Birthday Blog-Post

As you know, dear readers – I don’t often take to my blog for particularly personal posts, however my big 40 arrived on Monday and it’s inevitable that I’ve reflected on the past 10 years. Where in my standard day I’ve been able to fit in this reflection is a bafflement when I spends most of my waking hours trying to remember everything my social butterfly son has going on in his little life! I wouldn’t have it any other way though.

Entertainment Views (previously known as Break A Leg) turned 6 years old last month so blogging has dominated my 30s for sure. It’s no wonder my husband and son roll their eyes when they spot me with my laptop – which at times has been almost permanently glued to my knees.

One of my favourite shows of 2019 – Club Tropicana

Theatre has been at the heart of everything I’ve done, and it will certainly continue to be as my passion for it has been awoken ten fold over the past months. Music goes hand in hand with theatre of course so that has taken a prime position in my blogging career and I will also be carrying on with as many movie reviews as I can squeeze in, it’s easier now that the youngest reviewer in the ‘team’ can sit still for at least 5 minutes in the cinema.

When I turned 30 I had very little to think about apart from myself, which was a fairly easy task…. sometimes easy…. occasionally easy…. not all that easy! A month after I turned the big 30 I joined a local amateur musical theatre group to have a go at performing on the stage myself, something I’d often given thought to but not considered myself cut out for. My amateur performing career started with a bit of fun in the chorus of Hello Dolly and finished with the role of one of the daughters in The Pirates of Penzance – I met the man who would become my husband and we have our own little family now. Although my days of cavorting about the stage are over, my husband will never leave performing behind (and so he shouldn’t, he’s ace!) and our son is a born performer. I, on the other hand prefer to write about it!

Another memorable occasion from my 30th year was a double show day in London’s West End with my very best friend, Hayley. We had both hit 30 that year so we celebrated with a matinee of Blood Brothers and an evening performance of Phantom of the Opera. It was the first time we had seen either show! Those of you who follow my blog will know that we have seen ‘Blood Brothers’ many many times since and we could probably play the roles of the boys in a gender swapped production, we know it so well!

Sarah Jane Buckley as Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers

As I enjoy the last few days of my 30s I’m hugely grateful to the various people who’ve come into my life over the past decade. They might not be so grateful… but I am. The vast majority of them have stuck around and become friends whom I treasure, some have come and gone quickly and taught me a lesson along the way.

One of the most poignant moments occurred on Wednesday night, I had been kicking my heels up in London (I say heels, for the most part I was sporting Mickey Mouse trainers… what else?!). In the afternoon my friend Jen (whom I met four years ago through my blog) and I had been sitting level with the most humungous chandelier. We were in the cheap seats at the Old Vic, watching open mouthed as the legendary Sally Field and Bill Pullman did their thing on stage in All My Sons. In a traditional two show day to celebrate her birthday and mine, we strolled across the river to watch Mamma Mia! which was light relief after the intensity of the previous production we’d chosen. Joining us in the audience that evening was one of the most recent friends I’m delighted to have in my life, Yvonne Howard. I had seen her play Katisha in The Mikado with ENO when Sky Arts had broadcast it and thought she was the bees knees. As I sat in the beautiful Novello Theatre, Jen on one side of me and Yvonne on the other, with my three favourite Dynamos (Sara Poyzer, Kate Graham and Ricky Butt) being their usual talented selves on stage together with another new friend of mine, the wonderful Stephen Beckett (nobody wears the finale costume like Mr Beckett does!) – it was akin to a culmination of my past 6 years as a blogger. A Night to remember for sure, one of the happiest places for me is singing Abba tunes in amongst a full standing ovation surrounded by friends on stage and off.

MAMMA MIA! London Cast 2018/2019

There are moments in life we never forget, however large or small – and most of my treasured memories have taken place in the theatre in one way, shape or form! So here’s to my 40s and more years of spreading the word about entertainment goodness.

To complete my rambling I’d like to give you my top 40 theatrical moments from the past decade – indulge me if you will, the list has been a joy to reflect upon!

