My Top 5 Productions ~ 2017

2017 has been a bumper year for Break A Leg, we’ve literally been all over the place in as many theatres as possible and loving every minute. There’s been some new links made which we’ll be taking forward to 2018 and a couple of new reviewers are joining the team to cover London theatre. Thanks also go to Chloe Buckles who has guest blogged for us and hopefully she’ll carry on doing so for the new sister blog TV & Movie Scene

Anyway, without further ado – here are my top five favourite theatre productions of the year.

  1. Blood Brothers ~ My ultimate favourite musical and they have one of the best casts ever at the moment. I have managed to get along to see the show three times this year. At Belgrade Theatre, Coventry and at Nottingham Theatre Royal with Lyn Paul in the role of Mrs Johnstone, but also at De Montfort Hall where the added bonus was that Sarah Jane Buckley was playing the role of Mrs J while Lyn Paul was off – one of my most unforgettable moments of this year is definitely having the opportunity to see Sarah Jane in the lead role. I’m already planning a number of return visits for next year. From the score to the exceptional performances to the story and setting itself – this is my musical of choice every time.
  2. How The Other Half Loves ~ I saw this production last year when it was in the West End and I loved it. This year it toured and I managed to catch it at Malvern Theatres, it’s one of my favourite farces and even with some cast changes from West End to touring, this one has still stood out as a highlight of the year. Robert Daws was a fantastic addition to the cast as was Sara Crowe – I’d have loved to have seen it a few more times before the tour finished. Such a watchable piece and belly-laugh-inducing.
  3. 9 to 5 The Musical ~ This piece never fails to bring a smile to my face and the incarnation performed at Upstairs at the Gatehouse will forever be a happy memory. To be able to watch the show in such an intimate space with a strong cast was a pleasure and a privilege. Thanks to Joe Hodges and the cast and crew for an experience like no other.
  4. The Hollow ~ I made a concerted effort to see more locally-based theatre towards the end of this year and fully intend on keeping to the same path next year. Especially as so many fantastic companies and theatres in the midlands and surrounding areas have embraced my little blog. The Hollow was the first of two Agatha Christie plays I saw at Stoke Repertory Theatre and I loved it. A strong cast, some of whom were familiar to me and others who I’m so pleased to have discovered. I’m looking forward to seeing more of United National Theatre Company’s work in the new year. They do great theatre and they are doing the Midlands proud.
  5. All Our Children ~ My first trip to Jermyn Street Theatre and to see my lovely Rebecca Johnson being her amazing self on stage, too – a real treat. The play was a debut piece by Stephen Unwin who I am mostly familiar with as a Director. It was and remains one of the most intensely moving theatrical experiences of my reviewing career to date. I enjoy theatre that challenges the way I think and this play offered the chance for that and much more. The easiest five stars I’ve ever pulled out of my bag of stars!
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Cinderella ~ Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Cinderella runs at the Belgrade Theatre until 13 January 2018 – book your tickets here: Belgrade Theatre

Star rating: ****

It’s the first pantomime of Break A Leg’s busy season – oh yes it is! What better way to kick start it than with Cinderella at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre? Written and directed by Iain Lauchlan who also plays one of the Ugly Sisters (Dyspepsia), it’s a traditional take on the popular story with just the right dose of modern twists.

The set should be commended, for engaging the whole audience before the orchestra struck up – the splendour of the scenery was not lost on my three year old son, my mum or myself. The glitzy finish, clock and fabulous mice were all a fantastic starter in advance of the main course which was also exceptionally glorious. It was a chameleon of a set in fact and the lighting (designed by Pete Cramer) enhanced the ambience. Add to this a flying horse which could rival any creature from the Harry Potter movies and you’ve got yourself a pantomime that will leave a lasting impression.

