Sunday, 28 June 2015

Matthew Bourne's The Car Man

Matthew Bourne's The Car Man - What can I say? Hot, sexy, sassy and seductive! Certainly Bizet's masterpiece 're-imagined'!

Photo credit: New Adventures

Matthew Bourne, in conjunction with New Adventures, brings The Car Man to Sheffield's Lyceum theatre.  As expected it is a contemporary reworking of Carmen though sticking to the original music with arrangements by Rodion Shchedrin and Terry Davies.  The story is set in an Italian-American community in a small mid western American town and at the beginning of the 1960s.  The production maybe different from Carmen but the thematic parallels are there and like the actual opera; lust, passion, jealously, murder and revenge. These things are quintessential in today's society and what is interesting is the Carmen revival has included what one sees and hears in the 21st Century.

The Car Man focuses purely on the thematic emotions and Harmony, name of the small town, could not be any more ironic.  Matthew Bourne's ingenious production never disappoints with its incredible dancing and interpretations from a very talented cast including Dominic North (as an innocent Angelo whose injustices and misfortunes lead to revenge), Chris Trenfield (as the charming, manipulative and villainous Luca), Kate Lyons (as the long suffering Rita) and Ashley Shaw (as Lana who one thinks is quintessential to Carmen though in different circumstances).

The rustic feel of a mid western small town is designed thoroughly by Lez Brotherston. There are Chris Davey's lighting and Paul Groothuis's sound to be admired and attribute really well to this incredible performance.  The Car Man is worth seeing and well received by all in Sheffield from generous applauses to an immediate standing ovation at beginning of curtain call.

I'm now looking forward to seeing Sleeping Beauty next year in Bradford!

English National Opera's The Queen of Spades, London Coliseum

Image Credit: English National Opera

Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades is based on Alexander Pushkin's short story.  The opera tells the story of a desperate army officer whose desire is to win at all costs and turns to an aged countess (sung by the legendary Felicity Palmer) who knows the secret of winning cards! Hermann's (sung by Peter Bronder) determination to possess the right cards leads to unimaginable consequences involving love and even death.  

The composition matches perfectly to the opera's themes, greed, obsession and manipulation and they are explored with dramatic and dark musical melodies, lyrics and orchestration.   Collaborated both by two incredible creators; Edward Gardner, his last production with English National Opera as musical director, and David Alder, an award winning director.  Their superb collaboration projects this dark complex opera to the highest of standards.

Gideon Davey's set is unusual but works extremely well with the production and its diverse story and there is great use of visuals too.  The set is complimented by Wolfgang Goebel's lighting which reflects the emotions and moods expected in this Tchaikovsky's opera.  An excellent opera sung powerfully and beautifully by a talented international cast. Full credit to English National Opera!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The History Boys, Grand Opera House York (On behalf of The Public Reviews)

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and the link can be accessed here.

Accessed from The Public Reviews

Alan Bennett’s multi award winning The History Boys is currently playing to theatres nationwide.  It is about a class of eight boys who have sat their A’ Levels and are staying an extra term with an aim of getting into Oxford University.  Set in the 1980s, and era recognised by the music; the play explores and debates the education system from traditional and contemporary point of views underlying its strengths and weaknesses.
Bennett certainly has an authorial presence in the play; his renowned playwright skills shine through with his humour, metaphoric language, double meanings, indirectness and innuendoes, which negatively and positively question the education system concerned, linking the narrative to the playwright’s education experience.  The questions are enhanced with universal sociological issues which are relevant to both the boys and teachers concerned.
General studies and history lessons are mainly taught by two teachers; Hector and Irwin, whose teaching approaches could not be any different and clashes. Hector represents the teacher Bennett has in mind; Richard Hope ensures that the boys and the audience are given a “real education” and that “all knowledge is precious” which is beyond the requirements of passing the Oxbridge entrance examinations.   Hector’s philosophical and liberal life lessons are popular with the boys, however not so with the headmaster (Christopher Ettridge) who is keen to apply an inflexible curriculum and anxious for the school to meet its performance targets.  This result in hiring Irwin who is expected to “resolve” in educating the boys in history, rather than relying solely on Hector’s so called life knowledge and questionable habits. Irwin, his appearance looking quintessentially like Bennett, may be a history expert, but Mark Field fulfils the role in being overwhelmed and is rather lost with what the boys’ quests are for, more than what is required for passing the exams.  In a nutshell he is receiving an education as much as them! In the mix there is the straight forward and factual Mrs Lintott which Susan Twist portrays.
The lively energetic boys give the audience a diverse insight to their personalities and summarises their experiences through evaluating the education received.  Personal tributes are given to Hector by the boys who acknowledge and value his contribution towards their lifelong learning.  Posner in particular, gives a testimony of his experiences and how education has enlightened and revolved his personal life at present and in the future.  Steven Roberts, making his professional stage debut, articulately expresses his inner thoughts and feelings covering a range of issues that are relevant today.
The History Boys is a thought provoking play fits in Libby Watson’s classroom design with its shelves of books and a motorbike hung up to the ceiling, which are the story’s cues.  The History Boys certainly offers how education is generally perceived for which the system is challenged particularly with its “origins and consequences” and examines how subjective knowledge really is.   Importance is emphasised indirectly how education should be qualitative as well as quantitative for one and all, not just for the privileged few.  This is an excellent, poetic and humourous portrayal of education provision and attitudes surrounding it, which is well delivered by a talented cast.

