Calendar Girls The Musical ~ Birmingham Hippodrome

Last night I was lucky enough to go and see one of my favourite musicals, courtesy of a 40th birthday present from one of my besties from my baby group days. The Girls, as it was titled when I first saw this uplifting show in the West End (twice) quickly became a firm favourite of mine. With a stellar cast, a beautiful and often funny score and a story that most are familiar with at the heart of the show. This is by no means a review, as I wasn’t on duty last night, however I can’t miss the opportunity of filling you all in on my first experience of my favourite show on its tour.

If you’re not familiar with the story then check out the write-up via this link, as opposed to letting me bore you with it: Calendar Girls Musical Story So Far

At Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre last night I was moved to tears, laughing out loud and sobbing. The touring production has lost none of the magic created in the west end. There are noticeable tweaks, and I listen to the soundtrack in my care on an almost daily basis so I know the show well considering I’d only taken two trips to see it in the west end.

The set is simpler, although I felt that left room for the lighting to take centre stage and that was fascinatingly atmospheric. Some of the scenes are played differently, the Knapely fete is not quite so elaborate, however the lyrics and performances from the cast more than make up for that. Silent Night is one of my best loved songs and that particular number has been played down in comparison to the piece de resistance it was in the west end’s version.

The cast have mostly familiar to me as faces from the telly, Julia Hills plays Ruth and to me she has always been Rona in BBC One’s 2 Point 4 Children. I was gloriously taken aback by her stunning singing voice and she brought Ruth to life beautifully. Rebecca Storm who plays Chris, I remember seeing as the Mistress in Evita a fair few years ago, she was a force to be reckoned with, in fact you might say she stormed it! (pardon the pun!). The audience reacted enthusiastically to her rendition of Sunflower. Sue Devaney is another favourite of mine, most memorable perhaps as the character who ordered the toast in Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies. Cora was a fantastic fit for her, she brought her natural comedic talent and a touch of humility to the role, plus what a voice. The there’s Lisa Maxwell as Celia, slightly understated I felt yet she shone in the role and I already knew how wonderfully she can sing so Had A Little Work Done was one of the highlights of the evening. Lesley Joseph, much loved as Dorian in Birds of a Feather, has stood in for Ruth Madoc as Jessie and she’s doing a fine job.

I’ve long been a fan of Sarah Jane Buckley, from her Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks days through to seeing her both as Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers. Once I knew of her vocal capabilities I immediately visualised her as Annie in Calendar Girls. She more than exceeded more expectations, the part fits her like a glove. I felt that she captured the essence of Julie Walters’ take on the role when she played Annie in the film version, combined with her own brilliant stamp. Every emotion was conveyed intricately which was no mean feat in a large auditorium and her rendition of Kilimanjaro blew me away. Plus the chemistry she has with Storm as Chris is key to the tale and works amazingly well.

I’m looking forward to officially reviewing the show later in the year, but in the meantime, I’m so glad to have had the chance to see Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s masterpiece in my home city. Book to see the show on tour, you won’t regret it: Calendar Girls The Musical

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Zog ~ Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

When I heard that Julia Donaldson’s fabulous book, Zog was going to be performed as a live stage show with puppets, I thought – what a good idea! A golden star to the team who came up with the idea…

A cast of five performs the tale, they bring it to life with puppetry, playing instruments on stage and acting out each character. It’s a truly incredible feat when the talented five-some seamlessly move between playing a character, operating a puppet or playing a variety of different instruments. This innovative continuum does not break the story and keeps the flow of the tale brilliantly.

Emily Benjamin plays Princess Pearl and also performs in the ensemble. She’s entertaining and energetic to watch as she makes good use of the functional set. Robert Ginty plays Sir Gadabout and other characters in the ensemble and he demonstrates excellent comic timing. Elliot MacKenzie is Zog and he’s just the right stature and has accurate characteristics for the role. Dixie McDevitt kept the audience participating with the rabbit puppets and also entertained overall as a member of the ensemble. Euan Wilson shone as Madame Dragon, he was the epitome of strict school ma’am and gave a very physical performance.

As we go on Zog’s journey in his quest to win a golden star from Madame Dragon at school, it’s a wonderful window into the world of a young dragon. Reception age and year one children in particular should identify with the element of school and wanting to impress and do their best in a new environment with a disciplinarian at the helm.