Maggie Robson as Fairy Godmother

Cinders herself was a gentile, cheery and elegant leading lady played by Alice Rose Fletcher. One criticism being that she wore her ‘rags’ well and the ‘rags’ were extremely vibrant. Fletcher shared some beautiful duets with Bethany Brookes who played Prince Charming. Dandini was played by Letitia Hector and she was extremely exuberant with a powerful vocals. Maggie Robson was resplendent as the Wicked Stepmother, a villainous piece whom Robson embraced, looking fierce with a hint of Cruella De Vil as she revelled in causing Cinderella misery. Maggie also played Fairy Godmother and so vast was the transformation that it was easy to forget that she was playing both roles. Robson ended act one with a stunning solo. Iain Lauchlan and Greg Powrie were an amazing double act as the Ugly Sisters, I particularly enjoyed their grand entrance through the stalls and they worked brilliantly opposite one another. The chemistry worked and the slop scene with Buttons Craig Hollingsworth) was one of the highlights as the sisters prepared for the ball. Buttons is a character who is almost like the glue that pieces the story together, he’s in love with Cinderella but she loves him like a brother. He’s ‘in charge’ of the Ugly Sisters and he also take an integral part at the ball. There was nobody better than Craig Hollingsworth to play the ‘lynchpin’ and his quick wit, zany humour and happy go lucky persona worked superbly.

Memorable slop scene!

The audience participation and interaction in this pantomime was also notable, Buttons selected a lady from the front row to help him to practice telling Cinders that he loves her. Meanwhile the Ugly Sisters each have a boyfriend from the audience, both of whom have to be seated on stage before the end of the Scottish tune that signals their ‘moment’ – landing in their seats before the music stops ensures they avoid a snog from their ugly ‘suitors’. You can imagine how long the music plays for…! I must also mention Buttons and his nod towards a certain ginger singer/songwriter – Ed Sheeran is Cinderella’s favourite!

There’s a good mixture of songs although I’d have happily listened to a few more, lively choreography and a strong ensemble – I think that Coventry have a pantomime to be proud of this year. Oh yes they do!

 

Footloose ~ Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Footloose stays at Belgrade Theatre until Saturday 17 June then continues on UK tour: Footloose Tickets – Belgrade Theatre

Star rating: *****

Footloose as an individual track is a tune I have been familiar with and known the words to since I can remember. Footloose as a show with a full range of foot-tapping musical numbers (which I could now listen to on repeat) I was not at all familiar with, however the incarnation of the show which is currently playing at Coventry Belgrade Theatre, is now rooted as a firm favourite. Not least because this version is an actor/musician production which is no mean feat.

A scene from this must-see musical

Popular hits such as Let’s Hear It For The Boy, Holding Out For a Hero and Almost Paradise filled the auditorium and naturally, the title track had the place rocking. A personal highlight was Somebody’s Eyes which was a haunting yet catchy recurring theme and I have to give a mention to Learning To Be Silent as the harmonies were spectacular (kudos to Maureen Nolan, Lindsay Goodhand and Hannah Price).

The story is straight forward, teenage lad’s father does a runner, leaving him and his mum in the lurch. They move in with a kind uncle who lives in a small town with ridiculous rules. No dancing being one of the outlandish regulations. The tragic reason behind the town’s strict defences? A fatal car accident which resulted in the deaths of four youths, one of whom is significant to the plot. A Preacher is at the centre of the town’s inflexibility, and his wayward daughter is desperate to get out and rebel.

 

Maureen Nolan, she’s still a versatile actor and singer

Joshua Dowen as the iconic character (and young new boy in town who wants to challenge the no dancing rule) Ren McCormack, blew Kevin Bacon’s performance out of the water. A more versatile performer at the helm I couldn’t have imagined, he completely made the role his own. Hannah Price as Ariel Moore (the Preacher’s trouble-seeking daughter) was a superb match for him and I was impressed with her seamless interchanges between instruments and the heart of the action. Gareth Gates was a revelation as Willard, for more reasons than one! I expected an amazing vocal performance from him, however as an actor he surpassed himself. His characterisation was nothing short of incredible. Maureen Nolan is another performer whom I had preconceived ideas about, Vi (Ariel’s mum) was a perfect fit for Nolan and her vocal ability remains incomparable. Reuven Gershon gave a strong and extremely notable performance as Rev Shaw Moore, his solo performance in act two was another highlight. I am also delighted to have been introduced to the extraordinary talent of Lindsay Goodhand. Not only did she take on three very different roles (Ethel McCormack, Betty and Coach Dunbar) and play each one brilliantly, but I was blown away with her singing voice. When she wasn’t acting, singing or roller skating(!) she had an instrument to play.

