The Snowman ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Star rating: *****

It’s the stage spectacular that’s certain to make you feel like you’re walking in the air with its feel-good yet beautifully moving story, choreography and music. In its 25th anniversary year, the live version of the stage show based on the Raymond Briggs classic is heart-warming and brings tears to the eyes in equal measure!

The atmosphere of the piece is created from a combination of stunning ballet, beautiful, believable characterisation and the strength of the story alone which is told so brilliantly by the utterly incredible cast. The stage version dovetails with the film in that we follow the friendship between an over-excited boy waiting for Christmas and even more enthralled to see its snowing. His glorious snowman comes to life in wondrous fashion as the pair embark upon a marvellous adventure. Together they make a formidable team as they combat a cat attack, encounter dancing fruit from the fridge who limbo dance and even brave a trip to mum and dad’s bedroom to dress up the frozen wonder. However it’s when the pair take flight into the night sky that the piece reaches its crescendo. The party that ensues with a selection of other snowman, animals and Father Christmas himself can’t fail to put a smile on your face. Punctuated by the sensational music and lyrics from Howard Blake.

Martin Fenton astounds in the title role, he plays the Snowman as if he were wearing a second skin and every move is measured, precise and engaging. Lewis Chan gave a superb performance as the boy, the chemistry with Fenton was stunningly palpable. Ruben De Monte was extraordinarily impressive as Jack Frost, commanding the stage and leaving us under no misapprehension as to who the baddie of the piece was. The penguins were my favourites though, comical, exact movement and a real double act – kudos to Ami Tollin and Kimberly Lawrie.

A family evening out at the theatre doesn’t come in any better packaging than this – it’s the perfect post-Christmas treat. Book your tickets to see The Snowman now: www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/

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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.

101 Dalmatians ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

101 Dalmatians stays at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 13 January 2018 – book your tickets here: 101 Dalmatians Tickets

Star rating: *****

101 Dalmatians – no easy feat for a stage production, one might imagine, getting all those Dalmatians up on stage in one go with no unruly canine behaviour, etc. What’s the answer? Use puppets of course, reminiscent of War Horse and it worked fantastically well.

From the opening number which introduced a number of different breeds of dogs to the arrival of Pongo (Oliver Wellington) and Missis (Emma Thornett) who fall in love, as do their owners; Mr Dearly (Morgan Philpott) and Mrs Dearly (Nadi Kemp-Sayfi). Mr and Mrs Dearly are all you hope they will be; homely and forging their family with their two Dalmatians and the puppies due to arrive. Kudos also to Philpott and Kemp-Sayfi for their puppetry skills – when they respectively performed as Sheepdog and Patch I almost forgot that they were also Mr and Mrs Dearly. The scene is set so smoothly and seamlessly that you almost don’t notice that quite a hefty piece of the story has already been laid out. The introduction of Cruella De Vil (Gloria Onitiri) was all it should be, pure evil on stage in an almost caricature state and blood thirsty for her next fur. From her antics at the wheel of her inspired motorcar to interaction with Mrs Dearly – each move was measured, brilliantly timed and emulated the popular Disney version of the character. The Badduns (Luke Murphy and Lewis Griffin) made hapless sidekicks and gave superb visually physical performances.

From Cruella’s desperation for her Dalmatian coat to the kidnapping of the pups and subsequent rescue – it is a production de force with catchy, narrative musical numbers and a glorious set which lends itself to tricks. Miss this at your peril, Tessa Walker has directed one of the best festive shows I’ve seen so far this season.

 

 

Jane Eyre ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Jane Eyre is on UK tour and stays at Birmingham Repertory until 16 September 2017, book tickets hereJane Eyre Tickets

Star rating: *****

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte’s well-known classic has been reincarnated on stage and screen with regularity. So, with my in-depth knowledge gathered from my A Level English Literature studies still ricocheting in my older than teenage brain, I prepared myself to watch another take on the story.

This incarnation of the tale is without doubt the best I have seen, a pleasure to watch from start to finish. The Director, Sally Cookson has captured the essence of the bleak, ‘unjust’ tale of woe with it’s bitter-sweet ending yet it’s a fast-paced, engaging production with a strong multi-tasking ensemble and musical accompaniment from David Ridley, Alex Heane and Matthew Churcher who are the on-stage resident band and also don schoolgirl outfits when the occasion calls for it!

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On the surface, the set is so extraordinarily basic that it’s difficult to imagine how it will lend itself to such an intense and lengthy piece, however the versatility of the construction is astounding. With cast members mucking in to aide with props and fluid costume changes, it’s a work of art in itself. What a team effort.