Having said that, my five year old lost interest on a couple of occasions and I felt that he would have been more engaged is the dragon puppets had made more appearances. I felt there was some confusion on his part as to why the puppets were there and the performers were also there dressed as dragons. Maybe one or the other would have been better? The script varies from the dialogue I know so well from the book too. There was no mention of ‘what a good idea’ really or the zig-zagging through the blue, so it was disappointing from that perspective.

As a piece of theatre it was enjoyable and beautifully thought out, however the synchronicity with the much loved book was lacking. It’s a great way to encourage the younger audience member into the theatre though.

Book your tickets to see Zog on tour: http://zoglive.com

Photo Credits: Helen Maybanks

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.

Club Tropicana The Musical ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Star rating: *****

Club Tropicana drinks are free, fun and sunshine there’s enough for everyone… and Club Tropicana The Musical certainly encompasses fun, sunshine and epitomises the feel-good theatre production.

With all the horrors of hell we read about in the news on an almost hourly basis, the opportunity to sit in an auditorium packed with people who were out for a good time in their 80’s throwback outfits was too good to miss. Club Tropicana is a musical packed to the rafters with popular 80’s hits from ‘Fantastic Day’ to ‘Addicted To Love’ to ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’. I reminisced on my childhood and couldn’t wait to get on my feet with the enthusiastic crowd during the energy-infused finale.

The storyline is flimsy and ultimately cheesy, bride dumps groom on wedding day, groom and two mates go on honeymoon, bride and her two mates have the same idea. The hotel they holiday at is Club Tropicana and this particular venue for sun seekers is entered into a competition. There’s a will they/won’t they situation going on with the two managers, with over-riding concerns that the judge of the hotel competition is sneaking about. Meanwhile a flamboyant host by the name of Garry is trying his best to put a smile on everybody’s face and put-upon colleague, Consuela is causing chaos and hilarity with her ideas and signs!

Joe McElderry lights up the stage with his exceptional stage presence as Garry, his flamingo jacket looks spectacular! Of course, McElderry’s vocal ability is incredible so lent itself brilliantly to the musical numbers. Neil McDermott was superbly cast as Hotel Manager, Robert and had wonderful chemistry opposite Amelle Berrabah as Serena, she’s been in love with Robert for years and it’s a sweet story to watch as it unfolds. Amelle’s singing voice is as beautiful and powerful as I remember in her Sugarbabes days. Karina Hind gave an engaging performance as the bride with cold feet, Lorraine. Well matched with Cellen Chugg Jones as jilted groom, Olly and their duet ‘Take On Me’ was pitch perfect, a real highlight of the show. Emily Tierney was on form as Christine, the feared Hotel Inspector who is not who everybody thinks she is. An overt character, she played her as a combination of Tanya from Mama Mia mixed with Cruella de Vil! A hilarious caricature of a person whom Tierney embraced. Stealing the show was the genius that is the amazing Kate Robbins, I’ve long admired her ability to mimic famous voices and her comic timing made for an audience who were in fits of laughter every time she appeared. As Consuela, Robbins was almost given free reign to be as outlandish and comical as she can be and to be able to cleverly interweave just a handful of the celebrities she can impersonate was the cherry on the cake. What a fabulous showcase of a wonderful artist.

Kudos to the Directors; Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston, the set and costume design by Diego Pitarch was simply glorious and choreography also by Nick Winston was sensational.

If you’re looking for a rollicking good night out with an easy-viewing plot, plenty to sing along to and a cast who are all at the top of their game, this is the one for you. Club Tropicana stays at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 4 May, book your tickets now and I bet you’ll feel like you Just Can’t Get Enough! Club Tropicana Tickets

Half-Term at the Hippodrome ~ Review

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s the school holidays! Yet another half term has presented itself and in our case, we have a 5 year old to entertain for just over 2 weeks. Easter holidays not only bring a fortnight’s worth of fun with your offspring, they also occasionally tag on a cheeky day or two for teacher training. Everything these days costs a pound or two, even a ‘free’ trip to the local park is likely to include requests for ice cream, and of course there’s always an ice cream van to hand, jingling away! One of our saviours came in the form Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre.

