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!

 

City Of Champions ~ London Theatre Workshop

City Of Champions has just completed a run at London Theatre Workshop, we will keep you informed of any future runs.

Star rating: *****

New writing can be hit and miss, however this gruelling sensation of a piece has emerged from the Theatre Lab into a production after just shy of 6 years in the making. Written and directed by Steve Brown, it has a solid beating heart at the hub, with branches feeding in which offer the audience glimpses of strong friendships, broken relationships, chequered pasts and shocking, gritty reality.

Amy Burke as Mary-Celeste and Joel Arnold as Laurie

The story centres around Laurie Munro (Joel Arnold), he was a Hollywood teen sensation in the his day but now we find him residing in a ‘shed’ at his co-star and best friend’s house in California. Eighteen stays in rehab and a heart condition, exacerbated by Viagra are the sum total of the remains of a so-called glitzy lifestyle which hides a harsh and sordid truth. His friendship with Lonnie (Joe Southall) is the only stability he has, they have a bromance of sorts and each has the other’s name tattooed on their bum cheeks! Although Lonnie is unaware to begin with that Laurie actually has gone ahead with his side of the tattoo bargain. Lonnie’s wife, Amy (Ellie Ward) is both supportive and desperate for a baby, therefore seeing the back of the ex toast of Hollywood would suit her. It’s evident that she is Lonnie’s rock, but his loyalties are often divided. Then there’s Barbara Munro (Maggie Robson), Laurie’s mother whom he rarely addresses as ‘mom’ or ‘mother’, preferring to call her Barbara. Akin to a small child who has found out their parents’ first names and thinks it’s clever not to call them mom or dad. Laurie and Barbara’s relationship is damaged, almost beyond repair, however, ever the manager (which seems to have taken priority over her being a mother) Barbara is chomping at the bit to have her son out there and working again. One of the jobs on offer involves Laurie seeing and working with the director of one of the films for which he and Lonnie were (and to some extent still are) household names. James Hudson Philips (Ian McCurrach) holds much responsibility for the state of Laurie, today – his intentions towards young ‘beautiful’ people were not merely work driven. A saving grace in the form of Laurie’s old flame, Mary-Celeste (Amy Burke) arrives on the scene seemingly just in time.

Joel Arnold as Laurie and Ian McCurrach as James Hudson Phillips)

The fact that the horrors described as the story unfolds have so much truth in them was a squirm-inducing factor for me, the realisation that a wardrobe test was not just a wardrobe test and that this became the norm will haunt me for a long time to come. The story is heart-breakingly current with Operation Yewtree still prominent let alone Corey Feldman’s interview which Steve Brown cites as one of his initial ‘inspirations’ for this piece. Joel Arnold’s performance as Laurie is remarkable, he struts around with the swagger of a star, makes light of situations and takes every opportunity to take the Mickey. Yet when the occasion calls for it he steadily and stealthily reveals each of the broken man’s vulnerabilities. The chemistry with Joe Southall as Lonnie is incredible, such a believable relationship and it’s quite something to watch him unravel from the apparently glued individual that he has re-built himself as. Ellie Ward is a joy to watch as Lonnie’s easily put out wife, Amy – she’s filling the voids in his life but unaware of why the voids are there. Amy Burke is stunning as ex child star Mary-Celeste, her two-hander scene with Arnold was one of the many standout moments in the piece and the emotion that she injected into her performance gave a myriad of edges to her character. Ian McCurrach as James Hudson Phillips was skin crawlingly creepy, I cringed because his performance was so on point that it was easy to forget that he was playing a part! I’m shuddering to think of it now, and that’s exactly how I should be feeling. Maggie Robson’s performance as the mother from hell, Barabra, was so watchable that my one complaint with this otherwise (in my humble opinion) flawless script was that I would have liked to have seen more of her. Testament to the way in which Robson portrayed her I’m sure. Simultaneously cold with a hint of care which was far too little too late, it was easy to see how the relationship with her son had become irreparable. There was a fire in Robson’s eyes when she addressed Laurie and considered the future, with the events of act two bringing about changes in the character which were subtle and poignant. To the point in fact, where I felt some unexpected sympathy, a performance de force from one of my favourite actors.

I hope that there will be a chance for a wider audience to see this important and eye opening play, I’m so glad that it’s been take out of the Lab!

 

City Of Champions ~ Press Release

CITY OF CHAMPIONS 

★★★★ Carn’s Theatre Passion “poignant and thought-provoking ”
★★★★ Last Minute Theatre Tickets “Beautifully written”
★★★★ The Reviews Hub “Packs a heavy punch”
★★★★ Theatre Weekly “A powerful story that is well told”
 
A new play by Steve Brown
 
Presented by London Theatre Workshop
17th July – 5th August 2017
 
Written and Directed by: Steve Brown
Cast: Joel Arnold, Amy Burke, Ian McCurrach, Maggie Robson, Joe Southall, Ellie Ward
 
Developed through the London Theatre Workshop, this poignant new play is a world premiere from Steve Brown, an exciting new writer.
 
Set in 2010, in the city of Inglewood, Los Angeles, CITY OF CHAMPIONS focuses on two former nineteen-eighties child superstars, Lonnie Drake and Laurie Monro, who are living with the after effects of early stardom and abuse as teen stars.
 
Lonnie, a recovering alcoholic is married and still working in the industry.  Laurie, although clean after numerous trips to rehab, is broke and unemployable.  He is living in the ‘guest lodge’ in Lonnie’s backyard.  Desperate for work and money, a job opportunity presents itself but it means working once again with the director who abused him during his teen career.
A reunion with someone from the past and an unwelcome visit from an old colleague act as the catalyst for Laurie to make a decision to take control of his situation and change everybody’s lives.
 
CITY OF CHAMPIONS is at once charming, funny and heartbreaking.  Charting the very familiar path of a history that catches up with someone at both the best and worst of times, the play focuses on the very human issues of dealing with abuse and trust.
 
Artistic Director of the London Theatre Workshop, Ray Rackham says: “It is with huge delight and pride that this important piece of theatre, developed over LTW’s three-year history both in Fulham and in its new home at Leadenhall Market, is ready to be produced for an audience.  I am exceptionally proud of LTW’s Theatre Lab, which provides a safe and playful environment for new writers to develop and eventually produce new work.  After the success of APARTMENT 40C, JUDY!, and TRIBE, I am honoured that Steve Brown has entrusted CITY OF CHAMPIONS with London Theatre Workshop, for its world premiere.”
 
Runs at London Theatre Workshop, Leadenhall Market, 88 Gracechurch Street, London ECV3 0DN (above the New Moon Pub).
17th July – 5th August
Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Additional Saturday matinee on 29th July at 2:30 p.m.
Not suitable for children.  Contains strong language and adult themes.
Ticket Bookings
Tickets can be purchased at LTW’s online box office: City Of Champions Tickets
Photo credits: Rosalind White Photograph

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