Iolanthe (ENO was one of the highlights of my year in 2018
  1. Top of the list has to be first being introduced to Sara Poyzer, Kate Graham and Ricky Butt as the dynamos in Mamma Mia! Not only did their stunning performances reawaken my love of musical theatre, their sheer exuberance, energy and talent has turned me into a life long fan of all three ladies.
  2. Stephen Beckett must come next, not only for his brilliant portrayal of Bill Austin in Mamma Mia! but also for his memorable performance as Prospero in The Tempest at Stafford Castle.
  3. Yvonne Howard’s performance as the Queen of the Fairies in Iolanthe at the Coliseum last year. She is responsible for my interest in opera going beyond Gilbert & Sullivan, even though this particular production was a G & S.
  4. Sticking with Yvonne Howard, I’ve yet to see her live as Katisha in The Mikado with The ENO – however watching her via the broadcast on Sky Arts was one of the pinnacle moments in my love of theatre.
  5. All My Sons at the Old Vic was firmly on my radar as soon as I knew that Sally Field and Bill Pullman would be leading the cast. It’s not every day that Hollywood legends perform on stage and certainly not a regular occurrence for that to happen in London. I will never forget the buzz of seeing them right there in front of me bringing a level of intensity to a classic play that moved me immeasurably.
  6. Blood Brothers ~ the countless amounts of times I’ve watched the show speaks volumes. Plus I LOVED Sarah Jane Buckley playing the role of Mrs Johnstone, she understudied the part so opportunities to see her were limited, but thank goodness I was able to see her.
  7. The Girls – or Calendar Girls the Musical was so good I saw it twice in the West End and I’m all set to see it on tour too. One of the best moments in the West End version was Claire Machin as Cora singing ‘Silent Night’.
  8. Club Tropicana was one of the cheesiest musicals I’d ever had the pleasure of reviewing, but it was absolutely brilliant and Kate Robbins stole the show.
  9. Cats, I’ve seen it plenty of times before, but I went to review it at New Wimbledon Theatre with my lovely friend Judy Buxton and she had never seen the show. So not only was I blown away as usual by the content, I was also overwhelmed to watch my companion’s reaction as she was overcome by the emotion of the show.
  10. Move Over Mrs Markham at The Mill at Sonning was a fantastic highlight of last year, starring the aforementioned Judy Buxton, her husband, Jeffrey Holland, plus the super talented Finty Williams. A farce de force!
  11. Sunset Boulevard at the old Comedy Theatre, London (now the Harold Pinter Theatre) was a defining moment of my 30th year – I adored Kathryn Evans as Norma Desmond and the show inspired me to have a go at treading the boards myself. In fact it was ‘With One Look’ that I used to audition to join a musical theatre company.
  12. Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre absolutely rocked my world. Imelda Staunton has long been a favourite actress of mine but this performance was on a whole new level. I will never forget Julie Legrand as Electra either!
  13. Wit at the Manchester Exchange Theatre starring Julie Hesmondhalgh has to be one of the most poignant pieces of theatre I have ever seen. She is so much more than Hayley from Coronation Street and the sublime Julie Legrand also starred in the production.
  14. I think that Jeffrey Holland is one of the most talented stage and screen actors around and his one man show And This Is My Friend Mr Laurel is exceptional – I can’t wait to watch it again.
  15. The Rocky Horror Show has to be seen to be believed and is one of my best loved musicals. Audience participation aplenty and great fun to dress up as weirdly and wonderful as we all like. Let’s do the time warp again!
  16. Evita – not only one of the most powerful Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals in my humble opinion but one that holds s many special memories. One of the most poignant being my son’s first kicks when I was expecting, it was during ‘Peron’s Latest Flame’.
  17. The Mousetrap, a legendary show that I was delighted to finally see – it’s an intricate tale and what a superb set!
  18. 42nd Street was one of the first musicals my parents took me to see so to be able to review the production in the west end last year was an amazing opportunity. Clare Halse was an incredible Peggy Sawyer.
  19. Wendy and Peter Pan at the RSC still resonates now as a production, it was magical and enticing. I loved Rebecca Johnson’s performance as Mrs Darling too.
  20. Present Laughter, the Noel Coward play was on my radar when it toured as it starred Phyllis Logan and I had been keen to see her on stage. It did not disappoint and neither did Ms Logan. Rebecca Johnson also co-starred and gave yet another excellent performance.
  21. My second experience of watching the marvel that is Phyllis Logan on stage was provided by a two-hander play called Switzerland and it was spell-binding.
  22. The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium was glorious, I’d invested my time in watching the search for Dorothy on BBC One so to be able to see the winner in action was quite something. Plus Michael Crawford was outstanding.
  23. Wind in the Willows which was also on at the London Palladium was so much fun, I loved the songs and Jenna Boyd was a real treat in her roles as well as the irrepressible Rufus Hound.
  24. Over The Rainbow starring Lisa Maxwell and Gary Wilmott was a stunning piece of theatre, heartbreaking and packed with biopic content. Maxwell’s performance was second to none.
  25. Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour was a raucous riot of a show from beginning to end and a fabulous afternoon out with the girls, especially with Hooch on offer!
  26. King Lear at the Globe Theatre was worth all the standing up to see Kevin McNally as the King and a fantastic cast – it was one of the best incarnations of the piece that I have seen.
  27. Avenue Q brings puppetry and inappropriateness galore, it’s one of the most hilarious evenings in the theatre I’ve had. You’ll not be able to get the lyrics out of your head.
  28. The Lady Vanishes is one of my favourite plays from this year so far, I’ve not been so engrossed in a mystery on stage in a long time. Tension in the auditorium created by the drama on stage was palpable.
  29. The Snowman is one of my favourite films and on stage it’s a wonder. Ballet and enchantment, it’s not to be missed and I will definitely watch it again in the future.
  30. I’d never seen Ruddigore before, however last year I was delighted to have the chance to see it at Malvern Theatres. What a performance the whole cast gave, they were a sensation.
  31. Night Must Fall was a gripping thriller I had the pleasure of reviewing in Malvern a few years ago, starring the marvellous Gwen Taylor. It’s a play I’d be interested in reviewing again as I spent so much of the previous experience on the edge of my seat!
  32. Ghost Train was another fine example of a play which left me with many questions. Judy Buxton was memorable in this as an eccentric older lady. She was great fun to watch.
  33. Anita and Me was a fine example of a poignant play set ahead of its time. and with a stellar cast too it’s one of my favourites.
  34. Brassed Off was a wonderful production which started life at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and was yet another chance to see Jeffrey Holland on stage. Beautifully done.
  35. Jersey Boys was an emotional one to watch, one of our best friends whom we lost at the end of 2016 adored the show and had seen it many times. I could see why he loved it so much, it was joyful and also informative.
  36. The Buddy Holly Story is one of my all time favourite shows, it’s got all my best loved hits in it! Of course it’s tinged with over-riding sadness but anyone who knows the story before they watch the show will be expecting the inevitable.
  37. 9 to 5 at Upstairs at the Gatehouse was such a fabulous show and worked in the small scale space. Pippa Winslow was on fire as Violet.
  38. Pippa also starred in The Sound of Music on tour and I loved that production, it was well cast and the closest to the film version that I’ve seen.
  39. Funny Girl, a show I’d managed to miss in the west end however on tour I saw Natasha Barnes, much celebrated for stepping into Sheridan Smith’s shoes and boy could I see why. Nova Skipp did an excellent job of standing in as Fanny Bryce’s mother too.
  40. Finally, nobody shines on stage quite like my husband Garry McWilliams, he’s the consummate professional even when he’s appearing in amateur production. His training at Arts Ed never fails to show and I think he’s a talented performer. I am biased, but it’s also true!
Jeffrey Holland – And This Is My Friend Mr Laurel