My boy, Connor, joining in the street dance workshop

It’s not difficult to entice my boy into a theatre, he’s been brought up going to shows that are age appropriate for most of his short life so far – of course he has! He’s my child after all! What helped to engage him with Birmingham Hippodrome’s week of fantastic activities was the Street Dance workshop offered for 5-7 year olds by the superb Dance Xchange. This hour long session offered on Good Friday showcased and demonstrated the quality of teaching from one of their talented teachers. The small group were taught a short dance which involved some moves which my little boy was familiar with as he already has street dance classes (as well as ballet and tap!).

The children were encouraged to warm up before they were put through their paces. The end result was several proud 5-7 year olds who could perform a street dance routine – and rather brilliantly too!

After that excitement the young ones were able to play with giant Lego bricks in the coffee bar area, that was a big hit. Also ideal for kids of all ages were the crafts that were on offer. From colouring an easter egg to making one to hang up at home or you could make a protest flag to wave. It was all good creative stuff designed to inspire the holidaying youngsters and my little boy hasn’t stopped talking about it.

The giant Lego was a hit!

The most amazing part of the activities offered is that they’re all free of charge. So unless you want to buy drinks or snacks in the coffee bar, your pennies can stay in your purse.

Birmingham Hippodrome offer these opportunities in the holidays regularly, so why not keep an eye on their website to find out what they have coming up soon: https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/

Free Theatrical Workshops ~ Birmingham Hippodrome

Birmingham Hippodrome half-term workshops. Credit: Simon Hadley

Birmingham Hippodrome is staging an exciting programme of free theatrical workshops this Easter half-term. Designed with the family in mind, children of all ages will be entertained with a range of free workshops from Monday 15 – Friday 19 April.

For the first time at the Hippodrome, the theatre will host an accessible Sensory Circus (17 Apr) for children with additional needs including Autism, Asperger’s and other complex disabilities.  As well as the Sensory Circus, there will be specially created chill out spaces close-by featuring circus play tents filled with sensory toys and apparatus.

In partnership with DanceXchange, Family Yoga (15 Apr) will offer parents and their little ones the chance to spend some happy, healthy time together. In the Street Dance workshop (19 Apr) expect a Hip-Hop inspired event where kids can work up a sweat with seasoned Street Dance teachers in the lead up to B-SIDE Hip-Hop Festival, coming to Birmingham this May.

In-keeping with Easter traditions, Easter Activities (15-19 Apr) will invite families to create their own colourful eggs, plus the chance to take part in an egg-citing Easter egg trail. There’s also the chance to discover industry secrets with Stage Make-Up for Families (16 Apr), with the opportunity to create dramatic characters and artistic make-up for the stage.

Arts and crafts take centre stage in the Build your own Brum workshop (18 Apr), working with illustrator Tsz, you’ll get to redesign your very own Birmingham. You can also join a Protest Flag Making workshop (16 & 19 Apr) inspired by Les Misérables. Drop in and create a flag with a message of peace or protest.

In the Make Your Own Theatre Poster workshop (15 & 18 Apr), families can come together to create eye-catching theatrical posters inspired by some of the headlining productions that have graced the Hippodrome stage.

Birmingham Hippodrome’s free Easter activities will take place from Monday 15 – Friday 19 April. For more information visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com/easter

Olivier Awards 2019

Theatre has been my passion since I can remember and although in the past couple of years I’ve not been blogging as actively about my best loved genre of entertainment, it’s never left my radar.

Last night’s Olivier Awards reignited the theatrical spark for me and there are shows I will make it my mission to see – especially given the superb performances of excerpts from many of the nominated productions. From the magnificent Disney’s The Lion King to the stonking new musical Come From Away to Six – a pop concert style musical like no other I’ve seen before – the West End is packed with shows to suit every taste. The Tina Turner musical also looks incredible and if you heard Adrienne Warren who plays the real life legend, I’m sure you can’t fail to agree that she does Ms Turner proud and then some! Rosalie Craig made me feel alive with her rendition of Being Alive from Company and a finale featuring such wonderment as the stunning cast of Olivier winner Sir Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake was a dream come true. Jason Manford was a superb host, witty and offering up relevant comedy, I found the comment about the over-charging in theatre bars particularly poignantly funny. He showed off his musical theatre side with the fantastic Janie Dee and Ruthie Henshall in tow, which was an unexpected treat indeed.

