The Lady Vanishes ~ Malvern Theatres

Star Rating: *****

Take a classic thriller written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, the film version having been directed by Alfred Hitchcock, add a stellar cast and one of the most atmospheric sets I’ve seen in a long time – what do you get? A flawless production of The Lady Vanishes.

Although I was already familiar with the title of the production, initially I was unfamiliar with the story. Therefore watching the action and mystery unfold with no prior knowledge was a real treat. The scene and tone at the railway station were immediately set and there was an overriding feel of authority and fear as Hitler’s Germany reigned supreme. The characters are introduced gradually and they all have a tale to tell, while a few characters remain vague which helps to build the tension and suspense throughout. What’s evident from the outset is that clues are everywhere and dovetail perfectly when the conclusion is reached.

The story is paced to perfection by the strong ensemble, Juliet Mills shone as Miss Froy – the lady who seemingly vanishes aboard a train to England, Lorna Fitzgerald has the opportunity to demonstrate that she is capable of extraordinary stage craft – I had known her as Abi Branning in Eastenders. As Iris, the young woman who is hell bent on discovering what has happened to Miss Froy, she couldn’t have characterised better. The chemistry and sublime partnership Fitzgerald has with Matt Barber as the unintentionally comedic Max. Barber is another familiar face from the television, having starred as the husband of Lily James’ character, Lady Rose, in Downton Abbey. While Barber remains a firm favourite of mine from the series, for as a screen actor I felt he was a joy to watch – on stage he excels further and every nuance of his performance was measured and deliberate – he certainly has hidden depths. Maxwell Caulfield possessed an eerily unpleasant quality in the somewhat pivotal role of Dr Hartz, it was really easy to dislike him and suspect him. Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon often stole the show as cricketing enthusiasts and businessmen, Charters and Caldicott. Duncan’s comic timing had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. Philip Lowrie played the fairly benign Eric, apparently trying to run off with Margaret (Elizabeth Payne) yet making a dog’s dinner of their scandalous liaison. Lowrie and Payne made a watchable and believable couple – Lowrie’s years of experience on stage and screen are obvious and I was fascinated with Payne’s stage presence and superb diction.

Antony Lampard’s adaptation lends itself to the stage, brilliantly and Roy Marsden’s direction is on point as always, he’s one of my favourite directors. You’ll be sure to become an armchair sleuth as the story unfolds, chaos ensues and inevitable tragedy occurs too.

The Lady Vanishes stays at Malvern Theatres until Saturday 23rd March, book now: https://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk/whats-on/the-lady-vanishes/

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Blood Brothers ~ Malvern Theatres

Blood Brothers, the musical that has had a special place in my heart for a long time – it will always be a five star production in my eyes and has yet to deviate from that honour. Each time I see it feels like watching again for the first time as it’s easy to find something I may have missed on other occasions.

If you don’t know the story let me enlighten you… the action is set in Liverpool where class difference has never been more prominent and centres around Mrs Johnstone, her family and struggles. She was married but he scarpered as soon as the number of children she was having almost rivaled that of a football team. With twins on the way and the welfare threatening to take her kids away she reluctantly strikes up a bargain with her well to do employer, Mrs Lyons. Splitting up her twin boys, Mickey grows up with the big boisterous family and of course, Mrs Johnstone as his mother, whereas Edward is raised by Mr and Mrs Lyons, with Mr Lyons remaining in the dark about the reason why his apparently barren wife has born him a son. As the lads grow up, having met each other and become friends when they were age 7 (nearly 8) there’s a love triangle developing with a girl called Linda and the class divide is set to catalyse fatal consequences.

