My Top 10 Performers ~ 2017

Performers on stage… I’ve seen a few, but then again… no I’ve definitely seen a few and I’m full of admiration for so many of them. So, who made my top ten this year? Well I’ve had a difficult time whittling the list down but the top ten have each impressed me in ways that have continued to resonate as the year has worn on. Here we go, in no particular order!

Claire Machin ~ I think that The Girls has to be my favourite West End show of 2017 and although it didn’t make my top 5 shows list, it’s still up there as one of the highlights of my theatre-going calendar. I think Claire Machin was one of the crowning glories in that show and she’s also one of my favourite interviewees ever. I urge you to see this amazing lady on stage if you can, her voice, her tenacity and her energy are all infectious. She’s a star.

Daniel Taylor ~ I’ve seen this man in three different guises this year and excels in each of them. Whether he’s imitating Tommy Cooper, spitting and whining as Sammy in Blood Brothers are donning a pair of high heels and mocking Cinderella – he’s an actor de force and will always have my support. Amazing performer and one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, not just in 2017.

Michele Dotrice ~ She’s been one of my favourite on screen actors for years and years, however seeing her in The Girls (twice!) has cemented her as one of my stage favourites too. She can sing, she has comic timing in abundance and she whipped her kit off live on stage too – my hero! I would say I’d like to see more of Michele on stage, however….!

 

Graham Martin ~  I’ve always admired Graham’s ability to play multiple roles in Blood Brothers to an extremely high standard (to the point where I feel the show wouldn’t be the same without him), but he also impressed me in The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre. I’m only sorry to have missed his performance as the King in pantomime this year. Graham’s one of the finest triple threats in my humble opinion.

Sarah Jane Buckley ~ Sarah Jane was my first ever favourite soap star, I’d not really had a favourite character in any of the soaps prior to Kathy Barnes rocking up in Hollyoaks and stirring things up. Sarah Jane is my favourite Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers too, however this year I also had the chance to see her play Mrs Johnstone when she stepped in for Lyn Paul. She was absolutely sensational, I could wax lyrical forever. I’ve also finally seen her in pantomime this season, which was another amazing experience. There’s nothing Sarah Jane can’t do, she’s a natural in every genre of performance.

Tim Churchill ~ Another Blood Brothers star who is my favourite Mr Lyons for sure, but who also starred in Stoke Repertory Theatre’s The Hollow and showed another element to his acting talent. It’s given me a taste of what other roles he would lend himself to, a very talented actor.

Cathy O’Reilly ~ I was really impressed by Cathy’s performance in The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre, she can convey so much without words and the movement and fluidity she put into the role has stuck with me. She’s a talented actor who I’m keen to see perform in other roles in the future. I believe she would be able to play a variety of characters, this introduction has been the tip of the iceberg.

Sean Jones ~ I’ve watched Sean as Mickey in Blood Brothers many, many times and he is inspirational in the role. I feel every nuance of emotion in his performance. So he most definitely makes it to my list because he’s the best Mickey in my favourite musical. I also saw him in as Silly Billy at in Sleeping Beauty Rhyl Pavilion Theatre and he was amazing. Completely reminiscent of my favourite comedy stars whom I grew up watching with comic timing to rival any stand up comedian.

Amy Thompson ~ Amy was on my radar on Channel 5 as a Presenter on Milkshake! because I have a three year old, however last year I was blown away by her performance as Sleeping Beauty at Malvern Theatres. This year, I’ve watched her in the role again and she wowed me all over again, so for her sheer triple threat ability – she’s one of my top performers of 2017.

Robert Daws ~ I’ve always rated Robert Daws, another actor who began as an on-screen favourite then blew me away with his stage roles. How The Other Half Loves was an excellent fit for him, he conveys so much without words and embodies every character he portrays. I highly recommend catching him in a theatre production, I was only sorry not to have been able to have seen How The Other Half Loves again.

 

 

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How The Other Half Loves ~ Malvern Theatres

How The Other Half Loves is running at Malvern Theatres until 30 September, book tickets here: How The Other Half Loves Tickets

Star rating: *****

In my humble opinion, the ultimate specialist in farce is Alan Ayckbourn and nowhere is my point more finely demonstrated than in How The Other Half Loves. A classic, fast-paced, quick-humour-packed bundle of confusion and chaos which it could be so easy to lose the thread of if it’s not directed and performed on point.

