Gallowglass ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Gallowglass stays at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 20 January 2017 before embarking on a UK tour – book tickets here: Grand Theatre Box Office and check out tour dates here:

Star rating: *****

Ruth Rendell is an author I know so much about and I’ve watched a number of television adaptations of her novels – however, Gallowglass has always passed me by. Regardless, I feel well acquainted with the tone and setting of her penmanship and this world premiere stage adaptation of one of Rendell’s classics has wowed me to the point where I’m keen to see the production again.

In similar fashion to the television drama version, incidental music played its part in setting the ambience. Combined with exceptional scenery, simple touches transported us to London and East Anglia. The posters at the tube station in the opening scene spoke volumes as to what decade it was set in – I knew it was 1990 before I read the programme! Every member of the cast characterised superbly, and each one became a story teller in their own right – cleverly disguising the myriad of twists which the road inevitably takes at the close of the show.

To summarise the plot, Joe Herbert (Dean Smith) is suffering with severe mental health problems and Sandor Wincanton (Joe Eyre) discovers him on a London tube platform about to take his own life. This triggers off a series of events which sees Sandor staking a claim on Herbert’s life and treating him as a slave (a rough translation of the term Gallowglass). Sandor is passive aggressive, controlling and at times it’s unclear as to whether he might have homosexual tendencies. His well-to-do, unwitting mother (Karen Drury) certainly thinks so and embraces the fact that this means she has no female competition in her son’s life. At the centre of the story is an ex model by the name of Nina Abbott, three times married and kidnapped once – so far. She’s the target for a second, similar ploy at the hands of one of her previous captors, Sandor. In the meantime she’s squirrelled away in a large estate with an elderly husband, Ralph Apsoland (Richard Walsh) and a ‘bodyguard’, Paul Garnett (Paul Opacic) who has his eleven year old daughter, Jessica (Eve Sayer) living with him. It’s a psychological thriller de force, unpredictable and jump-a-minute.

Joe Eyre makes for a menacing Sandor, as his intentions towards Nina became clear my heart was in my mouth and I was torn as to how I felt about his character. Dean Smith gave one of the performances of the show as ‘little Joe’, from his mannerisms to his gait, the effects of the ‘water in his head’ were shown outwardly and extremely believable. Rachael Hart was a force to be reckoned with as Tilley, Joe’s ‘sister’. Her introduction into the piece was bawdy and raw, a real contrast to the macabre undertones running through the tale as it unfolded. Paul Opacic was natural to watch in the role of Paul Garnett, his protective paternal instincts versus growing love for his boss, Nina were played out engagingly and he has exceptional chemistry with Eve Sayer as his daughter Jessica which was a fascinating relationship to see. Chemistry was also there in abundance between Opacic and Florence Cady as Nina – Cady played the role so understatedly that it was overtly clear she was aiming to be as invisible as possible. Casting Karen Drury as Diana, Sandor’s mum is an inspired move – it’s the first time I’ve had the pleasure of watching Drury on stage. However it’s always been obvious to me why she’s an award winning and BAFTA nominated actress. Her timing, stage presence and formidable portrayal of the role was akin to a masterclass, it was everything I expected from her and more.

Margaret May Hobbs has adapted this innovatively, Michael Lunney’s design and direction is flawless and thanks to Lynette Wesbter’s music, I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation more than once. If a psychological thriller which deals with mental health on a variety of planes and is packed with deeper meaning is your cup of tea – you have to see this production. It’s phenomenal.





My Gay Best Friend ~ The Hope Theatre

My Gay Best Friend stays at The Hope Theatre until Saturday 27 January, book tickets here: My Gay Best Friend Tickets

Star rating *****

Reviewed by: Francesca Mepham 

Sometimes you have the privilege of seeing a new piece of theatre that makes you laugh, cry and feel. In the case of My Gay Best Friend, at The Hope Theatre, this is certainly the case.

