Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Blood Brothers (The Play), Wakefield Theatre Royal (On behalf of North West End)

This was originally reviewed for North West End and the link can be found here.

Wakefield Little Theatre proudly presents Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers for one evening during the 2016 Wakefield Drama Festival. The production is Willy Russell’s original play, not the smash hit musical production that ran for a long time in London’s West End.

The story is about Mrs Johnston (Helen Grace), a working-class mother, who has seven children and is expecting twins. She works for Mrs Lyons (Lucy Cruddas), a lonely middle-class mother who is unable to have children. Mrs Lyons suggested that one twin is given to her and promises to give the twin everything Mrs Johnston wishes for her child to have. With Mrs Johnston’s reluctance they both make a pact; swear on the bible and Mrs Lyons has a twin. The children, Mickey and Eddie (Andrew Crossland and Dean Booth), unexpectedly meet when they are seven and a bond is formed and their lives are tied one way or another, only to face tragic consequences.
Various themes rise in the play including class, wealth, power and influence. Russell paints a picture how money and material things doesn’t bring happiness as seen from the characters.   Mrs Johnston is a deserted wife with children and Mrs Lyons is a lonely wife with a husband who works away. Mental health and paranoia are also highlighted. There is a lot of food for thought and also reasons to observe the characters’ perceptions particularly superstition.
The cast on the whole are fantastic. Everyone gives a heartfelt performance and portray sensitively and appropriately the featured characters. Although it is the original play, a couple of well known musical numbers including Marilyn Monroe are sung. Helen Grace sings them convincingly and musically without musical accompaniment.
The narrator is present throughout the play and reminds the audience what both Mrs Johnston and Mrs Lyon did is condemnable and selfish. At the beginning he invites the audience to judge for themselves the ‘tale of the Johnston twins’. Paul Haley fits into this role and his silence and demeanour towards both mothers is not unnoticed. Haley is also responsible for the staging, lighting and sounds which link to the mood of the action at different stages.
This production is realistic – movable and lovable from the beginning to the end. Many will certainly remember the ‘tale of the Johnston twins’ and ‘how one was kept, one given away’.

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#ChipShoptheMusical, Wackers, York (On behalf of North West End)

This was originally reviewed for North West End and the link can be found here.

#ChipShoptheMusical advertises curiosity and intrigue. One wonders how it is possible for a musical to be based on fish and chips? There is and in a production presented jointly by Emma Hill Writes, Freedom Studios and the Octagon Theatre, Bolton.
First of all, a meal of fish and chips is served in the restaurant before the tables are cleared to become the performing space. The performance takes place in the heart of the restaurant where the audience is the centre of the action.

The hour long musical is about Gram who considers himself as a ‘Master of Chips’ and runs the family owned fish and chips shop/restaurant. He reluctantly agrees to Ayla helping out in the shop/restaurant providing she lays out the tables his way.
Darren Southworth excellently portrays Gram as a proud no nonsense owner who is passionate about tradition and Yorkshire brass. Remmie Milner puts in a stellar performance as a confident and grime music loving Ayla. Both characters cannot be any different in personalities and outlooks on life. Both Gram and Ayla clash and their feelings are expressed in rap, mc and songs. Frustrations from Gram are noted in songs, Just do as I bloody well say! and You can’t do it!
Southworth and Milner interact and engage well with the small audience; the performance space is certainly personal and intimate and the audience is certainly in the heart of it all with their tables ‘being arranged’, ‘orders taken’ and their ‘food brought’. The rapping and singing is to local brass and international grime with audience participation to the catchy Chip Shop The Musical song at the end.
#ChipShoptheMusical is traditional with a modern twist under the direction of Ben Occhipinti. Both Ayla and Gram may be totally different but their predicaments turn out to be same, with Gram asking How Can I break Free and Live my Life? Their life journeys are shared side by side in performance and song and subsequently brave together the elements of change and figuratively becoming fish and chips. It makes one wonder how holding onto traditions and forming those views can influence the modern world today particularly with family relationships in the past and present.
This innovative musical has begun in Bolton and is currently touring Yorkshire.

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Dracula, Wakefield Theatre Royal (On behalf of North West End)

This was originally reviewed for North West End and the link can be found here.

Liz Lochhead’s Dracula opens on the second evening of the Wakefield Drama Festival 2016. Barton Theatre Company, an amateur theatre group from Eccles, presents a 20th Century adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Gothic classic.

