News, Reviews & Interviews

Dear Zoo ~ Stafford Gatehouse Theatre

Dear Zoo is on a UK tour, book your tickets at a venue near you, here: Dear Zoo Tickets

Star rating: *****

Written by Rod Campbell, this is one of my son’s ultimate favourite books! It had to go everywhere with him when he was pre-toddler age and he knows it inside out, now. The transition to stage has been made smoothly and beautifully, with every great element of the book translated into a superb theatrical production.

The story is told by Ben, Sally and Sam the Zoo Keeper, they guided the young audience through the popular tale brilliantly. There was plenty of audience interaction and opportunities for the children to join in with songs, counting and to help regale the story.

In the various colourful crates, we see Ben receive a number of unsuitable pets from the Zoo following his letter to them, asking for a pet. There’s an elephant, he’s too big, a giraffe who’s too tall and a very naught monkey. The animal characters are either portrayed by puppetry or performed by members of the cast – every animal is engaging and for the little ones and they each have their own musical number too!

This show is the perfect running time and there’s no interval so momentum isn’t lost. If you’re looking for a family trip to the theatre, this is one of the best. As a first visit to the theatre, it’s definitely the most ideal for all young ages.

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BAFTA Film Awards 2018

For the full list of BAFTA award winners, follow the link: BAFTA Film Awards 2018

What a night, eh? From Joanna Lumley’s take-over as presenter to the display of unity from the female guests who wore black to the criticism of Kate Middleton for failing to wear black – it was all going on at this year’s film BAFTAs.

2017 saw some films of outstanding quality, I’ve been tempted by genres I might not otherwise have engaged with too. Who took home the trophies was of real interest to me and there were some hot contenders in each category.

Fun, games, and gossip aside, it truly was a remarkable evening celebrating some of the best in the film industry and there were many deserving winners. Here are a few of my highlights:

Animated Film

Coco is such a ground-breaking Disney movie, it was thoroughly deserving of the award for Animated Film. I often feel that Disney thinks outside the box with its choice of film subjects and this one definitely conforms to my theory, whilst retaining that Disney magic.

Leading Actress

Frances McDormand fascinates me, every nuance of her performance regardless of role, is measured and beautifully believable. I have yet to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – it’s top of my list to catch up on though. As an actress in every level and for all of her credits, as well as this particular role – McDormand was the obvious winner.

 

Leading Actor

I actually shouted out Gary Oldman as the winner and clapped like a seal when this was announced. Darkest Hour is a moving, stunningly shot film and Gary Oldman enhances it with the most uncanny performance. Oldman is a talent de force, however would he have sprung to mind as ideal casting for Churchill? No! An inspired choice, though. Bravo!

Supporting Actress

I, Tonya is on my list to see at the cinema this weekend, so I’m unable to comment on Allison Janney’s performance, completely. However, from the clips that have caught my attention, I had already got her pegged as the winner in this category. I can’t wait to see the full movie, I have a feeling I will want to give Janney a standing ovation in the auditorium. She’s a marvel!

Adapted Screenplay

Call Me By Your Name – how glorious is this movie? The observational sub-text and exploration of the abstract is captured in cinematography which adds a new dimension to the story. As an adaptation it’s one of the finest screenplays I’ve seen and fully deserved the win.

Films on my hit-list for 2018
  1. I, Tonya 
  2. The Shape of Water
  3. Black Panther
  4. The Incredibles 2
  5. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
I’m excited to see Margot Robbie in I, Tonya!

 

Call The Midwife, Series Seven, Episode Five ~ Review

Call the Midwife – there’s always something to cry about, I say it every week and this episode was no different. Jam packed full of emotional exchanges and scenes so beautifully filmed that each one made an impact. Here’s my personal highlights of one of my favourite episodes to date:

Picnic Panic

Violet’s (Annabelle Apsion) planning a communal outing for a picnic and in her usual panic about getting everything just right. Thankfully it’s a great success and what a gorgeous setting it was too! I loved Fred (Cliff Parisi) putting the signage on the poster the wrong way up!

