The Searchers Farewell Tour

Their sound is one that I’ve grown up hearing my parents play on their old turntable and one of my all-time favourite songs is ‘Don’t Throw Your love Away’, it’s in my top ten of all time best loved singles and would easily make it to my dessert island discs list! They may be a band who were formed in the late 50’s (20 something years before I was born!) but when I listen to their back catalogue of classic hits, I know I was born in the wrong era.

The Searchers topped the bill at the Sixties Gold Show which was one of the highlights of my reviewing calendar last year and it was there that they announced their intention to retire. I cried and it has taken me time to come to terms with the fact that they mean it! However, they’re going out with the biggest bang with almost all their tour venues sold out and limited seats remaining where tickets are still available.

Last night, at the Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, they played a 2 hour concert to a full house packed to the rafters with fans and it was glorious. The best atmosphere imaginable and I’m still buzzing now (and wishing I could beg a ticket to another gig before they wave goodbye on 31st March).

The Searchers have transcended decades and I’m not ready for them to retire yet!

The four-piece, is compiled of bass player Frank Allen who joined the band in 1964, Scott Ottoway who started drumming for them back in 2010, the extraordinary lead vocalist and guitarist Spencer James who has been with the band for over 33 years and the legendary John McNally who is the remaining founder member. I’m transfixed by the talent of all four of the boys, they’re exceptional musicians, however John McNally can’t help my draw my attention, especially when he plays the twelve string guitar. His witty retorts and banter with Frank Allen make for an entertaining evening too, in addition to their brilliant trademark sound and sing-a-long opportunities!

From popular hits such as ‘Walk In The Room’, ‘Sugar and Spice’, ‘Needles and Pins’ and ‘Don’t Throw Your Love Away’ to a couple of Buddy Holly tracks and a fantastic version of ‘Running Scared’, originally by the late great Roy Orbison – a concert from The Searchers is a real treat. I’m not ready for them to retire, I respect the fact that they feel it’s time, but that didn’t stop my bottom lip from wobbling once the final medley had been played.

There’ll never be another band like them, they’ve transcending decades and generations and will be missed by their peers and fans alike, I’m sure. If you can grab a ticket to see their final shows, you’ll not regret it, I promise.

Spencer James from the band will be touring with a solo gig so make sure you buy your tickets for that, all the dates and venues are here:

Brian Conley – Still The Greatest Entertainer (In His Price Range) ~ Stafford Gatehouse Theatre

Star rating: *****

Brian Conley is a comedian whom I grew up watching on ITV, back in the day when we only had four channels to choose from! “It’s a Puppet” will be his catchphrase for all eternity, however catchphrases aside, as a performer and entertainer he is in a league of his own. The show he currently has on the road provides a mixture of pure comedy genius, combined with musical moments and indeed Conley can be serious to – when he’s not trying to coax an unwitting audience member into putting her hand down his trousers!

Like all of the greats, there are jokes you would associate with Brian Conley is you know his material. I know it inside out so I was slightly ahead with the punchlines, however far from spoiling the experience, his familiar humour proved to be as much of a hit today as it was years ago. He interacts with the audience effortlessly and naturally, his ‘victim’s’ are not scared to engage with him and that speaks volumes in itself.

We were treated to a number of his musical theatre characters with Conley’s velvet tones lending themselves beautifully to ‘Hush-a-bye Mountain’ from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘ and what a superb surprise for him to include a performance as Fagin in the mix. Jolson was a big hit for the master of comedy and no evening with Brian Conley is complete without an excerpt or two from the show. Although no evening is complete without ‘The Devil Went down To Georgia’ either, if you know the violin trick Conley does, you’ll howl with laughter as if it was the first time you’d seen it. If you haven’t seen it before, just you wait.

There are few entertainers who are able to grab my attention and hold it for a full two hour show without any waivers – Conley held me to rapt attention and I would watch this show again and again without hesitation. Catch this tour while you can, if you miss it you’ll have missed out. It’s like watching Tommy Cooper, with a dash of Russ Abbott and a sprinkling of Morecambe and Wise. Let me tell you, you ain’t seen nothing yet!


Dear Zoo ~ Stafford Gatehouse Theatre

Dear Zoo is on a UK tour, book your tickets at a venue near you, here: Dear Zoo Tickets

Star rating: *****

Written by Rod Campbell, this is one of my son’s ultimate favourite books! It had to go everywhere with him when he was pre-toddler age and he knows it inside out, now. The transition to stage has been made smoothly and beautifully, with every great element of the book translated into a superb theatrical production.

The story is told by Ben, Sally and Sam the Zoo Keeper, they guided the young audience through the popular tale brilliantly. There was plenty of audience interaction and opportunities for the children to join in with songs, counting and to help regale the story.

In the various colourful crates, we see Ben receive a number of unsuitable pets from the Zoo following his letter to them, asking for a pet. There’s an elephant, he’s too big, a giraffe who’s too tall and a very naught monkey. The animal characters are either portrayed by puppetry or performed by members of the cast – every animal is engaging and for the little ones and they each have their own musical number too!

