A comedy-drama set in Wolverhampton, the perfect choice for Wolverhampton Grand’s own production. Written by Amanda Whittington and directed by Jason Capewell and Alasdair Harvey – notably, Harvey has directed this particular piece before.
The tale revolves around working class ladies who work at a fish processing factory. With the imminent retirement of Pearl (Deena Payne), it’s decided that the gang of workmates will attend Ladies Day at Wolverhampton Racecourse. Each lady has a story to tell, Jan (Cheryl Fergison) was abandoned by her husband, left with a child to raise and has little life to speak of, although she has enjoyed a few clandestine moments with their boss, Joe (Sean McKenzie, who goes on to play all of the male characters). Pearl has spent the past seven years enjoying an extra-marital affair with a Bookie she’d met at her colleague’s wedding reception. Shelley (Emma Rigby) is a wannabe Kardashian and in so much debt she has bailiffs knocking at the door. Linda (Roisin O’Neill) has a fly-by-night mother who turns up like the proverbial wrecking ball to stay with her timid daughter, taking her bed and stealing her money. Her coping mechanism is her obsession with singer, Tony Christie – she’s a member of his fan club and intent on choosing horses in the races who have names reflecting anything related to the man himself.
The gimmick with this production is that Tony Christie appears in person, singing his way through the show. Almost angel-like in his presence as he follows the action at various intervals throughout. The four ladies have a good chemistry between them and there is a feeling of solidarity between the characters. Wolverhampton accents aren’t always sustained though, I often noted a natural accent filtering through. There are also a few moments, particularly in the second half where the ladies’ lives began to unravel, which didn’t resonate as much as I would have expected. It was humorous to feature Sean McKenzie in all of the male roles, especially as one of the roles he played was a jockey who was just over 8 stone in weight. The irony wasn’t lost and McKenzie made the most of it, with the audience instantly in on the joke too.
The set was subtle, giving the ‘feel’ of a racecourse without detracting from the strong performances, although a few sound effects to add atmosphere may have lifted some of the ensemble scenes.
Cheryl Fergison as Jan gave the most memorable performance of the night, coming into her own all the more when she wound up inebriated and talking a mixture of gibberish and sense in the second half. Her physical comedy stole the show and earned an ovation from the enthusiastic audience.
If you’re looking for a local production set locally with live music from Tony Christie (you can’t not sing along to ‘Amarillo’!) then you’ve got until 28 July to get yourself a ticket! Book here: Ladies Day Tickets
The Skating Rink had its world premiere at Garsington Opera on 5 July 2018, based on the novel by Roberto Bolano, the music has been composed by David Sawer and libretto by Rory Mullarkey. I’m relatively new to critiquing Opera, however I feel that the simplicity of this production makes it an ideal introduction to Opera. The Skating Rink is set in Spain, however there’s little need to keep one eye on the subtitles as its performed in English. The exquisite diction from each member of the exceptionally talented cast and ensemble, combined with spectacularly dramatic portrayals told the tale wonderfully.
The piece centres around several characters; Remo (Ben Edquist), owner of a campsite, his employee Gaspar (Sam Furness), three tramps: Carmen (a former Opera singer played by Susan Bickley), her friend Caridad (Claire Wild), and Carmen’s lover Rookie (Alan Oke). Enric (Grant Doyle) is also a pivotal role, together with Nuria, a figure skater (Lauren Zolezzi). It’s a love story, yet in equal measure it’s a whodunit. The beginning offers us the crux of the storyline, as Gaspar is left with no choice but to evict ‘squatters’ Carmen and Caridad from the campsite, Remo has given orders and brooks no argument. Not only does Gaspar feel compassion for these women, he’s in love with Caridad. A successful businessman, Remo is in love, with figure skater Nuria – and therein lies a complicated love triangle as the troubled ice skater has also attracted the eye of council worker, Enric who’s issued the decree for the two vagrants to be removed from the campsite. ‘Fat’ Enric’s obsession with lithe, nineteen year old Nuria has gone so far as him having embezzled his employers to purpose-build a skating rink for her, her funding has been cut and without it she is unlikely to make the Olympic team as she has nowhere to train. One glimpse of Enric’s boss, the Mayor (Louise Winter) tells us that he’s taken an incredible risk and when Carmen discovers this risk – it’s not long before she’s bribing Enric in order to secure herself a house overlooking the sea with every home comfort and a job for her on/off lover, Rookie. Carmen’s tragic demise on the ice, the very rink which Enric has ‘gifted’ to Nuria, catalyses a ‘whodunit’ where everyone is a suspect.