The current UK tour which has docked at Malvern Theatres this week has a cast de force, not a weak link among them and all of whom bring to life the patter and intricacies of Ayckbourn’s script. The basis of the story centres around Frank and Fiona Foster – Frank is the oblivious boss over Bob Phillips and William Featherstone. Frank’s oblivious to the fact that Fiona is having an affair with Bob, and the story waving from the conniving lovers leads to Williams and his unwitting and perpetually nervous wife, Mary landing themselves in the middle of a farce. Also add Bob’s wife Teresa to the mix, she has one baby, no job and an active interest in articles that are published in The Guardian.

As Bob and Fiona’s untruths come nicely to the boil, their deceit coincides with Frank’s dinner party plans with the Featherstones and as if that wasn’t enough, Teresa decides to invite the dull pair to dine with her and Bob. The result is the audience being treated to simultaneous dinner parties at opposite ends of the scale with a fraught Mary and a wet William! Meanwhile Fiona is remaining tight lipped and sticking to her lies and vagueness for as long as she can.

Caroline Langrishe is exceptional as Fiona, I’ve seen the piece performed many times in the past and she is by far the best I have seen in the role. Her comic timing is impeccable and she synchronises superbly well with Robert Daws as Frank. Daws takes his performance to another level entirely, facial expressions speaking volumes and his physical comedy ability coming into its own. Matthew Cottle, I have seen in the role of William before and there is nobody better as the nice but dim Accountant – this is his role without a doubt. Sara Crowe is a joy as timid Mary the Mouse, hiding behind her husband, contending with Sherry which she can’t stand and enduring torment from a mischievous Bob. Leon Ockenden and Charlie Brooks steal the show as the sparring Bob and Teresa, we never see their baby but we know that he’s up to no good, unsupervised while they are either at each other’s throats, making up or leaving the flat unattended.

The set lends itself to the genre, plenty of entrances and exits and clever use of interweaving the flat belong to the Phillips’s versus the grandeur of the Foster residence. At no time was it not evident which property we were ‘in’. That in itself is an art!

If you’ve never seen an Ayckbourn play before, this is a fine introduction to his genius and if you’re familiar with his work – you will get a real kick out of this gem.

 

Spotlight On… Actor & Author, Robert Daws

Actor and best-selling Author, Robert Daws is currently touring with How The Other Half Loves. As the popular farce prepares to visit Malvern, I caught up with one of my favourite actors and authors to ask him about his latest on stage role and his illustrious writing career!

Thanks so much for talking to Break A Leg, tell me about the tour of How The Other Half Loves which you’re currently involved in… 

I’ve always wanted to do more Ayckbourn as I first did a one act play of his and after that there was one other occasion in 1991. I love Ayckbourn plays, I’m thrilled to be doing this.

Which character are you playing?

I’m playing Frank Foster, the part that Nicholas Le Prevost played when the show was in the West End last year. Caroline Langrishe is playing the role of my wife and I filmed a Midsomer Murders episode with her last December!

I remember your first Midsomer Murders Episode and your character’s horrendous death!

Yes, that was ten years ago now! I did the first one with John Nettles and now I’ve come back to do this one with Neil Dudgeon and Fiona Dolman, they’re such lovely people.

Going back to How The Other Half Loves, do you enjoy life on tour?

I like the thrill of going to a new place every week, the different venues and the town or city to explore. I find that stimulating. I tend to do a play every two years and when I do I prefer to do a tour.

Moving on to your books, what inspired you to become an Author? 

I’ve always written, in my twenties I was writing plays and I wrote television proposals for years. I’ve always dabbled when I’ve had the time. I co-created a drama for Radio 4 with Duncan Preston which was quite successful so that planted the seed.

Now you’re writing books…

Yes I thought I’d write the first one as a Novella because if it was no good it’s not going to be a lot of time wasted. I’ve been going to Gibraltar for 25 years on and off, I’ve always been fascinated by it. Over that period of 25 years I’ve seen big changes. I decided that if I was going to write crime fiction and spend a lot of time in my head, I wanted to be somewhere that I want to be and somewhere that I know well.

It’s all going really well, they’ve been doing well and appearing in the top sellers chart – in the US and Canada as well as the UK.

What spurred on your interest of writing crime fiction?

I’ve always been interested in puzzles, I’ve always liked working them out. I’m hopeless at writing romance and I’ve always read crime fiction, so I thought I’d have a go myself.

If you want to read Robert’s books, too,  here are all of the links you need to purchase Robert’s books: 

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I’m so grateful to Robert for giving up his time for the interview and can’t wait to see him in How The Other Half Loves. You can book tickets here: Malvern Theatres

Break A Leg Top Five Touring Shows of 2016

Touring productions are part of the vast majority of shows that I go along to review, so whittling down a short list of the top ones from 2016 is no mean feat. The task has been eased somewhat as a few of my personal idols have been treading the boards this year and their appearances were highlights in themselves. Here we go, folks:

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Phyllis Logan as Monica in Present Laughter – I’ve waited a lifetime to see her on stage… it was worth the wait!