Firstly the cast enters from the back of the audience to the stage to begin proceedings; Dracula is set in the late 19th Century amidst a lot of social and industrial change in Britain which gave new waves of confidence and strength of power to the country. There were advancements in science and medicine as well as an appetite for the supernatural and superstition; not to mention the questioning of traditional views concerning class, gender and religion.
This production takes in consideration these themes throughout the production.   The staging is cleverly arranged which enables for the scenes to be switched smoothly from different locations including Heartwood House, Bedlam Asylum and Dracula’s castle, where the crucial action happens. The costumes suits the era however it is felt Dracula’s and the vampire brides’ costumes could be more gothic and flamboyant for selling the characters’ natures and personalities on stage.
The characters represent the contrasts Lochhead, under the direction of David Milne, wanted to bring out in this production such as day and night; sane and mad; life and death and crucially heart or head. It leaves the audience to ponder over these contrasts in order for them to draw their conclusions about this production.
The performance highlights certainly must be the excellent portrayals of Renfield and Lucy Westerman. Eric Atkinson’s Renfield is an exemplary portrayal of how patients at asylums were viewed of in the Victorian era and being used for experimentations, unfortunately some unethical. Atkinson projected the character’s colourful personality and it just shows that he is an individual like anyone else.   Mags Riding’s dramatic and beautiful portrayal of the spoilt and lively Lucy Westerman shows how much heart this character has for love which leads to frightening consequences beyond one’s imagination. There is a beautiful and intimate moment when Dracula (played by Mel Hawker) and Mina (played by Marit Schep) meets and their fulfilment of longing seduction and desire for one another.
Derek Ridings’ lighting is very good; it is used well for thunder, courtesy of Elaine McCann’s soundscapes, and lightening during Lucy’s sleepwalking.   Red lighting, signifying blood, is creatively used when Dracula and the vampire brides make their presence. The use of blood is lacked throughout the production and it feels that more usage of it could enhance the production more.
The company’s ambitious attempt in staging this play explores the themes and contrasts successfully through its characters and doesn’t at all compromise Stoker’s novel. It is felt however the production, three hour long, could be condensed and shortened – some of the scenes could be integrated in telling the audience (and capturing their attention) the crucial action.
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Full Circle, Wakefield Theatre Royal (On behalf of North West End)

This was originally reviewed for North West End and the link can be found here.
Janet Shaw’s Full Circle marks the first play of Wakefield Drama Festival 2016; a week’s celebration of comedy and drama. Jaba Inc presents this comedy-drama, centring round the family’s lounge, and appearing with neither a beginning nor an ending story. It is about Linda and Brian’s mothers who haven’t spoken to each other since 1969 and nobody knows the reasons why. It only takes a granddaughter’s wedding for revealing all and facing the aftermath which could affect the family even more.
Stephanie Wilde plays Linda, who is determined to give her daughter, Nicky, the perfect wedding and this only drives Brian (played by Paul Troughton) to despair with costs and the ongoing feud between, Dee and Millie, their mothers. Hints are dropped from both Dee (played by Wendy Chable) and Millie (played by Rozi Afferson) with its innuendos, personal and social references such as ‘Jack’ and the driven pettiness.
Following wedding plans going wrong and the ever growing family tensions; Dee and Millie eventually and reluctantly share what exactly happened in 1969. The 1960s was an era which experienced a big change in social attitudes even if mainstream society then was still bounded with the communities; with strong ties with its members and family values and the church. Children being born out with wedlock; sexual orientation, gender identity and people not following the conservative ‘status quo’ in general were frowned upon (and condemned) by many – something not understood by 21st Century thinking Nicky (played by Kate Boland). The falling out and feud comes down to the forced silences, conditioned thinking and misunderstandings at the time however in the end the predicted assumptions turn out different. The hints and habits dropped earlier are clarified and the characters including ‘Jack’ are confirmed.
Daniel Dwyer-Sinclair gives an excellent and a colourful portrayal of Wills, a gay neighbour and a perfect dramatist who dwells in deeper the characters that contributed to Dee and Millie not speaking to one another so long. All the members of cast have done a sterling job to entertain the audience with the intriguing build up in finding out those reasons.
The play completes a full circle with the characters concerned which truly proves ‘What goes around comes around’ and with no concrete conclusions. Life continues on as before for the characters. Directed by Shaw and supported by Andy Weston’s lighting and Barrie Davenport’s sound.
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Holiday Snap, Wakefield Theatre Royal (On behalf of North West End)

This was originally reviewed for North West End and the link can be found here.