The clever twist in the unravelling of the story is that each individual character’s story offers a precisely placed flashback which ultimately and almost unwittingly leads the audience around in a circle. Poignant, when you consider the pattern an ice skater’s choreography generally follows. This gave an overall impression of concentric circles spinning throughout the piece as each sorry tale interweaved intricately with the other.
Sam Furness is a revelation as Gaspar, the power of his voice surprisingly portrayed his sorrow as well as his determination. Ben Edquist made for quite the charmer as the love-struck Remo, the chemistry he had with Lauren Zolezzi who positively shone as Nuria, added an extra dimension to the love triangle. Neal Davies’ rich tones provided light, shade and intrigue to the character of Enric. I felt sympathy and frustration for him, almost simultaneously. Susan Bickley was cast perfectly as vagrant, Carmen.Her acting performance alone was beautifully nuanced but when coupled with her effortless vocals, she transformed the part into what I eventually viewed as the lynchpin. The particular continuity offered by Claire Wild as Caridad was extraordinary and drew my attention each time a flashback repeated. Her pitiful expression and wild eyes were reflected in the outstanding vocals she brought to the role. Alan Oke was played Rookie with relative subtlety, argumentative with Carmen which occasionally pushed him to the fore, however he is more vital to the finale than we are first led to believe. Louise Winter’s dominant stage presence combined with her dynamic, compelling voice was a perfect fit for Pilar, the Mayor who’s hell-bent on ridding the place of tramps. According to Pilar, they frighten the tourists and evicting them has formed part of her ‘manifesto’.
The music in The Skating Rink gives a sensational, incidental and gripping accompaniment to stunning vocals which convey the hopelessness of the overall picture in a haunting yet at times, comical manner. It’s set in the 90’s, which offers a more modern approach in the design and costuming of the piece (kudos to Stewart Laing (Director and Designer) and Hyemi Shin (Costume Designer). The set itself is open, with a transportable transparent box offering a backdrop to many scenes, innovatively back-lit appropriately according to the setting and quite a contradictory effect given that transparency couldn’t be further from the heart of the Opera. This proved effective, as did the glorious skating rink itself on which the ‘double’ for Nuria (Alice Poggio) glided seamlessly around the ice. A prominent shining blue star is suspended above the action, throughout, I felt that this represented both Nuria, the wannabe star and Carmen, the has-been. The production as a whole is palpably metaphorical and underpinned by poignancy which makes for a genuinely moving display.
If you can get your hands on a ticket for tomorrow night, that’s the final performance which you should definitely catch if you can. With luck, this incredible Opera will be shown on many more stages in the future. I’m honoured to have watched and enjoyed the fourth ever performance of a masterpiece.
Find out more about the show and book tickets for the final performance, here: The Skating Rink
SWAP’ra is a charitable organisation founded by a group of artists working in the opera industry. We have come together as a team of volunteers to build a supportive community to effect positive change for women and parents in opera by:
celebrating professional achievements in an industry where women are underrepresented in so many areas
collating data from existing artists in the industry and offering effective and workable solutions for companies
establishing a friendly, supportive and non-judgemental community
providing a platform for performance and publicity challenging preconceptions to improve attitudes towards women and parents in the arts
Entertainment Views were very excited to learn that these inspirational women are hosting a fantastic gala:
The SWAP’ra Gala will raise money for the various creative projects we have lined up, including our grant for opera parents, our mentorship schemes, and further performance opportunities for less established female artists. SWAP’ra is run by five volunteers and everyone in the gala is generously donating their time and expertise, stage managers included.
