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!

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Present Laughter ~ Malvern Theatres

Present Laughter’s tour finishes at Malvern Theatres on Saturday 20th August.

Star Rating *****

Noel Coward’s plays are my self-confessed guilty pleasures, their wit, charm and farcical qualities never fail to bring a smile to my face. The plots are usually predictable, as is most definitely the case with Present Laughter, which arrived in Malvern this week on the final leg of the UK tour it has been embarking upon. Still, this is a five-star production, in my humble opinion and deserves a West End transfer.

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Samuel West and Daisy Boulton as Garry and Daphne

Garry Essendine (Samuel West) is a bumptious, self-obsessed performer (Coward is in fact taking the Michael out of himself with this role), he has a bevy of beauties at his beck and call who all claim to have lost their latch key. Whatever happens in the mad-cap world of the glory hunter, he’s not satisfied and perpetually lonely. His secretary, Monica (Phyllis Logan) is used to the comings and goings of young ladies and responds to her boss in a no-nonsense and sarcastic manner, which he undoubtedly deserves. Loyal to the last, though, she is quite taken aback by the arrival of the manic Roland Moule (Patrick Walshe McBride) and takes on an almost Joyce Grenfell style quality when he is let loose in his idol’s office. With young Daphne Stillington (Daisy Boulton) and Joanna Lyppiatt (Zoe Boyle) who is married to Garry’s Producer, Henry (Toby Longworth) both making their intentions abundantly clear, Essendine’s life is already farcical enough. Add his ex-wife, Liz (Rebecca Johnson) to the fray, whom he has never divorced from and who continues to have control over his career, at least, and there’s a recipe for disaster. Did I mention that among his household staff there is a mad Scandinavian Housekeeper, Miss Erikson (Sally Tatum) who doesn’t appear to do much around the place other than ‘bum’ cigarettes!

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Phyllis Logan plays Monica

Not a weak link is present among the cast and there are solid performances throughout. With Samuel West and Phyllis Logan being the instantly recognisable names among the throng, I anticipated a certain standard from them. Phyllis Logan shines on stage as much as she does on-screen. Yes, she is vastly experienced, but let us not forget she has had a lengthy break from treading the boards. She plays comedy and deadpan brilliantly and convinced me that she still has a few tricks up her sleeve where her ability to take on completely different roles, is concerned. Her facial expressions, alone speak volumes, and that is a skill, particularly putting that across in a large auditorium. Samuel West gives a show-stopping performance in the leading role, he is a tour de force. It seems that when you think he’s given the role all he can give it, he takes it up another notch, an inspiration to watch. Taking the star names out of the equation, I felt that the show belonged to Rebecca Johnson, Daisy Boulton and Patrick Walshe McBride. They all connected perfectly with their characters, Johnson was a superb match for West, bringing the right mixture of assertiveness and heart to Liz. Boulton was outstanding as the smitten Daphne, simpering and silly in equal measure. Walshe McBride is a name I will be looking out for in the future, he brings a Frank Spencer meets Basil Fawlty meets Little Britain element to the role of Roland and I felt that he played him as the least predictable of Garry’s ‘fan club’. Sally Tatum’s comic timing as Miss Erikson did not go unnoticed, either, it was spot on and imaginative.

This is a seamless production performed on a spectacular set and not to be missed, definitely one of my must-sees of 2016. Book your tickets here to catch it in Malvern: http://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk.

 

 

Spotlight On… Star of Present Laughter, Daisy Boulton

Present Laughter is a touring show stopping at:

Richmond Theatre – 1st – 6th August 2016

Theatre Royal, Brighton – 8th – 13th August 2016

Malvern Theatres – 15th – 21st August 2016

Daisy Boulton is currently starring in the tour of Present Laughter by Noel Coward, here’s my exclusive interview with the talented young lady, herself.

Thank you for chatting to Break A Leg, Daisy, tell me about your character in Present Laughter and are you enjoying the tour so far?

I am playing Daphne Stillington, a 24 year old debutante, who has fallen hook, sink and liner for Garry Essendine, a hugely successful and famous theatre actor. I am really enjoying the tour – yes! Such a talented and lovely group of actors and company of creative.

What did you think of the script when you first read it? How familiar are you with Coward’s work?

I loved Daphne and thought it would be such fun to play….if I manage to pull it off. I saw ‘Hay Fever’ in the West End a few years ago and thought Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Freddie Fox were fabulous. It’s a joy to have the opportunity to play such complex and brilliant writing and revel in it’s the hilarity.

Have you a favourite line or scene?

When Liz says ‘I feel a sinking’ in explanation for asking for a cup of coffee. I have found myself finding many a tongue-in-cheek, apt moment to use the line.

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Daisy with co-star Samuel West in Present Laughter

 

What made you decide to become an actress?

Doing The Dreaming as a kid with the NYMT and years later watching Harriet Walter play Cleopatra opposite Patrick Stewart at the Novello Theatre.

Who inspires you as a performer?

Well…..Harriet Walter, Cush Jumbo playing Anthony in Julius Caesar at the Donmar and then taking on a regular lead in The Good Wife, which is the show of my dreams to be in. Julianna Margulies for that matter! Katie Sagal in Sons Of Anarchy. There are many pretty amazing performers, female and male who I am inspired by.

What do you think the most valued lesson is that you’ve learned in your career, so far? 

Never stop thanking my family and friends for their relentless love and support!

Any advice for aspiring actors?

If you get a knock, get up, dust yer self off and go again. It’s never straight forward.

Finally, what can the audience expect from Present Laughter and what would you say to encourage people to come and see it?

Sam West is a fabulous Garry. It’s lots of fun. It’s brilliant, brilliant writing. It’s an insight into the world and life of Noel Coward as it is the closest to an auto-biographical play. The hidden depths and subtleties have been important to us as a company creating it, Stephen Unwin, our director said how like Chekhov Coward is and I agree. It’s moving and sad in many ways as a play but through great humanity and therefore laughter. Humans are quite funny really after all.

Huge thanks to Daisy for her time and I’ll be seeing the play to review when it arrives in Malvern, can’t wait!

Photo credits: Theatre Royal, Bath

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