Highlights of 2018

I’m late with last year’s highlights but suffice to say that 2018 was a fantastic year for shows of all genres. A great mix was on offer for Entertainment Views to attend and there have been so many wonderful memories made along the way. Here are just a few of the stand-out opportunities I had…

Iolanthe (ENO)

Gilbert & Sullivan’s operettas have been on my radar for years and I’ve watched many of them, however I had never seen Iolanthe nor the wonderful ENO performing one of their famous operettas. So – the chance to see Iolanthe performed by the ENO at London’s Coliseum was too good a chance to miss. With Yvonne Howard giving an outstanding performance as the Fairy Queen and a cast de force, all I can say is bring on its return! Iolanthe Review

Hotel Transylvania 3

What a movie! My movie of the year for sure! If you’ve never seen the other movies in the franchise it doesn’t matter, you can dive into this one and soon get the gist of the hilarious plot and get to know the madcap characters. A great film for grown ups as well as kids.

Falstaff (Garsington Opera)

Opera is one of my new loves and Falstaff was one of my first experiences of a non-operetta style. It starred Yvonne Howard who (as you already know) is one of my all-time favourite performers and Henry Waddington was exceptional in the lead title role. Garsington offers beautiful surroundings and a unique setting – I hope to return this summer.  Falstaff Review

Falstaff by Verdi;
Garsington Opera at Wormsley;
13 June 2018;
Sir John Falstaff – Henry Waddington;
Conductor – Richard Farnes;
Director – Bruno Ravella;
Designer – Giles Cadle;
Lighting Designer – Malcolm Rippeth;
Movement Director – Tim Claydon;
Photo credit: © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL;

Coventry Comic Con

One of my favourite Comic Cons returned for its second year and it was a glorious set-up as expected. Plenty of stalls, activities and cosplayers as well as a great spacious layout. Our who family love this one and can’t wait to go again this year. Coventry Comic Con Review

Blood Brothers

I adore Blood Brothers, it’s one of my all-time favourite musicals and for the past couple of years one of the best actresses (in my humble opinion) has been playing Mrs Lyons and understudying the role of Mrs Johnstone – the brilliant Sarah-Jane Buckley. I was lucky enough to see the show a few times in 2018 and look forward to seeing it again this year, although a few cast changes are afoot… Here’s one of my latest reviews: Blood Brothers Review

This Morning Live! 

I am a huge fan of This Morning and for those who know me well, you’ll be aware that I am also a massive fan of Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes. In Birmingham we’re really lucky to have the This Morning Live! show at the NEC and it was a superb experience. From shopping to cooking masterclasses to meeting the presenters themselves (I only managed to meet Alison Hammond this time around but she is amazing and so lovely) – I couldn’t recommend the show more. This Morning Live! Review

Sixties Gold Show

I’ve long been a fan of The Searchers and I’ve supported them on solo tours on many an occasion – however this was the first Sixties Gold tour I’d been to. It was one of the biggest highlights of my reviewing year and I’m really looking forward to the next one. It was such an amazing night, buzzing! Sixties Gold Tour Review

BBC Good Food Show

I’ve been interested in going to the BBC Good Food Show for years, I finally grabbed the opportunity to attend their winter show and it was everything I hoped it would be! I’m looking forward to attending the summer show this year. BBC Good Food Show

Claire Richards solo gig

I adore Steps, I have so many favourites from among their epic back-catalogue, however I am also loving Claire Richards as a solo artist. She’s got such a powerful voice and her versatility knows no bounds. A superb gig at Birmingham Town Hall showcased her talent, the album is out very soon and my review of her gig is here: Claire Richards Review

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Malvern Theatres)

Malvern Theatres has long been top of my list of midlands-based theatres and their production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a brilliant cornucopia of mad-cap stereotypical panto antics. Su Pollard was a revelation and stole the show. A well deserved five stars! Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Review

The Future of Entertainment Views

On a final note, I wanted to update all of my valued readers and subscribers on the direction that 2019 will most likely see my small corner of the internet, taking. You can find a bit about this particular rambling on my https://entertainmentviews.co.uk/about/ but I wanted to use this post to chat a bit more about blogging and me. As an established blogger juggling a young family as well as having a bash at hanging on to a day job too, I’m often asked all of the questions I’m about to answer…

When

In 2013 I branched out as an independent theatre blogger, reviewing shows at the local theatres I’d built up a relationship with on behalf of an established review site which sadly no longer exists. Break A Leg Review was born at around the same time as I discovered I was pregnant so my progress was slow to begin with, although I kept up with it as much as possible. I worked full time in a day job with the NHS and my morning sickness was as backwards as I can be, in that it appeared in the evenings!