Small Pox (or is it?)

When Ade Babaaro (Jordan Peters) goes into hiding having been thrown off the boat he was working aboard, he’s quick to stop anybody from touching him in case he’s infecting them with Small Pox. When Reggie (Daniel Laurie) find him and decides to take pity on him, Fred and Violet are anxious in case he’s caught it. However, when Phyllis (Linda Bassett) draws Ade’s whereabouts out of Reggie, she soon discovers that the suspected Small Pox is Leprosy. Cue a mission to get the right help and a cure for the poor chap!

Tokophobia

Learning that fear of giving birth is called Tokophobia in one of the most harrowing yet exceptional scenes ever was one of the absolute highlights of the episodes for me. Brilliant, I can’t articulate it any clearer than that!

Seeing the light

Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) has her operation scheduled for her cataract removal, I can’t help but feel that this storyline will make for more tear-jerking moments yet. There’s nobody better than Judy Parfitt to carry this story, either.

Barbara’s Back!

Barbara’s (Charlotte Richie) back to stay! That made the episode complete for me, one of my favourite characters and Richie is an amazing actress. Exciting times!

Weekend Watch ~ 17th – 18th Feb

My telly viewing at the weekend is inevitably varied, with so much to choose from I’m often recording as many television channel as I can cram onto the Sky box which I make an effort to catch up on in the week. However, last weekend I was on it like a car bonnet and managed to plonk myself in front of all of these beauties:

All Together Now!

I thought this week’s instalment was quite an emotional one – the quality of the vocal ability on the top two acts was incredible and absolutely stunning. For a bit of fun, a sing-along and some exceptionally talented individuals – this show offers the lot. I’d like a series two please!

The Voice UK

So it’s battle round next week and I’m ready for ’em – the team building rounds feel like they’ve dragged. However, it was a joy to see Olly Murs complete his team with such a class act, has he got the winner? We’ll see… I’m excited!

Casualty

What’s inspiring me about BBC One’s Casualty is the current NHS crisis which it’s dealing with superbly well. No shying away from issues which are affecting so many as staff shortages lead to chaos. Alicia (Chelsea Halfpenny) is leading the revolution from the inside – it’s probably heading in the direction of trouble! It’ll be intriguing to watch it play out, however a huge pat on the back to the writers and cast for this eye-opener.

Dancing on Ice

A double elimination and the announcement of announcements – Torvill and Dean are going to perform together again for Dancing on Ice viewers’ delectation, I can’t wait and squealed with delight! Guess who’ll have their nose glued to the box that night? The double elimination saw Antony Cotton and Donna Air leave the competition, the right two to go in my opinion. I’m not sure if Antony would have regained the momentum he had started to pick up and Donna’s performances had felt rather stagnant. I’d be happy to see any of the remaining contestants lift the trophy.

Hold the Sunset

I might be the controversial one here, but I loved this! Alison Steadman was on form as Edith with John Cleese a great match as Phil. You can never go wrong with Jason Watkins in the cast and as Edith’s son, Roger, this is a different character for him. Add Rosie Cavaliero to the mix and you’ve got a winning formula on your hands. I would agree that it was a slow start, however the one liners are there and the visual comedy, too. I’m looking forward to episode two.

 

Milkshake! Live The Magic Story Book Tour ~ Telford Oakengates Theatre

Milkshake! Live is on UK tour – check out all the dates here: Milkshake! Live Tour Tickets

Star rating: *****

If your child is a fan of the early morning television programme, Milkshake! which appears on Channel 5 or if they are fans of the popular characters whose shows are shown on the programme – they will LOVE The Magic Story Book Tour. With two presenters who are familiar from the television programme and a whole host of famous faces from a variety of children’s telly favourites, this is a show set to delight.