You’re bound to have heard a number of the timeless songs; there’s ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’, ‘My Child’, ‘Easy Terms’ and ‘Marilyn Monroe’ to name a few. Linzi Hateley plays the iconic role of Mrs Johnstone, taking over from Lyn Paul, she’s made the role her own. Mark Hutchinson plays Edward (Eddie) and his years of experience in the part are very telling, it’s almost like a second skin for him. Robbie Scotcher is a moody, shadow-dwelling narrator, the power of his vocals wows and he possesses extraordinary stage presence. Daniel Taylor will always be my Sammy, the tantrums are show-stopping and there’s always a splash of real menace which hints at what the future holds for the character. Danielle Corlass gives another flawless performance as Linda. Tim Churchill is as superb as always, excellent as Mr Lyons and hilarious as the milkman cum gynaecologist. The ensemble are also as strong as ever with Graham Martin reducing the audience to tears of laughter with his performances as the Judge and the two vastly different teachers. Amy-Jane Ollies also shines as Donna Marie and Miss Jones. Andy Owens never fails to give a wonderfully funny portrayal of the nerdy pal, Perkins.

Last night belonged, for me personally, to Sean Jones as Mickey and Sarah Jane Buckley as Mrs Lyons. That’s because it was the last time that I was to see them in the show. They’re both bound for pastures new and with Sean having 15 years under his belt it’s going to be rather strange getting used to a new Mickey. Sarah Jane joined the cast in 2016, but it’s no secret that I was already a huge fan (and still am a huge fan!) as I loved her as Kathy Barnes in Channel Four’s Hollyoaks. As Mrs Lyons she has surpassed my expectations, adding an extra something special to the ‘bridesmaid’ of the female roles. I was also lucky enough to see her play Mrs Johnstone as she has understudied the part, and her performance still resonates now. One of my favourite experiences in the theatre.

Sean Jones IS Mickey, so although I’m certain the new one will be fantastic and find his feet, I’m sure the loss of Sean from the cast will be felt keenly. Wishing both of them all the best for their future roles anyway – which I know they will both be amazing in. Look out for them, and indeed catch them in one of the venues that they will tour to with Blood Brothers before they finish. This is the first of their four remaining weeks with the tour.

All in all, Blood Brothers is one of the best nights at the theatre you could wish for, miss it at your peril! If you want to catch it at the wonderful Malvern Festival Theatre, it plays there until Saturday 2nd February: blood-brothers

Photo credits: Robert Day

Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs ~ Malvern Theatres

Star rating: *****

Our pantomime season has kicked off late this year, however the first of the festive treats that we’ve been able to attend has surely set the bar high, as a five star extravaganza and perfect family pantomime – Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs at Malvern Theatres is not to be missed.

Starring the wonder that is Hi De Hi! star, Su Pollard, as the Wicked Queen, the show transported me back to the traditional pantomimes I was brought up watching. Thanks to exceptional comedy performances from Pollard, Mark James as Muddles and Philip Meeks as Dolly, there were plenty of laughs to be had and the jokes worked on every level, too. My four year old son all but rolled in the aisles with mirth at the physical comedy from Mark James, while I was entertained by the tongue in cheek, political references and occasional overt smut from Philip Meeks who shone in an amazing array of outfits! He was certainly the mistress of quick changes too. Francesca McKean was a gentile and sweet Snow White, she was the epitome of easy-going, naive Princess. Aidan Banyard possessed the stance, winning smile and qualities of the dashing Prince. The Dwarfs were all glorious, too with Soppy (Charlotte Fawbert) being my favourite. However it was Pollard who stole the show, a wicked laugh like no other, commanding the stage in her unique way and her vocal ability when it came to the musical numbers was quite extraordinary.

There were numerous songs moving the action along, a nod towards The Greatest Showman, Shrek the Musical and the hugely successful and popular artist, George Ezra as well as Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Choreography courtesy of Alastair Bull, was eye-catching and befitting for the genre. The scenery provided an atmospheric backdrop suitable for the story and moved seamlessly.

My personal highlight was the Twelve Days of Christmas, performed by Muddles, Dolly, the Prince and Grouchy the Dwarf (Craig Salisbury), it never fails to be a favourite pantomime tradition of mine. The mayhem and chaos of the scene had the audience in fits of laughter. The five toilet rolls gag proved as popular as ever.

