Toy Story 4 ~ Malvern Cinemas

Star rating: *****

In my humble opinion this is one of the best Toy Story movies in the franchise – and I love the first three so I’m sticking my neck out here! There are so many new characters that entertained me combined with the originals and of course a number of them who joined the cast in the third film. My little boy loves Forky, and his antics are the making of this story.

We catch up with the gang when Bonnie is getting ready to go to kindergarten and Woody is no longer in favour, he’s been relegated to the closet. However, regardless of Bonnie’s disinterest, he’s hell-bent on making her kindergarten orientation day go without a hitch. It’s here we meet Forky – he thinks he’s trash and Woody is making it his mission to keep Forky out of the bin and in Bonnie’s clutches as her toy.

The other main storyline follows a previously unknown backstory which clears up the mysterious disappearance of Bo Peep from the third film. When Woody happens upon the antiques store which has been her home, there’s danger, adventure, chaos and a lot of laughs along the way. We meet Bunny and Ducky, carnival game prizes waiting for a kid to take them home, Gabby Gabby – a rather tapped doll who’s really just trying to find a kid to form a bond with and Duke Caboom, he was rejected by a kid and now he’s stuck in the antiques store, posing!

It’s a race against time for Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep and co. to rescue Forky from the clutches of Gabby Gabby and her creepy ventriloquist dummy accomplices. Considering it’s an animation I find myself getting emotionally invested in the characters and the story, I definitely shed a tear or two along the way.

Tom Hanks is back as Woody with Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, Joan Cusack as Jessie and Annie Potts as Bo Peep. Tony Hale plays Forky, he gets funnier as the movie progresses, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are a hilarious double act as Ducky and Bunny, while Keanu Reeves is superb as Duke Caboom. Buttercup the Unicorn (Jeff Garlin) deserves a mention too for constantly suggesting that they try and get Bonnie’s dad arrested.

I want a fifth film please – I haven’t finished with the toys yet!

Malvern Cinemas is one of our favourite cinemas, if you want to experience it too: www.malvern-theatres.co.uk

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The Queen’s Corgi ~ Malvern Cinemas

Star rating: *****

The Queen’s Corgi has it all as far as family films go – it’s a fast-paced animation with a story my five year old could easily follow. There’s plenty of comedy for the adults plus many well-known voices playing the characters too.

The storyline revolves around Rex, he’s a Corgi puppy purchased as a gift by Prince Phillip for the Queen. Rex quickly becomes the Queen’s pride and joy, overtaking the other three Corgis in Her Majesty’s affections. Charlie, a particularly pompous Corgi at the palace spies an opportunity to take his rival’s place. He makes a grand show of being Rex’s best friend while simultaneously plotting his downfall. When Donald and Melania Trump visit the Palace with their precocious pampered pooch, Mitzi – Rex is happy to take Charlie’s suggestion of doing a runner when his disastrous ‘date’ with Mitzi ends in him biting the President. Charlie’s malicious actions leave Rex for dead, however little does Charlie know that the Queen’s top dog is alive and trying to survive in a dog pound. It’s there that he falls in love, faces a bully and makes lifelong friends.

It’s a wonderfully watchable movie with heart, humour and superb characterisation. Julie Walters is remarkable as the Queen, she sounds just like her the majority of the time and the moments where it’s obvious it’s Walters playing the role add an extra dimension to the character. Tom Courtenay is a fine choice for the Duke of Edinburgh. Jack Whitehall gives energy and verve to the role of Rex, while Sheridan Smith is instantly recognisable as Wanda – the love interest from the pound, she even has the opportunity to sing! Ray Winstone couldn’t be more perfect as Tyson the bully boy of the pound who organises fight club (that nobody talks about!). Sarah Hadland is on point as Mitzi the glamour dog who’s on the look out for a mate on the presidential visit. Matt Lucas is exceptional as Charlie, I had no idea I was him voicing the character! If you’re looking for mimics of course you come to Jon Culshaw and Debra Stephenson to play the Trumps and indeed they voice two of the dogs too.

It’s a fantastic way of getting the kids out the house and keeping the entertained at the cinema. I could watch it again and again and it certainly kept my school holidaying child happy!

To visit Malvern Cinemas click here: https://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk/venue/cinema/

Entertainment Views Interview: Phil Walker ~ Presenter of The Story of Guitar Heroes

The Story of Guitar Heroes is an awe-inspiring, dynamic show which transports you through time: from the 1950’s with artistes such as Chuck Berry and Hank Marvin from The Shadows, including gifted legends such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, through to modern day players such as the great Brian May and the electrifying Steve Vai, to name but a few!