Present Laughter tour – the winner of Break A Leg Critic’s Choice Award for best touring/regional production, I had multiple reasons for taking this show to my heart. First of all, I’ll make no bones about the fact that I have been a huge fan of one of the stars of the play, Phyllis Logan, since I was a very little girl. So to see an idol on stage was a particular delight, and she was brilliant, plus she is also now a Patron of the website. Thumbs up all round! I thought that the cast as a whole were incredible, though and as well as having the pleasure of seeing another fantastic and well-known actor tread the boards, Samuel West, I also enjoyed Rebecca Johnson’s performance. I had seen her in Wendy & Peter Pan at the RSC in 2015 and loved her, so to see her in a Noel Coward play (I am a real fan of Mr Coward’s work) was a treat. I could gush further about the production, but I think the award for the show speaks for itself and I watched it once with a press ticket in my hot little hand and paid to see it again. That always speaks volumes, too! Well done to Stephen Unwin, who directed brilliantly.

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Rehearsal For Murder featured a stellar cast!

Rehearsal For Murder tour  – another play on my list for so many reasons, the chance to see Amy Robbins and Robert Daws on stage together couldn’t be missed and the cast were all superb. Stellar performances from each and every one and excellent direction. It was a dramatic thriller which had me gripped and frantically trying to fathom who dunnit. It also made for terrific interval debating between my husband and I. Neither Mr Daws or Ms Robbins disappointed, either and I’m now all the keener to see them tread the boards again. My interest in thrillers was also piqued from this particular play, so it was a winner in all respects!

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Julie Legrand was outstanding in The Rivals, she was so ready to play Madame Malaprop!

 The Rivals tour – my first trip to Bristol Old Vic Theatre and what a pleasant one it was, too. With Break A Leg Critic’s Choice award winner, Julie Legrand as Madame Malaprop amongst a cast who worked together so smoothly and wonderfully well. It was my first introduction to the work of another one of Break A Leg’s award winner, Lee Mengo as Bob Acres. Although I was familiar with the play, I had not seen it performed before, and my face ached from laughing. The entire production was a joy from start to finish, the theatre had a welcoming and enticing atmosphere and I met one of my long-time idols, Ms Legrand, afterwards too which was a moment I’ll never forget. A brilliant night at the theatre.

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Blood Brothers will always be one of my favourite musicals. What a score!

Blood Brothers tour – always a favourite musical of mine, I did the same trick as with Present Laughter – bought a ticket to see it at one theatre and had a press ticket to see it elsewhere.  I never tire of Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone, I think it’s fair to say that it is her part and I’m always guaranteed to enjoy her performance. Adding Sarah-Jane Buckley to the cast as Mrs Lyons has really set it off. I have always thought that she has been an excellent actress each time I’ve seen her either on telly or on stage. Not only have I found her to be one of the best actresses to play Mrs Lyons, but I gather that she did a fine job when it came it stepping in to Ms Paul’s shoes and taking on the role of Mrs Johnstone. I adore the musical score for this show and I look forward to seeing Graham Martin play the multiple roles that he has made his own over the years. Graham is a friend of my husband’s and it’s always a good excuse to see him when Blood Brothers does the rounds.

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Rocky Horror Show… long may they continue making a man with blonde hair and a tan – they have a regular punter in little old me!

The Rocky Horror Show tour – another of my all-time favourite musicals that, had I have had the time, I would have paid to have seen at another theatre after having reviewed it with my press ticket in Malvern. I had seen Liam Tamne in Hairspray and Les Miserables before, but he really came into his own as Frank-N-Furter. OK, it helped that he was easy on the eye, but the mischief and mayhem that he put into the role was outstanding. I love everything about this show, from the audience participation and leaping out of my seat to do the Time Warp, which never gets old – to the variety of narrators that grace the stage. We had Steve Punt play the narrator on this occasion and he was amazing. Hats off also to Sophie Linder-Lee, my favourite Columbia so far. I fully expect that this show will be in my top five choices again, next year!

Phew what a challenge that was… I wonder if any shows will knock The Rocky Horror Show and Blood Brothers off the list in 2017? Excited to out!

Rehearsal for Murder ~ Malvern Theatres

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Suspense, intrigue, twists, turns and a cast of talented actors among whom there is no weak link. What more can one ask of a new thriller which is currently touring the UK?

