Take a classic thriller written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, the film version having been directed by Alfred Hitchcock, add a stellar cast and one of the most atmospheric sets I’ve seen in a long time – what do you get? A flawless production of The Lady Vanishes.
Although I was already familiar with the title of the production, initially I was unfamiliar with the story. Therefore watching the action and mystery unfold with no prior knowledge was a real treat. The scene and tone at the railway station were immediately set and there was an overriding feel of authority and fear as Hitler’s Germany reigned supreme. The characters are introduced gradually and they all have a tale to tell, while a few characters remain vague which helps to build the tension and suspense throughout. What’s evident from the outset is that clues are everywhere and dovetail perfectly when the conclusion is reached.
The story is paced to perfection by the strong ensemble, Juliet Mills shone as Miss Froy – the lady who seemingly vanishes aboard a train to England, Lorna Fitzgerald has the opportunity to demonstrate that she is capable of extraordinary stage craft – I had known her as Abi Branning in Eastenders. As Iris, the young woman who is hell bent on discovering what has happened to Miss Froy, she couldn’t have characterised better. The chemistry and sublime partnership Fitzgerald has with Matt Barber as the unintentionally comedic Max. Barber is another familiar face from the television, having starred as the husband of Lily James’ character, Lady Rose, in Downton Abbey. While Barber remains a firm favourite of mine from the series, for as a screen actor I felt he was a joy to watch – on stage he excels further and every nuance of his performance was measured and deliberate – he certainly has hidden depths. Maxwell Caulfield possessed an eerily unpleasant quality in the somewhat pivotal role of Dr Hartz, it was really easy to dislike him and suspect him. Robert Duncan and Ben Nealon often stole the show as cricketing enthusiasts and businessmen, Charters and Caldicott. Duncan’s comic timing had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. Philip Lowrie played the fairly benign Eric, apparently trying to run off with Margaret (Elizabeth Payne) yet making a dog’s dinner of their scandalous liaison. Lowrie and Payne made a watchable and believable couple – Lowrie’s years of experience on stage and screen are obvious and I was fascinated with Payne’s stage presence and superb diction.
Antony Lampard’s adaptation lends itself to the stage, brilliantly and Roy Marsden’s direction is on point as always, he’s one of my favourite directors. You’ll be sure to become an armchair sleuth as the story unfolds, chaos ensues and inevitable tragedy occurs too.
I’m late with last year’s highlights but suffice to say that 2018 was a fantastic year for shows of all genres. A great mix was on offer for Entertainment Views to attend and there have been so many wonderful memories made along the way. Here are just a few of the stand-out opportunities I had…
Gilbert & Sullivan’s operettas have been on my radar for years and I’ve watched many of them, however I had never seen Iolanthe nor the wonderful ENO performing one of their famous operettas. So – the chance to see Iolanthe performed by the ENO at London’s Coliseum was too good a chance to miss. With Yvonne Howard giving an outstanding performance as the Fairy Queen and a cast de force, all I can say is bring on its return! Iolanthe Review
Hotel Transylvania 3
What a movie! My movie of the year for sure! If you’ve never seen the other movies in the franchise it doesn’t matter, you can dive into this one and soon get the gist of the hilarious plot and get to know the madcap characters. A great film for grown ups as well as kids.
Falstaff (Garsington Opera)
Opera is one of my new loves and Falstaff was one of my first experiences of a non-operetta style. It starred Yvonne Howard who (as you already know) is one of my all-time favourite performers and Henry Waddington was exceptional in the lead title role. Garsington offers beautiful surroundings and a unique setting – I hope to return this summer. Falstaff Review
Coventry Comic Con
One of my favourite Comic Cons returned for its second year and it was a glorious set-up as expected. Plenty of stalls, activities and cosplayers as well as a great spacious layout. Our who family love this one and can’t wait to go again this year. Coventry Comic Con Review
I adore Blood Brothers, it’s one of my all-time favourite musicals and for the past couple of years one of the best actresses (in my humble opinion) has been playing Mrs Lyons and understudying the role of Mrs Johnstone – the brilliant Sarah-Jane Buckley. I was lucky enough to see the show a few times in 2018 and look forward to seeing it again this year, although a few cast changes are afoot… Here’s one of my latest reviews: Blood Brothers Review
This Morning Live!