Priory Players, an amateur theatre group based in Ossett (near Wakefield), has the pleasure presenting Michael Pertwee and John Chapman’s Holiday Snap. This is the fifth production of the Wakefield Drama Festival 2016 which is the 16th one. The comedy farce, directed by Susie Rowley, is set in the living room of a luxury time-share villa in Portugal which has been double booked unknown to the company’s representative, Commander ‘Chitto’ Chittenden (Chris Harrison). Chitto is oblivious that there are two couples, with have complicated lives, staying in the villa at the same time and it is left for the tale to reveal or confuse more.
The couples, Leslie and Eve (Chris Maddren and Vicky Birks) and Henry and Mary (Malcolm Trigg and Donna Crabtree) mistake one another for servants. There is a twist to the story when Henry’s mother-in-law, Celia (Julie Kidd), arrives at the villa. This leads to Henry bribing Leslie and Eve to impersonate a real couple Henry knows very well and gets his girlfriend, Mary, to act as a servant. This temporarily solves things but only for this to be met with hilarious consequences when Perky, his brother (Tim Falconer), and Kit, his wife (Gillian Shelton) arrives. To save the day a trip to the infamous curtain cupboard to escape disguised seems to do the trick.
Certainly farcical and funny from the very beginning - with Chitto whose so called precision and repetition in getting the villa ‘ready’ and relying on the curtain cupboard and eventually becoming reliant on his ‘medicinal’ gin, forgetful and confused. Harrison gives a perfect portrayal of this eccentric and blinkered character whose narrow-mindedness and unawareness doesn’t help matters with regards to relationships and problem solving. The cast on the whole are excellent in contributing to the farce in entertaining and confusing the audience with the irony of the situation. Laughter and shocks abound with misnomers, innuendoes and misinterpretation of different meanings – all simply for the sake of a double booking and mistaken identities.

Priory Players have put on an excellent production of Holiday Snap and an enjoyable evening is guaranteed.

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Billy Elliot The Musical (On behalf of The Reviews Hub)

This was originally reviewed for The Reviews Hub and the link can be found here.

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Universal Stage Productions, Working Title Films and Old Vic Production are presenting Billy Elliot on its first UK Tour following a recent successful run in London.   Bradford’s Alhambra theatre is the only Yorkshire venue on this tour.   Lee Hall’s musical is based on the said title award winning 2000 film.
The story is set during the 1984/85 miners strike and is about a boy, Billy, who aspires to become a dancer after accidentally finding himself in a ballet class after his stint in the boxing ring.  His dream is pursued dynamically and beautifully with an incredible performance and dancing from Matthew Lyons, a multi-talented young artist who is destined for bigger things in the future.  The combination of tap and contemporary dancing and classical ballet interprets the wide range of emotions Billy experiences on his journey in Expressing YourselfBorn to Boogie and Angry Dance.
Billy’s dancing dream is under the tutelage of Mrs Wilkinson (Annette McLaughlin) and the spirit of his dead mother (Nikki Gerrard).  It doesn’t go unnoticed by his immediate family despite their initial resistance and reservations.  The family and villagers’ personal battles and goals are fought during the strike and political tensions and personal pride are at stake in the charged but catchy musical hits, Solidarity and Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher.
Billy Elliot appears to be one mean feat for the creative team to put together on stage.  It takes a lot of planning and co-ordination to fit in the different activities happening the same time from the cast in each musical number.  Full credit must go to Peter Darling and his choreography which links with the songs and storytelling.
Rick Fisher’s lighting compliments Ian Macneil’s sets.  Lighting is tastefully emphasised with special effects in the dancing scenes particularly during Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Billy being partnered by his older self (Luke Cinque-White).
Hall brings out fully the political, social and economic context of the impact caused by the miners’ strike.  With poignancy, there is hope from the talented Billy. The musical metaphorically and colourfully portrays the community fears and hopes with its local dialect, slang and innuendoes.
The young performances with Lyons being an outstanding Billy are the highlight and certainly performers to look out for in the future.   As for the adult performers, it must be McLaughlin as Mrs Wilkinson who is a brash sharp-witted ballet tutor and believes in Billy’s extraordinary talent.  Martin Walsh’s portrayal as Billy’s Dad is excellent and transitions well from being torn between showing solidarity amongst the miners and supporting his son’s future.
Billy Elliot, under the direction of Stephen Daldry, is set to Elton John’s music and Hall’s lyrics is an excellent dynamic colourful production from beginning to end when Billy enters and exits the stage from/to the auditorium.   The energy and enthusiasm are palpable throughout the audience; spirited away to a mining community in the North East and a distant dancing world.
Due to the nature of the show, strong language is used and therefore may not be suitable for families with young children. The musical, however, raises themes, which are relevant today as much as then and how the strike changed the social landscape forever.  If you want an entertaining show with a poignant twist, Billy Elliot is the one.