Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A stunning production of Chicago at Curve Leicester. A review.

In 1975 the iconic, dark and edgy, sexy musical Chicago (based on the play 'Chicago' by Maurine Dallas Watkins) was originally named Chicago- a vaudeville revue. The original creative team of John Kander & Fred Ebb (famous for the musical Cabaret and forty years of musical collaboration) produced the piece around the same time that another musical was about to hit the Broadway scene and swamp the Variety headlines and win acres of musical theatre awards – this was the tamer but enormously popular show called - A Chorus Line. It opened five days before Chicago.

At the time Chicago was seen as a success but met with a mixture of varied revues and perhaps seen, retrospectively, as well as before its time, due to the dark nature and perverse humour of its subject and the thrilling choreography and direction by Bob Fosse who dealt in steamy yet stylised minimalist dance movements. It was a style that nobody then was aware of and it was seen as difficult yet fascinating. Chicago the musical was violent and moody and the audience were expected to laugh at people being killed and be sympathetic with the perpetrators whilst, at the same time, imagining they (as an audience) were having a wonderful time at a Broadway show.

Although set in the 1920s it reflected the morality of what was happening in the mid 1970s in the USA and every type of debauchery and scandal that was taking place. For instance, the concept of honouring 'celebrity out of criminality'!? Scandalous! Who'd have thought that would make a popular musical? Why would anyone want to celebrate the morally bad folk getting away with murder? Yet this was done with such an underlining core of fun and sexy dark humour and somehow it worked and people loved it and continue to love it today so much so that it became a soar away success not only on the stage around the world but, also as a film version in 2005.

The new Chicago musical currently playing at Curve is directed by Paul Kerryson, the musical director is Ben Atkinson and the choreography by Drew McOnie and the multiple sets designed by Al Parkinson. Sound design and lighting design are by Ben Harrison and Philip Gladwell.

In musical terms this is a concept musical – not just a story with songs that end a scene followed by another song that ends another scene i.e. a traditional musical. A concept musical has numbers that comment on what is happening in the plot and the combined dance work visually illustrates what the motifs are and doubly demonstrates the character's motivations in a form that is often a pastiche in order to bring the point across in a theatrical way within pertinent musical and theatrical genres like ragtime or vaudeville. The dance beat and rhythms draw out the drama in a way that is enhanced and comprehensible to an audience theatrically. In Chicago there is an unreality and a stylisation in the portrayal of the major characters that lends the story a dramatic feel in these stories of corruption and murder. It sensationalises how a guilty party gets away with shooting her lover another more innocent victim hangs for a crime she didn't commit and celebrates the murderous actions.

The two female leads of Roxie and Thelma are played excellently by Gemma Sutton and Verity Rushworth and each are very strong in their dance and vocals. There is a lot of dark humour associated with each character and the actors bring it out in spades. These are performances that Curve will be proud of for years to come.

Sandra Marvin as Mama Morton practically blows the roof off the theatre with her powerful rendition of 'When You're Good to Mama' and commands the stage with her presence every time she appears on stage.

David Leonard as has a sleazy manipulative authority as the crooked lawyer Billy Flynn and is assured in his vocal numbers such as Razzle Dazzle and All I Care About (is love) and he really comes into his own in the surreal court scene. Matthew Burrow brilliantly inhabits Amos, the pathetic husband of murderess Roxie Hart. Amos believes that he is so insubstantial as a human being that he is practically invisible. Burrow does a great job with a very plausible character interpretation and wins sympathy with his song Mr Cellophane. Most inspired is the choice of Adam Bailey as Mary Sunshine the newspaper reporter who follows the trials of both Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly and Bailey has a startlingly good singing voice.

The whole twenty strong ensemble work hard to create the grubby vaudevillian sleazy atmosphere of this prohibition era Chicago. The major song and dance numbers are sexily realised through Kerryson's direction and the sizzling hot choreography of Drew McOnie and are thrillingly costumed to the point of cross dressing the dancers. The famous dynamic numbers such as All That Jazz and Cell Block Tango do not disappoint and are counterbalanced with more reflective numbers such as Nowadays. The live band on stage brings a terrific musical energy to the show.