I am a huge fan of This Morning and for those who know me well, you’ll be aware that I am also a massive fan of Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes. In Birmingham we’re really lucky to have the This Morning Live! show at the NEC and it was a superb experience. From shopping to cooking masterclasses to meeting the presenters themselves (I only managed to meet Alison Hammond this time around but she is amazing and so lovely) – I couldn’t recommend the show more. This Morning Live! Review
Sixties Gold Show
I’ve long been a fan of The Searchers and I’ve supported them on solo tours on many an occasion – however this was the first Sixties Gold tour I’d been to. It was one of the biggest highlights of my reviewing year and I’m really looking forward to the next one. It was such an amazing night, buzzing! Sixties Gold Tour Review
BBC Good Food Show
I’ve been interested in going to the BBC Good Food Show for years, I finally grabbed the opportunity to attend their winter show and it was everything I hoped it would be! I’m looking forward to attending the summer show this year. BBC Good Food Show
Claire Richards solo gig
I adore Steps, I have so many favourites from among their epic back-catalogue, however I am also loving Claire Richards as a solo artist. She’s got such a powerful voice and her versatility knows no bounds. A superb gig at Birmingham Town Hall showcased her talent, the album is out very soon and my review of her gig is here: Claire Richards Review
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Malvern Theatres)
Malvern Theatres has long been top of my list of midlands-based theatres and their production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a brilliant cornucopia of mad-cap stereotypical panto antics. Su Pollard was a revelation and stole the show. A well deserved five stars! Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Review
The Future of Entertainment Views
On a final note, I wanted to update all of my valued readers and subscribers on the direction that 2019 will most likely see my small corner of the internet, taking. You can find a bit about this particular rambling on my https://entertainmentviews.co.uk/about/ but I wanted to use this post to chat a bit more about blogging and me. As an established blogger juggling a young family as well as having a bash at hanging on to a day job too, I’m often asked all of the questions I’m about to answer…
In 2013 I branched out as an independent theatre blogger, reviewing shows at the local theatres I’d built up a relationship with on behalf of an established review site which sadly no longer exists. Break A Leg Review was born at around the same time as I discovered I was pregnant so my progress was slow to begin with, although I kept up with it as much as possible. I worked full time in a day job with the NHS and my morning sickness was as backwards as I can be, in that it appeared in the evenings!
I was reviewing in and around the West Midlands as that’s where I’m based and I had managed to secure a place on press lists at most of the theatres that I frequent. In 2015 I was lucky enough to connect with London theatres and due to suggestions from the various people I was interviewing, meeting and liaising with – I added movie and television reviews to the mix as well as music too. My blog took off in ways I could never have imagined during that year.
I made the decision to reach out to London theatres (and many other venues around the UK) as well as add other types of review to my blog because I had become a mum in 2014. That’s the quick answer. Becoming a mum changed my life in thousands of ways. To begin with, I was so consumed by the tiny little boy in my life that I considered giving up my blog. However, having returned to my day job on a part time basis while I searched for a different career that would suit motherhood and the juggling, I was considering blogging and therefore working from home, as a viable option. I ended up in another NHS job working unsociable hours instead, however so draining on my mental health was this new job, that it became even more of a goal to be able to work from home.
I took yet another NHS job to keep the bank account happy and which made my mental health happier (for a limited period of time!) and worked hard throughout 2016 to try my hand at other things such as social media management and website creations. I might have been working part time in the NHS but with my other work (blog included) mounting up – it felt like the right time to take the plunge and work solely from home. Timing was good as 2017 was my little boy’s last full year at nursery before he started school in 2018.
Truthfully, it worked for a while and was even enjoyable at times. I branched out into entertainment PR and dabbled in many areas. However, what I learned was that working from home and making a career out of blogging is not my thing. I still love to blog of course, but I don’t want my blog to be the be all and end all. The family dynamics change once your little one goes to school too. I found I could’t just pop off to London and I didn’t want to. I lose 6 hours a days for 5 days a week of my lad’s company during term time and I love being able to drop him off at school and pick him up. The smile on his face when I’m waiting at hos classroom door is more moving than any theatrical performance I’ve reviewed.
