Beautiful ~ Regent Theatre, Stoke-On-Trent

Star rating: *****

The West End musical hit which regales the life story of the extraordinary singer song-writer, Carole King is on UK tour and it’s as well received in the regional theatres as it was in the capital city.

The show begins at the end, Carnegie Hall, where Carole King (played by Bronte Barbe) has surprised herself with the ultimate success of her career up to that point. Then we turn back time as we’re transported back to the moment King’s song-writing talent was taken seriously. “It Might As Well Rain Until September” was the first song that Carole sold. She was only 16 years old and had skipped two grades in her education. Meanwhile, a fellow student by the name of Gerry Goffin (Kane Oliver Parry) catches her eye and it’s not long until she has writing partner and lover all in one package. Pregnancy and marriage follow suit and all very quickly with the young maestro still under the age of 20. We’re also introduced to her mother, Genie (Carol Royle) who has been attempting to steer her daughter away from a career in music and into a teaching role instead. We follow Carole’s path with her, from the fun she has with friends; fellow writers Cynthia Weil (Amy Ellen Richardson) and Barry Mann (Matthew Gonsalves), to heartbreak in her personal life while her professional life remains as successful as ever.

The journey to Carnegie Hall is peppered with hit songs, all of which I knew and tried hard not to sing along with! There were popular numbers from The Drifters and The Shirelles amongst others and members of the ensemble played these roles and mimicked the singers perfectly. From “You Got a Friend” to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” to “Natural Woman” – all the classics were performed against a versatile and stunningly bright set. I was drawn to the guitars adorning the backdrop and the enticing range of various lighting arrangements as we were taken back to bands of the 60’s and 70’s.

Bronte Barbe is a marvel as Carole King, she does her proud and her vocal tone is astronomical. I particularly engaged with the emotion she effortlessly fuelled each song with. Kane Oliver Parry is well cast as ‘bad boy’ with numerous unresolved mental health issues, Gerry Goffin. The chemistry with Barbe was palpable, and that was ‘felt’ from my seat in the rear stalls of a large auditorium. Carole Royle played Carole’s mother, Genie superbly – her comic timing was exceptional and there was great significance in her role. Amy Ellen Richardson captivated me as Cynthia Weil, from her stunning vocals to her infectious smile, another well cast ‘character’. Equally Matthew Gonsalves was impressive as hypochondriac, Barry Mann – bringing comedy, vulnerability and heart to the part.

Miss this show at your peril, the reason it was such a success in the West End couldn’t be clearer and I for one feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to have caught this show at one of my local theatres.

The remaining UK tour dates can be found here, book your tickets: Beautiful UK Tour

Photo Credits: Craig Sugden

 

Carol Royle ~ Latest News

Actress Carol Royle, one of Break A Leg’s Patrons and my lovely friend and colleague has been busy since her tour of the UK with Dead Sheep last year. Supporting charities, promoting veganism and meeting fans at a Blake’s 7 convention have all been on her agenda, so far this year. Here are a few moments from her recent activities!

Vegfest

Carol with her daughter, Tally Spear and Karin Ridgers (Director at VeggieVision.TV)

VegfestUK in Brighton took place on 11th & 12th March this year. VegfestUK orgnaise Europe’s BIGGEST vegan festivals.  A celebration of all things vegan – Music, food, bodycare, stalls, campaigns, entertainment, excitement, passion and bouncing with plant based positive energy!

Carol was a guest at the talk ‘Veganising my favourite dish’, part of the Easy Veganism programme of Q&A sessions. She thoroughly enjoyed participating in this as Carol is a tireless campaigner for animal rights, has been a vegetarian since 1973 and is now a vegan, as is her daughter Tally Spear. Tally is a musician playing her own songs and she performed at the event, you can find out all about Tally’s music and her latest single release, by visiting her spanking brand new website here: Tally Spear Website

To find out more about VegfestUK visit: http://www.vegfest.co.uk

The 3rd Annual Mane Chance Charity Gala

The fabulous Paul Ferris worked overtime gathering the stars for the 3rd Mane Chance Charity Gala to which was held at the Theatre Royal, Windsor on 19th March 2017. Carol was delighted to take part for such a worthwhile charity. Carol has written a sonnet for Virginia McKenna OBE, Virginia is a friend and inspiration to Carol. It was therefore her great pleasure to introduce her friend at the gala. We all look forward to the 4th one!