Lindsay Goodhand, a multi-talented performer!

The set was multi-purpose and lent itself to the instruments that were an integral part of the scenery. The few scene changes required were seamless and there were a few hidden surprises too.

An audience collectively on their feet and boogeying as one to a finale mash-up, coupled with whoops, cheers and my own personal feeling that I could watch it again, again and again – is a winning combination. I needed more than one pair of eyes to watch this energetic and stellar cast giving one of the most joyous theatrical experiences. Don’t miss this show, it’s the ultimate feel-good musical and you won’t be able to stop smiling!

For Photo Credits: http://footloose-musical.com/ and you can find all tour dates and further information here, too as well as book tickets.

Blood Brothers ~ Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Blood brothers runs at Coventry Belgrade Theatre until Saturday 11 March 2017 prior to the rest of the UK tour, to book tickets visit: Blood Brothers Tour

Star rating: *****

Blood Brothers is my favourite musical bar none, I have yet to find any show that has the capacity to bring me to my feet within a split second when the crowd gives the guaranteed standing ovation. This show makes me laugh, cringe, cry and after expressing my undying elation for the brilliance of the cast, I could quite happily sit back down and watch it all again. Although I realise that it would be an impossible task to ask the cast to do that! An emotionally draining piece it certainly must be and at curtain call, so many of the wonderful performers still appear to be caught up in the last few moments of the production.

The story tells the sorry tale of the Johnstone twins, Mickey and Edward who are separated at birth after their mother makes a bargain with her employer. Their lives intertwine despite their mothers’ best intentions and it makes for a hilarious, heartening and tragic story. The cast perform as a solid ensemble and each key member has the ability to make you believe that they are children who steadily grow up throughout the duration of the show. The knowledge that the saga won’t end well is something we are provided with from the first scene, yet it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying the drama as it unfolds. The scenes from Mickey and Eddie’s childhood are among my favourites, especially when they’re jumping on and off their ‘horses’.

This particular incarnation of the production stars Lyn Paul, one of the original and best Mrs Johnstones, she slips into character like its a second skin and the emotion she brings to the role is immense. Her voice carried beautifully around the packed auditorium and she’s lost none of the power that her vocal ability is renowned for. Sarah Jane Buckley matches her note for note and strength for strength as Mrs Lyons, Buckley was new to the role the last time I saw her. She was extraordinary back then but she has taken her performance to a different level, now. Pitch perfect, an actress de force and the transiton from desperate to joyous to raving mad is a measured and deliberate one. I can’t speak highly enough about her. Alison Crawford stepped into the role of Linda as understudy and she absolutely made the role her own. From portraying the character as a little girl to the troubled grown up, every nuance was there in abundance. One to watch for sure and I hope to see her play the part again.

Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone

Sean Jones is the best Mickey I have seen, he has precise comic timing to enable him to portray the young lad but he transforms completely when he’s all grown up. I haven’t seen Mark Hutchinson as Eddie before, but he played the role as a stark contrast to his brother and was a good choice as the more well to do of the pair. Jones and Hutchinson demonstrate strong vocal harmonies, especially in ‘That Guy’. Dean Chisnall is an imposing presence as the Narrator, his vocal ability never ceases to amaze me and he sings my favourite song ‘Shoes Upon The Table’ with power and venom. He slinks back into the shadows so that you almost forget he’s there. then creeps up again to remind the two mothers what they’ve done. Tim Churchill moves seamlessly between roles, playing a ramrod straight and frightfully posh Mr Lyons then transforming into Milkman, doctor and so on! He and Graham Martin are real chameleons of the piece as they take a variety of parts and give each the care and attention that they deserve. In Martin’s case, he starts off as Mr Johnstone, reappears as a kid on the street, plays two very different teachers and a well endowed and randy judge! Actors like this pair are the life-blood running through such a well-oiled machine as this popular musical.

With a set that invites you in and frames the action whilst adding to the ambience and catchy musical numbers which include ‘Easy Terms’, ‘I’m Not Saying A Word’ and ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ – I’d say the cast and crew give quite a show just like Marilyn Monroe!