UK Productions really know their stuff when it comes to the simplicity and heart of the genre of pantomime and Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs left my party feeling like Christmas had finally begun. Book your tickets now: Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs

Entertainment Views Interviews: Star of Malvern Theatres’ Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs… Su Pollard

Actress Su Pollard has long been a favourite performer of mine, both on screen and in her various stage roles. As a pantomime villain she’s second to none so I was delighted to hear she was going to play the Wicked Queen in Malvern Theatres’ pantomime this year, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Here, Su tells me why she thinks that pantomime remains a popular tradition at Christmas and we chat about her appearance in the ITV reality television programme ‘Last Laugh In Vegas‘.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Malvern Theatres, Malvern, Worcestershire

Thank you for talking to Entertainment Views, Su – what do you love about pantomime?

I like panto because it’s a real tradition and I believe that traditional theatre should keep going as long as possible. In the same way that people love Shakespeare, so many people love panto. You’re never too old to get into the spirit of it all. I like it when the kids are screaming and that they’re allowed to be noisy, in other instances they’d be expected to be on their best behaviour. If I don’t make at least one child cry then I think I’ve failed in my job! I love it when a child gets carried out, result!

So you enjoy being the baddie then? 

Oh I do love playing the baddie and scaring the children, but it’s important that everybody goes home happy and feels they’ve had value for money.

Do you agree that being able to introduce children to theatre from a young age is important? 

Absolutely, it’s great that parents can bring their children to see a panto and not have to tell them to ssh! Of course you have to be careful that they don’t behave the same way when they’re introduced to Shakespeare and other shows! I was playing the Nurse in Rome and Juliet years ago and I had to say “oh Miss Juliet, Tybalt has died” and someone shouted “hi de hi!” I just had to move swiftly on, I did smile to myself a bit.

Do audiences shout “hi de hi!” to you when you’re on stage in panto?

Yes, all the time, I don’t mind if they do it, I try to say something mean back to them as there’s a part in the show where the audience are encouraged to say it – although I won’t say where in the show it happens.

How do you keep the energy going throughout the pantomime season? 

People often ask “how do you do it?” but you pace yourself and you learn how to in rehearsals, because that’s where you learn what you’re supposed to be doing and you know what you’re in for.

Have you got a favourite pantomime? 

My favourite pantomime and story is Aladdin but Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a very close second. There’s no veering off from the story and the pureness of the fairy tale and I love the fact that good triumphs over evil. It teaches people that in life you can never get away with being mean. As is shown with the Wicked Queen as something bad happens to her as a result of her being mean.

Stepping away from pantomime for a moment, I have to mention ITV’s Last Laugh in Vegas, it was an amazing show which I thoroughly enjoyed – what did you get out of the experience? 

I loved doing that show because I’ve never wanted to do anything like Big Brother, but at the end of this one, although it was a very similar format with us staying in the house together, we got to do a proper show. To me it was a culmination of what we were going out there to do, we got on really well there was no back-biting, we were going out there to do the best we could and have fun. The unfortunate thing was I left my mobile phone in the path of a sprinkler back at the house – there were sprinklers on all day for the plants – I put it in a rice box for two days but it did no good. Other than that it was enormous fun!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Malvern Theatres, Malvern, Worcestershire

Finally, what would you everybody to encourage them to buy a ticket to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Malvern Theatres this season? 

It’s VFM which stands for Value for Money! You’ll have a fabulous night out and get exactly what you want, great singing, amazing costumes, plenty to join in with. It’s got something for all the family so buy a ticket and come and see us!

Huge thanks to Su for her time – I can’t wait to see her in action – oh no I can’t! 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs arrives at Malvern Theatres on 13th December and stays there until 6th January 2019, book here: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 

Ruddigore or The Witch’s Curse ~ Malvern Theatres

Star rating: *****

One of the few Gilbert & Sullivan operettas I’d not seen was Ruddigore and it’s become a firm favourite following the show-stopping production brought to Malvern Theatres by the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company.