2018 saw me start another job with the NHS (it’s what I know!) and that works at the moment. I like leaving the house to go to work and although it’s been a slightly awkward transition for my boy as he got used to me being at home, we’re all getting on with it.
2019 sees me being less of a critic an more of a cheerleader as I share all my positive experiences with you. I also have a few new ventures on the horizon which will hopefully help my much-desired career changes to take shape – but at the heart of everything are my boys – my husband and my son.
Have you tried to combine blogging with parenthood and career juggling? I’d love to hear about your experiences too!
When a show really blows you away, mentally and physically, it’s a rare and beautiful thing. Evita, one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classics, has been on my radar for years and I have reviewed it on many occasions in the past. However, last night’s incarnation at Malvern Theatres may have just trumped the lot with a cast de force, spectacularly slick choreography (Bill Deamer has done a wonderful job) and a live orchestra which in my humble opinion is unbeatable.
The story charts the rise and fall of real life icon, Eva Peron. With Lloyd Webber’s stunning composition and Tim Rice’s innovative lyrics which have stood the test of time, this musical ‘take’ on a historical figure is moving, intriguing and intricate. Subtle tongue-in-cheek humour lightens the often heavy mood and powerful performances bowled over the full house. As we see Eva (Lucy O’Byrne) manipulating a myriad of men on her quest to conquer Buenos Aires, the big apple, there’s eloquent and bitter narration from Che (Glenn Carter), a revolutionist. Eva eventually gets her man, when she presents herself to Peron (a military man who is also on the climb as he heads up Argentina) as a woman who would be ‘surprisingly good’ for him. The story, though life affirming in its own way is not without its tragic twist.
Lucy O’Byrne positively shine as Eva, it’s a role that was seemingly made for her it’s such a perfect fit. Her vocal ability pushes boundaries as the intensity and immense power of her voice increased with every musical number. Her chemistry with both Glenn Carter as Che which is brooding and stalking and Peron (Mike Sterling) – which carries a more passionate and fiery determination, was palpable. Carter’s diction was on point throughout, a greater story teller I’ve yet to see in this particular show. Sterling had magnificent stage presence which lent itself brilliantly to the role of Peron. The entire cast should be proud of their accomplishment, Oliver Slade particularly stood out as one of the ministers, likewise Verity Burgess grabbed my attention and held it in all of the numbers in which she was involved.
Two of my personal favourite songs were as memorable as I hoped they would be, ‘Peron’s Latest Flame’ and ‘Rainbow High’ – such rousing melodies with engaging performances to match. O’Byrne handled ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ like a dream, the crescendo literally blew me backwards in my seat. Each musical number has something different to offer, though and there isn’t one that doesn’t belong.
Don’t miss the opportunity to catch the show at a theatre near you, it is a true masterpiece and the cast are treating it as such.
Bing Live! continues its tour of the UK, check out all the dates and buy tickets here:Bing Live!
Star rating: *****
Bing Live! has long been a favourite of my four year old son, Cbeebies being his channel of choice and the young bunny having been a frequent ‘visitor’ in our living room over the past few years.
Seeing the rabbit himself come to life by way of innovative puppetry in a live show full of fun, frolics and Bing thing antics was a treat from beginning to end. Naturally, Flop was on hand to guide Bing as he met up with his usual circle of friends (Sula, Coco and Pando) to play dress up and be creative.
The toilet train is a prominent feature of course, and there’s a 15 minute interval to allow the smaller members of the audience to take a toilet train and refreshment break. In fact for the youngsters of all ages, the timing of the show is perfect. It’s just long enough to capture their imaginations and hold their attention.
Audience participation is encouraged and there are plenty of opportunities for everybody to get involved with singing and dancing. The puppeteers are highly skilled and talented individuals and it’s easy to forget they’re there as they subtly operate the television favourites.
There’s a vibrant set to engage the small ones too, with lots to see and a great view to be had from any seat in Town Hall, Birmingham. Highly recommended for little kids and big kids alike, this is one of the best shows for the tiny theatre-goer that we’ve seen.