That’s all folks! I can’t wait to make more memories and fall in love with many more productions during the next decade. I’ve got lots in the diary so I look forward to sharing my thoughts on my theatrical meanderings during my first year in the 40s club.

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Les Miserables ~ Milton Keynes Theatre

Guest Reviewer: Hayley Makepeace

Star rating: ****

Wow, what can I say, but go and book your tickets for this show now, it is pure value for money!

Cameron Mackintosh gives an incredibly cinematic production of Boublil & Schonberg’s musical, Les Miserables. The fantastic score along with top vocals and flawless lighting provide a visual feast, as though you are watching a real life Hollywood blockbuster.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Being familiar with Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, but having never seen the stage version before, I found the character developments hard to follow and wasn’t always sure of their place in the story. Like War & Peace, this epic tale runs quickly through time periods. You need to have a keen ear on the lyrics to keep up with the plot. The songs are highly emotional and permit the characters to share their innermost thoughts and feelings with a passion the audience would find hard not to be moved by. First class performances resonated the theatre and during the second half there were many a sniffle and rustle of tissues amongst the audience. However, I expected Cosette to be far more prominent, and instead found Eponine to be more integral in this production. Tegan Bannister, as Eponine, gave a passionate and captivating performance of ‘On My Own’. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself taking this away as my highlight of the evening.

