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Photo: Darren Bell


Having already played Tick in this rainbow of a show provides the perfect way for Jason Donovan to co-produce his first show. In this production which sees three performing drag queens travel across Australia so Tick can perform for his son (yes, you heard that right…), Strictly winner, Joe McFadden, has been replaced by Miles Western as Bernadette (you can thank Covid for that!) while Nick Hayes and Edwin Ray remain in the roles of Felicia/Adam and Tick/Mitzi respectively.

In addition to our trio of drag queens, dressed in white, the show’s three real female ‘Divas’ return to the stage time and time again to provide the vital female range that a male vocal can only dream of reaching – hence the reason why so many drag queens elect to mime their performances. So with ensemble in fine support the stage is set for it to Rain Men, almost literally. All the great drag numbers are covered such as I Will Survive, Go West, What’s Love Got to Do with It (featuring a great Tina Turner impression), Don’t Leave Me This Way… you get the idea.

Coming through Woking’s New Victoria Theatre this week the touring extravaganza played to a packed house. In fact ATG appears to be leading the post-Covid re-opening way back to normality in fine style. And who can argue with that. The twenty-strong cast members who perform to the pumping sound of MD Richard Atkinson’s slick seven-piece band give a strong account of themselves. The whole show is really something of a party from start to finish. It never takes itself too seriously and the plot isn’t that complicated either. And the audience love every minute of it.

Make no mistake, this is a big show, which is probably why it’ll probably be heading for the West End next year. Just imagine, your first production and you could be heading to London!

 

The Play That Goes Wrong

The Play That Goes Wrong

Mischief Theatre has certainly come a long way in its short thirteen-year meteoric rise to fame. From those early improv days in pub theatres and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to the West End and BBC One glory, audiences simply love the crazy world of amateur theatre being sent up.

Of course, no genuine amateur theatre company would ever really create the level of ego and chaos that goes on in The Play That Goes Wrong – at least I hope not. But there’s the simple brilliance of Mischief Theatre. It’s the hilarity of accenting such madness to a fittingly mad level that people appear to love. Anything could, and usually does, happen.

The Play That Goes Wrong was, of course, the show that started Mischief’s ball rolling, paving the way for a string of similar style of shows… such as Peter Pan Goes Wrong, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, Christmas Carol Goes Wrong, Magic Goes Wrong and Groan Ups – a number of which have also been adapted for the BBC, including the current Goes Wrong Show.

The Play That Goes Wrong is one of the productions from Mischief Theatre currently touring the UK and passing through Woking’s New Victoria Theatre this week. As such it features a new cast, but one that fits nicely with the original trio of writers. Once more, Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is mounting Murder at Haversham Manor; a whodunnit that, you’ve guessed it, goes horribly wrong.

The flap in the door has vanished for other mayhem to ensue, and the slapstick is all still there by the bucketload. Amourous women are being knocked out by opening doors, then forced through windows in the most ungainly manner. Murders take place and floors collapse, before the entire set gives up. Yes, CPDS is certainly the worst theatre company in the world – even if the ego-driven Chris Bean does direct and star in the production.

It’s fun, it’s dangerous, it’s brilliant – and from what I heard behind me, Year Ten loved it too!

The play That Goes Wrong is at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre until this Saturday, 9 October… when it tours to another part of the UK. More at https://www.mischiefcomedy.com/theplaythatgoeswrong-uk-tour/uk-tour/tour-dates

All photos from Mischief Theatre

 

School of Rock The Musical

School of Rock The Musical

All photos: Tristram Kenton


Based on the iconic 2003 film starring Jack Black as Dewey Finn, the West End show closed just two weeks prior to lockdown in March 2020. The three-year London run followed the show’s Broadway launch in 2015.

The touring production is every bit as good as the West End version, as I can testify for if last night’s show in Woking is anything to go by. In fact, I probably enjoyed it more than I did on press night in 2016. The plot seemed more precise this time around, so whatever changes or adaptations have been made to adjust the show to tour the country – please leave it in! I’m sure that Anna Louizos’s designs (set and costume) and Laurence Connor’s direction have gone a long way to adapting the West End show to a life on the road and what a tough job Verity Naughton has been tasked with – casting the children on a UK tour. Where do you start?

The story follows ‘rocker’ and general layabout, Dewey Finn, as he impersonates his friend and landlord, Ned Schneebly, in a bid to raise some rent money. Ned is a substitute teacher and Dewey starts work at an exclusive prep school – The Horace Green Academy – after Ned’s girlfriend, Patty, threatens to throw Dewey out of their flat. Thinking he’s going to lounge about in Ned’s name and pick up a big cheque at the end of the week, Dewey overhears his (Ned’s) class playing classical music. Cue a brainwave. Dewey, who has just been kicked out of his own band for showboating, sets about turning the young class into a rock band – hence School of Rock is born. Dewey even wants to enter Battle of the Bands with the youngsters and square up to his old band, No Vacancy.

Andrew Lloyd Webber has recorded an announcement before the show starts to let the audience know that the kids really will be playing their own instruments live… as he did in London. It is, of course, the kids that make School of Rock succeed or fail. Well, the brilliance of Jake Sharp as Dewey Finn helps. The onstage chemistry between these two opposing forces of nature is extraordinary. I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered which cast of school children we saw, but the chosen few for Woking’s press night were excellent… as was their musical prowess.

