My Top 5 Productions ~ 2017

2017 has been a bumper year for Break A Leg, we’ve literally been all over the place in as many theatres as possible and loving every minute. There’s been some new links made which we’ll be taking forward to 2018 and a couple of new reviewers are joining the team to cover London theatre. Thanks also go to Chloe Buckles who has guest blogged for us and hopefully she’ll carry on doing so for the new sister blog TV & Movie Scene

Anyway, without further ado – here are my top five favourite theatre productions of the year.

  1. Blood Brothers ~ My ultimate favourite musical and they have one of the best casts ever at the moment. I have managed to get along to see the show three times this year. At Belgrade Theatre, Coventry and at Nottingham Theatre Royal with Lyn Paul in the role of Mrs Johnstone, but also at De Montfort Hall where the added bonus was that Sarah Jane Buckley was playing the role of Mrs J while Lyn Paul was off – one of my most unforgettable moments of this year is definitely having the opportunity to see Sarah Jane in the lead role. I’m already planning a number of return visits for next year. From the score to the exceptional performances to the story and setting itself – this is my musical of choice every time.
  2. How The Other Half Loves ~ I saw this production last year when it was in the West End and I loved it. This year it toured and I managed to catch it at Malvern Theatres, it’s one of my favourite farces and even with some cast changes from West End to touring, this one has still stood out as a highlight of the year. Robert Daws was a fantastic addition to the cast as was Sara Crowe – I’d have loved to have seen it a few more times before the tour finished. Such a watchable piece and belly-laugh-inducing.
  3. 9 to 5 The Musical ~ This piece never fails to bring a smile to my face and the incarnation performed at Upstairs at the Gatehouse will forever be a happy memory. To be able to watch the show in such an intimate space with a strong cast was a pleasure and a privilege. Thanks to Joe Hodges and the cast and crew for an experience like no other.
  4. The Hollow ~ I made a concerted effort to see more locally-based theatre towards the end of this year and fully intend on keeping to the same path next year. Especially as so many fantastic companies and theatres in the midlands and surrounding areas have embraced my little blog. The Hollow was the first of two Agatha Christie plays I saw at Stoke Repertory Theatre and I loved it. A strong cast, some of whom were familiar to me and others who I’m so pleased to have discovered. I’m looking forward to seeing more of United National Theatre Company’s work in the new year. They do great theatre and they are doing the Midlands proud.
  5. All Our Children ~ My first trip to Jermyn Street Theatre and to see my lovely Rebecca Johnson being her amazing self on stage, too – a real treat. The play was a debut piece by Stephen Unwin who I am mostly familiar with as a Director. It was and remains one of the most intensely moving theatrical experiences of my reviewing career to date. I enjoy theatre that challenges the way I think and this play offered the chance for that and much more. The easiest five stars I’ve ever pulled out of my bag of stars!

And Then There Were None ~ Stoke Repertory Theatre

And Then There Were None was produced by United National Productions Limited, they will be producing further pieces at Stoke Repertory Theatre in 2018. Watch this space…

Star rating: *****

Having reviewed The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre earlier this year, also care of United National Productions Limited, and thoroughly enjoyed the exceptional staging of one of Agatha Christie’s masterpieces – I anticipated great things from their version of And Then There Were None. I was not disappointed, in fact the production blew me away and had me on the edge of my seat with a constant eye on the mantelpiece!

The story chillingly centres around the Ten Little Soldier Boys rhyme and involves ten individuals arriving at a grand house on a remote island in Devon. Aside from the servants (who are married), none of the ten are related to one another or have prior knowledge of one another, or do they? The upshot is that there’s a murderer on the island who knows a piece of information about each one and he’s got a plan. A plan which includes the demise of each soldier figurine as the death toll rises.

In my opinion, it’s one of Christie’s most translatable stories as I have read the book, seen a few television adaptations and now I’ve seen it on stage – none of the mystery, intrigue or tension is lost at any point in any of the versions I’ve encountered. Its testament to Director, Robert Marsden and his cast that this production has lived up to that expectation, though.

There’s a set which lends itself to the comings and going of a fast-paced whodunit and also represents the grandeur of the building to which each ‘soldier’ has been summoned. The lighting provides an eerie tension in itself and the scene transitions are minimal yet seamless.

