Matilda the Musical ~ Milton Keynes Theatre

Matilda the Musical is currently touring, check out the tour dates, venues and book your tickets, here: Matilda the Musical

Guest Review by Hayley Makepeace 

An amazing show from the RSC, it’s obvious why it is doing so fabulously well.

The children are the most talented I have ever seen in a production. They really steal the show. This is a musical made for children and adults alike whilst still very much retaining its roots as a children’s story. Everything about it keeps you in a child’s world…the ‘oversized’ set…huge building blocks featuring the alphabet, large swings that send the children soaring in the air across the stage, huge school gates that can be scaled. It all transports the audience to a 5 year old child’s perspective.

Rebecca Thornhill as Mrs Wormwood with Matt Gilleett as Rudolpho

Then there are the elaborate and colourful costumes that extenuate the Wormwood characters whilst Matilda is dressed plain and ‘normally’ by contrast. The set creates an imaginative child’s world with wonder, fantasy and excitement yet it is tinged with darkness mirroring the sad existence endured by Matilda.  This is a show that pulls at the heartstrings. Poppy Jones as Matilda showed us a very intelligent yet solemn, grown up but mischievous girl. A tiny girl, she maintained a stage presence that left you in no doubt who the show was about. An amazingly strong and clear voice when she was talking, a beautiful sweet singing voice that held an air of sadness but wasn’t too grown up and suited her young character.

Trunchbull (Craige Els) is a giant towering over everyone and everything, reflecting the scary darker side of life. The character was brilliantly played by the actor, Very strong and completely stood out as a character on its own against the world. I loved it when Truchbull swung Amanda (Maddie Gilbey) around by the pigtails. The scene had the effect of Amanda being swung into the audience, but then cleverly the girl fell from the ceiling onto the floor.

Craige Els as Trunchbull with Carly Thoms as Miss Honey

There were also excellent performances from Carly Thoms as Miss Honey, Matilda’s timid yet determined teacher and Rebecca Thornhill and Sebastian Torkia as Matilda’s parents, the brash Wormwoods.

A captivating and energetic production that holds your attention entirely, throughout. In fact I’ve never been at a show that seemingly passes so quickly. I loved the score and may have to purchase a CD!

Matilda the Musical stays at Milton Keynes Theatre until 30 June 2018. 

Photo Credits: Matilda the Musical Website

The Tempest ~ RSC, Stratford Upon Avon

The Tempest stays at Stratford until 21 January 2017: 

Star rating: *****

An extraordinary tale of betrayal, revenge and sorcery is brought to life thanks to wondrous special effects and a strong cast at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon.

The Tempest centres around Prospero (Simon Russell Beale) who is the rightful Duke of Milan and was betrayed by his brother, Antonio (Oscar Pearce). Antonio wanted the title of Duke and the property that came along with it, for himself, and set Prospero and his daughter Miranda (Jenny Rainsford) off to sea on a raft. This was twelve years earlier and against all odds, they have been living on an island.

With knowledge that Alonso, King of Naples (James Tucker) was travelling by ship with a party including Antonio, Sebastian, the King’s Brother (Tom Turner) and the King’s Son, Ferdinand (Daniel Easton) – Prospero uses the magic that he has learned to control, to create a horrific storm. The special effects and set used to mimic the storm are on par with the effects that are used in films and my heart was in my mouth while the ‘doomed’ troop was fearful for their lives.

Prospero, we learn, has not only taken control of the magic on the island, but also has a sprite by the name of Ariel (Mark Quartley) under his wing and has enslaved an inhabitant of the island, Caliban (Joe Dixon). Prospero’s tyranny is quite transparent, especially when it comes to his power over his daughter, too. Ariel longs for freedom which has been promised to him and Caliban wants his island to be returned to him so that he can live in peace. Meanwhile, Miranda falls in love with Ferdinand, who is brought to her and reciprocates her feelings. All of the ship’s passengers have made it ashore, unharmed, but they have been separated into three groups. Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian are among one group – where dark dealings are afoot with Antonia up to his old tricks and convincing Sebastian to murder the King, his brother. Alonso is caught up in grief as he believes that his Son, Ferdinand has not survived the storm.

The holographic technology utilised to aid the mystical appearance of Ariel offered a breath taking effect. Mark Quartley played the role with effortless elegance and roguish charm, anyway, however the added visuals were a stunning addition to the portrayal of the role. Joe Dixon had a caveman quality to his role of Caliban, primal and uncivilised, yet pained. It was a gritty performance which, I felt, earned much sympathy from the audience. Jenny Rainsford gave a balanced performance as Miranda, showing her girlish naivety and blending with a steely determination which escalated upon the arrival of Ferdinand. Daniel Easton was suitably love-struck as Ferdinand and demonstrated believable chemistry with Rainsford. I was instantly drawn to Oscar Pearce’s portrayal of Antonio, as it was clear which role he was playing before the introductions were made. Simpering, sarcastic and almost snarling at times, he was everything you would expect a traitor to be. Simon Russell Beale is an inspired choice as Prospero, he delivered the character’s monologues with ease, heart and precision. I found myself in turmoil as to my siding with him, unsure as to whether I pitied his misfortune at the hands of his brother or whether I despised him for his control of the island and his demands of Ariel.