Cygnus Alpha 2017 

Carol with actress, Judy Buxton

In 1978 Carol played Mutoid in Blake’s 7 – although it was many years ago, fans of the show are still extremely familiar with the character. Carol was invited to attend Cygnus Alpha convention for Blake’s 7 fans. Together with Carol at the Panel session where she participated in a Q&A session, was fellow actress, Judy Buxton who also happens to be a Patron of Break A Leg and a regular plus one at press nights with me. Carol had so much fun at the event “I absolutely loved this day, meeting so many lovely people…such a wonderful energy!” It looks as though the attendees had a great time, too. Thanks to Markosi Gonzarelli Gascoigne for the photos of Carol.

 

 

 

ROYAL CENTRAL – A Collection Of Memories, Written By Ian Closier-Hawkins ~ Book Review

What first struck me about this book, which has been so thoughtfully compiled by Ian Closier-Hawkins, is just how many individuals he has obtained quotes from, whose names are familiar to me, but who I had not associated with this particular Drama School.

It’s been a real page turner from that point of view, but the content is s fascinating, too. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about the experiences of some of my personal favourites, such as that of Carol Royle, I was intrigued to read a snapshot from her student life experience. Dame Judi Dench is also among the contributes, how amazing that Royal Central School of Speech and Drama was based at The Royal Albert Hall while she was there. John Owen-Jones who has been a popular Phantom of the Opera for some time, also gives a good account of his time in education. Gina Beck, Zoe Wanamaker CBE and Philip Glenister also speak fondly of their Drama School days. What’s important is that the writer also puts in his own contribution, he was a student on the Theatre Practice – Stage Management course and as he says in his interview which is also published on this site, it’s a way of showing what else is on offer at Drama School, besides acting courses.

With a Foreword by Michael Grandage CBE who is President of Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and with over 100 alumni featured, one thing is evident Closier-Hawkins has put thought, imagination and heart into this book. It makes for a great read and I feel that it will also become quite a resource for me to dip in and out of. Well done, Ian, you’ve done a tremendous job and I think you’ve done Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, proud.

You can email Ian to order a copy of the book: ianandrewhawkins@hotmail.com or you can contact him via Twitter @mrianhawkins

Spotlight On… Star of Dead Sheep, Carol Royle

Carol Royle is currently starring as Elspeth Howe in Dead Sheep at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, until Saturday 1 October 2016 and then continuing on a UK tour.

I chatted to Carol and found out all about the show, her character and what it’s like to play opposite a man dressed as Margaret Thatcher.

Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, Carol, first of all tell me about your character, Elspeth and what you thought of the script when you first saw it.

The Director, Ian Talbot, asked me to do this, earlier on in the year and I wanted to work with Ian again, we’d done Midsummer Night’s Dream together at Regent’s Park when he was running the Park and he was also playing Bottom. That was back in 1986 and when he asked me to return to the Park again, for one reason or another I wasn’t able to so when Ian came to me and asked to do this I probably would have done it without reading the script, to be quite frank. Of course, one needed to see the script and to know the character. When I read it and saw that Elspeth was what one might call a character part I jumped at the opportunity and was thrilled. Elspeth Howe is not essentially like me and these are the kind of roles that these days, I am very attracted to, I’ve always been attracted to them actually, but you’re not always given the opportunity to change your appearance or your personality. When you’re younger, for example you’re cast in the way that people perceive you to be. To play a character like Elspeth which is a real life character, I’m finding very interesting to do.

I did a lot of research on Elspeth, there’s a lot of photographs of her but there are no clips to give any indication of what she sounds like. I was lucky enough to speak to someone who knows her, a relative of her’s and he was able to tell me about how lovely she was and how down to earth she was, which gave me a little clue of what she was like, you didn’t have to make her into Boadicea. Obviously there is a certain perception of her because she was a strong woman, but she was a strong woman because of what she’d come up against and not necessarily because that was what she was like, nobody is completely one dimensional. Speaking to her relative gave me a few dimensions to base my character on.

With regards to the way she spoke, I knew that she came from a fairly aristocratic background, although I am a Yorkshire woman and a scot by blood, I was brought up with an RP accent, so that’s not difficult. I also know that she is related to Camilla Parker-Bowles, so I thought that in this case, rightly or wrongly, I’m going to give her a little bit more of an RP, a tiny little bit more RP than I am, to give that flavour of her being of that ilk.

Were you familiar with the political events of that decade?

It was there going on while I was in my thirties, although I was very preoccupied with my new child and work. Although I’ve always been politically minded, I didn’t watch News 24 all the time, so although I was aware of all that stuff I hadn’t studied it so it’s been quite good for me to go back and get into the fabric of what was going on.

It’s quite a current topic, considering that this was decades ago, isn’t it?

