Sunday, 18 October 2015

Brand new regional theatre website for the East Midlands.

I have some great news in that I have recently put together a brand new website using Wordpress dedicated to professional theatre in the East Midlands. Presently that would cover places I can get to on public transport and those include Derby, Nottingham and Leicester.

The purpose of the website is for sharing news, reviews and interviews from across the East Midlands all in one place East Midlands Theatre. All of my reviews will be copied to this blog so that my regular readers (and it seems there are quite a lot of you at over 3500 hits a month!) can still get their theatre reviewing fix.

Connected with this website is a new Twitter account @EM_Theatre. Do feel free to follow it and spread the word. Many thanks, Phil Lowe.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Review: The Bodyguard -musical at The Royal Centre Nottingham

Visually impressive and vocally astounding the award winning show The Bodyguard - the musical hits Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall stage with a bang and never lets go even in its quieter moments. A unanimous standing ovation from this full to capacity Nottingham Concert Hall (Royal Centre) audience says it all!!!

Alexandra Burke as Rachel Marron makes her ballads and songs seem totally effortless winning the audience's huge admiration from the powerful opening number 'Queen of the Night' to the utterly stunning final rendition of 'I Will Always Love You' and many in-between.

The show boasts sixteen heart stopping and heart wrenching musical numbers such as 'All At Once', 'I'm Every Woman', 'One Moment In Time', 'Run To You', 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' and 'Greatest Love Of All'. The live orchestra is note sharp under the confident command of Musical Director Tom Gearing. Orchestration and additional music is by Chris Egan.

Director Thea Sharrock keeps the gripping story of the bodyguard Frank Farmer (Stuart Reid) and his new assignment protecting  singing superstar Rachel Marron (Burke) from a dangerous stalker (Mike Denman) very tight and exciting. The impressive sets, (Tim Hatley - Set and Costume Design) adjusted to deal with a nationwide tour, take us to each new location with impressive ease. The lighting (Mark Henderson)  multimedia (Duncan McLean) and clear as a bell sound (Richard Brooker) do the rest to make for a truly magical show.

The stage musical version differs slightly from the film bringing in an extra love interest other than that of the originally reluctant affair between Rachel Marron and Frank Farmer. Here we have a sister character to Rachel Marron in Nikki Marron played in this production by Melissa James. James has a sweetness, natural beauty and spine-tingling voice not so far removed from that of Whitney Houston in her young prime. Both she and Burke are outstanding and a very believable pair of sisters. As Rachel Marron's young son Fletcher, Daniel Deszek-Green steals the audience' hearts and impresses with his dancing during the rehearsal scene.

The afore-mentioned Stuart Reid as Frank Farmer is spot on as the bodyguard. Tough without being macho, very believable in the tender moments and refreshingly funny in his attempts to sing a karaoke song in a cheap nightclub joint.

The expression 'he is a man of very little words' comes to mind when watching Mike Denman as 'the stalker'. Denman hardly has any dialogue and certainly no always wanted to play a stalker songs yet he puts his utterly devious and cleverly dangerous character across perfectly and gains many a shudder from the audience and amusingly deep boos in his curtain call.

Overall this is a stunner of a show with a hard working and convincing ensemble, superb visually and outstandingly good vocally and choreographically. If you can possibly get a ticket (it is a packed first night) do so. You won't regret One Moment In Time of a trip to see The Bodyguard - the musical.

Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall Nottingham.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Review: The Ugly Duckllng.

The Ugly Duckling at The Neville Studio (Nottingham Playhouse) may be a short and sweet production but the results for the children performing may have positive effects lasting for their whole lives.

In collaboration with Combat Bullying and Nottingham Playhouse this production brings together a fifteen strong group of 6-14 year olds (many of whom have never been on a stage) who have suffered from bullying. Directed by Nikki Disney the piece takes Hans Christian Anderson's classic tale of the new born ugly looking bird that is constantly picked on and practically left for dead on occasion. The children bring the story to life through dance and movement and each child gets an opportunity to assist Hans (Bradley Price) put together his story surrounded by a set of gigantic children's story books. The bird struggles on with its sad existence and cruel taunts from the other birds. The children are cleverly costumed in black clothes with white text from The Ugly Duckling as the patterning. Their ordinary school clothes are also worn by some to bring home the contemporary nature of the story's relevance.