In a very dark and serious story, the Thenardier’s give a welcome light relief and raised a lot of laughter with their amusing antics. I found the touch of colour in their costumes to be endearing. As I anticipated, Sophie Louise Dann is phenomenal as Madame Thenardier and as usual did not fail to disappoint with her strong stage presence.


Visually this show is spectacular especially during the barricades, although disappointingly the stage does not revolve in this production. I was particularly taken with the use of Victor Hugo’s drawings in the backdrops. These, together with the use of very dark lighting accentuated the atmosphere of deep political & social unrest.

Overall I’d say this show is a must see and judging by the entire audience giving a heartfelt standing ovation, I’d say I’m not alone in my recommendation!

Best Availability Monday to Thursday performances. Call the theatre’s dedicated Les Misérables booking line on 01908 547669 (open Monday to Saturday, 12 – 6pm) or visit: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/les-miserables/milton-keynes-theatre/. Check daily for returns and last minute ticket releases.

Gwyn Williams Bursary Concert ~ Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

It was an evening to remember at Birmingham Conservatoire’s Bradshaw Hall on Sunday 5 May, with a bevy of musicians out in force to support and raise money for the Gwyn Williams Bursary fund. The Bursary, has been set up in memory of the late Gwyn Williams who, amongst other credits, was the leader of the Viola section in the jewel in Birmingham’s crown, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The Bursary benefits and supports talented, up and coming young violists at the Conservatoire.

Nick Bailey, our host for the evening

The concert featured a cornucopia of classical delights and quite rightly, the Viola was the star of the show. The first voice of Classic FM, Nick Bailey played host as we were treated to music from the superb John Wilson on piano, accompanying Chris Yates who now leads the Viola section of the CBSO – they kicked off the varied programme. Arpeggione Sonata, D.821 (Schubert) was the opening piece and set the tone for the rest of the inspirational evening. Wilson and Yates went on to accompany one of my all-time favourite performers, Yvonne Howard, who sang Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano (Brahms). Later on, she treated us to a stunning rendition of Casta Diva from the Bellini Opera ‘Norma’. The artists accompanying Howard’s memorable performance were a mesmerising Quartet by the name of The Behn Quartet. The talented girls who make up the string Quartet also played String Quartet No. 1 in E minor (“From My Life”) (Smetana). Peter O’Connor, flautist, was also a welcome addition to the accompaniment for Casta Diva and he entertained us thoroughly at the close of the evening in a double act with pianist, John Wilson, with Carnevale di Venezia, Op.78 (Briccialdi).

Mezzo Soprano, Yvonne Howard

One of the most poignant performances (and there were many!) was courtesy of two nineteen year old students from Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Yuxin Chen played Viola beautifully, with Yang Bai on piano – they gave us a rousing rendition of Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev. It was a fantastically dramatic display and quite literally music to my ears!

This amazing concert would not have been possible if it hadn’t have been for Gwyn Williams’ widow, Stephannie who organised the event. As a string player myself (although I’m a very rusty violinist!), I appreciate the support that such a Bursary provides for up and coming musicians and long may it continue to benefit all who need it.

Sharkwater Extinction From Award Winning Director & Renowned Activist & Conservationist, Rob Stewart

An eye-opening, epic new feature documentary Sharkwater Extinction from Rob Stewart, the award-winning director of Sharkwater and Revolution takes us on one man’s mission: to protect sharks from extinction and save the oceans before it’s too late.

More than 150 million sharks are being killed every year. The oceans are in danger. Sharks play a hugely important role to the environment. Who is the real enemy: shark or human?

We join the courageous filmmaker and renowned activist on a hugely inspirational, thrilling but hazardous journey, as he dives deep into oceans and travels across four continents to investigate the eye-watering scale of corruption, destruction and danger that the multi-billion-dollar pirate fishing industry and vast illegal shark fin trade bring.

Sharkwater Extinction stands as Rob Stewart’s legacy as he was tragically killed in a diving accident, in the final stages of shooting the film in January 2017. His parents Brian and Sandy Stewart have dedicated themselves to completing the film.