What of the award winners in the hotly contested categories? Although I’ve yet to see the show as I don’t frequent London as often as I would like, I’m delighted for Company, Jonathan Bailey and Patti Lupone – worthy winners in the Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical category and Best Musical Revival. Judging by the immense performance given by the cast of Come From Away, their Best New Musical win (amongst other awards) was well deserved, the production stars one of my favourite performers, Jenna Boyd, it’s got to be worth a watch just to see her! Catherine Zuber should also be congratulated, her costume design for The King And I is a triumph and she should rightly be celebrated. Shout out to my favourite Donna and the Dynamos, Sara Poyzer, Kate Graham and Ricky Butt who presented that particular award in their Mamma Mia! costumes. Porgy and Bess was also on my radar and a winner from the Best Opera nominations which I had high hopes for. I must also add my congratulations to the terrific super-talent Monica Dolan for her win for Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for All About Eve. I haven’t seen the play yet but Monica Dolan is a chameleon on an actress and wows me in all she does.

Here’s the full list of winners….

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

Jonathan Bailey for Company at Gielgud Theatre

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

Patti LuPone for Company at Gielgud Theatre

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC

Come From Away – Book, Music and Lyrics: David Hein and Irene Sankoff; Music Supervisor, Arrangements: Ian Eisendrath; Orchestrations: August Eriksmoen; Musical Director/UK Music Supervisor: Alan Berry; and the band of Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre

BEST NEW DANCE PRODUCTION

Blkdog by Botis Seva at Sadler’s Wells

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DANCE

Akram Khan for his performance in Xenos at Sadler’s Wells

BEST ENTERTAINMENT AND FAMILY

A Monster Calls at The Old Vic

BEST THEATRE CHOREOGRAPHER

Kelly Devine for Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre

MAGIC RADIO BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

Company at Gielgud Theatre

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith for Tina – The Tina Turner Musical at Aldwych Theatre

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Sharon D. Clarke for Caroline, Or Change at Playhouse Theatre

CUNARD BEST REVIVAL

Summer And Smoke at Almeida Theatre and Duke of York’s Theatre

BEST NEW COMEDY

Home, I’m Darling at National Theatre – Dorfman and Duke of York’s Theatre

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN AFFILIATE THEATRE

Flesh And Bone at Soho Theatre

WHITE LIGHT AWARD FOR BEST LIGHTING DESIGN

Jon Clark for The Inheritance at Young Vic and Noël Coward Theatre

ROYAL ALBERT HALL AWARD FOR BEST SOUND DESIGN

Gareth Owen for Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Catherine Zuber for The King And I at The London Palladium

BLUE-I THEATRE TECHNOLOGY AWARD FOR BEST SET DESIGN

Bunny Christie for Company at Gielgud Theatre

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Chris Walley for The Lieutenant Of Inishmore at Noël Coward Theatre

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Monica Dolan for All About Eve at Noël Coward Theatre

BEST NEW OPERA PRODUCTION

Katya Kabanova at Royal Opera House

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN OPERA

The ensemble of Porgy And Bess at London Coliseum

BEST ACTOR

Kyle Soller for The Inheritance at Young Vic and Noël Coward Theatre

BEST ACTRESS

Patsy Ferran for Summer And Smoke at Almeida Theatre and Duke of York’s Theatre

SIR PETER HALL AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTOR

Stephen Daldry for The Inheritance at Young Vic and Noël Coward Theatre

AMERICAN AIRLINES BEST NEW PLAY

The Inheritance at Young Vic and Noël Coward Theatre

MASTERCARD BEST NEW MUSICAL

Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre

SOCIETY OF LONDON THEATRE SPECIAL AWARD

Sir Matthew Bourne

You can book tickets for the West End Theatre shows here: Break A Leg Ticket Shop

Photo Credit for Come From Away – Matthew Murphy

Other Photo Credits: YouTube

The Lady Vanishes ~ Malvern Theatres

Star Rating: *****

Take a classic thriller written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, the film version having been directed by Alfred Hitchcock, add a stellar cast and one of the most atmospheric sets I’ve seen in a long time – what do you get? A flawless production of The Lady Vanishes.

Although I was already familiar with the title of the production, initially I was unfamiliar with the story. Therefore watching the action and mystery unfold with no prior knowledge was a real treat. The scene and tone at the railway station were immediately set and there was an overriding feel of authority and fear as Hitler’s Germany reigned supreme. The characters are introduced gradually and they all have a tale to tell, while a few characters remain vague which helps to build the tension and suspense throughout. What’s evident from the outset is that clues are everywhere and dovetail perfectly when the conclusion is reached.