The cast boasts an impressive ensemble of actors at the top of their game; John Highton has one wondering if it was the butler whodunit with a bizarre air of mystery surrounding him as Thomas Rogers. Deborah Cornock (who impressed me as the murderer in The Hollow) played a timid yet assertive Ethel Rogers. Ashley Andrew was perfectly cast as Vera Claythorne, elegant, occasionally allowing fear to seep through while appearing far too calm considering the circumstances. Chris Wollaton cut a dashing figure as Philip Lombard, flirtatious and flippant, while in contrast, Patricia Jones was quiet, considered and disapproving as Emily Brent. Steve McTigue put in an excellent performance as the troubled General MacKenzie, equally James King was an ideal choice for the short-lived role of Anthony Marston – far too jolly and a speed demon. David Bowen captivated me as William Blore, his energy and verve were spot on and he drew my attention throughout, as did Ray Johnson as Justice Wargrave – a commanding presence indeed. A special mention must go to our Break A Leg Awards nominee Nigel Peever who played Dr Arnstrong. Peever was undoubtedly one of the stars of The Hollow, for me personally and his performance still resonates. However, as Dr Armstrong I felt that he was an even better fit (if that’s possible!) he underplayed his part and brought the character to the fore only when it was necessary.

Five stars for a piece which has become one of the highlights of my theatre critiquing year! Well done United National Theatre Productions Ltd, you’re putting Stoke on the map as a producer of amazing theatre.

 

 

 

The Hollow ~ Stoke Repertory Theatre

The Hollow ran at Stoke Repertory Theatre until Saturday 12th August, look out for more from United National Theatre Productions, soon.

Star rating: ****

Not one of Agatha Christie’s quickest paced stories, The Hollow has always been an arduous story for me to engage with, personally. This production was no different from that perspective, however this is completely attributed to the script and not the performances or overall presentation of the piece.

The set instantly transported the audience to the 1938 grandeur of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell’s estate. It offered splendour and the perfect backdrop for murder and intrigue, plenty of exits for swift, hasty retreats, too. The introduction of the various characters, basically compiled of suspects-to-be and victim(s)-to-be was time consuming yet necessary and I instantly enjoyed the chemistry between Sir Henry (Guy Siner) and Lady Lucy (Jenny Hanley). The pair appeared to steer the action between them and the combined experience of Siner and Hanley did not go unnoticed. Siner was superb as the bumbling gentleman of the manor, despairing of his ever matchmaking wife, whom Hanley portrayed brilliantly.  So, with a Christmas gathering arranged, cousins aplenty arriving to stay (Edward (Nigel Peever), Henrietta (Cathy O’Reilly) and Midge (Suzanne Kendall)), together with Dr Christow (Tim Churchill) and his anxious wife, Gerda (Deborah Cornock), it’s only a matter of time before someone is due to exit stage left before the second half. There’s also the small matter of a well known American actress who has taken a cottage merely yards away, Veronica Craye (Annie Bailey) and has history with the good Doctor. As does Henrietta with whom Dr Christow is having an affair. Of course, once the inevitable murder takes place, there’s always the suspicion as to whether the Butler did it – in this case the all-seeing Gudgeon (James King) or indeed whether Inspector Colquhoun (Graham Martin) is all he’s cracked up to be.

Tim Churchill plays the rather cocky Doctor with bolshiness and just enough humility to gain some sympathy, albeit short-lived. I felt that Nigel Peever played Edward interestingly, with a combination of a chipper happy-go-lucky persona versus a very unhappy man. Graham Martin picked the pace up when he appeared as the Inspector in Act Two and spoke volumes with his facial expressions. Annie Bailey made for a sultry Veronica Craye and Suzanne Kendall played Midge in ideal stark contrast, shy, timid even, yet incredibly frustrated. One of the stand out performances emulated from Deborah Cornock as Gerda, a complex role indeed, with more layers than it may initially appear. Cath O’Reilly is also one to watch, her performance as Henrietta was incredibly engaging and had me guessing til the end.

I’m looking forward to the next production, And Then There Were None and I’m delighted that David Mansell will direct this too, he certainly has an eye for the nuances of Christie’s work. A thoroughly enjoyable experience at the theatre.

 

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