Where

I was reviewing in and around the West Midlands as that’s where I’m based and I had managed to secure a place on press lists at most of the theatres that I frequent. In 2015 I was lucky enough to connect with London theatres and due to suggestions from the various people I was interviewing, meeting and liaising with – I added movie and television reviews to the mix as well as music too. My blog took off in ways I could never have imagined during that year.

Why

I made the decision to reach out to London theatres (and many other venues around the UK) as well as add other types of review to my blog because I had become a mum in 2014. That’s the quick answer. Becoming a mum changed my life in thousands of ways. To begin with, I was so consumed by the tiny little boy in my life that I considered giving up my blog. However, having returned to my day job on a part time basis while I searched for a different career that would suit motherhood and the juggling, I was considering blogging and therefore working from home, as a viable option. I ended up in another NHS job working unsociable hours instead, however so draining on my mental health was this new job, that it became even more of a goal to be able to work from home.

How

I took yet another NHS job to keep the bank account happy and which made my mental health happier (for a limited period of time!) and worked hard throughout 2016 to try my hand at other things such as social media management and website creations. I might have been working part time in the NHS but with my other work (blog included) mounting up – it felt like the right time to take the plunge and work solely from home. Timing was good as 2017 was my little boy’s last full year at nursery before he started school in 2018.

And…

Truthfully, it worked for a while and was even enjoyable at times. I branched out into entertainment PR and dabbled in many areas. However, what I learned was that working from home and making a career out of blogging is not my thing. I still love to blog of course, but I don’t want my blog to be the be all and end all. The family dynamics change once your little one goes to school too. I found I couldn’t just pop off to London and I didn’t want to. I lose 6 hours a days for 5 days a week of my lad’s company during term time and I love being able to drop him off at school and pick him up. The smile on his face when I’m waiting at his classroom door is more moving than any theatrical performance I’ve reviewed.

What’s Next?

2018 saw me start another job with the NHS (it’s what I know!) and that works at the moment. I like leaving the house to go to work and although it’s been a slightly awkward transition for my boy as he got used to me being at home, we’re all getting on with it.

2019 sees me being less of a critic and more of a cheerleader as I share all my positive experiences with you. I also have a few new ventures on the horizon which will hopefully help my much-desired career changes to take shape – but at the heart of everything are my boys – my husband and my son.

Have you tried to combine blogging with parenthood and career juggling? I’d love to hear about your experiences too! 

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Iolanthe ~ Malvern Theatres

Star rating: ****

Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe landed at Malvern Theatres this week courtesy of the National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company and it was a joy to behold. In my previous experience, there aren’t many companies who do G & S like this talented ensemble do, Iolanthe is in safe hands with them that’s for sure.

Directed by Cav. Vivian J. Coates and choregraphed beautifully by Mary MacDonagh, it’s a picturesque rendition of the tongue-in-cheek tale of Fairies, Peers and a twenty-something shepherd who is half mortal and half fairy. Peppered with hilarious comedy, an extraordinary score and romance galore, it’s one of my favourite G & S shows.

The title refers to banished fairy, Iolanthe who was a favourite of the Queen of the Fairies but whom she was forced to send away when she married a mortal, namely the Lord Chancellor. Unbeknown to her Fairy family, Iolanthe conceived and gave birth to Strephon, half mortal and half fairy, and he is set to marry his sweetheart, Phyllis (who coincidentally happens to be ward of the Lord Chancellor) when Iolanthe is permitted to return to the realm. Phyllis is adored by the entire House of Lords. However, they have no means of turning the head of the young beauty until she suspects her love of two-timing her. A long explanation follows and the Queen of Fairies determines that the only way to resolve the situation which is complicated in the extreme, is to send Strephon to parliament, which is perhaps not the wisest solution. Overall it’s a tale of controversy and ultimately love punctuated with numerous musical numbers to narrate the action. ‘Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither’, ‘When I Went To The Bar’ and ‘Oh, Foolish Fay’ being just a few of my personal favourites.

It was no surprise to find Richard Gauntlett in the role of Lord Chancellor, he did it justice of course and coped brilliantly with the archetypal quick-paced numbers. Nicholas Sales was in fine voice as George, Earl of Mountarat and made a superb double act with Eddie Wade as Thomas, Earl Trolloller. Bradley Travis was an excellent choice for the role of Strephon, I was transfixed by his exceptional vocal ability and I enjoyed his duets with bride-to-be Phyllis (Rosanna Harris). Jennifer Parker was quite captivating in the title role of Iolanthe, I particularly enjoyed her scenes with the Lord Chancellor. Gaynor Keeble gave a flawless performance as Queen of the Fairies, her quirky inflections and stunning mezzo voice characterised the role perfectly. Her scenes with Private Willis (Matthew Siveter) were among many of my personal highlights as their comic timing shone through spectacularly. A mention must also go to Stephanie Poropat as Celia, one of the Fairies. From the moment she danced on, light on her feet and her sheer gentility, she drew my attention immediately.

