A Few of my Favourite Things…

As an entertainment and lifestyle blogger I’m always asked about my favourites, especially when I interview performers and creatives, I put the spotlight on them and more often than not the cheeky devils turn the tables on me! What’s my favourite musical, favourite play, who do I aspire to be? So, in the same way that every good website has a FAQs section, I thought I’d let you all in on my favourite things!

Favourite Musical

I’ve named this blogpost A Few of my Favourite Things, not because The Sound of Music is top of the list in the musical theatre stakes – although I do have a place in my heart for the show and I loved the incarnation which toured fairly recently and starred the superb Pippa Winslow and Zoe Ann Bown.

I digress, Blood Brothers is my all-time favourite musical. I can watch it over and over, I could watch it back to back and never get bored. I jump at the gunshot every time, I cry at different scenes but I do always cry. My favourite songs from the show have never changed, ‘My Child’ and ‘Show Upon The Table’. Musical theatre numbers at their best, give them a listen!

Narrowly missing the number one spot are:

  1. Phantom of the Opera (favourite Phantom is the mighty Ramin Karimloo!)
  2. The Girls (‘Silent Night’ sung by Claire Machin is quite a moment…)
  3. Mamma Mia (the ultimate feel-good musical and the current West End cast are insanely good)

Favourite Opera

Opera is a recent addition to my list of happy places and it’s all thanks to a chance viewing of The Mikado on Sky Arts. I saw opera star Yvonne Howard playing the role of Katisha and she blew me away. From there I was checking out her credits and finding myself gripped by classical opera in a way I never could have imagined.

My current favourite opera is Falstaff, I saw it at Garsington Opera very recently and it’s continued to resonate. I have a long-standing love affair with Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, they’ve been on my radar since I was a kid, however, Verdi’s Falstaff is something else. Comedy, poignancy and Italian language – it’s a treat for the eyes and the ears.

Favourite Play

Farce is my bag, when it comes to non-musical theatre I gravitate towards a laugh out loud comedy. Ray Cooney is one of my best-loved playwrights and recently I had the great pleasure of reviewing his production of Move Over Mrs Markham. It’s the king of farce and with the perfect cast, which the version I watched this year undoubtedly possessed – makes for a perfect night at the theatre for yours truly!

Favourite Film

I’m a Disney fan and a Harry Potter geek, so choosing a favourite film is nigh on impossible. All the Harry Potter films would be one answer, all the Disney films would be another answer.

If I move away from those particular passions and opportunities for geekery, I’d have to go with the hilarious American Pie movies. I can’t choose between them because the cast stays almost consistent throughout all four of the main films from the franchise. If there were major alterations to the line-up I think that would affect my judgement, however the proverbial dream team appear in them all (barring the lack of Chris Klein as Oz in the third film – which I might never get over!). I have met Thomas Ian Nicholas too, at a comic con – something else I may never get over. Truly.

An addition to my list of films which I can re-watch with alarming regularity is a surprise entry. I didn’t expect to love Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance anywhere near as much as I did. The royal family are portrayed by a cast of exceptionally talented actors and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can read my review here: Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance Review

Favourite Television Programme

So tricky to narrow this one down so I’m going to pick one (or more!) from each genre. If we’re talking about Soap Operas then it has to be Coronation Street (closely followed by Hollyoaks). The Street is a continuing drama that never loses momentum and some of the old favourites still reside there.

ITV Home Fires

One of my all-time favourite television dramas was Home Fires on ITV. The fact that it didn’t get a third series was bewildering and it still has a place in my heart. Unforgotten recently trumped it for Sunday night TV but I also love Call The Midwife, I can’t wait for the Christmas special. These dramas all have excellent casts who gel and make the show thoroughly watchable.

No modern day sitcom comes close to the classics I grew up watching. Hi De Hi!, You Rang M’Lord, Keeping Up Appearances. There’s nothing there to beat them, the opportunity to watch them on Gold is a god-send. Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em is equally up there with the best comedies in my humble opinion. They are all on my must-watch list and half an hour of any of these shows can turn my frown upside down.