We were in for a treat with the gorgeous Amy Thompson and Olivia Birchenough in charge and taking on the roles of many fairy tale characters as they guided Milkshake Monkey on his quest to be a Fairy Tale Prince. What was notable about both presenters was their superb acting ability and Thompson in particular is extraordinarily exceptional at performing with a different accent. Her Geordie wolf was a particular favourite of mine!

With each fairy tale visited by Milkshake Monkey and the girls, cam a different children’s television character. Fireman Sam, Noddy, Bob the Builder, Shimmer and Shine and loads more – whatever your child’s taste, I guarantee it will be catered for. It was also glorious to visit Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Dick Whittington, I’ve missed panto season (oh yes I have!) and this was just the tonic.

You can catch the show at many venues around the UK, is one of the hottest tickets for the kids and big kids in the family.

Carmen 1808 ~ Union Theatre

Carmen 1808 stays at Union Theatre until 10th March, book tickets here: Union Theatre Box Office

Star rating: ***

Reviewed by: Francesca Mepham 

Being very familiar with Bizet’s original Opera, I was intrigued to see this re-imagining of Carmen as a musical theatre production at Union Theatre, performed by The Phil Willmott Company.

The set design instantly stood out as very impressive as the show began, with the smoky haze giving a feeling of authenticity and unrest brewing. It’s 1808 and Napoleon’s army has invaded Spain, with its brutality, inspiring Francisco Goya to paint one of his most poignant works, Los Fusilamientos del treat de mayo. Goya as the narrator is one of the highlights of this production, with Alexander Barria’s captivating lyric baritone welcoming you in to Carmen 1808.

Once Carmen is introduced on stage in the seductive shadows, as a spy for the resistance, the expectation is high for a sultry and tempting other worldly character, which Rachel Lea- Gray does with much charisma. With Bizet’s original recitative replaced by the new alternative story, by Phil Willmott, one of its most well-known and defiant songs Habanera, should be bold and engaging, but the vocal and arrangement meant it sounded restrained, rather than a rich sensual vocal tone, that would have brought it to life. I wanted to hear this number especially, explored more, vocally.

The chemistry between the whole company definitely resonated, especially between the resistance who executed Adam Haigh’s traditional Spanish high-energy choreography, with conviction. The vocals unfortunately, at times felt a bit lost in the space but with just Musical Director Teddy Clements on keyboard accompaniment, this helped to slightly conceal it. With Charlotte Haines’ strong Soprano register as noblewoman Josephina, midway through the production (as with Barria as Goya) it only reinforced the work that was needed, on the majority of the cast’s solo vocal projection, in the theatre.

Corporal Luis, the salt of the earth womanising soldier, is acted superbly by Thomas Mitchell, who gives a comic touch to Carmen 1808. As does a short musical number by a group of French Soldiers whose silliness is absolutely infectious. They contrasted with the more sensitive and aristocratic Captain Verlade, who is a tortured romantic hero played by Maximilian Marston. The scenes with his love Carmen, left you wanting to see more of the pair together on stage.

Carmen 1808 is a bold re-imagining of a classic, by Phil Willmott, which has a strong cast dramatically, but musically the songs could have been delivered with more conviction, with vocals not always being projected fully to the audience. Lea-Gray and Marston were compelling as the central love story, performed with much unexpected tenderness. The ensemble dance numbers were a joy and I could easily imagine in a theatre twice the size. Theatre is about taking risks and this production is a great example, of just how important it is to breathe new life and interpretation, in to classic works.

Photo credits: Scott Rylander 

Mamma Mia ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Mamma Mia stays at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until 24th February, book your tickets here: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre Box Office

Star rating: *****

Mamma Mia here I go again an it is glorious, I’m a huge fan of the show and indeed of Abba’s music and this exceptional piece of musical theatre ticks every box for me. It’s got a cast de force, a list of musical numbers which are instantly recognisable and have my feet tapping and lips synching. Plus with a basic set and a few trucks, we’re transported to Greece – what’s not to love? There’s eye-catching choreography which showcases a talented ensemble too.