The large stage is often dominated by dozens of hanging lights used to great effect and the set pieces of the County Jail and Speakeasy are strong. Furniture slides into place to create other venues such as the court or Billy Flynn's office or a bedroom. The lighting by designer Philip Gladwell is superb moving the story along and even blitzing the audience with hundreds of flashing camera bulbs as the journalistic frenzy builds as the body count grows.

This show is a hot ticket. If you can't get one just murder a friend who has one!


Runs until Saturday 18th January 2014

This review was originally published by www.thepublicreviews.co.uk on 5th December 2013.

Written by Phil Lowe.

My top shows of my reviewing year are...

These choices are taken from my reviewing around the East Midlands and have been  difficult choices because I have the privilege of seeing some excellent shows both professional and amateur.

Top show of the year. Cooking with Elvis at Derby Theatre directed by Mark Babych.

Best musical. Chicago at Curve. Directed by Paul Kerryson.

Best Panto. Jack and the Beanstalk at Nottingham Playhouse. Directed by Kenneth Alan-Taylor.

Best drama. The Pitman Painters (touring). directed by Max Roberts.

Best dance work. Balletboyz - the talent. Choreographed by Liam Scarlett and Russell Maliphant.

Best children's show. A Christmas Carol. Lakeside. Directed by Martin Berry.

A Christmas Carol at Lakeside Arts Centre from Lakeside Marketing on Vimeo.

Best amateur musical. Oklahoma! Nottingham Operatic Society.

Best amateur drama. God of Carnage. Lace Market Theatre. directed by Graeme Jennings.

Well done to all these super shows that made it to the top of my reviewing list. Here's to some great theatre across the East Midlands in 2014. Phil Lowe.

An insight on my year as a theatre reviewer and writer.

Well, this time last year I would never have known what 2013 was about to grant me. With my 'proper' job I went on a course in mid Wales to learn about beef and lamb slaughtering and meat packaging and I got to appear on a national television advert for Tesco as the Tesco butcher in their Love Every Mouthful campaign.

More importantly to me I found an opportunity to work on a new aspect of my writing and from it I began to further develop my second blog about my involvement with the world of professional theatre. This came about through a chance finding of a review website called www.thepublicreviews.com. They were asking for new reviewers and so, as per their remit, I sent in a copy of a review I had done for Piaf at Curve theatre in Leicester which was accepted with some critical suggestions for style improvement and a particular way of writing. I also received an online booklet that gave all reviewers guidance and rules about the way a review should be submitted. The way it works is that every Sunday a listing is sent by email and you send in a 'bid' by email if you want to critique a particular show. If successful you get a notification saying that two tickets will be at the box office to pick up. There is no choice in the night you go and often it can be a press night so there is a chance to mingle and have a chat with the theatre staff with a glass of wine. There is a time pressure to have the review in on time. It is sent by email and must be with Public Reviews by 12pm the next day or you may be taken off their books. Considering I don't get home from the shows until about 11pm I still have to write the review and am often up until 1am until I am satisfied with the result. I do some research prior to going to the show which is important and helps with the writing. Incidentally, there is no wage to do this – it is done out of love for the theatre and writing. The tickets are comps.

I still review plays independently and now I have got my name and good reputation known over the year I get invites from Nottingham Live and Derby Theatre to review a variety of shows. I also use Twitter and Facebook to promote my blog post reviews and those that appear on the Public Review site.

Over the last ten months (I started in March 2013) I have reviewed over thirty shows mostly in Derby. I began at The Guildhall with Hardgraft Theatre's 'I Love Derby' and Reform Theatre Company's 'Me and Me Dad' and UK Touring Theatre's new translation of Strindberg's 'Miss Julie'.