Favourite Actor

The name Stephen Beckett is one that immediately springs to mind, the admiration dates back to The Bill, Coronation Street and now last year’s Prospero in The Tempest at Stafford Castle and most definitely Mamma Mia at the Novello Theatre – Bill Austin is a part that was surely made for him. I didn’t know he could sing either so he’s most definitely an all-rounder de force.

I also need to add the incomparable Daniel Taylor to the mix, not only is he my favourite Sammy in my favourite musical, Blood Brothers – he’s also the best Tommy Cooper impersonator ever. He looks good in a dress, I can attest to that as I saw him as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella last year… just to clear that up! Seriously though, I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do.

As for screen actors, I hand the accolade to Seann William Scott, he is also better known as Stifler from the American Pie films and I think he’s got one of the most wonderful faces! Even when he’s voicing the role of Crash in Ice Age, I can picture him recording the voice of the character. I think his forte is comedy, although when he’s in a more dramatic role he still holds my attention – what an actor!

The actor I first admired when I was a telly addict child is Jeffrey Holland, Hi De Hi! was a must-watch in our house and I was smitten with Spike. Jeff is a chameleon when it comes to acting, there’s much more to him that meets the eye.

Favourite Actress

If we’re talking on stage then Sarah Jane Buckley without hesitation. In musical theatre she is exceptional, in pantomime she’s perfection and I first discovered her when she played the role of the unstable and, let’s face it, quite scary Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks. I’ve always felt that the sky’s the limit for this super-talented lady. Sarah Jane is my best-loved actress on stage and on screen, without hesitation.

Through watching Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance I discovered two actresses who were previously unknown to me and whom I now intend to keep my eyes peeled for in future. Deborah Ramsay portrayed Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Parisa Fitz-Henley played Meghan. I’m a royalist and their performances in particular resonated upon first viewing of what is now one of my favourite films and I am eager to see their faces on screen again soon.

A cheeky mention must go to the wonderful Judy Buxton too, she was one of my favourite actresses when I was growing up with watching some of the best sit coms on television and she is a power-house on stage, the epitome of versatility.

Favourite Singer

Too many to mention, however with my newly discovered love of opera the first names out of my mouth are those of Yvonne Howard and Marcus Farnsworth. The latter grabbed my attention and never let it go when he starred in the ENO production of Iolanthe at the Coliseum earlier this year. The former wowed me in The Mikado, Iolanthe and Falstaff, I’ve also heard her sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in Carousel thanks to YouTube. Glorious!

I can’t finish the favourites post without a mention going to Ramin Karimloo, he was my first Phantom and he’ll always be my Phantom. Vocal ability that pushes boundaries, he’s a force of nature.

Photo Credits: Blood Brothers (Bill Kenwright Website), Falstaff (Clive Barda), Cast of Move Over Mrs Markham (Ray Cooney),  Stephen Beckett in The Tempest (Stafford Shakespeare Festival),  Sarah Jane Buckley as Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers (with permission from Sarah Jane Buckley), Deborah Ramsay as Camilla in Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance (Lifetime TV), ENO’s Iolanthe (Clive Barda), Ramin Karimloo (Sourced from Broadway World)

 

 

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Mamma Mia ~ Novello Theatre, London

Star rating: *****

Approximately twenty to twenty one years ago, Donna Sheridan met three men within a short space of time and… dot dot dot! Mamma Mia remains as spectacular a West End hit as it has for the past nineteen years it’s been entertaining audiences of a wide age range. In fact with the show almost as old as Donna’s daughter, Sophie, it couldn’t have been a better time to revisit a show I’ve seen a grand total of six times, now.

Abba’s songs have always stood the test of time, if they hadn’t have successfully filtered through various decades the show wouldn’t have worked at all. The popular hits are surely one of the main draws to this particular musical, and nobody in the audience is out of place if they sing along! Unless they’re louder than the lead during a ballad of course!