My favourite characters in this story have always been the third party of castaways, Trinculo the jester (Simon Trinder) and Stephano the butler (Tony Jayawardena),

this motley pair bring light hearted moments when they’re needed and the casting of these two couldn’t have been better. Jayawardena in particular appears to be a very physical performer and he was able to play the drunken butler to hilarious perfection. Trinder bore a resemblance to Heath Ledger’s Joker from Batman, this in itself refocused my attention to the seriousness of the undertones where these characters are concerned.

Overall, this piece featured a spectacular set which made the best use of the stage, a cast who appear to have gelled, each member of whom embraced their role and brought out the themes of the play in their portrayals. The added magic and wonder which is provided throughout makes this a must-see this Christmas.

Photo credits: The RSC

A Midsummer Night’s Dream ~ Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford upon Avon

With a fascinating take on 1940s meeting a surreal and magical world, Erica Whyman has directed a beautiful, melodic and hilarious piece of theatre. This has been by far my favourite production of Shakespeare’s tale of four lovers who’s lives are meddled with due to the mischief and desires of the fairy world.

This play has been dubbed ‘A Play for the Nation’, and with children from various schools joining each performance and performers from fourteen amateur theatre groups each taking on the roles of the mechanicals (including Bottom), this is a collaborative effort, indeed.

The set displayed a great deal of realism with a theatrical backdrop used, whereas the forest where love and mischief reigns supreme displayed an overriding theme of red symbolism. This worked well, especially coupled with the inclusion of the piano centre-piece (where Titania, and later, Bottom take their rest). Music, dance and frivolity is very much a part of the piece and it lends itself perfectly.

Oberon the Fairy King and Titania the Fairy Queen are played with subtlety yet grace and gentility by Chu Omambala and Ayesha Dharker. Their chemistry is poignant and bold, excellent chemistry is also noted between Oberon and Puck, who is the cheeky elf who enjoys wreaking havoc. Lucy Ellinson plays the role and she was outstanding, facial features that spoke a thousand words and hilarious audience interaction. The four lovers, Lysander (Jack Holden), Demetrius (Chris Nayak), Hermia (Mercy Ojelade) and Helena (Laura Riseborough) were superbly cast and each were notable for comic timing which moved appropriately to emotionally charged performances. Riseborough appeared to use her height to achieve some comic effect, whether it was deliberate or not I’m unsure, but it worked! Each actor brought out nuances that highlighted their differences and vulnerabilities simultaneously.

A huge pat on the back must go to The Bear Pit amateur theatre group who played the mechanicals. There was an invisible divide between professional and amateur performers, David Mears as Bottom was a joy to watch, this must surely be a role that he was always meant to play.

This is a must-see and comes highly recommended as a show to beg, steal or borrow ticket for, this year.

The production is going on a UK tour before finishing back at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in July. Tickets for all performances can be purchased here and further details can also be found:

Wendy and Peter Pan ~ RSC, Stratford

Wendy _ Peter Pan production photos_ 2015_2015_Photo by Manuel Harlan _c_ RSC_179189Wendy _ Peter Pan production photos_ 2015_2015_Photo by Manuel Harlan _c_ RSC_179294

Atmospheric before the play itself had begun, Wendy and Peter Pan at the RSC in Stratford has to be one of the most stunningly effective and pristinely performed pieces I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, this year.

Knowledge of the tale was not necessarily required, as Ella Hickson’s eloquent writing tells a thorough story. Perfectly cast with Mariah Gale and Rhys Rusbatch in the title roles and RSC Associate Artist Darrell D’Silva as Hook.

The scene was set in the beautifully ornate nursery where the interaction between the four Darling children (with Sam Clemmett as Tom, James Corrigan as John and Jordan Metcalfe as Michael completing the line up with their sister) opened the production in spectacular style. Completing the family unit were Rebecca Johnson and Patrick Toomey as their parents. The picture window provided a magical backdrop for Peter Pan’s dramatic entrance, aided and abetted by his many shadows who displayed precise choreographed movement.

The set moved to accommodate the journey that the children ultimately took with Pan, the alternation was so spot on it was hardly noticeable. Neverland was the stuff that dreams are made of, the lost boys were a zany mixed bag of personalities who complemented each other superbly. Then there’s the tremendous performance put in by Charlotte Mills a rather bawdy but thoroughly loveable Tink!

Peter Pan’s den emerged delightfully from beneath the stage, this theatre’s stage lends itself to this degree of technicality and it made such an impact. The visual effects, including flying and fights between pirates and lost boys which exuded sheer energy. Notable about Rusbatch’s performance was the exuberance he maintained throughout, in stark contrast to the dark yet comedic character that D’Silva out across as Hook.

The pirates in Hook’s gang were all excellent as individuals as well as a gaggle, David Langham played Knock Bone Jones and portrayed hilarious stark contrast to star of ITV’s Benidorm’s Adam Gillen who played a disillusioned Martin. Of course the pirate ship was a joy to behold and the crowing glory.

The RSC have a Christmas show to be proud of, heart-warming, heart-breaking and incredibly touching while sustaining an edge of wonder throughout.

It’s on until 31st January, for details and to book tickets, follow this link:

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