The only area that the recent ENO’s production excelled in, in comparison to this rendition has to be in the costume department – and that’s to be expected in the nicest possible way. Certainly from a vocal, performance and overall production perspective, there’s little to choose between them. If you can see this show in Harrogate, I highly recommend you buy a ticket as fast as you can!

Book your tickets and check out tour dates for all of the productions from the exceptionally talented National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company, here: https://www.ngsoc.org/

Entertainment Views Interview with: Yvonne Howard

I’ve been a fan of Gilbert & Sullivan’s operas for a number of years, The Pirates of Penzance captured my young imagination at the tender age of 10 years old and I’ve now seen every opera they’ve written. Opera on a wider scale, I’d not encountered or considered, until I saw the ENO’s production of The Mikado when it was shown on Sky Arts last year. A performer by the name of Yvonne Howard was playing the role of Katisha and I was transfixed by her, a singer who’s voice I connected with instantly, yet also an actress of such incredible versatility. Referring to Google, as one is wont to do to seek out her previous credits,  I was soon delving into the world of opera and embracing it in a way I would never have believed I could or would have done. 

Interviewing somebody who inspires me so much is always exciting for me and I loved chatting to Yvonne about the current production she’s starring in, Iolanthe at the London Coliseum and also asked her what advice she has for potential performers. 

Photo Credit: ENO Website

Thanks for talking to Entertainment Views, Yvonne  – first of all, tell me about your character in ENO’s production of Iolanthe.

It’s a pleasure, I’m playing the Queen of the Fairies, she’s a bit of a battle axe in some ways but she’s a good hearted battle axe . How Cal McCrystal, our director has conceived the idea of her is that she’s a mixture of the morals of Queen Victoria , so she’s very moralistic and wants everyone to stick to the rules and obey but she also does have a big heart because she’s been in love herself and we hear that in her aria. So, she wants everything to be proper and right but fails a bit herself. She doesn’t really have a sense of humour, she’s straight-laced, but there’s humour around her.

Is the Queen of Fairies a role you’ve wanted to play? 

No, not at all actually, when I was at school I understudied the role of Phyllis. When the Queen of the Fairies was offered to me I thought “it’s very low will I be able to sing it?” but then when I met Cal McCrystal (the director) and he talked about the whole show and the designs, and I met Paul Brown (the designer) who sadly has since died I just loved the whole idea. It’s good fun.

Do you find something different in the role and the show each time you perform it?

Yes, because the audience gives you that, we’ve had absolutely pant-wettingly loud audiences, we’ve had some who aren’t sure if they’re supposed to laugh because they’re at the opera. The amount of laughter and the atmosphere in the theatre changes every night and of course we all feel different every performance.

Have you got a favourite moment or scene in the production? 

Well, apart from the fact I get to fly – I love the flying! Otherwise, not really, I love the whole thing.

What would you say to encourage people to come and see it? 

Tough! It’s almost sold out, we were told that the final matinee performance only has nine seats left!

So, what would you say to encourage people to come and see it if it’s performed again? 

Come, do not miss it – if you’ve never seen opera before it’s a really good foot in. If you’ve seen G & S before but you think it’s a bit light-hearted, come and listen to the quality of the music and the singing. The designs are exquisite, the direction is hilarious but also quite poignant in places. Give it a whirl, don’t come with any biases.

Photo Credit: ENO Website

What would you say to people who are usually musical theatre goers but haven’t been to an opera before because they don’t think it’s for them?

This would be a brilliant one to come to because although the singing is of a classically trained ilk, I’ve done mostly opera but I’ve crossed over and done musical theatre and good music is good music whatever it is, I think. We’ve made opera into this genre that’s for other people, I was brought up thinking that, but it really isn’t. I’ve never paid as much for a ticket to go to the opera as I have to go to a football match, a rock concert or a west end musical. It’s a shame that people lack the confidence to dare to dip their toe in the water, because it really is for everyone. I come from a very ordinary background, I was born in Stafford, Dad at that time was a panel beater. If you love good music and you love a good drama then come and watch an opera and you’ll get both. Iolanthe is a good introduction for anyone who might be daunted or think that opera is ‘stuffy’, this certainly isn’t ‘stuffy’. If you want to make going to the cinema your first go at opera, you can – although it’s not the same as seeing it live. There’s nothing like hearing the human voice live.

Speaking of your cross over into musical theatre, you’ve appeared in Carousel – would you be keen to perform in another musical or to return to Carousel if you could? 

Oh yes, I would love to do Carousel again and I would love to sing the Mother Superior in The Sound of Music.

Do you have a preference between opera and musical theatre? 

Well, as a classically trained singer my career has mostly been in opera, but you also do oratorio as well as recital repertoire where you can sing seven or eight languages in one evening. I just love good music, although my career has been on the classical side.