To give a brief over-view for those who are unfamiliar, Jane Eyre is orphaned as a baby, brought up by an aunt who wishes she hadn’t been born, is treated badly at school where she loses her best friend to illness and finally breaks free of her hindrances, although not without numerous set-backs.  Love and loss are at the heart of the story, with strong themes and symbolism peppered throughout.

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Jane is played by Nadia Clifford and she not only takes on the character, she becomes her. From young unfortunate to grown woman wracked with naked jealousy, every emotion is put across and I felt it all keenly. What an extraordinary actress, I can’t imagine anyone else playing Jane, now – it’s Nadia’s part. Hannah Bristow gave an equally outstanding performance, playing multiple roles and each one had a unique ‘stamp’ which allowed the audience to almost believe that they were watching a different actress to the one who had just played Helen Burns, Adele and Diana Rivers. Paul Mundell also deserves credit for the sheer number of roles he performed and especially deserves a mention for acting as Pilot, Mr Rochester’s dog! Evelyn Miller also appeared as many characters, no mean feat. I was particularly struck by Lynda Rooke’s ability to switch between the cold bitterness of Mrs Reed and the gentle, kindness of Mrs Fairfax – a joy to watch. Tim Delap is the Mr Rochester from my mind when I first read the book. Cocky, bolshie and intimidating with a good heart, regardless. Melanie Marshall gave a stunning performance as Bertha Mason, her haunting vocals added another dimension and should be recorded as a soundtrack to the show!

If you are acquainted with the story, this is a glorious version to watch, if you are not familiar with it – this would make the perfect introduction. In short, go and see it, for it does Bronte proud.

What’s In A Name ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

What’s In A Name runs at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 11 February 2017. To book tickets, follow this link: http://www.birmigham-rep.co.uk

Star rating: *****

I liken this piece, written by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre De La Patelliere, to the work of Yasmina Reza. Exploring dysfunctional family settings, breaking down each character until they’re each stripped bare and vulnerable and it’s hard to imagine how they will work through the fall-out. There’s also the French origin in common, of course and I see the similarities with God of Carnage (by Reza).

What’s In A Name has been adapted and directed by Jeremy Sams, this play was a belly laugh inducing raucous ride with foul language that added impetus to the heated debates that ensued and a cast who demonstrated an acting master class de force. It’s a ninety minute comedy drama which twists, turns and even shocks at times. The fact that there is no interval also works in its favour, none of the impact or momentum is lost and the roller coaster ride that the audience collectively embark upon is hair raising for all the right reasons.

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Sarah Hadland plays Elizabeth

Elizabeth and Peter have planned a dinner party to which they have invited Elizabeth’s brother, Vincent, his partner, Anna and friend of the family, Carl. Vincent and Anna are expecting a baby and having had their recent scan, Vincent is itching to tell the gathering about the name they’ve picked for their Son. He is slightly disappointed at the reaction to the decision to call the boy Adolphe, especially given the names of his niece and nephew, Gooseberry and Apollinaire! However, as we discover that Vincent is fond of a wind-up, intentions become clear. There are bigger surprises to come than an unborn child being named after a mass murdering dictator, too.

Nigel Harman plays Vincent, he’s a spoiled little brother who takes on the role of the narrator before the dinner party that he has been invited to at his sister’s house, gets going. His sister, Elizabeth is played by Sarah Hadland and they are a remarkably believable brother and sister pairing. They exchanged banter and unpleasantries at a heady pace and were perfectly cast as the neurotic sister and smug, joker of a brother. Jamie Glover packed a punch as Elizabeth’s husband, Peter. He was assertive, over-bearing at times and the chemistry he shared with Hadland made them a spikey and very typical married couple which I’m sure many members of the audience could identify with! Raymond Coulthard was fairly benign to begin with as life-long friend and second trombone player, Carl. He is portrayed as gay or certainly comes across that way, which paves the way for revelations later on. Olivia Poulet is a haughty and self-assured Anna, it is obvious that she despairs of her partner, Vincent and although she is pregnant, she already has a child to look after in many respects!

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Raymond Coulthard plays Carl, with Sarah Hadland as Elizabeth

What’s In A Name resembles a snapshot into every day family life. The witty, observational script combined with a cast who are all at the top of their game ensures that this production wouldn’t look out of place in the West End.

The Snowman ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

The Snowman is running from 11 January – 15 January 2017 at http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

Star Rating: *****

The Snowman is a classic festive tale which you can usually count on catching on the telly over Christmas. The live stage version at Birmingham Repertory Theatre provides a beautiful, elegant and engaging light ballet version of the popular story and was the perfect January family pick me up.

