Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom Live ~ The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Star rating ****

Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom has long been a television favourite of my 5 year old son’s so the opportunity to see the characters brought to life on stage was too good to miss.

With a set which was instantly recognisable as the famous Little Kingdom and most of the popular characters acting out engaging stories for the small audience members – it is a great introduction to theatre for young ones. All of the characters are played by actors which was a big draw for my little boy, although he did enjoy the transition to puppets later on in the story. Gaston the ladybird was quite realistic too as he was ably manoeuvred around the stage by his cast-mates!

Ben, Holly, Nanny Plum, King Thistle, The Wise Old Elf and Lucy are all at the heart of the tales. There’s a story about Gaston’s cave and Nanny Plum’s on her tooth fairy mission, meanwhile there’s King Thistle’s birthday party to plan! There’s plenty of audience participation and we’re still singing some of the songs at home now.

One criticism would be that the characters are not voiced by the original actors, and this was spotted by several audience members including my son. Nanny Plum is usually voiced by the same actress as voices Miss Rabbit in Peppa Pig, so her voice is distinctive.

However, if your child loves the show on TV then make sure you book your tickets to see Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom open up before your eyes, it’s a treat! Ben & Holly Live

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The Turn of the Screw ~ Garsington Opera

Star rating: *****

An astoundingly, intense, powerful and thought-provoking piece – The Turn of the Screw (music by Benjamin Britten, Libretto by Myfanwy Piper, after the story by Henry James) is making its presence known at Garsington this season and it’s a glory to behold. Conducted by Richards Farnes, the Garsington Opera Orchestra accompany the dark, twisting mystery, shrouded by the spectacular natural light that filters in through the spacious auditorium.

The story, directed meticulously by Louisa Muller, is based around the new Governess entrusted with the care of two children by their guardian and uncle. The uncle, by all accounts would like nothing more to do with his young charges and therefore passes all responsibility to the rather ‘green’ young lady. However, despite first impressions indicating that the young ones are enjoying a normal childhood, playing with toys and going to school – it soon becomes clear that there are dark forces at play. It’s a race against time for the poor young Governess and the bewildered Mrs Grose as the children’s innocence is gradually stolen before their eyes.

From the costumes, to the lighting design (kudos to Malcolm Rippeth), the atmosphere is overt from the outset with an eerie sense of foreboding underpinning the tale as it unfolds. Ed Lyon articulately conveys the prologue before deftly transforming into the devil of the piece, Peter Quint. His vocal ability is remarkable and lends itself to such a strong, assured character as the late Peter Quint. Likewise Sophie Bevan is in splendid voice as The Governess whose innocence will be tainted and whose mission is thwarted from the start. Kathleen Wilkinson gives a steady, measured performance as the mithering housekeeper, Mrs Grose. As the lately departed Miss Jessel, Katherine Broderick makes a subtle entrance through the lake – almost fading into insignificance which seemingly reflects the way that Peter Quint eventually made her feel. However, when Broderick starts to sing it’s quite a moment, her connection with the character was beautifully formed. Adrianna Forbes-Dorant as Flora and Leo Jemison as Miles should both be congratulated on flawless performances as the disturbed children at the heart of the tale. Most certainly two names to watch out for in the future.

The set is magnificent, offering plenty of doors for deeds of darkness and shadows as well as the previously mentioned lake which takes more of a central place in act two. The silence of the surrounding grounds added to the building tension and intensity – Garsington is the perfect place for such a piece.

I would liken the experience of watching this Opera for the first time, to sitting before a brilliant thriller at the cinema, such is the draw and grip of the story and the resplendent music. The notes written within the score could tell a story of their own, they are so much more than incidental. Britten is a genius and has created a musical masterpiece which the whole creative team and cast at Garsington in turn have down proud. Don’t miss it, book now before it finishes on 19th July! Garsingtonopera.org

Charlie Carter ~ Every Ounce of Love (Album Review)

Charlie Carter has released another Jazz album – it’s called ‘Every Ounce of Love’ and in my humble opinion it’s another triumph from the man with a unique sound that’s a must-listen! Released digitally on 27 June 2019 download it now Every Ounce Of Love

In the meantime, here’s my thoughts on a few of the tracks from this musical masterpiece:

‘Every Ounce of Love’ – the title track packs a punch and sets the tone for the tracks that follow. ‘Wedding Bells Are Gonna Chime’ makes me smile and has a feel-good factor to it. ‘Decide’ is one of my favourites, the melody and musicality appeal to me. ‘Turn Off The News’ feels very current and relevant and the beat is catchy and easy to get along with. Those Three Little Words stands out lyrically and has a familiarity to it.

There are collaborations with other artists too, notably Siubhan Harrison and Odette Adams who are a joy to hear. Frances Eva Lea features on a track called ‘Something Changed’ and her vocals lend an extra dimension of sound to an already engaging piece.

All the tracks tell a story and there’s a defined linear throughout the whole album. It’s one of the best compilations of original music I’ve listened to this year.

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