 

The Ghost Train ~ Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Reviewed by Helen McWilliams

train

The title of this ninety year old piece, for me, conjures up images of one of two scenes, the first being the popular and traditional ride found at fairgrounds, the second being that of a deserted old station which brings with it an eerie sense of foreboding. The latter would be the correct analogy when it comes to Arnold Ridley’s play. However far from being the thriller one would expect, it is indeed a comedy thriller which has the audience collectively gasping and then laughing in delight at the ‘slap-stick’ occurrences.

Fal Vale Station is set to close up for the night when a train stops there, courtesy of the communication cord having been pulled by an exuberant gentleman by the name of Teddie Deakin (played by Tom Butcher). The rest of the passengers who are stranded at the station due to Deakin’s ‘folly’ are unsurprisingly unimpressed to discover that they have to spend the night in the waiting room. Charles and Peggy Murdock (played by Chris Sheridan and Sophie Powels) are newly married and eagerly anticipating their honeymoon, Richard and Elsie Winthrop (Ben Roddy and Corinne Wicks) are not so newly married and discussing a separation. Either way, neither couple have anticipated waiting nine hours for a connecting train in the company of the perpetrator (Deakin).

The Station Master is not keen to stay with the group of stranded passengers and when he tells them why, a ‘journey’ commences which signals terror and hilarity. Jeffrey Holland plays Station Master, Saul Hodgkin, with a Cornish accent and superb diction, Holland plays the pivotal role astonishingly well and drew me in with his character’s story telling. Holland’s real life wife, Judy Buxton is the prim and proper Miss Bourne, who may appear to be the buttoned up spinster, but cheerfully informs her ‘companions’ that she was indeed “not neglected in my youth”, it’s a lovely eccentric part for Buxton which she embraces wonderfully.

The appearance of over-wrought Julia Price (Jo Castleton), her ‘concerned’ brother Herbert (David Janson) and Doctor John Sterling (John Hester) add an extra air of mystery to the fray. Castleton manages to create a delicious build up to the anticipated arrival of ‘The Ghost Train’, I for one, was gripped and found myself wanting to peer through the waiting room windows, too. It’s an atmospheric play, throughout and with not a weak link among the eleven-strong cast, I highly recommend that you go and see it. Buy your tickets to watch it at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, here: http://www.belgrade.co.uk/ alternatively, for remaining tour dates see http://www.talking-scarlet.co.uk.

 

 

The Blues Brothers – Approved, Presented by Judith Belushi & Dan Akroyd, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Reviewed by Helen and Garry McWilliams

The Blues Brothers - Belgrade Theatre 3

“Bend Over Let Me See you Shake Your Tail Feather”… Yes, you! Don’t just sit there – this is a fast-moving ‘revue’ which we guarantee will have you dancing in the aisles, or at the very least jigging in your seat!

Starring Brad Henshaw as Jake and Chris Chandler as Elwood, this is a show that is faithful to the film and the ‘brothers’ are extremely well cast, the charismatic pair have soulful voices which lend themselves to the popular hits. Highlights from the duo are difficult to pinpoint as the entire show is excellent, however Chandler sings ‘Rubber Biscuit’ extraordinarily well (no mean feat) and Henshaw excels with ‘Shotgun Blues’. As a combined force they delighted the audience with ‘Rawhide’, ‘Living in America’ and ‘Everybody Needs Somebody To Love’ to name but a few.

The set was reminiscent of the film and the resident band were all great characters, as much a part of the ‘cast’ as the performers themselves. Also putting in a fierce appearance were the ‘Bluettes’ namely: Alexus Ruth, Jenessa Qua and Jenny Fitzpatrick. All of the girls were of the same high standard and belted out ‘Respect’ and ‘Think’ to the lively, receptive audience. The ‘Bluettes’ wore glittery outfits and lit up the stage with their synchronised dance moves and bubbly personalities. Also, not forgetting William Hazell who sang the famous number ‘Minnie The Moocher’ and encouraged us all to ‘hi de hi de hi de hi’ along with him. We were more than happy to oblige and felt that Hazell made a wonderful contribution throughout.