Hosted by star of stage and screen Fiona Shaw*, the SWAP’ra Gala is a celebration of the incredible wealth of female talent in the opera industry. A series of semi-staged scenes conducted, directed, performed and accompanied by some of the UK’s best loved artists, the evening is not one to be missed. Featuring music from opera favourites such as Le Nozze di Figaro, Madama Butterfly, and Eugene Onegin as well as contemporary work by female composers Elena Langer, Roxanna Panufnik and Josephine Stephenson, the gala promises to be a spectacular event showcasing nearly 40 much-loved soloists, from rising-stars to the stars themselves.
Conductors include: Jessica Cottis (Gala Music Director), Alice Farnham, Sonia Ben Santamaria, Susannah Wapshott
Directors include: Lucy Bradley, Poppy Burton-Morgan, Daisy Evans, Karen Gillingham, Sophie Gilpin (SWAP’ra co-founder), Francesca Gilpin, Ella Marchment (SWAP’ra co-founder), Ruth Mariner, Robin Norton-Hale
Singers include**: Rosie Aldridge, Giselle Allen, Jeni Bern, Mary Bevan, Katie Bird, Lee Bisset, Rebecca Bottone, Katie Bray, Katherine Broderick, Rhonda Browne, Rebecca Caine, Catherine Carby, Emma Carrington, Sarah Castle, Fleur de Bray, Anna Devin, Carolyn Dobbin, Anne Sophie Duprels, Jennifer France, Nazan Fikret, Catherine Hopper, Yvonne Howard, Jennifer Johnston, Gaynor Keeble, Gillian Keith, Fiona Kimm, Janis Kelly, Rhian Lois, Caroline Macphie, Diana Montague, Anna Patalong (SWAP’ra co-founder), Madeleine Pierard (SWAP’ra co-founder), Samantha Price, Gillian Ramm, Meeta Raval, Amanda Roocroft, Lucy Schaufer, Helen Sherman, Angela Simkin, Sarah Tynan (SWAP’ra patron), Kitty Whately (SWAP’ra co-founder), Catherine Wyn Rogers.
Here at Entertainment Views, I was bowled over by such a brilliant idea, this charity is such an innovative initiative. Many of you may know that I am a working mum, I work within the arts but also for the NHS. I was lucky to be able to return to my old job with a local NHS Trust following maternity leave and on a part-time, job-share basis. Although in the long-run I felt that childcare ‘issues’ forced my hand and had me seeking employment elsewhere – there’s no denying that I could have stayed in a job share, in a job that I had loved doing for seven years prior to becoming a mum. Everybody should be entitled to such a flexible opportunity.
Entertainment Views were delighted to chat with one of the Founders, Anna Patalong, about the Gala at Opera Holland Park on 21st July 2018.
Thank you for your time, Anna, tell me about SWAPra and where the idea originated from.
SWAP’ra is all about building a supportive community for women and parents in the opera world. We’re starting a conversation, raising awareness and creating positive change to allow opera careers flourish.
We’re a volunteer group of female opera professionals – three singers, two directors and a conductor; and three of us have children – hence the idea for SWAP’ra emerged quite naturally, although that wasn’t the only catalyst.
It was exactly one week before the Weinstein story properly broke and I had just read an article by director Sophie Gilpin (SWAP’ra co-founder) detailing some of the shocking disparities that still exist today between the number of top jobs held by male and female professionals in our industry. This, coupled with several practical ideas that were coming through a private Facebook forum (that sought to ease pressures on parents returning to work) gave me the idea to set up a platform that I hoped wold bring bright and talented women together, give us a stronger voice and see what suggestions we could come up with for an industry eager to be at the forefront of equality and opportunity.