It’s quite extraordinary as the content of the play is the opposite to what’s happening now. We had a woman coming out of power and we were going into what was then known as the Common Market. Now we’ve got a woman who’s gone into power and we’re going to come out of what is now known as the EU. So it’s quite bizarre that it’s a parallel universe with this play.

What did you think when you knew that Steve Nallon was playing the role of Margaret Thatcher, were you familiar with his impersonation of her?

I had a lunch with Johnny Maitland, the writer, soon after Ian Talbot has asked me to play the part and he had told me about the decision to cast Steve. Funnily enough I used to watch Spitting Image a lot because I went to drama school with a guy called Enn Reitel, Enn used to be on Spitting Image and was a marvellous mimic and impersonator. He was and still remains a very good friend of mine, he spends most of his time in America now. When I met Steve, we had Enn in common.

Do you, like the audience, find it quite spooky how accurate Steve is when he plays the part and you’re playing opposite him?

I think that because it’s so good, you find that you’re not thinking about it, although the spooky bits occur when he/she is playing the venomous side of Margaret. I don’t think about the fact that it’s a man playing a woman at all, anymore.

What do you think the audience will take away from this piece?

It seems to be getting really good reactions, partly because the people that are coming to see it are interested in it and are therefore aware of the subject and because of their awareness they are getting the most out of it. Then we’ve had people coming to see it who weren’t even born during the period who I met after the show the other night and they really enjoyed it too which was good to hear. It was good to hear that people could enjoy it without necessarily knowing about the politics at the time. What our audiences will take away with them I hope is an evening that has been amusing and perhaps at moments slightly tear jerking. There’s also the knowledge of what it was like to be a human being like Geoffrey, he was clever and had everything that it took to be a high ranking politician without the dazzling element.

Finally, what would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket to see the play?

If you’re interested in the period or even if you’re not and you want to know more about it and you want to have an evening which encompasses laughter and tears, it’s an evening of tragicomedy.

I’d like to thank Carol for her time and wish her all the best with the rest of the tour! 

 

 

 

 

Dead Sheep ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Dead Sheep is at http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/ until Saturday 1 October 2016 and continues to tour the UK afterwards, tour dates and more information can be found here:  http://www.deadsheepontour.co.uk/

Star rating: ****

A political play based around the Conservative party didn’t necessarily sound like my glass of Drambuie. However, with a stellar line-up which included Paul Bradley, Carol Royle, Graham Seed and Steve Nallon in the cast, amongst others was a more inviting prospect. The thought of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher being played by a man sounded somewhat akin to Pantomime Dame, but I didn’t bank on the brilliance of Steve Nallon who is known for providing the voice of the late Baroness Thatcher. Therefore, this production came as a pleasant and indeed powerful surprise to me.

The story focuses on the relationship between Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe (Paul Bradley), Foreign Secretary, the influence of his wife Elspeth (Carol Royle) and the events which ultimately led to Howe’s resignation from the government. Jonathan Maitland who wrote the piece decided on the title Dead Sheep following a statement made by Denis Healey “being attacked by Geoffrey Howe is like being savaged by a dead sheep”. Howe’s charisma, or lack there of is certainly put under scrutiny as he blends in benignly and serves Thatcher obediently until they lock horns on the subject of Europe. His fate is sealed, as a change in the cabinet is instigated by the Prime Minister and Howe is relegated to Deputy Prime Minister. His wife, Elspeth remains at his side, her own principles unwavering as she campaigns for rights for women and the homeless. In fact, the play explores the relationship between Margaret and Elspeth, from their hand shake which the latter would not be ‘moved’ by, to Mrs Thatcher’s enquiries about her welfare, through clenched teeth, during interactions with Geoffrey.

steve-nallon-paul-bradley-graham-seed-carol-royale
The cast in action

The cast are a delightful combined force, this is an ensemble piece, regardless of the dominance of The Prime Minister who could not have been played by anyone better than Nallon. His portrayal of her is quite disconcerting in the nicest possible way, from the steely glare to the familiar gait, plus the voice is perfectly mimicked. Paul Bradley is a fantastic choice for the role of Geoffrey, he has the ability to adapt the character depending on the scenario and seemed a natural in the role. Carol Royle was wonderfully dominant and supportive as Elspeth, she and Bradley formed a formidable duo and her interactions with Nallon were a work of art. One of Royle’s strengths is conveying so much without saying a word. Christopher Villiers took on a range of characters, including Bernard Ingham, who he particularly delighted the audience with his portrayal of. Graham Seed played each of his many roles brilliantly, he moved seamlessly between Ian Gow, Nigel Lawson and Minister 3 and at no point did I question which one he was. John Wark was similarly able and his performance as Brian Walden was a real highlight.

