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!

 

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

 

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