Saturday, 13 June 2015


Image Credit:  Organised Chaos Productions

Lightspeed is a story about two people who had fallen in love but questioning their relationship if not their existences.  Like Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, this play starts at the end and work backwards to the very beginning when Charles and Emma first met.

The play opens with unclear reasons why Charles and Emma split up and went their separate ways; however the story reveals, centre at the same meeting place, their questioning and their doubts, albeit differing ones, about their relationship and significantly themselves.

A range of themes are explored from family, mental health to loss and these issues can relate to the puzzle of Emma and Charlie's troubled and unsure existences.  Certainly suggests why it has had such an impact on both their relationship.  Falling in love happens a lot faster, "quicker than the skyline falls to dust" than their pace of self resilience and emotions to react to what is happening between them...hence Lightspeed!

Excellent acting by both Taran Knight (Charlie) and Francesca Heraghty-Smith (Emma) who interpret well their thoughts that are never shared and act spontaneously to things.  This reaffirms the characters' doubts and lack of self-belief with Charlie's frustration about love not being a game and critically raises how long Emma can run for.

Clem Haran's script gives the play potential particularly with relevant themes raised and offers scope for further adaptation should this route be chosen.  There is effective use of technology with uses of flash, lighting and soundscapes and a skyline illustration is used as the space's backdrop.  It is disappointing to have seen a small turn out for this wonderful production and many people certainly have missed out on seeing it!  Full credit to Organised Chaos, a Greater Manchester based theatre company, who are renowned for nurturing talent in acting and creating.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Every Brilliant Thing, Square Chapel,Halifax

Image Credit: Pentabus Rural Theatre Company

Every Brilliant Thing, a smash hit at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is a heart warming play which touches one through tears and laughter.  Comedian Jonny Donahoe takes the audience on a life journey about depression and how if affects loved ones. Based on a combination of true and untrue stories, Donahoe chronologically shares with the audience a growing list of things of feel good things for mother when she was hospitalised and for the list to grow through one's life.

The audience are not immuned from not participating as Donahoe cleverly involves the audience; whether it's shouting out an item number during the play or being involved in role play as 'Dad'. 'Ms Patterson', 'Sam' and so on.  This one hour moving play guarantees an uplifting and entertaining evening.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Thrill Me - The Leopold and Loeb Story, Square Chapel of Arts (Halifax)

Image credit and accessed from Musical Theatre Review 

Stephen Dolginoff's Thrill Me has been touring the UK by storm,  Produced in conjunction with Greenwich Theatre the musical is about two characters, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb who cautiously team up which leads to the most consequential events unimaginable,

The musical begins with Leopold recalling the relationship with Loeb at the prison's review board where he has been serving his sentence.  Suddenly the play goes back in time, in the 1920s, from when both men reunite from brief past encounters.

Leopold wants love but Loeb wants revenge with which he takes and manipulates Leopold's loving nature to his darkest and chilling intentions ranging from arson to cold blooded murder.  The musical explores the strong emotions of both characters and testifies how complex human nature and pysche really are with fitting musical numbers.  The story sums up the estranged relationship from unity to ultimate betrayal from both characters.

A dark powerful and manipulative performance where the suspense and thrills twist and keeps one on the edge of their seat.  The audience is encouraged to make up their mind about Leopold and Loeb.  The musical is intensified further with Richard Williamson's obscure lighting; Peter Russell's and Anjali Kale's soundscapes; and choreographed appropriately and intricately by Paul Harris.

Jo Parsons and Ben Woods are excellent players for the two intriguing characters.  Voices by Lee Mead, Patricia Quinn and Les Dennis do not go unnoticed which makes the setting authentic at the beginning, between flashbacks and the ending.  A great thrilling and intensifying evening of musical theatre!

Friday, 5 June 2015

The Maids - Seven Arts Theatre, Leeds (On behalf of The Public Reviews)

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and the link can be accessed here.