This show is the perfect running time and there’s no interval so momentum isn’t lost. If you’re looking for a family trip to the theatre, this is one of the best. As a first visit to the theatre, it’s definitely the most ideal for all young ages.

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.

Spotlight On… Star of Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – Samuel Townsend

Samuel Townsend plays Numbskull (and he makes a cameo appearance as Friar Tuck in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s pantomime, Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – here, he tells Break A Leg all about it… oh yes he does!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell us about your character.

I play Numbskull and basically I’m the silly character, although this time around there’s a lot of heart in the role and a lot of Numbskull’s motivations are down to his love for Maid Marian. He’s blind-sighted and makes silly mistakes throughout the show because of his love for Maid Marian. People can expect lots of slapstick from me and I’ll probably end up with lots of bruises!

Why do you think audiences love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime format so much? 

I think they’re different to things that people have seen before because it’s rare that you’ll see quadruple threats in one show. It’s a talented company. This time you get to see it all as it happens, it’s part rock gig and part panto –  a big family concert for everyone.

What’s your favourite thing about pantomime season? 

As we get closer to Christmas it’s normally the first thing on many people’s lists, my parents will watch a panto and that’s the beginning of Christmas for them. It’s nice to see everyone relax and sink into the start of Christmas.

Why do you think that pantomime is still an important part of Great British culture?

I think for a lot of people it’s their first experience in the theatre, we have lots of school shows and that is the first time these kids will have seen anything live on stage. It’s a British tradition and I think it’s something that is very staple British format. British humour, great songs, very much a celebration.

Who are your pantomime idols?

Steve Simmonds! I didn’t see that many pantomimes when I was younger but my Uncle watched a lot of Laurel and Hardy and I think that they’ve been an inspiration.

Finally, sell the show – why should everybody buy a ticket to see Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood? 

If you’ve seen it before you know what you’re getting, it’s a rock concert with something for everybody and all the family. If you haven’t seen it before it’s really quite a spectacle.

Spotlight On… Star of Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – Rachel Nottingham

Rachel Nottingham plays Britney in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s pantomime, Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – here, she tells Break A Leg all about it… oh yes she does!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell us about your character.

I’m playing Britney who is one of the Babes in the Wood and I’m very lucky to be working with Celia who plays my sister. We’ve got a good rapport going on hopefully. Britney and her sister Whitney are the typical ‘It’ girls so rather than being babes as in children we are Babes as in eye candy. We’re all about image and the way we come across, looking the best, getting the guys, I imagine they’re the sorts of people who have very expensive handbags and shoes. They’re quite cocky but they are goodies, I want them to be likeable, they’re a bit silly, they do fall in love in the show with the Merry Men.

Why do you think audiences love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime format so much? 

I think the great thing about the Rock ‘n’ Roll panto is that you’ve got the Dame and the silly gags, you’ve also got all the basics then you add into it a load of amazing songs that everybody knows, classic rock ‘n’ roll songs and you can’t really go wrong with performing those. The fact that it’s all played live on stage, I think audiences love that, I know when I go and see a show – to see the instruments played live on stage makes it come alive.

What’s your favourite thing about pantomime season? 

Genuinely the audiences, when you do a show normally, audiences can be great but when you do a pantomime the audiences are high on life, they all seem to really love it, they throw themselves into it. It’s a different kind of atmosphere, they’re completely on your side and they’re there to have a really good time. If you have fun with the show, the audience will have fun – it’s more a collaborative experience for audience and performers. It’s interactive and every show is different because an audience member might say something or do something that changes the scene.

Why do you think that pantomime is still an important part of Great British culture?

It’s been around for so long hasn’t it and everyone remembers going to the pantomime as a kid. I went to the Stevenage pantomime every year and it was so magical growing up and as an adult you get something completely different from it. That’s the great things about pantomime, it suits all ages. It’s magical for the kids but for the adults it’s hilarious and ridiculous. It’s so inclusive, non theatre goers come to the theatre which is great.

Who are your pantomime idols?

My friend Clare Halse, I saw her in The Babes In The Wood when I was 10 years old, she started off in pantomime and she’s done amazingly well as a dancer and performer. She’s playing Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street in the West End at the moment, she’s always inspired me to be a better performer. She’s an incredible dancer, dancing is her forte and it’s great to have seen her go all the way from panto to the West End.

Finally, sell the show – why should everybody buy a ticket to see Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood? 

It’s for everyone, it’s a really fun night out and there are some banging tunes in there too.

Spotlight On… Star of Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – Robert Wade

Robert Wade plays Will Scarlet and Blondel in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s pantomime, Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – here, he tells Break A Leg all about it… oh yes he does!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell us about your characters.

I play two characters, Will Scarlet and Blondel. Will Scarlet is a famous Merry Man, he’s full of himself, he’s a ladies man but he’s equally got a silly side I would say. The character of Blondel is the story teller and narrator-type figure, he’s high energy and a bit of a rock star. They’re both quite similar characters in a way.

Why do you think audiences love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime format so much? 

It’s the fusion of live music and acting/performance which is quite a cool thing as a visual, to watch actors who play really well and then sing all in one show. Rather than having the defined line between musician and the actor.