My Gay Best Friend is written and performed by Louise Jameson and Nigel Fairs, as best friends Rachel and Gavin, who on the surface certainly seem polar opposites. Rachel a beauty counter worker from Boots (who still wears shoulder pads) is brash, harsh and with a wicked sense of northern humour. Her ideal man is the innocuous Alan Titchmarsh, perhaps that’s why she gets on so well with the mild mannered and fashion impaired Gavin, who himself admits he’s the worst gay man, with his admission of not knowing the difference between the Minogue sisters! When two worlds collide during a nail varnish ‘accident’ the pair just click and the friendship is delicious.

The chemistry between Jameson and Fairs is a tour de force throughout the play, even when they are performing monologues, the affection seeps through that the two friends have for each other, small interactions that overlap are exquisite and so natural. Director, Veronica Roberts let’s the pair’s instinctive interactions always shine through, but never lets the two actors verge on stereotypes, which could have been so easily done.

Minimal use of props is testament to this production’s focus on heartfelt storytelling, perhaps the sparseness is a metaphor for the emptiness inside of Rachel and Gavin, whose childhoods have had a profound effect on the both of them. This aspect of My Gay Best Friend was heart-wrenching, with Jameson giving the most honest and understated account of Rachel’s trauma in her childhood, that resulted in her issues with men. Fairs showed great depth and tenderness, when there is a sense that no-one quite believed in Gavin with such conviction after his Gran died.

With fringe theatre, you often see plays written and performed by more ’emerging’ artists, which,  don’t get me wrong is wonderful and vital for the future of theatre,  but it’s a real delight and breath of fresh air, to see such a beautifully written and performed new play, from more seasoned actors. My Gay Best Friend is an outstanding piece of theatre that leaves you feeling emotionally attached to its characters, I very much hope Louise Jameson and Nigel Fairs write and perform together again in the future, as it’s absolute magic.

Happy New Year!

2018 – a new year to embrace new shows and experiences in the theatrical bubble I often find myself mooching around in. As I’ve said in my previous more personal blog posts, I rarely take to my own blog to have a chat – but it’s a new year and I felt an update was long overdue. So, put the heating on (it’s freezing out there innit?!), put your pjs on (I certainly have!) and I’ll let you in on all things Break A Leg for the mighty 2018.

Regional Theatre ~ Break A Leg started life as a Midlands based blog where I could share my reviews of local shows and promote local theatres. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to venture further afield to review and I LOVE it. Pantomime season saw me welcomed to more regional theatres and I’d like to grow that this year. It means you won’t see as much of me in London, because I’m handing reviews for most shows in the big smoke over to a couple of guest reviewers who I’m delighted to have on board. In the meantime, I’ll be based in and around the midlands more often and visiting other regions and cities to find out what they have to offer.

Guest Reviewers ~ I’d like to welcome Francesca Mepham and G Wood to the team as my London based Guest Reviewers. They are a god-send and will enable Break A Leg to keep an eye on what’s going on in London when I can’t be there personally. Both are talented writers and what they don’t know about the arts ain’t worth knowing.

Blood Brothers ~ It’s no secret that Blood Brothers is one of my all-time favourite shows and this year I’m aiming to see the show as many times as I can in as many different theatres as I can. It’s a challenge and one I’m looking forward to having a crack at! I know there’s a couple out there who have seen the show zillions of times – I doubt I’ll ever catch them up but I’ll happily follow in their footsteps!

More Pantomimes ~ My pantomime/festive season for 2017/2018 consisted of 8 x pantomimes at a variety of different theatres and 101 Dalmatians at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Next season I’m aiming for double figures – oh yes I am! I might also try and see my favourite shows more than once…

TV & Movie Scene ~ If you haven’t visited my sister blog yet hop on over and take a butchers at it. I felt it was time to move my television and movie reviews over to a separate website and I’m in the midst of working on it to increase content. Loads coming up this year including National Television Awards towards the end of this month. Exciting times! TV & Movie Scene

Break A Leg Awards ~ It’s back and this year we’re separating the Television and Theatre awards. Break A Leg Awards will be awarded to all Theatre nominees and Television & Movie Scene Awards for the Television nominees. There’s a chance we’ll include movie-related nominees – watch this space!