I had only briefly met some of the members of our group before our first meeting, so was of course filled with some anxiety – will they think the same as me, are we capable of making this type of change, will people care? I suddenly felt a big weight of expectation and responsibility, but we did it, our first meeting! We’d started, we’d taken that first step and after discussing our different experiences and skills, I knew more than ever we were heading in the right direction.
What enticed you into a career in Opera?
Its a cliché, but I think opera is really something that chooses you rather than the other way around. I began as a pianist, but spent much of my youth obsessed with the theatre. I came to opera quite late, receiving my first singing lesson whilst at university. I’ve been hooked ever since!
How easy do you find juggling parenthood and a career in opera at the moment? Are you encountering any flexibility in the industry?
I am very fortunate to have the help and support of my family and partner (who is also an opera singer) to cover childcare and fill in when I can’t, but it’s still no walk in the park. The opera industry is equally demanding and rewarding (arguably part of its appeal) but it’s clear there are things that can be done, as in every industry, to support those who might struggle through parenthood.
At SWAP’ra, we recognise that support is not afforded to everyone, some professionals don’t have family flying out for babysitting duties, others face financial challenges or they’re simply not able to organise schedules around feeding times.
This is why SWAP’ra exists, to help ease these problems – and we believe our network (made up of supportive opera professionals) is crucially important in that effort. We hope it will generate workable ideas and create positive change from within our industry that will alleviate pressures on new parents and help maintain a talented pool of the highest quality opera professionals, no matter their parenting status.
Already we have encountered positive feedback from leading companies in the industry, who have not only been receptive to our aims, but have actioned them too. Opera Holland Park have this year put into place new systems of scheduling and pioneered our ‘Parent Pack’, inspiring other opera companies to follow suit. We cannot thank them all enough.
In our experience, opera companies often work as a ‘family’ and are always keen to help their artists wherever they can, greatly encouraging for all of us at SWAP’ra.
Yet, when speaking at a career development day at my old college (GSMD) recently, it is clear this is not a view widely understood in our industry. The main question posed to me by the majority of the female students (and some men) was ‘Will I be able to have a career and a family?’ Many women are reportedly still being told that they must choose.
We hope that by publicising the many inspiring women that are doing brilliantly (read their interviews on our website) and providing mentorship schemes in the future, we will be go some way to changing this outdated and restrictive narrative.
What’s your ideal ultimate outcome for all of your hard work with SWAP’ra?
I guess put simply, it’s to help remove all barriers that prevent women and parents achieving their full potential in opera and to arrive at a point where female conductors, composers, directors are no longer the exception to the rule.
What can we expect from the SWAP’ra Gala? Why should everyone buy a ticket and come to see it?
The SWAP’ra Gala will be the largest gathering of female operatic talent ever seen in one line-up, on one night, anywhere in the world.
We have huge stars lined up, including singers, conductors, directors, composers and musicians, to perform some of the most beautiful and breath-taking scenes from across the repertoire. Every single penny of the gala will go towards our future projects and we are eternally grateful to all the incredible artists and professionals that have supported our cause so far, giving their time and talent for free.
The Entertainment Views family will be there supporting such a worthy cause and can’t wait to see such a terrific line-up. Once again, thanks to Anna for her time, thanks should go to all of the amazing women who founded SWAP’ra, you’ll all be making such a difference.
As an entertainment and lifestyle blogger I’m always asked about my favourites, especially when I interview performers and creatives, I put the spotlight on them and more often than not the cheeky devils turn the tables on me! What’s my favourite musical, favourite play, who do I aspire to be? So, in the same way that every good website has a FAQs section, I thought I’d let you all in on my favourite things!
I’ve named this blogpost A Few of my Favourite Things, not because The Sound of Music is top of the list in the musical theatre stakes – although I do have a place in my heart for the show and I loved the incarnation which toured fairly recently and starred the superb Pippa Winslow and Zoe Ann Bown.