Just like in the film, there is no speech exchanged and in this production all interaction between the characters was mimed to the tune of stunning musical accompaniment provided by the orchestra.  The effects used to create the illusion of a snowy day provided a spectacular backdrop to the action. The relationship between the Snowman and the boy is at the heart of the tale and the chemistry between Cameron James Sutherland (the boy) and James Leece (the Snowman) meant that they formed a believable partnership. The friendship which developed between the two was a joy to watch and I’m sure would have melted the hardest of hearts. It certainly captured and held the attention of my three year old Son.

Comedy was present in its abundance with the boy’s bumbling father acting the fool and some hilarious antics with the family cat when encountered by the unwitting Snowman. Then there’s a quick fiesta with some fruit from the fridge, who’d have thought we would be so entertained by a giant coconut, pineapple and banana? It sounds like the stuff of bad dreams, yet there it was happening before our eyes and the little scene had the audience in raptures.

 The Snowman at the Peacock Theatre

It wouldn’t be The Snowman if the two main characters didn’t fly, and fly they did – seamlessly and gloriously as the ‘world’ below them was reduced to a miniature size as they made their way to party central with Santa and co.!

The cast were all exceptionally talented and whether they were playing forest creatures or other snowmen (and women!) I felt that we were being given an outstanding performance by each and every one of them. In particular, Federico Casadei as the Dad and Father Christmas, Hannah Flynn as Mum and Scotty Snowman amongst other characters, Russell Fine as Cowboy Snowman, Soldier and Pineapple.

The Snowman at the Peacock Theatre

It will make you smile, laugh, cry and if it really gets to you, it will restore an iota of festive spirit which has been left behind in 2016. It’s not staying in Birmingham for long – and might be replaced by real snow soon if weather reports are to be believed, so catch this epic show while you can.

Pride And Prejudice ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Pride And Prejudice stays at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 12 November 2016 and continues to tour the UK: https://openairtheatre.com/production/pride-and-prejudice-2016

Star Rating: ****

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife! It also seemed to be acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice had landed at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre last night, as a healthy house full of enthusiastic theatre-goers packed the auditorium to see the popular period piece.

I studied the text for A level (which was more years ago than I will share with you) and that coincided with the broadcast of the television series which starred the Mr Darcy of so many dreams, Colin Firth. So, I’ve just blown the cover on how many years ago I sat my A Levels! The television series epitomised the text, for me, and the film which followed in the noughties which starred Brenda Blethyn and Keira Knightley didn’t light my candle. Equally, subsequent productions which I have endured have not come close to the bar set by the BBC One adaptation, however, what I witnessed last night was a stunning take on a classic story.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Austen,        , Writer - Jane Austen, Director - Deborah Bruce, Designer - Max Jones, Composer - Lillian Henley, Lighting - Tina MacHugh, Sound - Matt McKenzie,  Churchill Theatre, Bromley,2016, Credit - Johan Persson - www.persson
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Austen, , Writer – Jane Austen, Director – Deborah Bruce, Designer – Max Jones, Composer – Lillian Henley, Lighting – Tina MacHugh, Sound – Matt McKenzie, Churchill Theatre, Bromley,2016, Credit – Johan Persson – http://www.persson

Using a revolve to enable the piece to move fluidly while scenes ‘changed’ was extremely effective, this may not have been the case had the cast commanded my attention. However, the simplicity of the structure used to create the various grand houses, coupled with the ever-changing backdrop which altered the mood beautifully, was remarkable. Although the central love story of Darcy (Benjamin Dilloway) and Elizabeth Bennet (Tafline Steen) flourished and brought forth a good helping of “oohs”, “awwws” and “isn’t it lovely” from the audience, Mr and Mrs Bennet (Matthew Kelly and Felicity Montagu) stole the show for me, personally. They were ably backed up in their comedic ability by Mr Collins (Steven Meo), he was played with such comic precision that he drew my attention in most scenes that he appeared in. Matthew Kelly can speak volumes with his facial expressions alone, and therefore lent the right balance of dignified or indeed exasperated silence to Mr Bennet, together with quick-tongued quips, delivered to perfection. Felicity Montagu brought a myriad of emotions to Mrs Bennet, she wasn’t simply a flapping worry wart of activity, but there was careful consideration to the character’s nuances which played out beautifully. There was also a hint that all was not entirely romantically lost between Mr and Mrs Bennet, rather than blatant disrespect, through and through.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Austen,        , Writer - Jane Austen, Director - Deborah Bruce, Designer - Max Jones, Composer - Lillian Henley, Lighting - Tina MacHugh, Sound - Matt McKenzie,  Churchill Theatre, Bromley,2016, Credit - Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com /
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Austen, , Writer – Jane Austen, Director – Deborah Bruce, Designer – Max Jones, Composer – Lillian Henley, Lighting – Tina MacHugh, Sound – Matt McKenzie, Churchill Theatre, Bromley,2016, Credit – Johan Persson – http://www.perssonphotography.com /

I thought that the dynamics of the five Bennet daughters was captured and balanced well, Mr Bingley (Jordan Mifsud) was also played in stark and genial contrast to Mr Darcy, which has always worked well in all of the productions I have seen. Mary (Leigh Quinn) and Lydia (Mari Izzard) were portrayed excellently, with Mary providing many laugh out loud moments and Lydia’s exuberance was all consuming when her storyline was at the heart of the piece.