For Derby Theatre I have reviewed their home grown productions and touring productions including Balletboyz -the talent, The Opinion Makers, Cooking with Elvis, September in the Rain, Go Back for Murder, Kes, Blue Remembered Hills, The Seagull, The Pitmen Painters and Horrible Christmas. For Derby Live I went to their amazing arts festival (Derby Festé ) and witnessed the stunning outdoor event – As The World Tipped.

For Nottingham Playhouse I have reviewed, The Ashes, The Kite Runner, Richard III and Jack and the Beanstalk and I went also to a free event about the writing process of a future production by Amanda Whittington called My Judy Garland Life. There have been very few chances to review at Nottingham's Theatre Royal but Nottingham Live did ask me review Nottingham Operatic Society's Oklahoma!

Recently I returned to Curve in Leicester to review the musical Chicago and even attended Martin Berry's 'A Christmas Carol' at Lakeside before going to work one Friday morning and then working until nine that evening! When I got home at 10pm I wrote their review and put it online. Phew!

There have been talks and shows that I have attended and decided not to do a review. This isn't because I didn't like them but usually to give myself a rest from 'having' to review everything and work full time and write my food blog as well!

I tend not to review at The Lace Market Theatre because I have so many friends there and it is difficult to offer an impartial view on a production when you know practically everyone involved. I do write articles for their monthly magazine -The Boards however and like to promote ex members who have gone on from an amateur status to study drama and theatre design with an aim of working professionally in the arts.

If I were to choose – the best play I have seen over the last ten months I would unreservedly say it was Cooking With Elvis at Derby Theatre.

The old Derby Playhouse (same building) gave me my grounding and enthusiasm for theatre going and acting during the 1970s and 1980s and this led to me joining and performing with Derby Theatre in The Round and Derby Shakespeare Company and eventually coming to Nottingham in the late 1980s to take my degree in the performing arts. I then spent many a happy year performing with The Lace Market Theatre and others and dipped into the world of television through Central Television productions and some film work.

So, thank you fate for steering me on this exciting course of writing about the theatre that I love. Who knows what 2014 will bring!

Do check out my theatre reviews on this blog!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Horrible Christmas by Terry Deary at Derby Theatre: a review

A theatre packed with excitable small children and some adults is a surprisingly good place to be at 10.15 in the morning. The children have few inhibitions and love to be entertained and to be encouraged to join in and be loud - joyously loud and even louder than that, when prompted! Kids and adults alike love Terry Deary's Horrible Histories and this is a fun festive version live on stage and the audience loved it. What was that? I said "They LOVED IT!!!"

Horrible Christmas at Derby Theatre (in conjunction with Birmingham Stage Company) is a magical and wondrous story featuring time travel, a villainous Santa character, a little boy called Watson and Shirley Holmes the detective. Bad Sidney Claus (Andrew Vincent) hates Christmas and delights in stealing children's presents aided and abetted by a prancing and silly Rudolf the reindeer (Simon Shnashall). Vincent and Shnashall work brilliantly together and Shnashall plays Rudolph just the right side of barmy while Vincent seems to revel in being the - not too scary - baddy.

Mark Newnham, as the boy called Watson, quickly gets the eagerly participating audience on his side as he cheekily undoes some of his Christmas presents too early. His parents catch him out and tell him not to open any more until morning. However all goes wrong as he secretly witnesses Sidney Claus and Rudolf break into the house and steal all his other presents from under the tree. Sidney Claus is determined to ruin Christmas for everyone, not just now but forever, with his evil doings. What to do? Watson's parents would never believe him.

Enter Shirley Holmes time travelling detective with her time travelling tricycle and off they go back in time to visit the Tudor court of Henry the Eighth and his new wife Katherine, the fun cancelling world of Oliver Cromwell, the song and campery of Charles II and to London in 1843 to help Charles Dickens out of his writer's block and create a timeless ghost story about a man called Scrooge. Will Holmes and Watson stop Sidney Claus and Rudolph from ruining hundreds of years of Christmas celebrations and festive joy?