The striking feature with this latest incarnation which has undergone a recent cast change is that I truly feel I have witnessed the best combination when it comes to casting for Donna, Tanya and Rosie. The chemistry between Sara Poyzer (Donna), Kate Graham (Tanya) and Ricky Butt (Rosie) was so unbelievably natural, infectious and gripping that it rivalled that of Streep/Baranski/Walters in the movie version. The trio were simply electric together and their delivery of such favourites as ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Super Trooper’ and the hilariously choreographed ‘Chiquitita’ was simply musical theatre magic at its best. While in previous trips to see the feel-good show I’ve always left the auditorium with a smile on my face and a spring in my step, I left reluctantly on this occasion as I had an over-riding feeling of desperately needing to see the show again… right there and then!

Of course, the triplet of triple threats were not alone in creating such an overwhelmingly engaging atmosphere, their male counterparts were equally talented super troopers. From Dean Read’s palpable love-struck Sam Carmichael to Neil Moors who was understated yet extremely likeable as the wannabe spontaneous Harry Bright to free spirited Aussie Bill Austin who is played with astonishing verve and impeccable comic timing, by Stephen Beckett. Add Georgia Louise to the mix as antsy bride-to-be, Sophie who’s seeking out her father so he can walk her down the aisle – Georgia gave a beautiful performance. Alec Porter was well cast too as her husband-to be, Sky, another triple threat to watch out for.

The set transports you to a Greek island quite effortlessly with simple, effective and practical staging, almost minimal which allows the sheer energy of the musical to take the limelight. There’s not one weak link in an ensemble who each characterise the roles they play, brilliantly. The orchestra were a joy to hear, powerful and a match for the fine vocalists who sing Abba’s technically stringent back-catalogue as if it’s second nature.

Do you need to be a fan of Abba to enjoy the twists, turns and laugh out loud comedy of this gleeful show? No! Even if you’re not a fan of Abba’s music, I wager that a trip to see Mamma Mia might just convert you.

Book your tickets now: Mamma Mia Tickets

 

Photo Credits: Brinkhoff/Mogenburg 

Spotlight On…. Stephen Beckett

Jack And The Beanstalk runs at Cambridge Arts Theatre until 7 January 2018, book your tickets here: Cambridge Arts Theatre

Actor Stephen Beckett first became known to me when he burst onto my television screen in The Bill on ITV – one of my favourite shows back in the day! This year I saw him take on the role of Prospero in The Tempest at Stafford Castle and he was extraordinarily exceptional in the role. So much so that his performance earned him a Break A Leg Award in our Critic’s Choice category. He can now be seen treading the boards as Fleshcreep in Jack And The Beanstalk at Cambridge Arts Theatre and he’s appearing with a stellar cast. I caught up with Stephen to find out all about his latest journey into Pantomime.

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Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Stephen – you’re currently playing Fleshcreep in Jack And The Beanstalk, have you played the role before?

I have actually, six years ago. Here at Cambridge Arts Theatre in fact! I’ve played the Baddie here four times now.

Why do you think the Baddie is such an enjoyable part to play? 

I love the Baddie, it’s so much fun to play. What I like, particularly about this year’s is we’ve managed to get comedy into it as well as trying to be a bit scary. The role of the Baddie is very specific within a Pantomime, he’s there to scare people obviously but he’s also there to wind people up, poke fun at the people on stage in a comedic, farcical way. As opposed to just growling. I play my Baddie as a bit of a wind up merchant, merged with a touch of Michael Gove.

How do you make the role different for yourself each year? 

It’s a weird old thing but every Pantomime Baddie is different – for example Abanazer in Aladdin is magical, powerful and greedy, then you get Fleshcreep who’s the middle man down on earth trying to climb up the social ladder. Captain Hook of course is the classic Baddie who encompasses all of the traits, you can bring elements of the Baddies into the role. Fleshcreep is one of my favourites because you see him being really horrible but also subservient, scared of the fairy magic and trying to be manipulative.

How many years have you been treading the boards in Pantomime

This is tenth pantomime I’ve ever done.

Why do you think that the tradition of Pantomime has remained such a huge part of Christmas festivities? 