Ian Talbot OBE has directed an important piece of theatre, innovatively and creatively. The set design is quite something, too, it envelopes the piece and although it’s a fairly static backdrop, it lends itself to the various scenes.

paul-bradley-as-geoffrey-howe
Mrs Thatcher (Steve Nallon) looks on as Geoffrey Howe (Paul Bradley) makes his exit speech

There is a good deal of humour injected into the play, all of the cast have comic timing which matches the pace of the script. Despite the casting of a Spitting Image impersonator in an iconic role, the character is not exaggerated, and at no point did I consider that this was a man playing a woman, either. It’s worth noting that although It’s set in the 80’s, the topics raised are as current today as they were back then and that is one of the many strengths that Dead Sheep has to offer.

 

 

Spotlight On… Carol Royle

Carol Royle is well known for acting on stage and on screen, she’s been in television shows such as Life Without George, Heartbeat and Doctors. At the moment she can be found portraying Huntington’s Disease sufferer, Emilie in BBC’s Casualty. As the estranged mother of Cal and Ethan she’s created quite a stir as fans of the series are so bowled over by her performance, they’re asking if she truly suffers from the condition. I caught up with Carol to ask her about this challenging role among other things.

Hi Carol, thank you for talking to Break A Leg Review, you’ve made a huge impact with your role as Emilie in Casualty, what level of research did you carry out in advance of filming the part and what was your initial reaction to taking on this challenge?

I was incredibly flattered to be offered the role, it’s quite a responsibility. I’m fond of research, and then I like to “jump off the diving board into the dark sea”. I used Google and Youtube to research, I came to know some of the people on Youtube and that was heart breaking. I had a meeting with the BBC ‘gang’ to Skype a Huntington’s advisor in Liverpool to find a level as everyone with the condition is different. We went to a Care Home and met with a Nurse, Michael Wooldridge who introduced us to people who suffer with Huntington’s. While on set at the BBC there was a Huntington’s Advisor present who helped with movement, for example a through movement.

Does portraying the character of Emilie affect you after filming is finished?

Yes, I find it exhausting, I understand how people with Huntington’s need 6000 calories a day. Playing the part is like patting head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. I don’t do method acting, however I drenched myself in this, prior to filming as well as during. I find I have to consciously stop myself from doing the movements of the character.

What has your overall experience of Casualty been like? 

I’ve done a couple of other episodes over the past 30 years and yes, it’s a show I’d like to work on permanently as they are such lovely people to work with. It has been such a good experience and I miss my boys (George Rainsford and Richard Winsor). The storyline has struck a chord because of the people I’ve met and how involved I was with the research. I feel it was an important and enlightening part.

You’ve enjoyed a long and varied career, do you have a preference between acting on stage and acting on screen?

They’re different, what they both have in common is the truth and integrity. I love both, I love theatre due to the live element and I love television due to the smallness and the subtlety.

In 2014 you were cast as Linda in the tour of Last of the Duty Free, what was it like to step into Joanna Van Gyseghem’s shoes as the only replacement member of the original foursome?

I went into it very naively, but once rehearsals started I sensed fear from those around me as I wasn’t ‘their Joanna’. However, soon I became ‘their Carol’. It was a shame the tour was cancelled, but I made great friends who I keep in touch with.

In your career so far, who have you most enjoyed working with and why?

That’s difficult because in everything I do, I make friends, apart from in one or two jobs. I worked with Dennis Potter on Black Eyes, he wrote, directed and edited it, and it was a fantastic experience. Having the Writer and Director as the same person was good. The working process was one of the best.

When you first started acting, what ambitions did you have and do you feel you’ve achieved them?

I wanted to have a go at everything and I’ve managed to do a lot of theatre and telly. I’ve also managed to keep working while raising two children. I may have compromised my working life as I wouldn’t go away from home for a job, but staying at home was important to me. I haven’t done any films and I fear it’s too late. My ambition now is to keep working and to play interesting roles.

Have you any advice for individuals wishing to go into an acting career?

If you’ve got to do it, you’ll do it and nobody will talk you out of it. It would be wise to go to drama school and also remember to keep strong in the face of adversity. If you get rebuffed, retain your confidence, don’t allow anyone to put you down, retain your self-esteem.

Favourite things (give me your first reaction to these questions):

Favourite way to relax?

Watching a film with my daughter.

Favourite theatre?

Theatre Royal, Bath.

Favourite film?

Old film – Bringing Up Baby.

Modern Film – The Matrix.

Favourite food?

Spaghetti bolognaise made with beans and lentils (I’m a vegetarian) and gluten free pasta.

Favourite hobby?

Reading, interior design is a close second!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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