Presented by guitar virtuoso Phil Walker – this show’s extraordinarily talented band uses over 30 guitars to recreate and accurately reproduce the sound and ambiance of each guitar hero. Featuring video footage of historical moments, with state-of-the-art lighting and delivered with a light-hearted vibe – this makes for a truly sensational and enjoyable evening.

Now in its 5th year, The Story of Guitar Heroes has become increasingly popular not only with many guitar players and musicians, but with people and families of all ages.

I caught up with Phil to find out more about this fantastic show….

Tell me about the show and the concept

The show is what I would call a live ‘rockumentary.’ We pay homepage to some of the greatest guitar heroes of all time. Rather than a lool-a-like show, what we do is recreate the sound and ambience of around 30 guitar heroes as accurately as we can. We have really focused on the detail in recreating their sounds, to the extent that we even use the same model of guitar as the particular guitar hero used (hence needing so many guitars to do the Show!). 

What can the audience expect from the production? 

There is a full live band on stage, video screens (with some really interesting footage) of guitar heroes and their stories, as well as a fantastic light show. We use over 30 guitars to recreate the sound of each hero we pay homage to.
The show runs on a timeline so we start in the 1950’s with people like Chuck Berry and Hank Marvin and make our way through time to guitar heroes of today such as Brian May, Slash and Steve Vai. 

When did you first become interested in the guitar?
My Dad was a guitar player in the sixties and he decided to pick the guitar up again, after having a break from it, when I was around six years old.  My Dad always had The Shadows and Eddie Cochran records on, and when I saw the guitar that was it – I was hooked!

Who are your guitar heroes? 

I grew up listening to The Shadows so Hank Marvin was a big guitar hero to me (and still is). 
I’m also a fan of Albert Lee and Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits, as well as a country player called Brad Paisley. This list could go on….haha!

Have you any favourite venues on tour?

I quite like playing in some of the really old style theatres. It makes you wonder who has actually stood where I’m standing. 

What is your all-time favourite riff and why?

I really like playing the fast part of the end solo in Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits. You don’t use a plectrum so you have to be so accurate or it just doesn’t sound the same.  

If you could go to a gig with any five guitar heroes who would they be and why?

Hank Marvin because I have so many questions from when I was growing up. 
Mark Knoplfer because he just seems so down to earth. 
Brad Paisley because he has a great sense of humour and he wears a cowboy hat. I would also wear a cowboy if I was with him. I wouldn’t if I was on my own, I’d feel silly!! Haha
David Gilmour. I would ask him if he misses any of the guitars he has just recently sold. 
Jimi Hendrix because he is just the coolest looking guitar player that has ever been and who wouldn’t want to be seen with Jimi Hendrix!

What are your ambitions for the show in the future?

We are hopefully going to be playing some festivals in the not too distant future so that will be something to look forward to. 
I would also love to take the show overseas, possibly America then I could go and visit the Fender factory!

Book your tickets here: http://www.storyofguitarheroes.com

The Lion King ~ Live Action Movie (Malvern Cinemas)

Star rating: *****

The Lion King has long been one of my best loved Disney movie. It’s jam packed with action, tragedy, comedy and with an overriding theme of love conquering all. The beauty of the animated version never fails to amaze me. However, the live action incarnation wowed and impressed me beyond measure. It follows the same storyline and the same well-loved Disney songs are peppered throughout which it was difficult not to sing along to but they’re sung by what looks like real animals!

The attention to detail is remarkable and the setting for the movie is absolutely breath-taking. Disney are renowned for perfection and this is not exception.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, we follow the adventures Simba, a lion cub who’s next in line to the throne and the apple of his mum and dad’s eye. His Uncle Scar, who’s not a lion in favour with the pride lurks in the shadows and has been pushed further down the line of ascension courtesy of Simba’s birth. Feeling wronged, Scar is on a mission to dispose of Mufasa, his brother and his young nephew to leave the path clear for him to seize the crown. He’s relying on the help of hungry hyenas to assist with his plan. Meanwhile Simba is oblivious to his relative’s devious plot and comes a cropper at his paws a couple of times, until a stampede created by the devilish hyenas is the catalyst for Mufasa’s devastating downfall. Simba is not only bereft but also carrying the guilt that he caused his father’s death as Mufasa was trying to save him from the stampede which Scar had all but pushed his nephew into. As Simba grows in exile – he has the company of a meerkat called Timon and his bestie Pumbaa, a warthog. Scar has his ill-gotten place on the throne as King, and his hyena sidekicks are feasting like royalty beside him. Will Simba return to save the day? Nala, the lioness who was a childhood friend and his betrothed according to law, is certainly not going to sit back and let chaos reign supreme.