Sarah Pelosi plays Holmes with great panache and energy and much fun is had as the tricycle flies across the back of the stage in hot pursuit of the dastardly Sidney and Rudolf on their own time travelling contraption. The kids in the audience responded with a universal "Wow!" as the time travel effects took place. Actors Luke Foster, Jo Mousely, Christopher Chilton and Elizabeth Rose complete the Horrible Christmas team and play multiple roles with enormous humour and dexterity. There are daft songs, dancing, even dafter actions, a panto style singalong and the whole piece is (as you'd expect from Horrible Histories) lots of fun and full of gruesome historically horrible facts flitting through the lively script like mad elves at Santa's Grotto. Much hilarity is had in the sometimes camp depictions of historical characters and then towards the end there is another really really, no like REALLY "Wow" moment they visit another place and event in Christmas history when.... Come on you don't think I'm telling you that do you? It would spoil the surprise! And what is Christmas without lovely surprises! Another excellent show from Derby Theatre with superb lighting and set
and sound design by Jason Taylor, Jacqueline Trousdale, and Tom Lishman.

Horrible Christmas by Terry Deary runs from Friday 6th December to Saturday 11th January.

Horrible Christmas is directed by Phil Clark.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Promo video for Chicago at Leicester Curve. Plus auditions video.

For those that have read my recent glowing review you might be interested in this short video produced by Curve that shows some of the background to the show and comments from director, Paul Kerryson. Plus I have added a Curve Chicago audition video for your delectation and interest.

Review: Jack and the Beanstalk. Nottingham Playhouse 2013

This year marks two anniversaries for Nottingham Playhouse. Firstly, the 50th anniversary of the 'new' theatre building that opened on 11th December 1963 with a performance of Shakespeare's Coriolanus with a stellar cast including John Neville, Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Crawford. Since 1963 the iconic building has seen many a brilliant season of entertainments and plays new and old including many a world première and the eagerly anticipated annual pantomime.

The second anniversary celebrates the last 30 years that Kenneth Alan Taylor has enchanted Nottingham Playhouse goers with his popular traditional pantomimes. His very first at the Playhouse was Jack and the Beanstalk. Alan Taylor was Artistic Director in 1984 and he launched the pantomime tradition even though at the time it was deemed to be in direct competition to the major pantomime at Nottingham's Theatre Royal. This is a tradition of which he has been the central part in writing, directing and starring in ever since and audiences come back year after year to enjoy his work.

The Panto this year sees some new faces and some eagerly welcomed back to the Playhouse stage. Of course we have Kenneth Alan Taylor as Dame Daisy, surely one of the best dames in the country – hilariously funny with just the right amount of cheek – brilliant in his quick change and ever more outrageous and glamorous costumes and clearly a huge favourite with the Nottingham audience. AlanTaylor says that he loves the ad libbing in Panto and the whole team revel in this without losing the plot. Almost.

What is a pantomime without a principal boy? Rebecca Little returns this year as Jack and bounces around the stage full of beans and enthusiasm and thigh slapping excitement. Little encourages the audience to shout out “I'm all right Jack!”and right from the second Jack appears we are with him on his journey to reluctantly sell the cow to get some money to pay the rent on his mother's cottage. The moments in which Buttercup the cow is taken away to the market are actually very touching.

Jack's love interest is played with verve and vigour by Kelly Edwards who has previously appeared in the chorus of five pantomimes and this year has a main part as Annie. Edwards gives the role great warmth and feeling and the Nottingham audience take to her immediately. Her singing and dancing really light up the glittery stage. In this production Jack also has another friend in Danny played with enormous energy, humour and warmth by the talented Tim Frater. The kids in the audience love him especially in the custard pie scene and for his wonderful dancing skills.

Enter the comic baddy Slurp performed with gusto by John Elkington, dressed in black and keen to be booed each time he appears. In the second half we meet his master Giant Blunderbore (Daniel Hoffman - Gill) in the giant's kitchen. Hoffman – Gill imbues the role with deep voiced gravitas and looks terrific and as he lumbers around the stage in his glittering suit of armour. Does courageous Jack kill the man eating giant? Well you'll have to go and see to find out. Oh yes you will!