Accessed from The Public Reviews 

Hedgepig Theatre, a local independent theatre company, is renowned for their dark thought provoking productions and takes pride in performing at unique spaces and venues.  Their current production, Jean Genet’s The Maids, is currently touring at venues across Yorkshire.
The audience enters the small dark and dimmed lighting auditorium where they are intimately greeted by two characters, the two sisters, who are at awkward ends with each other.  The tension suggests this will be a dark play with anticipated twists and suspense.
Adapted from Genet’s Les BonnesThe Maids is based very loosely on Christine and Léa Papin, two sisters who were infamous for murdering their employer in France, in 1933.  In the play two sisters, Solange and Claire, who in turn plot the murder of their mistress through powerful and manipulative role-playing.  Gemma Sharp and Anna Rose James energetically and playfully portray the sisters’ determination to detail of their compulsive and obsessive plotting, leading to distrust and ultimately self-destruction.  The sisters also include their experiences of their love/hate relationship between them and their mistress, played by Victoria Delaney.  The story is accompanied by Kelli Zezulka’s timely lighting and relevant sounds, indicating that the story is deeper in intrigue and curiosity than it appears to the eye.
Curry no doubt stages well a short compact and complex play with unexpected changes of emotional and psychological twists throughout.  As much as Solange and Claire exercises their dominative power towards one another there is this strong mutual love between them, which Sharp and James tenderly and calmly shows.  A provocative production raising various themes, ranging from sociology to psychology, certainly challenges one’s mind with no simple answers guaranteed.  An enjoyable production which keeps you on the edge of your seat from the tense beginning to the abrupt end!

Avocado - West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (On behalf of The Public Reviews)

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and the link can be accessed here.

Photo Credit: Anthony Robling
(Accessed from

Eve Ensler, an award winning playwright and author of The Vagina Monologues, presents her world premiere play, Avocado, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.  The short play is part of the theatre’s popular Play Pie & Pint series.
The West Yorkshire Playhouse, who works with asylum and refugee communities locally and regionally, commissioned Ensler to write Avocado which offers the opportunity to look at issues of concern such as human trafficking, forced servitude and slavery and journeys which many female migrants face today.
Rebecca Grant performs this one woman play which echoes the playwright’s feelings of these issues.  At the beginning the audience is asked to close their eyes and imagine what is like not remembering exactly where they are and everything that is held dear has slipped away.   Grant plays well the young woman very intensely and dramatically and portrays a lot of emotions including conscription of fear to sheer frustration.  The “container” is the existence which the young woman travels in and shares her experience in being a victim of forced slavery and prostitution.  Many women are experiencing a similar plight today after being tricked in believing that they will have a better life.
The stage is very dark with next to no lighting which reflects metaphorically the plight’s horror with Mic Pool’s dramatic and circumstantial soundscapes giving maximum effect.  There is crucial lighting, however, to reflect some hope and trust in humankind that she hangs on to.  There are references to “Angels dancing to water” and symbolically the softness in babies and avocadoes, rotting amidst her in the “container”, representing the maternal links and the yearning to be loved.
The “container” is the “box” chosen which offers escape towards asylum and potential freedom. Ensler sums up this choice from a line in the play:
"This is why I chose this box.  Why I got in.  Why I chose this cage over the cage of being caught"
A panel discussion with a question and answer session takes place afterwards with experts sharing their thoughts about modern slavery and what drives it and looking in broader context, asylum seekers and refugees and migration in general.
Mark Rosenblatt delivers a highly recommended, hard-hitting and very thought provoking play where crucial issues are addressed particularly in the asylum and refugees communities, which certainly challenges existing perceptions.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Pride and Prejudice, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

Pride and Prejudice
(Photo Credit: Johan Persson) 

This honest retelling of Jane Austen's classic is told in Sheffield to a very appreciative audience.  Lez Brotherston, a renowned designer, ensures the staging is 'resonant of the situation that the Bennet family find themselves in'.  The painted romantic landscape, serving as a backdrop, depicts the daily life the Bennets lived and commuting by foot across the fields was commonplace.  It certainly challenges perceptions one may have about how the story is told and set by watching other adaptations.

The production is unique for its contemporary movements and choreography throughout. Certainly important as much as the talking dialogue.  Tamara Harvey describes so that the audience is entertained as much as being aware of how relevant today. Love, money and class are quintessentially familiar in many societies worldwide.

Scott Ambler, renowned for his involvement with Matthew Bourne's productions, is keen to embrace humour and imagination; the performers, particularly Grace Chilton's Mary Bennet, demonstrates the non verbal activity for telling this classic successfully with the smooth running of the performance and there no prolong pauses with the scenes transitions.  Much more a creative process than an adaptive one.

The cast performs extremely well portraying the unique characters from Pride and Prejudice.  Performers which stand out are Isabella Laughland's quick mind and witty Elizabeth Bennet; James Northcote's dark and unassuming Mr Darcy; Howard Austin's quintessential Mr Bennet and Michele Austin's larger than life and excitable Mrs Bennet -all supported by a dynamic and exciting cast.

Pride and Prejudice sums up:

"IT IS A TRUTH universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife"

These words are echoed at crucial stages in the performance,  Playing at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre until 6th June 2015.