The unmistakable velvet voice of James Earl Jones features as Mufasa, who else could have brought such wisdom, knowledge and authority to the King of the Jungle? He is joined by the talents of Chitiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, he was just as demonic as Jeremy Irons was in the role. There’s also Beyonce Knowles-Carter as Nala, JD McCrary as young Simba, Donald Glover as the adult Simba, Billy Eichner as Timon alongside the fantastic Seth Rogen as Pumbaa. Florence Kasumba as Shenzi the Hyena was a menacing presence for sure. John Oliver gave a memorable performance as Zazu.

My highlights of the film revolved around the numerous moments of laugh out loud comedy – from Timon and Pumbaa’s interactions and the addition of other animals in their fabulous rendition of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’! The hyenas also provided much entertainment as they bantered between themselves. Zazu was also as comedic as in the original animation, John Oliver has put his own stamp on it.

The sound department have done a superb job and the entire creative team should be proud of a wonderful achievement, as a live action movie so far it’s my favourite.

Malvern Cinemas is an amazing setting to watch a movie in – why not check out their listings and book to see a film there: Malvern Cinemas

In the Night Garden… Live

Star rating: *****

My five year old boy has been brought up on Cbeebies’ In the Night Garden, Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka and the Pontipines as well as the Tombliboos and Haahoos have all be regular features in our living rom over the years. My boy is no stranger to that particular television show and also no stranger to the theatre, so although he’s on the cusp of beginning year one at primary school, this combination of an old favourite appearing on stage delighted him.

The packed house were equally delighted it seems as children of varying pre-school ages took in what might have been their first theatrical experience. What better place to start a child off with experiences of live shows than with their TV heroes.

The show could well have jumped out of the television screen and onto the stage at the Birmingham Rep, it was that well done. All the popular characters are there either as large as life or in puppet form. The little boat starts us off with Igglepiggle on board and the story we follow takes the same format as an episode takes. Igglepiggle meets Uspy Daisy, Makka Pakka is on hand to wash Igglepiggle’s face and the Pontipines and Tombliboos are going about their business as usual. All of the action is played out against a fantastically versatile set which recreates all the well-known scenery from the TV show. The puppeteers do a superb job and their engaging, smiley and expressionful faces lend themselves brilliantly to the genre of the production. They work as a tight knit team and it’s a like watching a well oiled machine in progress.

The magic of theatre is all around, never more so than when both the Ninky Nonk and Pinky Ponk make their respective appearances, the latter in a spectacular way!

Joy on the faces of young children in a theatre is one of the best things ever and if you have a youngster you’re thinking of bringing to the theatre – if they live this show already they will adore seeing it live. Book now: in-the-night-garden-live

L’arlesiana ~ Opera Holland Park

Star rating: ****

Francesco Cilea’s L’arlesiana is an Opera I wasn’t at all familiar with prior to my glorious trip to Opera Holland Park at the weekend. However, the cast de force had put it on my radar and the performances given in the intense, powerful three act Opera have cemented it as one of my favourite Operatic experiences to date.

Sung in Italian with English surtitles, it wasn’t initially easy to follow, however once the tale took off and the intricacy of the relationships between the central characters unfolded, I was hooked. The story revolves around Federico (Samuel Sakker) and indeed his mother’s world centres around him too, that’s Rosa Mamai (Yvonne Howard), she’s obsessed with her eldest son and his happiness. She has a younger Son too, L’innocente (Samantha Price) and he is dismissed as a simpleton, even though he’s usually hovering on the edge of the action – listening and learning. Baldassare (Keel Watson) is the wise friend everyone seeks out for advice, akin to Old Deuteronomy from Cats, he’s always there to help and has the respect of his friends. Federico is in love with a girl from Arles, she has bewitched him and even his Uncle Marco (James Cleverton) approves of his choice. However, all is not as it seems, it takes a visit from jealous love rival, Metifio (Simon Wilding) to bring Federico to the realisation that his love from Arles is not true to him. Meanwhile, Vivetta (Fflur Wyn), whom Federico has known for years, really is in love with him and Rosa Mamai is keen that she be the distraction her son needs in his hour of anguish.