What’s your favourite thing about pantomime season? 

This is my second pantomime and I like the camaraderie between the cast members, you’re all in it together, you’re all doing two shows a day. You’re rushing back for Christmas, you’re rushing back for new year and everyone is doing the same.

Why do you think that pantomime is still an important part of Great British culture?

It grew from the Music Hall era, the late Victoria twenties/thirties vibe and audiences have always enjoyed songs and acts. Panto has slapstick acts, songs and music. Theatres rely so much on panto as a crowd pleaser. Some people’s only experience at the theatre is watching pantomime. So if there’s a combination of comedy, music and romance then there’s nothing more British.

Who are your pantomime idols?

I don’t really have pantomime idols, I suppose I’m doing what I’m doing because of musical theatre – I played Oliver at the age of seven and it went from there.

Finally, sell the show – why should everybody buy a ticket to see Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood? 

It’s got men in tights! It’s got songs, rock n roll songs from across the decades and genres, it’s got arrows, sword fights, greenery, puppets, an amazing set, amazing music and you’ll be up on your feet to dance. There’s jokes, a good story and everything, there’s nothing not to like!

Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood ~ Stafford Gatehouse Theatre

Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood stays at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre until 7 January 2018, to book tickets follow the link: Stafford Gatehouse Theatre Pantomime

Star rating: ******

It’s been a long time since I last saw Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood performed, and it was a very different incarnation to the Rock ‘N’ Roll version currently being staged at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre. This particular version has become one of my favourite pantomimes of the season! It’s got it all, from a multi-talented who play numerous instruments and characterise their roles perfectly whilst also each having incredible singing voices – to a simple yet stunningly effective and innovatively practical set. You won’t be disappointed if you make it your priority to buy a ticket to this glorious production.

Taking the title role of Robin Hood is Sandy Grigelis and he’s the epitome of a pantomime hero, with a trademark cheesy smile which he flashes at the audience and doesn’t go amiss! His vocal ability lends itself to the various hits that he belted out, from ‘I Fought The Law’ to ‘Born To Run’. Laura Sillett was the perfect match for him as a feisty Maid Marion, an exceptional talent, Sillett brought out the strengths of the character rather than offering her as a meek ‘Princess’ and she’s another strong vocalist too. In fact ‘A Natural Woman’ was one of many highlights for me. Anthony Hunt was terrific as Sheriff of Nottingham, he was dastardly and yet a likeable villain. Samuel Townsend also gave a stand-out performance as Numbskull and Friar Tuck, he’s clearly adept at comedy and his comic timing provided the roles with additional impetus. Dominic Gee-Burch was a fantastic side-kick for Townsend as Portullis the ‘goon’ and was also notable as Little John. Mike Slader and Robert Wade played a number of characters between them, both gave strong performances and it took time for me to realise they were playing multiple roles – they were each so believable in the characters they took on. I was delighted to see the Babes portrayed as two older female ‘babes’ and Rachel Nottingham together with Celia Cruwys-Finnigan were outstanding as Whitney and Britney (insert clicking fingers and growls here!). ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ was another highlight for me which was performed by the Babes and Marion. Finally, Steve Simmonds as Nanny Nelly Nightmare, he was everything a Dame should be – quick witted with an abundance of energy and gave a fearless portrayal.

In short, miss this show at your peril – Stafford have got one tremendous pantomime this year and the Rock ‘N’ Roll genre is innovative and fast becoming my favourite style of panto.

Spotlight On… Star of Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – Sandy Grigelis

Sandy Grigelis plays Robin Hood in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s pantomime, Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – here, he tells Break A Leg all about it… oh yes he does!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell us about your character.

I play Robin Hood, he’s the leader of the Merry Men, he’s very confident and finds it easy to outwit the Sheriff and his friends. His weakness is Marian, his weakness is also being too confident. That’s what might throw him off in this production and he needs to find the difference and the fine medium between his love for Marian and his confidence.

Why do you think audiences love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime format so much? 

Because they’re awesome! There’s nothing else like them, I think it’s incredible that all the musicians are on stage. You get an amazing, well written story – but then there’s so much going on you don’t know where to look. We’re lucky to have a cast of so many talented people.

What’s your favourite thing about pantomime season? 

I just love the festive season anyway, it’s something which doesn’t take itself too seriously – you know what you’re going to get with a pantomime. There’s a romance story, audience participation , rock music too which is my favourite thing, popular tunes from various decades.

Why do you think that pantomime is still an important part of Great British culture?

It’s such a British thing, as Brits we’re very traditional and proud of it so pantomime’s never going to stop, you won’t find it anywhere else in the world.

Who are your pantomime idols?

I always went to see the pantomime in Bradford and there’s a comedian called Billy Pearce who does their pantomime every year. My girlfriend is doing the pantomime there with him this year which is really exciting.

Finally, sell the show – why should everybody buy a ticket to see Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood? 

It’s the best Rock ‘n’ Roll pantomime that’s out there in my opinion, there’s so much to it. There’s amazing comedy, amazing actors and actresses, the best songs. Come and see it!


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