The story follows a character called Sophie (played by the excellent triple threat, Lucy May Barker) who is on a mission to find her biological father having been raised by her mum, Donna (Helen Hobson). The reason for tracking down daddy? She’s getting married to the love of her life, Sky (Phillip Ryan) and wants the her father to walk her down the aisle. However, her mother’s diary from around the time of supposed conception cites that one of three men could be responsible for fathering the curious ‘child’. Therefore, Sophie resolves to invite Sam Carmichael (Jon Boydon), Harry Bright (Jamie Hogarth) and Bill Austin (Christopher Hollis) to her wedding in the hope of uncovering which one is the right candidate!

Cue much madcap hilarity as Sophie is reunited with her best friends and bridesmaids, Ali (Fia Houston-Hamilton) and Lisa (Blaise Colangelo) both of whom she reveals her plan to. Donna also has her best friends flying over for the occasion; man-eater Tanya (Emma Clifford) and Rosie (Rebecca Seale) who are just the sort of supportive friends you need when three of your ex fellars are suddenly staying in your Taverna. It’s an interesting journey to the altar, punctuated with classic and well-timed Abba hits, from ‘One of Us’ to ‘Dancing Queen’ to a trippy rendition of ‘Under Attack’ and there’s also my personal favourite ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’.

Helen Hobson is resplendent as Donna, she’s maternal, skittish, witty and game for a laugh – has excellent rapport with her mates and extremely believable chemistry with Sam. Emma Clifford is a laugh a minute as Tanya, she’s elegant then she’s throwing herself into silly antics with gay abandon and ‘Does Your Mamma Know’ was one of the many highlights of the show. A standing ovation must go to Rebecca Seale who stepped in to understudy the role of Rosie, she brought great life and soul to the life and soul of the party, stunning vocal ability from Seale too. Jamie Hogarth made me smile as the somewhat uptight Harry, his strong vocals lent themselves superbly to the hits and he brought a wonderfully awkward quality to the character too. Christopher Hollis was equally engaging as Aussie Bill Austin, his scenes with Rosie were brilliant, a superb pairing. Jon Boydon put real heart into the role of Sam, the feelings the character has for Donna were palpable. All three dads were notably exceptional with effortlessly natural vocals which never waivered.

If you’ve seen it before, go again, if you’ve never seen it… GO! It’s the ultimate feel-good musical and you I know you won’t be disappointed, I do, I do, I do, I do, I do!

Brief Encounter ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Brief Encounter stays at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 17 February, book your tickets here: Brief Encounter Tickets

Star rating: *****

Directed by Emma Rice, this is a fast-paced, superbly powerful, moving and yet hilarious piece of theatre. Every emotion is captured and evoked within the 90 minute production.

Brief Encounter is a widely known film, renowned for tugging at the heart strings and its stunning cinematography. In this piece, the essence of the film exists alongside a farcical element which is still in keeping with the genre and the era.

The love story at the heart of the tale beats strongly throughout with beautiful and believable chemistry between Laura (Isabel Pollen) and Alec (Jim Sturgeon). Better casting for the pair of would-be lovers I couldn’t imagine, they drew my attention and held it completely at every turn.

Beverly Rudd was easily one of my favourites among the ensemble, she was delightful as the naïve Beryl – helper in the station café bar, the addition of the scooter which she travelled about on was a detail which added an extra dimension to the characterisation. Rudd also played four other characters and was practically unrecognisable in each role. She’s a marvel, I already knew of her from Sky One’s Trollied, however she has talent which knows no bounds and a stunning singing voice to top it all off. Jos Slovick played opposite her as Beryl’s beau and he also demonstrated his musicality, another real talent and an effortlessly natural vocalist. There was excellent comedic chemistry between Rudd and Slovick. Also impressive in their performances were Lucy Thackeray as Myrtle and another character called Mary and Dean Nolan as Fred, Albert, Stephen and an usher. When he played opposite Thackeray (as Myrtle who runs the café bar) it was a joy to watch – their courtship was almost as compelling as that of Laura and Alec.