It’s a rollercoaster, the build up and pace occasionally slow – however the good, bad and ugly elements of love are dealt with in detail. The tale cleverly lulls the watcher into a false sense of security as it appears that Federico’s head has been turned, Metifio is off the scene and Rosa Mamai believes her pride and joy is happy…

The set instantly transported me to a quaint farmyard, it was such a simple design yet provided maximum effect and fit the period superbly. The Opera Holland Park Chorus were a tight ensemble adding an extra dimension to the seven-strong cast. Samuel Sakker has an extraordinary voice, he gave a passionate, pained and well-balanced performance as the love-torn, pampered son. Samantha Price gave a beautifully engaging and nuanced performance as his young brother, I saw her play Iolanthe for English National Opera and she never fails to impress me. Keel Watson was a strong and confident presence in the role of Baldassare and James Cleverton was suave with an instantaneous air of confidence as Marco. Fflur Wyn wowed as Vivetta – such powerfully stunning vocals and the acting ability to match. Simon Wilding is a performer whom I am familiar with and he cut a menacing figure as Metifio. Stealing the production as the doting, obsessive mother – Yvonne Howard as Rosa Mamai. Not only did her vocals match the splendour of her heart-wrenching performance, the raw emotion she delivered in every nuance resonated. You could hear a pin drop during her act three aria.

Towards the close of the second act I found myself so entranced by the action on stage that my glance left the English surtitles while I got caught up in the emotion. It’s an Opera I’d be happy to watch again, however I will always remember my first viewing in such amazing surroundings. If you want to book your tickets to see it for yourself, follow the link: operahollandpark.com/productions/larlesiana/

Beecham House ~ Feature Article

The ‘Delhi Downton’ has closed its doors, which means that Sunday nights will be a little dull now that Beecham House is no longer filling a prime time spot. However, the good news is that its available to purchase on DVD. Did you watch the series? What were your thoughts? Were you as gripped as I was? Here’s my review of what became a must-watch for me:

Photo Credits ITV

Gurinder Chadha’s Beecham House grabbed my attention from the opening scene, it was fairly obvious that one of the main actors in the show was not going to die – however the fact that John Beecham (Tom Bateman) was shot in opening scenes had me on the edge of my seat from the outset. Three years later and we see that Mr Beecham has not succumbed to his wound and arrives at a spectacular Delhi Mansion with a half-cast baby in tow whom he appears paternal towards. In India in the late 18th century, the period in which the series is set, France and England were battling it out to reign supreme. This historical undercurrent runs through the whole series.

Beecham certainly appears to have an eye for the ladies, and he’s already been established as a heroic figure having saved a group of rich Indians from bandits in the opening sequence. His past career involves working for the East India Company where his brother Daniel (Leo Suter) is still a Soldier – however what he’s looking for now is to trade.

Beecham is also keenly aware of his mother’s imminent arrival, the bold and forthright Henrietta Beecham who has travelled all the way from England to stay at Beecham House having not seen her son for years. Lesley Nicol plays her and is predictably superb as the meddling matchmaker. Bessie Carter (daughter of Jim Carter (yes that’s Mr Carson from Downton Abbey) and the multi-talented Imedla Staunton) plays Henrietta’s companion, Violet and she’s got her heart set on a proposal of marriage from Beecham – although that does not appear to be forthcoming. Especially as he also has another beautiful lady on his radar, Governess, Margaret Osbourne (Dakota Blue Richards).

The scenery is breath-taking, the costumes are eye-catchingly spectacular and the casting is on point. Twists, turns and all the ingredients for a watchable period drama and its easy to see why the Downton reference is made. Enjoy it, it’s a treat indeed.

Here are a few words from cast members Tom Bateman and Lesley Nicol:

Tom Bateman

What attracted you to the role?

For me it always comes down to script and characters. I was sent the first three scripts and I really wanted to know what happened next. I got very invested in all the characters. There’s a great line that John says which is, ‘I’m not here to build walls’ and I thought the idea of working with two very different cultures would be very interesting.

Why is John Beecham so appealing to play?

