Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, West Yorkshire Playhouse (Written on behalf of The Reviews Hub)

This review was originally written on behalf of The Reviews Hub and the link can be accessed here.

Image Credit: Alastair Muir (Accessed from http://www.thereviewshub.com)

On arrival to the West Yorkshire Playhouse, themed decorations and props hint that something big is about to happen, and they would be right. Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the theatre’s biggest ever Christmas show.
Fleming’s story, which the author sadly never saw published, was adapted for film in 1968 with Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman composing the music and lyrics.  Jeremy Sams originally produced the show for the stage in 2002, with the Sherman Brothers writing four new songs in the process.  This lavish production opens in Leeds and will be embarking on a tour playing in a number of UK towns and cities during 2016.
The narrative revolves around Chitty, the motor vehicle, who is the life and soul in terms of adventure and imagination, as well as being something of a status symbol.  It was a three-time Grand Prix winner before the First World War, only to later fall into rack and ruin before Jeremy and Jemima Potts’ (Henry Kent and Caitlin Surtess) discovery.  The valuable car is sought after by the villainous Baron and Baroness Bomburt (Don Gallagher and Tamsin Carroll) who are determined to take the car back to their kingdom of Vulgaria.
What stands out in this superb production is Simon Higlett’s colourful and breathtaking staging, perfect for the year in which the production is set, 1919.  Higlett’s staging works extremely well and uses visual and moving projections to depict the scenes, and it is a real treat to see how the car ‘moves’ on land, sea and air, thanks to these projections. The lighting and technology, courtesy of Ben Harrison, Tim Mitchell and Simon Wainwright, supports the staging well and keeps the audience’s attention and awe throughout the performance, complemented by Stephen Mear’s slick and charming choreography.
Contextual themes in the production link to the First World War: patriotism and duty evident through Grandpa Potts, while Caractacus Potts’ is fighting for survival through his ambitious inventions. There are enemies of the war, for which Vulgaria is symbolised, and quintessential British charms and traditions such as the Morris dancing in Me Ol’ Bamboo in the first act, while Truly Scrumptious riding a motorcycle and demonstrating her knowledge and capability of the vehicle, wonderfully highlights female emancipation.
The performances are outstanding, with Jon Robyns (Caractacus Potts), Amy Griffiths (Truly Scrumptious) and Andy Hockley (Grandpa Potts) leading this exceptional cast.  It is a show full of highlights, but another that deserves mention is the wonderful Team Bon Bon, an ensemble of talented children, performing and singing in perfect unison Teamwork, down in the sewers. Maximum audience participation is guaranteed, with the cast especially joining in with the infamous Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, when the car makes its perilous journey to the known and unknown.  The emotive and even hypnotic Hushabye Mountain by Potts is incredibly moving, as is the heart changing Lovely Lonely Man by Truly.  The Childcatcher (Stephen Matthews) is promised jeers and the colourful and energetic The Bombie Samba seduces one and all.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang certainly has something for everyone.  For children, it is a sense of adventure, imagination and creativity, while contextual themes are thought out by generations alike.  This is a truly fantasmagorical performance that opens up many opportunities for unique interpretation and unadulterated enjoyment. A must see this Christmas.

Film: Edward Scissorhands at Halifax's Square Chapel for the Arts

Image credit: www.film.com

An opportunity arose for one to see the screening of Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands at Halifax's Square Chapel Centre for the Arts just before Christmas.

Fiona Black Jones, the Development Manager, firstly summarised the exciting year it has been for Square Chapel including progress for the new building and Cornerstone project.  Optimism certainly reigns in their camp with an ambition to air 400-500 films a year (equalling almost one to two films per day including its Friday morning screenings).

Onto the film, Tim Burton is legend in the world of films and this film is no exception. Based on a story written by himself and Caroline Thompson and set to Danny Elfin's music, it features Edward, an artificial man with scissors as his hands, who is discovered and is invited to live with the Boggs family. 

Edward Scissorhand's (Johnny Depp) imagination and creativity makes many friends initially but subsequently blinded innocence, misunderstanding and misfortune brings unimaginative consequences.  Only returning to the Gothic castle where he was invented could offer refuge.