You'd expect a giant's wife to be, well, a giant. But no. Mrs Blunderbore is maybe small in stature but as the second dame Anthony Hoggard is very very big in character! This is Hoggard's sixth panto at the Nottingham Playhouse and he clearly loves it. A bundle of be-frocked energy Hoggard plays up to every aspect of being another fun pantomime dame and the two dames work terrifically together and their joy in doing so is infectious.

The whole story of Jack and his magic beans wouldn't exist without a special person to sell him the magic beans in exchange for the cow in the first place and that special person is the beautiful Enchantress. Hannah Whittingham brings grace and beauty to the role and not a small amount of comedy and personal control as she deals with Dame Daisy's hilarious ad libbing.

Finally the Playhouse have a fantastic professional chorus of young women in Jack and the Beanstalk performing the frequent dancing scenes that involve anything from tap dancing to the marvellous dancing rabbits all to John Morton and his band's lively music.

If you are looking for a terrific, proper traditional pantomime to take the whole family to. then Jack and the Beanstalk at Nottingham Playhouse has to be it – great fun – fantastic sets by stage designer Tim Meacock – the cast clearly revelling in presenting the show - loads of audience participation and, as Kenneth Alan Taylor said at the stunning finale - a great deal of passionate teamwork from everybody at Nottingham Playhouse!

Running until Saturday 18th January 2014

Nottingham Playhouse box office number is 0115 941 9419


This FIVE STAR review was originally for www.thepublicreviews.co.uk and was published Sunday December 1st 2013

Saturday, 7 December 2013

A fantastic version of 'A Christmas Carol' at Lakeside, Nottingham. A review.

You know how it is when the beautifully packed presents are under the splendidly lit Christmas tree and you can't wait for the buzz and excitement of sharing the fun and joy of the gifts with others? Do you recall as a child how you thrilled to that childlike feeling that makes you want to jump around with joy and happiness at this magical event? Well, as Dickens once wrote "... for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas." Perhaps you think that feeling is all lost and only brought back for an hour by watching Dr Who on the telly. Think again.

Well, never fear because at the Lakeside Theatre at the University of Nottingham a unique production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol by writer Toby Hulse will make your inner Christmas tree shine and your heart glow with the true magic of Christmas! And it's all done by just three actors and a lot of very magical effects on a truly wonderful set with original music composed by Julian Butler.

Two brothers and a sister, James, Andrew and Vicky played to perfection and with great energy by Matthew Bloxham, Alec Fellows- Bennett and Josephine Rattigan, arrive one snowy evening at their Aunt's house. She has kindly lent her beautiful house to them for the Christmas period. (The set design of the home by Helen Fownes Davies is stupendous and I for one wanted to move in immediately.)

Andrew is the grumpy one with no sense of fun and on arrival the other two try to get him to cheer up but he is determined to be a misery at Christmas. Then a fuse blows and all the lights go out and the fun begins. What to do? Tell ghost stories by candlelight? Maybe act out the most popular Christmas story ever - A Christmas Carol? But there are only three of them and Andrew doesn't want to join in. Bah humbug!

Marvel as one actor plays all eight of the Cratchitt family all at once. Grab your seat tight and feel your heart soar as the whole cast fly around the world with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Tremble with fear at the spectacle of Jacob Marley warning Scrooge of his impending doom and laugh your Christmas socks off at the inventive interpretations of the cast as they present Fezziwig in a way you will never have seen on any stage in the world! And there's more, lots and lots more!

This show, directed by Martin Berry is terrific infectious fun, properly magical and really brings home the true spirit of Christmas and is perfect festive family entertainment. So don't be a misery book your seats now and bring a huge smile to your heart.

Suitable for children over 4 years old.


Box Office. 0115 8467777

Runs until 29th December.