The action is punctuated by music, provided by an on-stage band which is compiled of many members of the cast. There is also a number of songs included which fit perfectly and added to the ambience, too.  The set was innovative, worked on many levels and was practical too. The use of projection was ideal for this production, especially fitting given that the original story was shown on screen. You’ll laugh, cry, might feel encouraged to sing along and then cry a few more buckets before the show’s out and the standing ovation couldn’t have been more deserved.

Moments / Empty Bed ~ Hope Theatre, Islington

Book tickets here (booking until 17th February 2018)The Hope Theatre

Reviewed by G. Wood

Star rating: ****

Pennyworth Productions present two bite size plays at The Hope Theatre this spring, both featuring the writing and acting talent of Julia Cranney, and together they make for an engaging and insightful evening. Interestingly, both titles would work for either play, as themes of isolation, mental health (and cake) echo throughout the performance and, though they differ in form and narrative structure, they make for perfect bedfellows.

The first time we meet Ava and Daniel in Moments they are both asleep, ready to start their day working in dreary jobs within the empty heart of the big city, each narrating for us the life of the other as we meander through their daily routine. Ava appears to be searching for her place in the world (there are hints of aspergers as well as a deep hunger for connection) whereas Daniel, despite his own painful history, seems to know where and who he is, their shared loneliness quite palpable. There are moments when their separate voices become one, evoking a powerful reminder of the pain of being alone in the city, before we carry on our journey through their separate eyes. Strangely, this structural device of each recording the movement of the other is both the play’s strength and weakness; there are a few points where it edges dangerously close to becoming wearisome but the pay off, whenever these two lost souls finally start to make some connection, is actually made more welcome and stronger for what has come before. As Ava, Julia Cranney delivers her written words with aplomb, drawing us gradually into the world of a fragile young woman and Simon Mattacks brings warmth, humour and an endearing awkwardness to his Security Guard Daniel, helping us forgive him his bluntness and a sometimes archaic take on the world.

Post interval is Empty Beds, Anna Reid’s simple but effective design shifting from arena to traverse as we are now staring at a train carriage; here the writer plays the eldest of three sisters, heading off to visit their brother Michael on his birthday. Immediately accessible, the play weaves neatly in real time through the strains of the sibling dynamic, bouncing from joy to anger to pain with the deftness of a truly gifted writer. Although she is sometimes hampered by the need to get characters off stage for dramatic purpose, what Cranney really nails is how no family moment ever happens without being imbued by a sense of history, how an argument is never wholly about the matter in hand, but always stained by what has come before. And director Kate Treadell guides us carefully through it all, drawing strong performances from all three actors to create a convincing picture of siblings and all the baggage that this brings. Completely unrecognisable from the first play, Cranney plays the hard edged but loving Catherine, alongside Carys Wright (beautifully ethereal as Emily) and Debbie Brannan (sensational as Michael’s twin sister Jo). There is a moment where we hear (almost imperceptibly) the train that they are on grind to a halt: perhaps a metaphor for how impossible it is for any family to move forward, especially when there is still pain and reprisal to be dealt with.

Cranney is exceptionally adept at bringing her simple observations of the world to life, be it the mass production of eggs in London or finding those hidden plug sockets on a train, and throughout the evening the truth of these smaller moments help the larger ones resonate more powerfully, helped along by an excellent cast of five (wait, four), effective design all round and Treadell’s assured direction. The Hope continues to programme top rate fringe theatre and these two bijou theatrical nuggets from Pennyworth are no exception.

 

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