This beautiful dark story features romance where Edward falls in love with Peg Boggs' daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder) who see his beauty beyond.  The film is presented in a fairy tale format, told by Kim Bogg to assumingly to her granddaughter, with a prologue and an epilogue.

Self discovery along with feelings of isolation, loneliness and vulnerability are drawn from the film and can relate to many including the producer himself,   Certainly something for everyone in this magical film.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

York Theatre Royal's Dick Whittington (and his meerkat) - 11th December 2015, The Signal Box Theatre, York

Vincent Gray as Dick Whittington
Photo Credit: Anthony Robling

York Theatre Royal takes pride in hosting their annual world famous pantomimes.  Berwick Kaler, writer and co-director of this production, is the country's longest serving pantomime fame.  His 37th appearance!

For one year only, the pantomime is playing at The Signal Box Theatre, York Theatre Royal's temporary residence, during the theatre's redevelopment.  Dick Whittington and his meerkat is a one off opportunity for panto fans to enjoy close up! The moving action takes place centre stage on a railway track following the successful The Railway Children in the summer.

Suzy Cooper, Berwick Kaler and Martin Barrass
Photo credit: Anthony Robling

Kaler is the undisputed star of the show as Paloma Polony.  As a first timer, one can see why!  His damsel qualities required for a pantomime shine through with radiant energetic interaction with fellow characters and the audience.  Not forgetting the silliness, adventure, fun and humour which are expected in pantomimes.  Rejoining Kaler is Martin Barrass (Wind in the Willows and The Railway Children) who switches contrasting roles from Willy Polony to the protective Mayor Cheapskate; Suzy Cooper, the attractive and adorable Charlotte Cheapskate and David Leonard, the villainous Herman Vermin.

Berwick Kaler as Paloma Polony and David Leonard 
as Herman Vermin
Photo credit:  Anthony Robling

The story of Dick Whittington is not literally told straight; there are the expected additional elements even a film, The Loco-Motion starring Kaler et al and BBC Look North's Harry Gration who signals Dick Whittington (Vincent Gray) to turn back!  There is a underwater feature running between the audience.  Mr Finickerty's heroism is celebrated with a song adapted from CATS' Mr Mistoffelees. Of course, as one expects, there is an abundance of comedy, slapstick and 'facts' containing familiarity, local references and innuendoes along with name mentions and greetings and thanksgiving.  Familiar tunes play and sung out in the action and all choreographed by Grace Harrington.

 Berwick Kaler as Paloma Polony and 
Vincent Gray as Dick Whittington
Photo Credit: Anthony Robling

 Dick Whittington is an experience one won't ever forget. So much laughter from beginning to end! There is the occasional jeering to when Herman Vermin and his furry but cute rats make their appearance on stage.

Mark Walters' colour and eye catching costumes and staging sets the mood for this pantomime.  The production is in its early day however bear in mind, particularly for very young audience members, that this performance ran over two and half hours including an interval.  Still this length provides first class entertainment for adults and children alike.

Should I see this pantomime? Oh yes you should! A truly a festive treat whether before or after Christmas.  A pantomime not to be missed!

Friday, 11 December 2015

News: West Yorkshire Season Launch Spring/Summer 2016 (Written on behalf of North West End)

This review was originally written for North West End and the link can be found here:

Accessed from http://www.northwestend.co.uk

A warm welcome with a festive touch was received at the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Season Launch for Spring/Summer 2016.

James Brining, Artistic Director, and Robin Hawkes, Executive Director, gave an overview of what is in store for the next season at the ‘theatre from the heart of the city’.   Firstly they proudly announced the two awards they recently won; Alzheimer’s Society Award for Best Dementia Friendly Project.  Nicky Taylor, Community Development Manager, summarised the work they do with people living with dementia including Heydeys, a weekly creative programme for Over 65s.  The second one is the UK Theatre Award for Manager of the Year won by Gaby Paradis, First Floor Manager.  Paradis passionately explained what the First Floor team do in encouraging young people to engage and develop through the arts.