Eventually the duckling (played by various children) grows up and sees a flock of beautiful swans. Sensing the same potential in itself  it wants to be near to them. As it sits on the water it is suddenly aware of its own beautiful and strong self through reflection. It is no longer a picked on duckling but a beautiful strong bird – a majestic swan.

With a packed and supportive audience on its opening night it is important not to underestimate the value of the creative and emotionally strengthening experience for these children. As little Hugo Waring (Duckling) aged 6 confidently says in the programme “I can't wait for my school to come and see it.”

This reviewer can do no better than to finish off with another quote from one of the participants Sophie Basra aged 13 - “Hopefully, our production of The Ugly Duckling at the Playhouse will make people realise how harmful and hurtful bullying can be.”

The Ugly Ducking runs at The Neville Studio until Saturday 10th October.

Combat Bullying "One in 10 children bullied at school have attempted to commit suicide, a further 30% go on to self-harm."

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Review The Rubenstein Kiss. Nottingham Playhouse

Ten years on from its original London run staring Samantha Bond and Gary Kemp, playwright James Phillips' play The Rubenstein Kiss makes its Nottingham début at Nottingham Playhouse for their Conspiracy Season.

The Nottingham Playhouse publicity for the play states 'The story is set in 1950s America and in the Cold War period when the McCarthy anti- Communist trials were at their height. The Rubenstein Kiss is inspired by a real life Jewish couple – Ethel and Julius Rosenberg who went to the electric chair for allegedly passing on US atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. They protested their innocence until the very last. James Phillips' play explores what happens when truth and ideologies collide to reveal the anguish of a family and its quest for atonement.'

Director Zoë Waterman has returned to Nottingham Playhouse to direct this fascinating play and the finished result is compelling, stylish, stark but not without rays of humour and superbly acted by all of the cast.

Jacob Rubenstein and Esther Rubenstein are the play's protagonists who idealise Communism. As the quiet married couple actors Joe Coen and Katherine Manners completely encapsulate the characters of this period. These are just two human beings who have to make a life changing decisions that will not only affect them but could ultimately impact on the world in the future. The choices they are faced with are telling 'the truth' betraying their Soviet friends and receiving a long term prison sentence or having to die in the electric chair and suffer eternal public shame.

The themes in the play are about miscarriages of justice, compassion and the power of state control. The Rubenstein Kiss however, is not all doom and gloom. In fact it is mostly an uplifting experience and at its core there is a feeling of hope. It is about people doing the best they can in extra-ordinary circumstances and placing their family at the top of their concerns.
The 1940s/50s story of the Rubensteins, David Girshfield and Rachel Liebermann (Mark Field and Ellie Burrow) is told in flash back through two young people in their twenties who happen to meet at an art gallery showing iconic photographic images of  that period. Simon Haines is extra-ordinary in his role of son Matthew and researcher of law and past cases. Equally, Gillian Saker is utterly believable and sympathetic as Anna. A late comer into the play's action is Cornell S John as FBI agent Paul Cramner. John plays his role with a very human touch -strict as the police investigator but seen years later as someone who harbours a great degree of empathy towards the remaining families living with the legacy of the 'case of the century'.

The 'The Rubenstein Kiss' play is a moving portrayal of human dilemmas questioning the nature of loyalty towards family and country and ultimately the big question 'what would one be prepared to die for?' Another superb production at Nottingham Playhouse.

Runs until Saturday 17th October 2015.

Review King Charles III at the Theatre Royal Nottingham

In Mike Bartlett's quasi Shakespearian telling of the fictional death of Queen Elizabeth and the automatic succession to the British throne of her son Prince Charles (now King Charles III) we get over two hours of brilliant political theatre with a dark comic edge.

The magnificent set, almost mediaeval in look – crumbling ancient walls – tall guttering candles – dark entrances and a sea of faded painted faces right across the middle section is designed by Tom Scutt. The atmosphere is heightened throughout with superb music from composer Jocelyn Pook and splendid sound design from Paul Ardetti. Lighting designer is Jon Clark.