I’ve never played a character with so much weight to him, and that appealed to me straight away. My characters are normally quite energetic, but John is very strong, quite hard and you don’t really know who he is at first. He internalises, he’s a man of mystery. He’s got a baby but there’s no mother and he doesn’t tell anybody anything about that, which instantly makes you think something’s going on because otherwise why wouldn’t he just tell people who the baby’s mother is? He’s inherently a very good man who’s trying to do the right thing, but he’s been through the wars. He’s also very forward-thinking. He left the East India Company because he didn’t agree with the way they did things which, at the time, was very bold. A lot of people just went along with it and didn’t question it but he refused to be part of it. For someone to stand up against the norm makes them very intriguing to me.

Is the series an ensemble piece?

It’s called Beecham House and there are quite a few Beechams – me, my mum, my brother, plus the wonderful Bessie [Carter] who plays a family friend, [Violet Woodhouse]. There are lots of other characters associated with the house, who are inspiring to work alongside. What I loved about it was that we all had great stories. Even characters who have slightly smaller roles in terms of being on screen, they have a falling-in-love story or a political story. Every moment they appear is very rich. Nobody was sitting there going, ‘I wish I was in it a bit more’. It was wonderful.

What’s John’s relationship like with his family?

He’s being pulled in lots of different directions by lots of different people: his mum, his brother, a love interest or two! Just give the guy a break! He starts the series on his own, and by the end things have changed a lot. He thought he’d lost his brother forever, he hadn’t seen his mother for years, he was very independent, then they all come together again.

What do you think viewers like about period drama?

They look beautiful, they’re very rich in composition. You’re instantly in another world. And horses! You don’t get to see horses that often. But for me, the reason I love filming period dramas, is that they instantly make you act differently. People don’t talk about their feelings as much. They don’t say, ‘Oh, I really fancy you’. And you don’t touch each other. So you have to find another way of expressing those feelings which is really fun. There was a scene in Vanity Fair in which Olivia [Cooke] and I can’t say how we feel, because it wasn’t done, but my character is going to [the Battle of] Waterloo and it was so rich and dramatic. You’re torn between what you want to say and what you’re allowed to say. And it oozes sexiness because you’re watching and going, ‘God, just kiss her!’ It’s like Mr Darcy and Lizzy Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. You know they’re going to get together but it takes six hours of anticipation to get there.

Lesley Nicol

What was it about the character of Henrietta that attracted you to the role?

It was a number of things, actually. I was very attracted to the fact it was a different kind of role for me. This character gave me something meaty and very different from what I’ve been doing. I absolutely love India. I did a movie there ten years ago called West is West, so to go back was a huge draw. Gurinder was another big draw and I knew they were getting top people on board for cast and crew, and it’s ITV primetime, so what’s not to like! It was a lovely thing to land on the doorstep.

Who is Henrietta?

She’s John’s mother. On the face of it she’s a very respectable, god-fearing, upper middle class woman, very conservative. She comes over to India on a very long boat trip with her companion Violet who’s played by Bessie Carter. They have this hideous journey and when they arrive they’re completely poleaxed because everything is so foreign to them.

What’s Henrietta’s relationship like with Violet?

Well Violet is unmarried and desperate to find a husband. She’s the daughter of a dear friend and so Henrietta asked her to come along as her companion and Violet does that very well. They play cards together and have a very good relationship. But the bottom line is that Violet does want a husband and as far as Henrietta is concerned, John is a very good-looking and a kind man with a certain amount of wealth with an amazing house, so she’s very much hoping to position John and Violet together so that they eventually get married and come back to England.

It appears that John has secrets at Beecham House?

When they arrive they’re introduced to Margaret Osborne [played by Dakota Blue Richards]. They don’t know who Margaret is but she looks very settled in his company and they think, ‘hang on a minute!’ So they’re not very nice to Margaret. Then other women turn up and there’s a baby and they’re very confused about who’s who and what’s what.


Is John pleased to be reunited with his mother?

They haven’t seen each other for 12 years so he’s totally different from last time she saw him. He’s older, wiser. She has two sons and they’re both in India. There’s definitely a base love that they all have for each other. But Henrietta is challenging, there’s no doubt about it, and he’s not been quite ready to tell her everything that’s going on in his life when she turns up. She has to try and deal with all of this information and she’s not easy to be around because the whole experience has thrown her so much.

What’s happened to John’s father?