Kicking off the season, in March, is The Damn United, written by David Pearce.  The story is based on Brian Clough’s 44 day reign at Leeds United Football Club.  In partnership with Red Ladder, the artistic director, Rod Dixon, hopes the raised themes link to today and how much the beautiful game has changed, not necessarily for the better.

Jamie Fletcher and company played a musical extract from the Dancing Bear, showing in February, a production provokingly explore sexuality and spirituality side by side.
Alice Nutter (My Generation) brings Barnbow Canaries in the summer. This tragic story is shimmered with opportunities and hope for women who worked in the ammunition factories.  The question is asked in the production what the First World War really means to them.  This production will mark the centenary of the catastrophic 1916 explosion in Leeds.

Transform Festival has been held annually since 2011.  In its sixth year Transform has become an independent organisation with an ambitious art programme presented across Leeds.  Amy Letman gave an overview of the trailblazer commission and day of events which will prepare for the major 2017 citywide festival.

Parallel to the story of Romeo and Juliet, Laila The Musical, presented by Rifco, a British Asian arts company.  A video message from Lee Simpson about Opening Skinner’s Box was broadcasted.  Based on Lauren Slater’s book this interpretation explores self identity through 10 great psychological experiments and the people’s involvement. Eve Ensler’s The Fruit Triology will be premiered in April.

Amy Leach’s Kes will mark its presence next June in a number of Leeds communities following its run at the Courtyard Theatre.  Happening in the same month is the highly anticipated Sondheim’s Into the Woods, a collaborative production with Opera North.

These productions will link into some of West Yorkshire Playhouse’s incredible stories being told next season.  The launch concluded with a jive performance from A Nightmare Before Christmas, a Christmas production currently playing.  Full details of the new season including dates and most importantly tickets can be found at https://www.wyp.org.uk/ 

Sunday, 6 December 2015

‘The honour would be entirely mine if you could attend my little party. Yours Sincerely, J Gatsby’ (Guild of Misrule's The Great Gatsby at The Fleeting Arms, York)

Accessed from www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

The Fleeting Arms as become an unassuming members only venue for this production during December. Admittance to Jay Gatsby's party happens at the back back of the building . Guild of the Misrule's The Great Gatsby, under the direction of Alexander Wright and Jane Veysey, is a story told like none other!

The Fleeting Arms, usually an art space and pop up bar, has been transformed to Gatsby residence albeit one room used as a local drug store/reception area. The audience congregates there in anticipation of this production with drinks on sale at the drug store's pop up bar and the playing of jazz music of Irvine Berlin,and of the 1920s. The party begins when Nick Carraway (Michael Lambourne), acting as the unofficial narrator, introduces Gatsby and the high life he and his associates live up to.

With two bars at hand and many dress to impress the party commences.  There are no bystanders but the guests immerses in the story whether it is to assist Gatsby (Oliver Tilnery) in choosing what colour shirt he should wear to impress or passing on an important message from Jordan Baker (Holly Beasley-Garrigan) to Carraway.  The story is told across the building's three floors and there is something happening in every room so no one didn't feel not part of the story.  Jess Cainer's designs of the rooms accurately reflect the 1920's high society.  

Certainly immersing theatre with a combination of installation and performance at its best and flows swingingly with Gatsby signature cocktails.  On the entertainment menu is participating in games, dancing, singing and all that jazz which ensures maximum audience's interaction.  One witnesses, documented by F Scott Fitzgerald, how reputation and influence reigns Gatsby's world and not to mention excess, lust and liquor being commonplace.  All this leads to downfall whether it's personal or secular such as the Wall Street Crash at the end of the decade. 

A production not be missed where everyone tells the story whether a member of the cast or the audience.  It did feel a bit claustrophobic sometimes with the crowds, when travelling from room to room, which obscured seeing some of the action.  It feels that each audience member would certainly have a positive unique experience being told this tale in such settings not told before.

The Great Gatsby will continue to party on until New Year';s Eve and further information including tickets can be found here.