Directed by Cav. Vivian. J. Coates, choreographed by Mary MacDonagh it’s everything I expect a Gilbert & Sullivan piece to be, witty, tongue-in-cheek, overt humour with modern references appropriately added. Brexit is naturally the go-to present day addition in the script! The choreography of this production is particularly notable, from ensemble numbers to duets, the dancing is eye-catching and beautifully executed.

Ruddigore itself is a complex, interwoven story with ‘pantomime villain’ characterisation at the centre of the tale. The story revolves around Robin Oakapple, who has been living as a farmer for years, working up the courage to ask the beautiful village maiden Rose Maybud for her hand. He is hiding a secret, he is actually Sir Ruthven, the Baronet of Ruddigore, and has been hiding in disguise while his younger brother Despard assumed the title, and the curse. With Richard Dauntless, Robin’s foster brother also on the scene and in love with Rose Maybud and Mad Margaret hot on the trail of Despard, her one true love – it’s like an olden day bedroom farce!

Bradley Travis plays Robin Oakapple (Sir Ruthven) and he’s exceptional in the part, his rich vocal tone lends itself to such numbers as My Eyes Are Fully Open which was my favourite and featured Despard (Matthew Siveter) and Mad Margaret (Mae Heydorn). Siveter was clearly in his element as Despard, making a grand entrance as a cunning, dastardly cad who would rival Dick Dastardly from the children’s television series ‘Wacky Races’! He was a superb match for Heydorn who grabbed my attention as Mad Margaret – the timing of the line delivery as well as the visual comedy she brought to the role were just a few of Heydorn’s strengths in taking on the role. Rosanna Harris brought a quirky, air-headed quality to Rose a she dilly dallied around falling in love at the drop of her etiquette book which was forever in her grasp. Her Aunt, Dame Hannah was played by Gaynor Keeble who was every inch the stern, over-seeing senior, most put out at having been carried off to fulfil a daily crime which Sir Ruthven was bound to commit later in the show.

With an ensemble who each individually have exquisite voices, all of which I could hear with such clarity – the females of the ensemble all giggled in excitable unison as they scurried around waiting to be bridesmaid to somebody, anybody! The male members in the ensemble all made fine sailors and later in the piece they were notable as Ruthven’s ancestors.

If you’re a fan of Gilbert & Sullivan’s works, I highly recommend you go and see this extraordinary company.

Book your tickets for the remaining performances of the various productions in the G & S Festival (in Harrogate), herehttp://www.gsfestivals.org/gs-opera-company/

Photo Credits: Jane Stokes 

 

Evita ~ Malvern Theatres

Evita stays at Malvern Theatres until Saturday 8 September before continuing its UK tour – to book tickets for Malvern Theatres click here: https://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk/whats-on/evita/

Star rating: *****

When a show really blows you away, mentally and physically, it’s a rare and beautiful thing. Evita, one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classics, has been on my radar for years and I have reviewed it on many occasions in the past. However, last night’s incarnation at Malvern Theatres may have just trumped the lot with a cast de force, spectacularly slick choreography (Bill Deamer has done a wonderful job) and a live orchestra which in my humble opinion is unbeatable.

The story charts the rise and fall of real life icon, Eva Peron. With Lloyd Webber’s stunning composition and Tim Rice’s innovative lyrics which have stood the test of time, this musical ‘take’ on a historical figure is moving, intriguing and intricate. Subtle tongue-in-cheek humour lightens the often heavy mood and powerful performances bowled over the full house. As we see Eva (Lucy O’Byrne) manipulating a myriad of men on her quest to conquer Buenos Aires, the big apple, there’s eloquent and bitter narration from Che (Glenn Carter), a revolutionist. Eva eventually gets her man, when she presents herself to Peron (a military man who is also on the climb as he heads up Argentina) as a woman who would be ‘surprisingly good’ for him. The story, though life affirming in its own way is not without its tragic twist.