The aforementioned Jake Sharp as Dewey Finn is an inspired piece of casting and it really looked like the entire company was having the time of their lives last night. That goes for Rebecca Lock as Principal of Horace Green, Rosalie Millins too who boasts a fine soprano vocal performance. Julian Fellowes and Glenn Slater have both done the show proud through their lyrical input. There are some very funny lines in this show.

Lloyd Webber has done well to concede to use some of the movie’s original tunes, but has done a great job in ‘topping them up’ with a few good songs of his own. Stick It to the Man has arguably become the anthem of the show, and rightly so. Both audience and cast love it!

Speaking of the audience, Woking’s theatre was, once again, packed to the rafters which is lovely to see. Stalls, Circle and Upper Circle… all full up. Perhaps ATG has stumbled on a brilliant way to screen audiences upon entry; it certainly seems that way. Shame the company couldn’t have stopped the rain which welcomed us after the curtain had fallen too.

Grease

Grease

Photo: Sean Ebsworth Barnes


I must have seen the stage show of Grease at least half a dozen times – and that’s not including the 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John …which famously featured a bunch of 30-somethings playing American High School seniors in the 1950s. I was twelve years old in 1978 and Grease absolutely ruled my life back then, to the equivalent of Rollermania around the same time.

Cut to 2021 and there are plenty of my 50-something generation packing out Woking’s New Victoria Theatre, but there are also lots of youngsters in the audience. Whether it’s the vast appeal of Peter Andre I don’t know but he’d better be good! The show is faultless and yes, Peter Andre was indeed very good.

Directed by Curve’s Artistic Director Nikolai Foster and with choreography from Arlene Phillips, this new production – which sprang into life in Leicester back in 2016 – is so refreshing I’m not sure that fans of the film should actually see it for fear of forever defecting. Grease is also not a kids’ musical and features a myriad of ‘adult’ wisecracks and references. However, the modern family nature of the film has meant that much editing has indeed removed most of this – take the song Greased Lightning for example which has since been virtually rewritten to remove it’s sexist and lewd language. This touring musical, which rightly leaves in everything in, comes with a minimum age recommendation of twelve years old; I would say fourteen or fifteen might be more appropriate.

Fans of the iconic movie are always entertainingly surprised when the film’s incidental songs are given a full outing in the stage show… that’s as well as putting them into their proper running order. We Go Together really leads into the interval rather than the show’s finale, but try telling that to somebody who’s watched the film fifty times. And Doody sings Mooning rather than have it play from the burger bar jukebox, and also Those Magic Changes rather than Sha-Na-Na at the High School Dance. Kenickie rightfully sings Greased Lightning instead of Danny (curse that John Travolta). However I was disappointed that It’s Raining on Prom Night was omitted (usually sung as a duet by Jan and Sandy). Oh, and the T-Birds have reverted back to their proper name of the Burger Palace Boys.

Dan Partridge and Georgia Louise make a much better ‘young’ couple of 1950s seniors that their 1978 counterparts and that goes right across the talented and slick cast. However, Partridge does enjoy mimicking Travolta’s walk as Danny. Peter Andre would have arguably stuck out like a sore thumb if he’d been asked to take on any other role than Vince Fontaine, who also morphs into Teen Angel for Frenchy’s dream sequence. Speaking of Peter Andre, what an abundance of stage-presence this guy has! He plays up Vince Fontaine’s camp ego brilliantly and also steps up another subtle gear for Beauty School Dropout. Plaudits to the entire company, including a special mention for Thea Bunting’s adorable Patty Simcox and the brilliant Marianna Neofitou as Frenchy who are both given plenty to do.

Incidentally, it’s a little known fact that the title song of the film, Grease, was actually written by Barry Gibb and given to Frankie Valli despite Jacobs and Casey taking the credits for the show. Such is the popularity of the film the song rarely misses a stage production these days. A couple of other important songs also specially written for the film by John Farrar are You’re the One That I Want and Hopelessly Devoted to You. Try producing Grease without licensing those today and you’ll be strung up.

Treasure Island

Treasure Island

Half Cut theatre certainly knows how to entertain family audiences. And this show, complete with strong story telling, versatile acting, sea shanty-type songs and a wackily witty take on Cha Cha Slide is a fine example of it.

Most people know Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of Jim Hawkins sailing off with a shipload of goodies and baddies in search of treasure and this 80 minute take on it (devised and developed by the company) works because it keeps dropping in little dollops of inappropriately modern language thus never taking itself too seriously. It’s very funny in places. I love the idea of cheese-loving Ben Gunn coming home to run a cheesemonger stall in Leeds Market, for instance.

It’s also splendidly feminist. Verity Kirk plays Jim as a feisty girl with an astonishingly powerful voice. Sophie Wilkinson gives a really sparky account of the complex  Long John Silver full of Scots menace and lithe charisma. And I don’t know whose idea it was to play the parrot as a louche, scarf draped female in yellow tights rather than the usual small puppet but James Camp is great fun in the role.

Francesca Barker, like the rest of the cast, hops adeptly in and out of roles and hats and finds a nice authoritarian stance for the Captainess. George Readshaw is a suitably nasty Blind Pew and hilarious as Ben Gunn who talks to the ducks because for many years they were his only company. And Alex Wilson is good value as the Squire Trelawney who never quite manages to be in charge.

I’m struck, again, by how well this company uses a wide range of accents to underpin the multi-rolling and make it so clear that even the youngest child in the audience will know who is who at all times.

I’m so glad that Half Cut Theatre has a good tour booked for this show and hope the rain continues to hold off for them as it did at Kentford, near Newmarket where I caught it.

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