Touring productions are part of the vast majority of shows that I go along to review, so whittling down a short list of the top ones from 2016 is no mean feat. The task has been eased somewhat as a few of my personal idols have been treading the boards this year and their appearances were highlights in themselves. Here we go, folks:
Present Laughter tour – the winner of Break A Leg Critic’s Choice Award for best touring/regional production, I had multiple reasons for taking this show to my heart. First of all, I’ll make no bones about the fact that I have been a huge fan of one of the stars of the play, Phyllis Logan, since I was a very little girl. So to see an idol on stage was a particular delight, and she was brilliant, plus she is also now a Patron of the website. Thumbs up all round! I thought that the cast as a whole were incredible, though and as well as having the pleasure of seeing another fantastic and well-known actor tread the boards, Samuel West, I also enjoyed Rebecca Johnson’s performance. I had seen her in Wendy & Peter Pan at the RSC in 2015 and loved her, so to see her in a Noel Coward play (I am a real fan of Mr Coward’s work) was a treat. I could gush further about the production, but I think the award for the show speaks for itself and I watched it once with a press ticket in my hot little hand and paid to see it again. That always speaks volumes, too! Well done to Stephen Unwin, who directed brilliantly.
Rehearsal For Murder tour – another play on my list for so many reasons, the chance to see Amy Robbins and Robert Daws on stage together couldn’t be missed and the cast were all superb. Stellar performances from each and every one and excellent direction. It was a dramatic thriller which had me gripped and frantically trying to fathom who dunnit. It also made for terrific interval debating between my husband and I. Neither Mr Daws or Ms Robbins disappointed, either and I’m now all the keener to see them tread the boards again. My interest in thrillers was also piqued from this particular play, so it was a winner in all respects!
The Rivals tour – my first trip to Bristol Old Vic Theatre and what a pleasant one it was, too. With Break A Leg Critic’s Choice award winner, Julie Legrand as Madame Malaprop amongst a cast who worked together so smoothly and wonderfully well. It was my first introduction to the work of another one of Break A Leg’s award winner, Lee Mengo as Bob Acres. Although I was familiar with the play, I had not seen it performed before, and my face ached from laughing. The entire production was a joy from start to finish, the theatre had a welcoming and enticing atmosphere and I met one of my long-time idols, Ms Legrand, afterwards too which was a moment I’ll never forget. A brilliant night at the theatre.
Blood Brothers tour – always a favourite musical of mine, I did the same trick as with Present Laughter – bought a ticket to see it at one theatre and had a press ticket to see it elsewhere. I never tire of Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone, I think it’s fair to say that it is her part and I’m always guaranteed to enjoy her performance. Adding Sarah-Jane Buckley to the cast as Mrs Lyons has really set it off. I have always thought that she has been an excellent actress each time I’ve seen her either on telly or on stage. Not only have I found her to be one of the best actresses to play Mrs Lyons, but I gather that she did a fine job when it came it stepping in to Ms Paul’s shoes and taking on the role of Mrs Johnstone. I adore the musical score for this show and I look forward to seeing Graham Martin play the multiple roles that he has made his own over the years. Graham is a friend of my husband’s and it’s always a good excuse to see him when Blood Brothers does the rounds.
The Rocky Horror Show tour – another of my all-time favourite musicals that, had I have had the time, I would have paid to have seen at another theatre after having reviewed it with my press ticket in Malvern. I had seen Liam Tamne in Hairspray and Les Miserables before, but he really came into his own as Frank-N-Furter. OK, it helped that he was easy on the eye, but the mischief and mayhem that he put into the role was outstanding. I love everything about this show, from the audience participation and leaping out of my seat to do the Time Warp, which never gets old – to the variety of narrators that grace the stage. We had Steve Punt play the narrator on this occasion and he was amazing. Hats off also to Sophie Linder-Lee, my favourite Columbia so far. I fully expect that this show will be in my top five choices again, next year!
Phew what a challenge that was… I wonder if any shows will knock The Rocky Horror Show and Blood Brothers off the list in 2017? Excited to out!