Written by the writers of Murder She Wrote, Richard Levinson and William Link (adapted for stage by David Rogers), directed by Ray Marsden, Rehearsal for Murder has a set that drew me in from the beginning and it inspired the ultimate experience for me as an audience member, I almost forgot that I was in the theatre! Instead, I felt like I was watching an all-consuming whodunit on television. This, I attribute to the polished, slick performances and exceptionally engaging writing.

Robert Daws plays Alex Dennison, a playwright who is setting up his own murder investigation exactly one year to the day after the opening night of his west end play. Moreover, it’s the anniversary of his fiancée, Monica Welles’s death, she was the star of his play and a well known movie star. Welles is played by actress, Amy Robbins and she brings glamour, heart and realism to the role. Dennison is the lynchpin of the piece and it can’t be an easy feat to effectively ‘carry’ the play with a tremendous amount of dialogue to go with it, however this challenge is one that Daws embraces and succeeds in. He gives an outstanding performance, backed up by the tenacious Susan Penhaligon as Producer, Bella Lamb, who provides a great deal of humour. Also, Steven Pinder who brings a delightfully edgy quality to the part of Lloyd Andrews, the Director together with brash leading man, David Matthews who is portrayed to marvellous effect by Robert Duncan, one feels there’s somewhat of a ‘tongue in cheek’ nuance utilised.

As the story swaps between scenes from 1989 (the present day that the play is set in) and 1988, the tale comes together like a well crafted jigsaw. The set encompasses the action, beautifully, while the audience are led well and truly up the garden path to draw the wrong conclusion! Or are we? With a bereft playwright playing detective, in the company of an anxious Director, jealous understudy and cock-sure leading man, the finger could point anywhere!

If you like a gripping whodunit, this is the production for you, and it will be in Malvern until Saturday 30 January – tickets are available here: http://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk or via box office number 01684 892277. Alternatively, Rehearsal For Murder will continue to tour around the UK afterwards, and you can find all dates and information here: http://www.kenwright.com/microsite/rehearsal-for-murder/

Don’t Miss It!

 

Spotlight On… Robert Daws and Amy Robbins

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*** Spotlight On… Robert Daws and Amy Robbins ***

They met while filming ‘The Royal’ for ITV, and now they’re happily married with two children. Now, they’re touring the UK with ‘Rehearsal for Murder’, so I caught up with Amy Robbins and Bob Daws to find out all about the show.

Hi Robert and Amy, thank you for talking to ‘Break A Leg Review’,so tell me about ‘Rehearsal for Murder’, what can the audience expect from the play and which characters do you both play?
We play a playwright, Alex Dennison, and a movie star, Monica Welles. They have fallen in love and are about to get married. Tragedy strikes on their opening night in the West End and the play follows Alex’s unique investigation into Monica’s suspicious death. The audience can expect all the twists and turns, murder and suspense you’d expect from the writers of Columbo and Murder She Wrote.
Are you both fans of murder mysteries? Do you have a favourite whodunit author?
We love a good thriller. Bob has more interest has more interest in murder mysteries because he writes them himself. He has an Amazon best seller called The Rock and he is about to publish two more murder mysteries following the same characters, DI Broderick and DS Sullivan.
Is this the first time that you have worked together on stage? Is it something you will be keen to do again?
Yes it is. We worked together for eight years filming The Royal, but this is the first time we have managed to be in a play together. We are enjoying it very much, so will certainly not rule out future opportunities.
You met each other while working on ‘The Royal’ – so apart from meeting and eventually getting married, what are your favourite memories of that show and do you think it ended at the right time?
We had completed eight series and the time seemed right to move on to other things. We had a wonderful time on the show and worked with  many wonderful actors, directors and writers. We also married and had our girls whilst filming the show, so it will always be a very special time for us.
Robert, you first came to my attention in the wonderful and hilarious ‘Outside Edge’, what are your over-riding memories of that series and can you play cricket in real life?
Another lovely show to have been part of. A great cast and terrific scripts by Richard Harris. Nothing but fond summer memories of the show, and yes, I play cricket, with sporadic flashes of average ability.
Amy, you first ‘appeared in my living room’ in ‘Casualty’, which I still regularly watch to this day, did you enjoy your experience of that show.
It’s one of the great TV shows and I was very happy to be a part of it. Robert was actually the hospital manager for a year, but our paths never crossed.
What’s next for you both when this tour finishes?
Happily several projects are in the air, at the moment so we can sit back a bit and take a view. Doesn’t happen often in an actor’s life so we’ll enjoy it while we can.
Thanks to Amy and Robert for taking the time out to answer those questions.
Our review of ‘Rehearsal for Murder’ will be up, tomorrow and you can find information relating to its stop at ‘Malvern Theatres’ on our ‘What’s On’ page.

 

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