I digress, Blood Brothers is my all-time favourite musical. I can watch it over and over, I could watch it back to back and never get bored. I jump at the gunshot every time, I cry at different scenes but I do always cry. My favourite songs from the show have never changed, ‘My Child’ and ‘Show Upon The Table’. Musical theatre numbers at their best, give them a listen!
Narrowly missing the number one spot are:
Phantom of the Opera (favourite Phantom is the mighty Ramin Karimloo!)
The Girls (‘Silent Night’ sung by Claire Machin is quite a moment…)
Mamma Mia (the ultimate feel-good musical and the current West End cast are insanely good)
Opera is a recent addition to my list of happy places and it’s all thanks to a chance viewing of The Mikado on Sky Arts. I saw opera star Yvonne Howard playing the role of Katisha and she blew me away. From there I was checking out her credits and finding myself gripped by classical opera in a way I never could have imagined.
My current favourite opera is Falstaff, I saw it at Garsington Opera very recently and it’s continued to resonate. I have a long-standing love affair with Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, they’ve been on my radar since I was a kid, however, Verdi’s Falstaff is something else. Comedy, poignancy and Italian language – it’s a treat for the eyes and the ears.
Farce is my bag, when it comes to non-musical theatre I gravitate towards a laugh out loud comedy. Ray Cooney is one of my best-loved playwrights and recently I had the great pleasure of reviewing his production of Move Over Mrs Markham. It’s the king of farce and with the perfect cast, which the version I watched this year undoubtedly possessed – makes for a perfect night at the theatre for yours truly!
I’m a Disney fan and a Harry Potter geek, so choosing a favourite film is nigh on impossible. All the Harry Potter films would be one answer, all the Disney films would be another answer.
If I move away from those particular passions and opportunities for geekery, I’d have to go with the hilarious American Pie movies. I can’t choose between them because the cast stays almost consistent throughout all four of the main films from the franchise. If there were major alterations to the line-up I think that would affect my judgement, however the proverbial dream team appear in them all (barring the lack of Chris Klein as Oz in the third film – which I might never get over!). I have met Thomas Ian Nicholas too, at a comic con – something else I may never get over. Truly.
An addition to my list of films which I can re-watch with alarming regularity is a surprise entry. I didn’t expect to love Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance anywhere near as much as I did. The royal family are portrayed by a cast of exceptionally talented actors and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can read my review here: Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance Review
The name Stephen Beckett is one that immediately springs to mind, the admiration dates back to The Bill, Coronation Street and now last year’s Prospero in The Tempest at Stafford Castle and most definitely Mamma Mia at the Novello Theatre – Bill Austin is a part that was surely made for him. I didn’t know he could sing either so he’s most definitely an all-rounder de force.
I also need to add the incomparable Daniel Taylor to the mix, not only is he my favourite Sammy in my favourite musical, Blood Brothers – he’s also the best Tommy Cooper impersonator ever. He looks good in a dress, I can attest to that as I saw him as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella last year… just to clear that up! Seriously though, I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do.
As for screen actors, I hand the accolade to Seann William Scott, he is also better known as Stifler from the American Pie films and I think he’s got one of the most wonderful faces! Even when he’s voicing the role of Crash in Ice Age, I can picture him recording the voice of the character. I think his forte is comedy, although when he’s in a more dramatic role he still holds my attention – what an actor!
The actor I first admired when I was a telly addict child is Jeffrey Holland, Hi De Hi! was a must-watch in our house and I was smitten with Spike. Jeff is a chameleon when it comes to acting, there’s much more to him that meets the eye.
If we’re talking on stage then Sarah Jane Buckley without hesitation. In musical theatre she is exceptional, in pantomime she’s perfection and I first discovered her when she played the role of the unstable and, let’s face it, quite scary Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks. I’ve always felt that the sky’s the limit for this super-talented lady.
Through watching Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance I discovered two actresses who were previously unknown to me and whom I now intend to keep my eyes peeled for in future. Deborah Ramsay portrayed Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Parisa Fitz-Henley played Meghan. I’m a royalist and their performances in particular resonated upon first viewing of what is now one of my favourite films and I am eager to see their faces on screen again soon.