Finally, what would you say to anybody considering a career as a performer? 

Whatever you do be true to yourself, work blinking hard, be really nice to your colleagues – it’s so important because you need them. You’ve got to be able to trust your colleagues when you’re on stage and be able to help each other out. So, work hard, know your stuff, don’t be difficult, if it’s what you want to do go for it but not at the expense of anyone else.

Huge great big thanks to Yvonne for giving her time to me for this interview, she’s a fellow midlands girl too which made it all the more poignant. I adored Iolanthe and Yvonne was absolutely amazing, the review is here: Iolanthe Review

If you can grab one of literally very few tickets left for the remaining performances of Iolanthe at the London Coliseum, do it! You won’t regret it, click the link: Iolanthe Tickets

 

 

Iolanthe ~ London Colieseum

Reviewer: Helen McWilliams

Star rating: *****

One of the first operas I was taken to see when I was a child was Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance starring Paul Nicholas and Bonnie Langford. I was aged 10 years old at the time and yet I remember it as if it were yesterday. My love of Gilbert & Sullivan took root and I’ve watched most of their masterpieces (I’ve even performed in The Pirates of Penzance, albeit in an amateur capacity). Iolanthe was the last on my little list, I HAD to see it at the Coliseum. It didn’t disappoint, in fact if I could sneak in again on 7 April, I would!

Before the curtain opened we were entertained by the sarcasm and wit of Captain Shaw (Clive Mantle) who appeared as the resident Fireman, his job being to undo the pyrotechnical mayhem caused by the Queen of the Fairies’ wand! In fact it was surely no coincidence that he was both fireman and warm-up man! The tone of the show was already set, however a cursory peep at the audience from a random flamingo on stage right firmly established the overall atmosphere of the piece. Not to mention there’s a sheep in one of the boxes… standard patron of the opera?

Set between Fairyland and the House of Peers, we witness Fairy Queen (Yvonne Howard) call disgraced Fairy Iolanthe (Samantha Price) back from the banishment she has endured as the result of her ‘unlawful’ marriage to the Lord Chancellor (Andrew Shore). With Iolanthe’s return to fairyland comes a surprise in the form of her half fairy (from the waist up)/half mortal (from the waist down) son, Strephon (Marcus Fansworth) whom she conceived with her husband. Strephon is a shepherd, excitedly anticipating his marriage to Phyllis (Ellie Laugharne). Just to complete the circle of bizarre coincidences, Phyllis is the Lord Chancellor’s Ward! The introduction of the peers completes the picture and how do they make their appearance? On board a rather resplendent train (filing through from one side to the other!), their different personalities are abundantly clear. One of them has a dog who completely drew my attention, so effective, enhancing the comedy elements which fuel the piece, in the best possible way.

The overall production is underpinned by slapstick, flying fairies, comic timing de force from the full ensemble and of course, the glorious score of Gilbert & Sullivan brought magically to life by (in my humble opinion) some of the most talented operatic performers.

Musical highlights are difficult to pinpoint as the entire opera captured my imagination. However ‘Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither‘ was a lively number with eye catching choreography (by Lizzi Gee) and Phyllis and Strephon’s duet ‘None Shall Part Us From Each Other‘ offered a perfect opportunity to showcase their chemistry. ‘Oh, Foolish Fay‘, the Fairy Queen’s aria was beautifully performed by Yvonne Howard, her face is so stunningly expressive and her story-telling capabilities shone in this number.

The set, designed by the late, Olivier nominated Paul Brown is engaging, frames the action like an elegant picture postcard of years gone by and offers the most exceptional backdrop as befits the Coliseum stage. Cal McCrystal’s direction meets my own expectations of how a Gilbert & Sullivan opera should be portrayed, I’m eager to see him direct more of them.

Samantha Price in the title role is quirky, girly and comedy seems to be her forte, plus her vocal ability is astronomical. Andrew Shore wowed me as the Lord Chancellor and ‘Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest … ‘When you’re lying awake’ was also a personal highlight. Marcus Farnsworth and Ellie Laugharne were perfectly cast as the young lovers, Strephon and Phyllis. Ben McAteer and Ben Johnson made a tremendous double act as Earl of Mountararat and Earl of Tolloller. Llio Evans was beautifully whimsical as Celia with Joanne Appleby feisty and flirty as Leila. Barnaby Rea as Private Willis makes an idyllic love interest for the Fairy Queen, their ‘love story’ although brief and flighty really tickled me.

Iolanthe closes on 7 April 2018 and, as the Queen of the Fairies herself, Yvonne Howard, tells me in an exclusive interview (Interview: Yvonne Howard) – it’s almost sold out! Try to beg, borrow or steal a ticket here: Iolanthe Tickets

Photo Credits: Clive Barda/Arenapal 

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