King Charles III benefits hugely from excellent direction (Robert Goold with Whitney Mosery) and the whole play flows along like a stricken royal barge dangerously navigating the river Thames at night. As the story glides by it takes in the difficult politics in Parliament due to King Charles refusal in signing a legal document concerning freedom of the press. Social unrest ensues and along the way, with a few nasty bumps into the proverbial riverbank we eavesdrop on certain major players in the current royal family and their entourage.

None of the royal characters are caricatured and Robert Powell is terrifically stubborn and vulnerable as the new King who just wants an easy life after waiting almost a lifetime for his mother to pass away and for himself to rightfully attain the throne. Son, Harry 'Prince of Wales' just desires to be a 'normal bloke that shops in Sainsbury's and has a house that he has paid for'. Richard Glaves lights up the stage as the confused and love-struck Harry and Lucy Phelps plays his new girlfriend and staunch republican in a very natural way – at once in awe of her situation and politically pulling the opposite way.

William and Kate (Ben Righton and Jennifer Brydon) are almost perfect look-a-likes for their roles; William forever holding his hands together at waist level; intelligent, polite and strongly built and Kate – beautifully dressed and initially demure. As the play evolves however the tides turn and Kate comes into her own; acting much more ambitious and vociferous, pushing her husband William to usurp his father as king. Supporting King Charles III himself is his wife Camilla (Penelope Beaumont) and shown as an equal to Charles whose loyalty to her husband is tried to the utmost as the country goes into civil war and Charles struggles to reason why.

The two major politicians Mr Stevens and Mr Evans (Giles Taylor and Tim Treloar) appear to walked straight out of the real House of Commons and even with their dialogue being mostly governed by the strictures of iambic pentameter, their performances are very natural and powerful on the stage.

This complex and potentially controversial play from the Almeida Theatre (on tour)  is brilliantly written and performed and although the story is dark and - even includes a recognisable ghost predicting destiny- it is not without a great deal of wit.

For those coming to the play to see Robert Powell as the lead they will be delighted in his tour de force portrayal in the challenging lead role. For those interested in witnessing 'a play of the future' today with a superb ensemble look no further than this terrific production.  Charles III runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 10th October 2015.

Review: 1984 Northern Ballet

Northern Ballet are the winner's of Best Company at the Taglioni European Ballet Awards and this innovative company are considered by some to be Europe's best dance company. It is with these and many other dance credentials that they are currently touring and wowing audiences with their new work 1984. This week they are at Theatre Royal Nottingham.

For a fan of Orwell's bleak novel with its central themes around disallowed thoughts and the crushing of anti Party sentiments embodied in the hero, Winston Smith, the idea of a ballet work being capable of expressing 1984 solely through dance may seem unlikely. Not so in the superbly capable hands of choreographer and director Jonathan Watkins and through the original score created by Alex Baranowski.

Orwell's story of Winston and Julia's ultimately doomed love story; his secret diary recording his anti Big Brother sentiments; the robotic workers at the Ministry of Truth; the Thought Police and the Proles all come terrifyingly to life through Northern Ballet electric dance forms. Winston (Tobias Batley) and Julia's (Martha Leebolt) pas de deux is at once joyful and yet sorrowful, sexy and yet has an edge of yearning sadness.

Both the choreography and direction create rich tapestries of a dark dystopian life and the constantly changing sets include startling media design and telescreen graphics dominated by Big Brother's constant stare. Befitting the calibre of Northern Ballet's well earned reputation in the dance world the 1984 company's dance standards are exemplary.

Especially good are the dance sections expressing the daily conditioning of 'two minutes hate'. Here the dancers let loose their emotions as dictated by the Party in order to demonstrate their utter distaste against the enemy. Orwell's book has stood the test of time and resonates with readers all around the world. It is truly a book that makes you think about how we live today and Northern Ballet's brilliant dance adaptation brings all those challenges alive on stage in a 101 different ways.

Originally written for Nottingham Post October 1st 2015