He was a bad’un and got taken to Australia. He was a gambler and a drinker. He gets mentioned occasionally but he’s absent so there’s a sadness there because she was left on her own which was awful in those days. Her brother took her in, then he died. So that’s one of the reasons for coming to India, as she’s all alone.

What are Henrietta’s character traits?

She is tough, but she’s from a very narrow world. And suddenly she’s in a household with dozens of servants, the food’s all wrong, she gets bitten by mosquitos, she will not wear anything cooler even though it’s baking hot. It’s a different religion, it’s all completely foreign to her. But what’s nice about this character and the arc of her journey is that she does learn and adjust.

Did you do any research into the politics of the time?

I did actually because I didn’t know this period. It’s earlier than I’m used to. I read quite a lot, I did a bit of digging because I wanted to know what it would have been like for her. There weren’t many white women in India at that time. The white men often formed liaisons with Indian women so Henrietta was the outsider in every sense really. I found the political element quite fascinating. About the East India Company and the corruption and the bad behaviour of that time. John Beecham is trying to form a business, but he finds it hard because everyone is terribly suspicious and there are people trying to derail him. But what I like about this series is that all the characters are on a journey. Henrietta and Violet are. The staff in the house are because they have this man turn up who they don’t know and it changes their household completely. Everybody is having a major shift, whoever they are.

Beecham House is drawing comparisons with Downton Abbey, partly because it’s about the servants as much as the landlord of the house. What do you think about that?

People are comparing it but I don’t think it’s any more comparable than that really. It’s a different period, a different country. It’s a house with servants and people upstairs but it’s a whole different tone, a whole different feel to it.

Make sure you get your hands on a copy of Beecham House on DVD, it’s gripping viewing and was released on 22nd July.

Annie ~ Birmingham Hippodrome

Star rating: *****

I’ve seen Annie many times, I first fell in love with the movie when I was 6 years old so I know the show inside out. This was the first time my little boy (aged 5) had been introduced to it and it has certainly left an impression on him for all the right reasons.

The show follows a straight forward story of an orphanage, badly run and homing little orphan Annie who is convinced that she is special because she isn’t an orphan and her folks are still alive, due to come for her at any time. That’s due to the broken locket she wears around her neck and a note that states they will be back for her and they have kept the other half of the locket. The fortunes of the spunky little girl are set to take a turn for the better when she coerces Billionaire, Oliver Warbucks’ secretary, Grace into choosing her to be taken under their roof for the festive season. This big adventure occurs despite the meddling of Orphanage Manager, Miss Hannigan – she’s rotten through and through but perhaps not so clever and conniving as her brother Rooster and his latest ‘moll’ Lily St Regis (named after the hotel!). It’s a race against time with the help of President Roosevelt no less, to stop the wicked trio from scuppering Annie’s chances of adoption.

The songs from the musical score are superb and timeless, from ‘It’s the Hard-Knock Life’ to ‘Easy Street’ to ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile’ – they’re toe-tapping numbers you can’t help singing along to.

This particular production is spectacular, the set is stunning and fits the era beautifully. Scene changes are seamless and the ensemble are a well-oiled machine in their timings. The orphans are a delight, all with belting voices and surely big careers ahead of them in years to come.

Freya Yates is a perfect choice for the title role, she brought heart, soul and oomph to the part of Annie. She had lovely chemistry with Alex Bourne who cut a dashing figure as Oliver Warbucks. Carolyn Maitland was gentility itself as the secretary who steals Warbucks’ heart, Grace Farrell. Richard Meek gives an energetic, sly and slippery performance as Rooster, Miss Hannigan’s jailbird brother – he simpers and plots with Jenny Gayner as Lily St Regis. Gayner is a terrific choice for the role, I’d seen her step into the spotlight as Annie in the Calendar Girls musical in the West End and she was a sensation then – she is exceptional as Lily. Stealing the show just ever so slightly though, is the fantastic Jodie Prenger as Miss Hannigan. I’ve seen many actors play the role and no-one is a patch on her. From the comic timing, the facial expressions and interaction with the juvenile performers, to the show-stopping performance of ‘Little Girls’ and ‘Easy Street’. Prenger has to be seen to be believed, she is flawless – the best Hannigan ever.

With three weeks to catch this fabulous production at Birmingham Hippodrome, I whole-heartedly suggest you beg, borrow or steal a ticket (Rooster will help you out!). With all of the uncertainty in the world we live in, a show full of hope is just what’s needed.

Book your tickets here: Birmingham_Hippodrome

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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