Not only was there audience participation with ‘Minnie the Moocher’ but also in ‘Flip, Flop and Fly’ – and with that came actions for us to learn… The entire cast looked like they were having a ball and that atmosphere filled the auditorium, the one complaint we have is that we could have gone on dancing and singing all night long and the show finished just before 10pm!

The tour is officially licensed and presented by Dan Akroyd (from the original film) and Judith Belushi (widow of John Belushi from the film), it is the only live ‘Blues Brothers’ stage show that carries this seal of approval. You can catch ‘The Blues Brothers’ at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry until Saturday 4th May. For more tour dates and venues please visit www.thebluesbrothersapproved.com

 

Sons Without Fathers – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Arcola Theatre and KP Productions Present
A New Version of Anton Chekhov’s Platonov by Helena Kaut-Howson

Reviewed by Helen and Garry McWilliams

‘A tale of sex, vodka and shattered dreams’ is the premise of this adaptation of a Chekhov classic. This proved to be an accurate summary of a powerfully emotive play.

Opening with a party is a good introduction to the central characters, as well as an insight into how the focal point: Mikhail (Misha) Platonov lives. The set is reflective of the corrosive nature of Platonov’s character (according to set designer, Iona McLeish), featuring aluminium stained by toxic spillage and a prominent ladder which we personally felt demonstrates the highs and lows of each character, it is used by Platonov in particular and adds an extra dimension. As always, with any Chekhov play, there is deeper meaning and this is a play that we could analyse on many levels. The characters in this tale, it seems are all searching for a better life and self-definition, which relates to the Russian way of life. This was transparent due to the precise direction by Kaut-Howson and is also reiterated in the programme notes.

We learn that everyone is in love with Platonov, the local school master (played by Jack Laskey with amazing energy and a wildness that brought the character to life with simply breath-taking effect), males and females alike are drawn in and are so besotted that they feel he is their chance of a better life. Of course it’s obvious to the audience that Platonov is anything but and indeed we were left wondering just what they see in the tousle-haired, alcoholic who is the reluctant ‘hero’ of the piece. ‘Hero’ and ‘Villain’ in the same guise, in fact. Even student Isaac Vengerovich (Oliver Hoare) is intrigued by the disillusioned teacher. Vengerovich represents the future and a new generation that Platonov appears to despise, yet envy simultaneously.

Simon Scardifield is the local doctor, Nikolai Triletsky – another slave to vodka, Scardifield plays the ‘clown’ with precise comic timing. A drunken doctor shouldn’t be so amusing, yet Dr Triletsky provided many comedy moments. Boyish in his relationship with Platonov and Sergei Voynitsev (Tom Canton) who is still in honeymoon mood with his beautiful new wife Sophia (Marianne Oldham). Sophia is a character of many depths and the transition from shy, uncomfortable newly-wed to the edge of delirium is portrayed brilliantly by Oldham. Susie Trayling is outstanding as the sexual predator, Anna Petrovna, step-mother to Sergei. Petrovna is blissfully unaware of the deep admiration from Osip (Mark Jax) a local vagrant and criminal. Jade Williams makes an excellent contribution as Maria Grekova, yet another woman mesmerised by the ‘leading man’. There is a ‘Mrs Platonov’, too – Nikolai’s sister, Sasha who is meek, mild and eager to please her husband. Amy McAllister takes this role and we felt that the audience were sympathetic to her character’s plight.

This is far from a love triangle for many reasons but it is certainly an unsightly mess! The root cause? Mikhail Platonov, who is so wrapped up in himself that he’s oblivious to the chaos around him – or maybe that’s the effect of all the vodka! There’s electric sexual tension, despair and cringe-inducing moments courtesy of a talented cast and a visionary director. The only slight down-side is the length of the play itself and the pace of act one appeared to ‘plod along’ more so than act two.

‘Sons Without Fathers’ runs until 4th May and we highly recommend it, please visit www.belgrade.co.uk to book your tickets!

Jack Laskey as Platonov in Sons Without Fathers at Belgrade Theatre Coventry - credit Simon Annand  Jack Laskey as Platonov and Marianne Oldham as Sophia Voynitzev in Sons Without Fathers at Belgrade Theatre Coventry - credit Simon Annand

Photographs courtesy of Simon Annand.

 
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