Lucy O’Byrne positively shine as Eva, it’s a role that was seemingly made for her it’s such a perfect fit. Her vocal ability pushes boundaries as the intensity and immense power of her voice increased with every musical number. Her chemistry with both Glenn Carter as Che which is brooding and stalking and Peron (Mike Sterling) – which carries a more passionate and fiery determination, was palpable. Carter’s diction was on point throughout, a greater story teller I’ve yet to see in this particular show. Sterling had magnificent stage presence which lent itself brilliantly to the role of Peron. The entire cast should be proud of their accomplishment, Oliver Slade particularly stood out as one of the ministers, likewise Verity Burgess grabbed my attention and held it in all of the numbers in which she was involved.

Two of my personal favourite songs were as memorable as I hoped they would be, ‘Peron’s Latest Flame’ and ‘Rainbow High’ – such rousing melodies with engaging performances to match. O’Byrne handled ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ like a dream, the crescendo literally blew me backwards in my seat. Each musical number has something different to offer, though and there isn’t one that doesn’t belong.

Don’t miss the opportunity to catch the show at a theatre near you, it is a true masterpiece and the cast are treating it as such.

Photo credits: Pamela Raith

Peter Pan ~ Malvern Theatres

Star rating: ****

The story of Peter Pan is well known by many, film adaptations (live action and animated), pantomimes and musical versions are plentiful and everybody has their favourite incarnation.

ABD Productions have staged this latest production for a limited run at Malvern Theatres. It’s a hybrid of musical theatre and pantomime, with catchy musical numbers, frequent audience interaction and a mixture of both professional and local juvenile performers.

Elliott Hanna (he once played Billy Elliott in the West End, which is where I remember him from – he’s certainly grown up since!) starred in the title role which he played to perfection. He was accompanied by Phantom of the Opera and Opera North star Janey Cowley as Mrs Darling (and the Spirit and the Mermaid!) who was in spectacular voice, a superb choice for all of those characters. There was a fantastic performance from David Thomas who played Mr Darling with a firm hand and later on, Captain Hook – terrorising his crew whilst in hot pursuit of Peter Pan. It makes a delightful change to see a show of this genre in the summer months as usually one has to wait until the festive season to attend a production that all ages will appreciate.

The choreography which was created by Elliott Hanna was a notable feature, plenty of ensemble scenes and opportunities for the juveniles to showcase their ever-growing talent. It was also a pleasant surprise to see juveniles in the roles of Tinkerbell and Tiger Lily. It’s also worth mentioning that Elliott Hanna was tasked with teaching the rest of the cast ‘how to fit in’ – at the tender age of 15 himself, this was surely no mean feat for the young star.

The scenery provided an atmospheric backdrop to the action as Peter Pan whisked the Darling children away on a journey to Neverland. Neverland itself was a beautifully engaging set, imaginative and creative. There’s flying too, as would be expected – not always seamless but it certainly captured the imaginations of the young audience members.

My four year old son was entranced by the entire piece, his favourite was undoubtedly Captain Hook! This production is fun for all the family and it’s an adaptation that’s easy to follow too. The run at Malvern Theatres has finished, however it’s worth looking out for in the future.

The Little Mermaid ~ Malvern Theatres

Little Mermaid is on UK tour – check our all the dates/venues here: Little Mermaid

Star rating: ****

It was a first for me to see a Circus performance and definitely a first to be able to appreciate Little Mermaid performed this way. However, I hope this will be the first of many opportunities I will have, as I have witness something extraordinary in Metta Theatre’s production.

With book, lyrics and additional song melodies from Poppy Burton-Morgan, we were treated the tale of the mermaid’s quest to live on land which is mirrored by the Prince’s desire to be by the sea. A fateful storm throws them into one another’s path and so begins the classic love story, it’s a rollercoaster of dark magic from the Sea Witch, life-changing choices and the overall feeling that love will conquer all eventually.