The story is paced to perfection by the strong ensemble, Juliet Mills shone as Miss Froy – the lady who seemingly vanishes aboard a train to England, Lorna Fitzgerald has the opportunity to demonstrate that she is capable of extraordinary stage craft – I had known her as Abi Branning in Eastenders. As Iris, the young woman who is hell bent on discovering what has happened to Miss Froy, she couldn’t have characterised better. The chemistry and sublime partnership Fitzgerald has with Matt Barber as the unintentionally comedic Max. Barber is another familiar face from the television, having starred as the husband of Lily James’ character, Lady Rose, in Downton Abbey. While Barber remains a firm favourite of mine from the series, for as a screen actor I felt he was a joy to watch – on stage he excels further and every nuance of his performance was measured and deliberate – he certainly has hidden depths. Maxwell Caulfield possessed an eerily unpleasant quality in the somewhat pivotal role of Dr Hartz, it was really easy to dislike him and suspect him. Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon often stole the show as cricketing enthusiasts and businessmen, Charters and Caldicott. Duncan’s comic timing had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. Philip Lowrie played the fairly benign Eric, apparently trying to run off with Margaret (Elizabeth Payne) yet making a dog’s dinner of their scandalous liaison. Lowrie and Payne made a watchable and believable couple – Lowrie’s years of experience on stage and screen are obvious and I was fascinated with Payne’s stage presence and superb diction.

Antony Lampard’s adaptation lends itself to the stage, brilliantly and Roy Marsden’s direction is on point as always, he’s one of my favourite directors. You’ll be sure to become an armchair sleuth as the story unfolds, chaos ensues and inevitable tragedy occurs too.

The Lady Vanishes stays at Malvern Theatres until Saturday 23rd March, book now: https://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk/whats-on/the-lady-vanishes/

Entertainment Views Interviews Star of The Full Monty UK Tour… Andrew Dunn

Dinnerladies from the genius mind of the late, great Victoria Wood remains one of my firm favourite sitcoms to this day, all these years on. The man who played Victoria’s character, Bren’s love interest, Tony – is the brilliant Andrew Dunn. Andrew is playing the role of Gerald in the UK tour of The Full Monty so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat to him about the show.

Thank you for chatting to Entertainment Views, Andrew tell me about The Full Monty and the character you’re playing.

If you’re familiar with the film, you’ll know the story. It’s set in Sheffield and set around six out of work steelworkers who get together to become male strippers. I play Gerald, he hasn’t told his wife that he’s been made redundant, he goes out ‘to work’ every morning – but he has nowhere to go and its all an act to keep up the pretence.

What do you think the strengths of the show are?

The subject matters dealt with are relevant today. It’s a feelgood piece of theatre but as the writer, Simon Beaufoy says, he’s amazed that it’s a feelgood piece when the subject matter is depression.

How does it compare to the movie version?

Unlike the musical version the play is just the same as the film. We have the dole queue scene where the lads start dancing to ‘Hot Stuff’ and we do the full monty at the end. There are big lights on stage which are supposed to ‘blind’ the audience at the end but there have been times when the audience haven’t been blinded by the lights!

What have audience reactions been like so far?

Well they’ve bought a ticket to see it because of what they think they’ll see at the end! We get standing ovations and the audience are always on our side. It’s a fun show to do, that’s why I’m still touring with it. The audience get into it and they follow the story to the end.

I can’t not mention Dinnerladies as I still love the sitcom now, what was the best thing about being part of the series?

All the people I got to work with, there’s one episode where I’m standing with the late Dame Thora Hird, Dora Bryan and Eric Sykes. I grew up watching them on television. People wanted to work with Victoria.

The series has maintained its popularity after twenty years….

Yes, and its been shown on Gold channel which helps. We also toured theatres with it and it was amazing to see that young children were watching it and giving us pictures they’d drawn of the characters. People still stop me in the street and quote lines from it.
I don’t think that she thought about the future but the way she wrote things meant that the humour is still there and relevant.  

Back to The Full Monty, why should everyone buy a ticket to come and see it?

It’s a feelgood piece and a great night at the theatre, come along and have a good night out!

The all-important link to check out the tour dates/venues and buy tickets to see The Full Monty, is here: fullmontytheplay.com/

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