A cheeky mention must go to the wonderful Judy Buxton too, she was one of my favourite actresses when I was growing up with watching some of the best sit coms on television and she is a power-house on stage, the epitome of versatility.
Too many to mention, however with my newly discovered love of opera the first names out of my mouth are those of Yvonne Howard and Marcus Farnsworth. The latter grabbed my attention and never let it go when he starred in the ENO production of Iolanthe at the Coliseum earlier this year. The former wowed me in The Mikado, Iolanthe and Falstaff, I’ve also heard her sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in Carousel thanks to YouTube. Glorious!
I can’t finish the favourites post without a mention going to Ramin Karimloo, he was my first Phantom and he’ll always be my Phantom. Vocal ability that pushes boundaries, he’s a force of nature.
Photo Credits: Blood Brothers (Bill Kenwright Website), Falstaff (Clive Barda), Cast of Move Over Mrs Markham (Ray Cooney), Stephen Beckett in The Tempest (Stafford Shakespeare Festival), Sarah Jane Buckley as Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers (with permission from Sarah Jane Buckley), Deborah Ramsay as Camilla in Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance (Lifetime TV), ENO’s Iolanthe (Clive Barda), Ramin Karimloo (Sourced from Broadway World)
Approximately twenty to twenty one years ago, Donna Sheridan met three men within a short space of time and… dot dot dot! Mamma Mia remains as spectacular a West End hit as it has for the past nineteen years it’s been entertaining audiences of a wide age range. In fact with the show almost as old as Donna’s daughter, Sophie, it couldn’t have been a better time to revisit a show I’ve seen a grand total of six times, now.
Abba’s songs have always stood the test of time, if they hadn’t have successfully filtered through various decades the show wouldn’t have worked at all. The popular hits are surely one of the main draws to this particular musical, and nobody in the audience is out of place if they sing along! Unless they’re louder than the lead during a ballad of course!
The striking feature with this latest incarnation which has undergone a recent cast change is that I truly feel I have witnessed the best combination when it comes to casting for Donna, Tanya and Rosie. The chemistry between Sara Poyzer (Donna), Kate Graham (Tanya) and Ricky Butt (Rosie) was so unbelievably natural, infectious and gripping that it rivalled that of Streep/Baranski/Walters in the movie version. The trio were simply electric together and their delivery of such favourites as ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Super Trooper’ and the hilariously choreographed ‘Chiquitita’ was simply musical theatre magic at its best. While in previous trips to see the feel-good show I’ve always left the auditorium with a smile on my face and a spring in my step, I left reluctantly on this occasion as I had an over-riding feeling of desperately needing to see the show again… right there and then!
Of course, the triplet of triple threats were not alone in creating such an overwhelmingly engaging atmosphere, their male counterparts were equally talented super troopers. From Dean Read’s palpable love-struck Sam Carmichael to Neil Moors who was understated yet extremely likeable as the wannabe spontaneous Harry Bright to free spirited Aussie Bill Austin who is played with astonishing verve and impeccable comic timing, by Stephen Beckett. Add Georgia Louise to the mix as antsy bride-to-be, Sophie who’s seeking out her father so he can walk her down the aisle – Georgia gave a beautiful performance. Alec Porter was well cast too as her husband-to be, Sky, another triple threat to watch out for.
The set transports you to a Greek island quite effortlessly with simple, effective and practical staging, almost minimal which allows the sheer energy of the musical to take the limelight. There’s not one weak link in an ensemble who each characterise the roles they play, brilliantly. The orchestra were a joy to hear, powerful and a match for the fine vocalists who sing Abba’s technically stringent back-catalogue as if it’s second nature.
Do you need to be a fan of Abba to enjoy the twists, turns and laugh out loud comedy of this gleeful show? No! Even if you’re not a fan of Abba’s music, I wager that a trip to see Mamma Mia might just convert you.