The music was played on stage by the cast and they all possessed stunning singing voices, their musicality matched their physical abilities and made for quite the spectacle. The strength, trust and confidence that each one emulated was thrilling too.

With a set which was minimalistic yet represented the sea beautifully, with the sparse addition of relevant apparatus, the scene was set for a story of wonder. The talented ensemble demonstrated their abilities as acrobats, singers, musicians and story-tellers. I can honestly say this was the first time I’d ever seen an individual swinging upside down and simultaneously playing the violin! It looked as natural as the other stunning choreography and movement, though, the entire show was seamless.

It was unfortunate that my eyes were drawn to the wings as I was eager to watch the technicalities, this may have distracted me from the splendour unfolding on stage. However, there’s no denying that the production is flawless both on and off stage.

I’m delighted to have dipped into a different genre of live performance and Malvern Theatres provided a superb space to watch it in.

Photo Credits: Robert Day

 

Top 5 Pantomimes – 2017/2018

It’s been a busy festive and indeed Pantomime season and there are a few amazing shows enjoying their final audience this weekend. Choosing my favourites from amongst the eight Pantomimes I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege of watching has been really easy! Here they are…. of yes they are…. (I need to stop that, until the end of this year at the very least!!):

Sleeping Beauty – Rhyl Pavilion Theatre: The only show I have ever bitten the bullet with and cheekily given six stars to! I LOVED Sleeping Beauty at Rhyl Pavilion Theatre, it had everything you could wish for from a pantomime and worked on every audience level. Sean Jones (who I’ve always rated in Blood Brothers) was outstanding in the comedy lead, Amy Thompson was her usual fantastic self in the title role (one of the best female leads I’ve seen – I saw her last year at Malvern Theatres). Vicky Entwistle impressed me as Carabosse, I didn’t realise how superb her vocal ability is and Sarah-Jane Buckley makes the role of the Fairy her own – she’s incredible, I can’t fault her at all. Add the glorious set, excellent mixture of songs and plentiful opportunities for audience participation to the mix and you have one of the best pantomimes of the season for Break A Leg.

Cinderella – Liverpool Empire Theatre: I loved everything about our unexpected trip to see Cinderella at Liverpool Empire Theatre. A beautiful setting with one of QDOS’s best pantomimes ably filling the auditorium with pantomime magic and a stellar cast. Jodie Prenger as Fairy Godmother is a moment that will last until the next pantomime season. Daniel Taylor, knocked his performance out of the park as one of the truly awful (in the best possible way) Ugly Sisters. He was assisted by James Templeton who is a performer I’ve not seen before, another exceptional Dame! The set was stunning and I couldn’t stop admiring it, it was akin to a wonderland. One of the best!

 

Sleeping Beauty – Worcester Repertory Theatre: One of the most exceptional efforts this season and from one of Break A Leg’s local theatres. It was my debut at Worcester Rep and a splendid show to make my debut with. This pantomime is one of the best family pantomimes I’ve seen this season, a warm, friendly feel and a cast de force. Liz Grand as Carabosse as Ben Humphrey as Dame Ginny were both exceptional. A massive high five to all involved, can’t wait for your next show.

Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood – Stafford Gatehouse Theatre: The Rock ‘N’ Roll pantomime which really changed my perspective of pantomime with a fresh new take. What a talented group of performers who sing, dance, characterise and play instruments! This is one I’d have happily paid a return visit to see. Guaranteed to have you dancing in the aisles.

Cinderella – Malvern Theatres: Malvern always have a superb pantomime and this season’s show has been no different. This version of Cinderella was packed with a variety of musical numbers, excellent up to date banter and audience interaction was at its best. Alison Hammond was a Fairy Godmother to be reckoned with and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance from the Ugly Sisters too. There aren’t many pantomimes I would recommend fellow theatre-goers to travel for, but this one would certainly have been worth making an effort to get to.

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