REVIEW

This thought-provoking, stunningly filmed documentary captured my interest from the get-go. My fascination in conservation and admiration for activists such as Rob has heightened in recent years. The damage we’re doing to our planet and the oceans have been highlighted and continue to be brought to our attention. Rob’s film digs deeper and plunges us into an underwater world where extinction is so horrifically imminent. As a film-maker he shows empathy, determination and overwhelming enthusiasm. I feel like I have watched everything first hand through Rob’s eyes as the perspective combined with his energy enhance the viewing experience. This film will shock you with seemingly endless revelations and heart-breaking truths. If you’re like me, it will also spark an admiration for a creature whom I usually associate with the signature tune from the Jaws movies. A fitting tribute to Rob Stewart, thanks to his parents, whom I have an interview with which they kindly gave their time to me, for:

What was it that prompted Rob’s interest in conservation? Was it a passion of his from a young age?

Rob always loved the outdoors and exploring. He was captivated by the underwater world from a very young age – and a self proclaimed “fish nerd”…! We were so fortunate to have traveled a lot as a family and every new location offered new wildlife to explore.

He was always first into the water! And was always trying to catch everything he saw….we once had to pull him out of a beautiful fountain with koi fish that he jumped into trying to catch them. 

He saw his first shark at age 9 and instantly fell in love with these majestic creatures that seemed, to him, like the last of the dinosaurs.

Not surprisingly he studied biology in university, started his photography career there and went on to become an underwater photographer.

On an assignment to the Galapagos, he discovered illegal longlining, indiscriminately killing sharks with the marine reserved and became determined to bring awareness to the issue….when traditional media didn’t work, he decided to make a movie believing that if people knew what was happening it would bring about change.  Sharkwater was the result – and from there Rob became a filmmaker, activist and deeply committed crusader for protection of sharks and the planet.

You’ve released the film in his memory, was this an easy decision and how did you decide when the right time would be?

Rob had shot over 400 hours of footage and left very detailed notes on his vision and plan for the film.  Wanting to complete the project was never a question but we had to make sure we had enough footage with Rob and could find the right editor to pull it together.

Once we went through all the footage and saw what we had – we knew it was possible – and from that point,  Editor Nick Hector began work assembling the film. 

How has the film been received? Are you pleased with the response?

We’ve had an amazing response to the film – it celebrated its world premiere at TIFF to an audience of 1800 people and a 10 minute standing ovation. From there – it has gone on to premiere at over 30 international film festivals garnering numerous awards and rave reviews. It still maintains a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes!

It opened in theatres across North America and has just started its theatrical release in the UK. It will release on ITunes and platforms and on Amazon Prime Video in July.

What is most rewarding is that people leave the film excited,  wanting to know how they can help…how they can continue Rob’s mission.

What do you think of the work that your son has done and the progress he has made in raising awareness?

We are, of course, so proud of Rob and all he has accomplished. He changed the world. He brought the issue of shark finning to the world stage and taught people that sharks were important – not menacing dangerous predators. The film changed public policy and launched numerous non-profit organizations. He continues to inspire a new generation of conservations, filmmakers and biologists.

REVOLUTION was the first film to talk about Ocean Acidification and the risk to coral reefs and the oceans.

Rob also had the most infectious, inclusive approach to his work – he believed that conservation should be fun – that fighting for what you believed in was something cool – and that eveyone was capable of  making a difference.

Is there a personal highlight for you in the film?

The fact that we were able to get the film completed and get Rob’s message out is really the highlight. Even people that didn’t know his work loved the film and even shark people learned something they didn’t know before. It’s an important film that Rob wanted everyone to see.

Also – people don’t know the many ways they are unknowingly consuming shark – through mislabeled fish products, pet food, cosmetics, fertilizers, and livestock feed. It was important to Rob to get that out – to encourage people to ask questions and to insist on more full disclosure and accuracy in labeling.
At every Q&A we do – people ask how they can check their products and what they can do to ensure they are only using those that are shark free….

What had he planned to do following the release of the film? Are you continuing with the work in his memory?

Rob always had several projects going  in various stages of development.  We plan to get them completed.

We have established the Rob Stewart Sharkwater Foundation which will ensure Rob’s mission continues – in addition to projects Rob had started, the foundation will support and encourage other filmmakers doing work inspired by Rob, continue to advocate for the protection of sharks and the oceans and launch a  “Shark Free” campaign to ensure that consumer products do not contain shark.

Huge thanks to Rob’s parents for this wonderful and insightful interview. The movie is available to download digitally today and all the info you need can be found here: Sharkwater Extinction

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