If you are an Austen fan and familiar with the text, you’ll not be disappointed. If you’ve never encountered this classic before, this production provides a fine introduction.

 

 

The Exorcist ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

The Exorcist premiered at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 21 October 2016 and stays there until 5 November 2016: https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/the-exorcist.html

Star Rating: ****

The vast majority of us are familiar with the original horror film which was based on the novel by William Peter Blatty. To this day it can still turn my stomach (not my head… fortunately!) and make my toes curl, so, looking for a play to watch on the run up to Halloween? Why not watch this version which has been adapted for stage by John Pielmeier.

We were left quite literally in the dark for what felt like minutes, before the incidental music started us off on our journey and the first scene involving Peter Bowles as Father Merrin was excavating and the horror was unleashed. The set was the perfect design for this genre of play, it encompassed the action and lent itself to the abundance of special effects which were such a vital part of the success of this production.

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The story revolves around Chris (Jenny Seagrove) and Regan (Clare Louise Connolly), Chris is a movie star working on a project with director, Burke (Tristam Wymark) and renting a house which she and her daughter are finding to be a somewhat creepy abode. Meanwhile, running separately from the main storyline, yet extremely incidental to it, we have Father Damien Karras (Adam Garcia) who is wracked with guilt over the recent death of his mother, who had ended not ended her days in the best of settings. Simultaneously, Regan is being drawn into a dark world following her encounter with a Ouija board. It’s one of those classic horror stories which builds gradually, first we see the relationship between Regan and ‘Mr Howdy’ developing as the dangerous spirit enters her mind by playing games. This culminates in a death threat from Regan to Burke, followed by inappropriate urination! As the demon really takes hold on the ten year old girl there are some strong performances from Mitchell Mullen as Doctor Klein and Todd Boyce as Dr Strong. Although the latter recovers remarkably quickly from the loss of part of his ear.

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The production possessed the right level of fear factor, edge of your seat moments and all of the right elements from the film were replicated in spectacular fashion. Peter Bowles was a morose and imposing presence as Father Merrin, Adam Garcia was a fine choice for the role of Father Damien, taking him to the brink of despair and beyond with subtlety and care. The biggest head turner was surely Clare Louise Connolly as the little girl herself, though. Giving Linda Blair a good run for her money in what must be a draining, demanding and disturbing role to portray.

Seeing the film is not necessarily a prerequisite and it’s a perfectly timed run with Halloween fast approaching. The Exorcist stays at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 5 November 2016 and this is the UK premiere of the piece.

Photo Credits: Robert Day

The Father ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

A phenomenal and innovative piece which it would have been a travesty to have missed. Actor, Kenneth Cranham demonstrated just why he won that Best Actor award at this year’s Olivier Awards. Florian Zeller’s play, translated by Christopher Hampton, is a master piece and not only highlights dementia from a carer’s and family member’s point of view, but the journey that it takes the sufferer on.

A clever approach applied to the set and the structure of the piece, both dialogue, set and effects mirrored the mind of Cranham’s character, Andre. He sadly has dementia setting in and his daughter, Anne (Amanda Drew) is at her wits end as another of his carers quits her job. Her other half, Pierre (Daniel Flynn) is all for his potential father-in-law going into a home and he’s not kind to the octogenarian, or is this a confused memory from Andre? The order of the scenes and the technical effects are placed with such precision that the audience are effectively following Andre’s jumbled thought processes. At the same time it is easy to identify with his daughter, Anne’s exasperation and it’s a particularly moving moment when it dawned on me that his potential carer, played by Jade Williams, is in fact his much missed younger daughter. Or is she?

Kenneth Cranham moved seamlessly from loving father to confused dementia sufferer, he was heart-breaking and joyous in equal measure and quite something to behold. His standing ovation was more than deserved.

There is a chemistry between Cranham and Drew which is at the heart of the action, and I don’t feel that this would work as well as it does without that. Similarly, the chemistry between Cranham and Rebecca Charles, who plays Andre’s nurse shines through. It’s a touching relationship between nurse and patient which I feel is representative of many a ‘clinical’ bond.

It was notable that the set changed to reflect Andre’s state of mind and interesting in the way we were offered a window into his world, almost segregated from it at the same time, though. A concept which spoke volumes before a word of script was uttered.

The Father stays at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 7th May and you can book tickets here: http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/event/the-father/

 

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