News, Reviews & Interviews

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.

On Your Feet ~ London Coliseum

Star rating: *****

Gloria Estefan is the voice of my childhood and beyond, her sound way back from the Miami Sound Machine days never seems to date and the story of her rise to fame is a fantastic basis for a musical.

Based on the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the show charts the key moments in Gloria’s life. From a soulful, bright child who was always singing; following on through to her remarkable recovery from a coach accident in later adult life. The musical shows us all of the important relationships throughout her life to date too, notably as a granddaughter, daughter, sister, wife and mother. The knockbacks from the powers whom she and Emilio needed on side to catapult her music and talents to a mainstream audience also form a strong linear as the story gives us an insight into her musical successes and struggles.

Gloria’s superb back catalogue of hits are naturally used as the soundtrack, from ‘1-2-3’ to ‘Conga’, ‘Don’t Want To Lose You Now’ and of course, ‘Get On Your Feet’. The tracks are sung in spectacular fashion by Christine Prades as Gloria herself. She’s a wonder, it’s easy to see why she was cast and I could listen to her all night. Her chemistry with George Ioannides as Emilio was on point and together they were a force to be reckoned with. Madalena Alberto who’s long been a favourite of mine is outstanding as Gloria Fajardo, Gloria’s mother – she has a few moments to shine and makes the most of every one. Elia Lo Taura also puts in an impressive performance a Gloria’s father. He suffered from MS and it can have been no mean feat to have portrayed that on stage. Karen Mann stole the show as Consuelo, she really was the lynchpin of the family and her wondrous comic timing made the character marvellously engaging. Holly McDonagh was a delight as young Gloria and Alejandro Puentes Motato was equally entertaining as Nayib/Young Emilio/Jeremy.

The ensemble are also sensational and incredibly strong in vocal ability and in the dance numbers, in fact I’d go so far as to say that a more solid ensemble I’ve not seen in a long time. They wowed with the eye-catching choreography from Sergio Trujillo.

Jerry Mitchell has directed a masterpiece which deserves as wide an audience as possible. The tale is one of love, hope, tragedy and strength as well as an abundance of musical talent. If you love Gloria Estefan you will adore this show and if you’re not familiar with her or not necessarily a fan, go and see this and you son will be. Book your tickets here for the limited run at London Coliseum: https://www.londonboxoffice.co.uk/on-your-feet-tickets

Photo credits: Johan Persson

Hobson’s Choice ~ Birmingham Royal Ballet

Star rating: *****

Celebrating David Bintley’s final season as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet couldn’t come in a more glorious form than their latest production of Hobson’s Choice which delighted a packed auditorium at Birmingham Hippodrome.

The story itself is a well-known classic, the original play which the ballet is based upon was written by Harold Brighouse. Love and the class system are running themes as we are introduced to Henry Hobson, proprietor of a boot shop where his input is lessening due to his attachment to the demon drink. His three daughters, Maggie, Alice and Vickey are all vital cogs in his enterprise, their cheap labour in the shop ensures that he can live the drunken, gluttonous lifestyle he has become accustomed to. Alice is courting Albert Prosser (a lawyer) and Vickey is courting Fred Beenstock (son of a corn merchant) – however they are denied Hobson’s blessing in marriage as he fears losing them from the shop. Although he takes Maggie’s presence and hard work for granted and could never have predicted that she had set her sights on Will Mossop, the boot hand whom their wealthiest customer has praised to the skies. The twist in the tale catalyses a chain of events that sees Hobson’s world turned upside down.

Bintley’s choreography adeptly assists the artists to convey the story clearly, concisely, comically and is remarkable in the extreme. Every dancer in the cast puts effortless characterisation into their role as well as flawless performance. Stunning pas de deux offered intricate insight into relationships and the chemistry between the couples was palpable.

Jonathan Payn earned many a giggle from the audience as he danced the role of Henry Hobson with exceptional comic timing. His cronies; Jim Heeler (Kit Holder), Sam Minns (James Barton) and Mr Tudsbury (Tom Rogers) gave a solid, engaging performance and played off one another superbly. Marion Tait was beautifully self-righteous and eloquently portrayed the upper class Mrs Hepworth. Mathias Dingman as Fred Beenstock and Rory Mackay as Albert Prosser entertained as the suitors of the younger Hobson daughters. Laura Purkiss as Vickey and Delia Mathews as Alice were delightful, they perfectly emphasised the age and immaturity of the young girls. Samara Downs offered a performance as Maggie which showed vulnerability, strength and assertiveness all in one beautiful portrayal. The synchronicity with Lachlan Monaghan as Will Mossop was a joy to behold and their facial expressions conveyed every emotion which was mirrored by every step. Monaghan’s movement was so wonderfully fluid and purposeful that he was practically singing as well as dancing.

Accompanied by Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Phillip Ellis and lead by Robert Gibbs, with a set that framed the action so ornately – this particular ballet has a place in my heart. It’s a perfect first ballet for anyone who hasn’t been before, equally a must-see for ballet aficionados. Look out for the cymbal player in the Salvation Army scene too, I’m still chuckling now! Book your tickets to see the production, here: hobsons-choice

Photo Credits: BRB

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

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

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.

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.

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