It’s extraordinary isn’t it? There’s something for everybody, it’s a family trip – something for the kids, something for the teenagers, something for mums, dads, grans, granddads. Then you’ve got the music, the dancing, the fun and the smashing down of the fourth wall. It’s literally about entertainment. It’s also really important to get the story across to children and hold their attention. It’s that fine balance of keeping the traditions going such as things going wrong, half on purpose and half not – while keeping the story alive. There are so many elements and there’s a lot more to it than people might think.

Finally, sell the show to me – why should everybody book tickets to see Jack And The Beanstalk in Cambridge? 

It’s a classic story that everyone knows and loves with a fantastic beanstalk, we’ve also got Tony Christie as the King of Amarillo, we’ve got the best Dame in the country, Matt Crosby, the bloke who plays the Baddie is alright – he gets away with it sometimes! Also, this seems to be one of the funniest pantomimes I’ve done.

Huge thanks to Stephen for his time straight after a performance, I will be trying my best to re-schedule my trip to see the show after the snow put pay to my original plan! 

 

 

The Tempest ~ Stafford Castle, Stafford Shakespeare Festival

The Tempest runs until 8 July 2017 – book tickets here: The Tempest Tickets

Star rating: *****

Following the triumph of last year’s production of Othello at Stafford Castle, the team have pulled off yet another masterpiece of a spectacle with their latest Shakespeare Festival offering, The Tempest. Produced by Derrick Gask and directed by Clare Prenton, a more magical evening with such an engaging take on the Shakespeare classic I could not have imagined. It gives the RSC’s production a run for its money, that’s for sure!

A brief synopsis: Prospero, Duke of Milan is usurped by his calculating brother, Antonio, aided in his mission by Prospero’s political enemies. Prospero and his five year old daughter, Miranda are marooned on an island as a result where survival seems unlikely. However, with the aid of a spirit, Ariel and Ariel’s son, Caliban – he and Miranda have lived on the island for twelve years. When an opportunity for Prospero to seek revenge upon his brother and his cohorts, he summons magic to help him in his conquest. It’s a stormy tale with plenty of highs, lows and a good deal of comedy – all of which are highlighted to perfection in this incarnation.

The set is a marvel, with the castle in the background, it is a wonder to behold, the staging is in effect quite simple, but the use of lighting and special effects enhances the scenery and offers the perfect atmosphere for every nuance of the story. The nautical feel is evident but not over-bearing and leaves plenty to the imagination. What struck me with this production was the visual way in which the back-story was put across to the audience at the beginning, with added musical entertainment and dancing giving a light feel in contrast to the dramatic and turbulent tale which unfolds.

Stephen Beckett would never have been my automatic choice for the role of Prospero, and yet his portrayal was so thoughtful, considered, understated at times and powerful that I cannot imagine anyone else in the part – he surpassed the Prospero’s I have watched before. His chemistry with daughter, Miranda (Grace Carter) was extraordinarily believable, their father/daughter relationship played out beautifully and Carter was a genteel yet gutsy Miranda who could not have suited the role better. Gavin Swift’s Ariel was agile, able to blend like the proverbial chameleon and occasionally had a violin in tow, which he played brilliantly. Zephryn Taitte’s Caliban seemed almost benign to begin with, fairly non-descript, yet he came into his own when he met the drunken butler, Stephano, played with excellent comic timing by Jonathan Charles and Trinculo, the ‘jester’ who in this piece was a ventriloquist and played expertly by James Hornsby. The trio were a comedy force to be reckoned with and certainly a hit with the audience. James Lawrence put the sneer, simper and cunning into the ever-plotting Sebastian with gusto, Lawrence returns after his performance in Othello last year and he is an asset to Stafford Shakepeare Festival. Richard Gibson breathed new life into the bumbling Gonzalo, playing him with an air of smugness, I felt, which befitted the role and allowed the character to come to the fore more so than in other versions that I’ve seen. A special mention must also go to Katrina Kleve who gave a glorious performance as Francesca, a fine dancer, singer and all-round entertainer.

Miss The Tempest at your peril, Stafford Shakespeare have produced yet another superior version of a popular classic and the setting of Stafford Castle sets it off in stunning fashion.

 

 

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