What’s next? ~ In 2017 you may have been aware that I left my job at the NHS and took to more creative work on a permanent basis. I learned loads, ended up in all sorts of different areas of the arts which was fascinating and overwhelming all at once. Saying no to an opportunity to be involved in something that I have a passion for is not in my nature – but, as we’ve established with my guest reviewer section, there’s only one of me and a work/life balance is what everybody strives for.

There are so many projects I’d like to get involved in and opportunities cropping up for this year which are all really exciting. Some of the options I have to consider will actually enhance the blogs and networking further. It’s time to take a deep breath and dive in to see where it will all take me. I might not always be my own boss on a full time basis – but I don’t know if I like me as a boss, haha! I’m too bossy…. (pauses for groans from the audience)…

I’d like to say a huge thanks to everyone who drops in to read my reviews and interviews and to anyone who’s paid this article some attention. It does mean a lot, which is easily said, but definitely meant – more than you all know.

I’ll close with a collage of my little boy loving Pantomime life, because if I ever needed a reminder as to why I keep up with this crazy blogging career, these images give me a reason!




Top 5 Pantomimes – 2017/2018

It’s been a busy festive and indeed Pantomime season and there are a few amazing shows enjoying their final audience this weekend. Choosing my favourites from amongst the eight Pantomimes I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege of watching has been really easy! Here they are…. of yes they are…. (I need to stop that, until the end of this year at the very least!!):

Sleeping Beauty – Rhyl Pavilion Theatre: The only show I have ever bitten the bullet with and cheekily given six stars to! I LOVED Sleeping Beauty at Rhyl Pavilion Theatre, it had everything you could wish for from a pantomime and worked on every audience level. Sean Jones (who I’ve always rated in Blood Brothers) was outstanding in the comedy lead, Amy Thompson was her usual fantastic self in the title role (one of the best female leads I’ve seen – I saw her last year at Malvern Theatres). Vicky Entwistle impressed me as Carabosse, I didn’t realise how superb her vocal ability is and Sarah-Jane Buckley makes the role of the Fairy her own – she’s incredible, I can’t fault her at all. Add the glorious set, excellent mixture of songs and plentiful opportunities for audience participation to the mix and you have one of the best pantomimes of the season for Break A Leg.

Cinderella – Liverpool Empire Theatre: I loved everything about our unexpected trip to see Cinderella at Liverpool Empire Theatre. A beautiful setting with one of QDOS’s best pantomimes ably filling the auditorium with pantomime magic and a stellar cast. Jodie Prenger as Fairy Godmother is a moment that will last until the next pantomime season. Daniel Taylor, knocked his performance out of the park as one of the truly awful (in the best possible way) Ugly Sisters. He was assisted by James Templeton who is a performer I’ve not seen before, another exceptional Dame! The set was stunning and I couldn’t stop admiring it, it was akin to a wonderland. One of the best!


Sleeping Beauty – Worcester Repertory Theatre: One of the most exceptional efforts this season and from one of Break A Leg’s local theatres. It was my debut at Worcester Rep and a splendid show to make my debut with. This pantomime is one of the best family pantomimes I’ve seen this season, a warm, friendly feel and a cast de force. Liz Grand as Carabosse as Ben Humphrey as Dame Ginny were both exceptional. A massive high five to all involved, can’t wait for your next show.

Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood – Stafford Gatehouse Theatre: The Rock ‘N’ Roll pantomime which really changed my perspective of pantomime with a fresh new take. What a talented group of performers who sing, dance, characterise and play instruments! This is one I’d have happily paid a return visit to see. Guaranteed to have you dancing in the aisles.

Cinderella – Malvern Theatres: Malvern always have a superb pantomime and this season’s show has been no different. This version of Cinderella was packed with a variety of musical numbers, excellent up to date banter and audience interaction was at its best. Alison Hammond was a Fairy Godmother to be reckoned with and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance from the Ugly Sisters too. There aren’t many pantomimes I would recommend fellow theatre-goers to travel for, but this one would certainly have been worth making an effort to get to.

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