Jersey Boys stays at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 8 September so book your tickets to catch it:Jersey Boys Tickets
Star rating: *****
This musical was adored by a late, great friend of mine so watching Jersey Boys for the first time, at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre last night was an emotional experience even before curtain up. Everything from the impressive back catalogue of The Four Seasons hits to the exceptional vocal ability of the main cast and ensemble to the sheer energy and vibe of the production was top class.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story of the original line up – the show walks you seamlessly through it step by step. From Tommy DeVito’s (Simon Bailey) brainchild and mentoring of a teenage Frankie Valli (James Alexander Gibbs) to the dodgy lifestyle choices which led to prison sentences for DeVito and Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths) to the introduction of their very own ‘genius’, Bob Gaudio (Declan Egan). There’s superb backing from the female ensemble members who play love interests and singers. Mark Heenehan was a subtle yet imposing presence as Gyp DeCario, the go-to man (I’m familiar with Heenehan as Peron in Evita, he’s an engaging performer).
As the hits start rolling for the group and they establish themselves as The Four Seasons, the audience are treated to a cornucopia of blasts from the past which remain popular today. From ‘Sherry’ to ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ to ‘Walk Like A Man’. Each musical number sounded as though it was being performed by the band themselves, the cast’s voices are so in tune with the original sound we have come to know. James Alexander Gibbs is extraordinary as the main man, Frankie Valli – a ‘character’ who’s home life was complicated and tinged with tragedy. Simon Bailey is perfectly cast as Tommy DeVito, oozing ‘cocky’ DeVito style confidence and a stage presence that shines from the outset. Declan Egan also made his mark as Bob Gaudio, Gaudio’s slightly lacking in confidence and not so easy in the limelight yet brimming with love for music and overflowing with talent – a complex man indeed. Lewis Griffiths completes the picture as Nick Massi, a guy who’s cool, calm and collected until he has to room share with Tommy! The bass vocals that Griffiths offers are pure velvet, he’s one to watch in the future.
The set gives the audience enough to know when the venue has changed, however it doesn’t detract from the music and the story – which are at the heart of the musical. An over the top backdrop would have been too showy and unnecessary. The choreography by Sergio Trujillo is eye-catching and fits perfectly.
Odds on you’ll be up on your feet dancing to popular hits such as ‘December 1963 (Oh What a Night)’ and you’ll probably feel like I do, one trip to see this show isn’t enough! I’d rather not say ‘bye bye baby’ and be ‘beggin’ for another ticket instead.
Peppa Pig’s Adventure! is on UK tour, check out all the tour dates and book tickets here: Peppa Pig Live
Star rating: ****
Peppa Pig’s Adventure! What a fantastic opportunity to introduce young ones to the theatre and to pay a return visit to the theatre with your little ones who may already be seasoned theatre-goers, like the young critic we have here at Entertainment Views!
Peppa Pig remains such a popular television programme for children of varying ages, that the live show has something for everyone, from a tiny age to school age and beyond. There are well-known songs and some that were new to my son and I, all of which we enthusiastically joined in with. The characters are portrayed by multi-talented puppeteers and costumed actors all of whom seamlessly pulled off a thoroughly convincing ‘episode’ of the show. It took me some time to realise that the cast were using their own voices to voice the characters and that it wasn’t being done with pre-recordings, that’s how accurate they are. Kudos to Stephanie Houtman (Peppa Pig), Maryann O’Brien (George), Eleanor Aldridge (Mummy Pig/Madam Gazelle), David Sandham (Daddy Pig/Pedro Pony), Sarah Barbet (Suzy Sheep), Matthew Brock (Gerald Giraffe) and Bronte Tadman, who played a ‘human’ character, Daisy.
The characters go on a camping adventure with their school, the bus is of course driven by Daddy Pig and Madam Gazelle is at the helm. The Bing Bong Song has made it to the live show and the theatre was rocking with it!
If your kids love Peppa Pig, they will find this magical, seeing their favourites come to life before their eyes will doubtless be a special moment for them. It’s a great family day out too, even older children may well be fascinated by the portrayal of the characters even if they’ve outgrown the show itself. My one complaint is that a number of the popular characters were missing. I appreciate the reasons why all of them can’t be present, however my little lad was bereft at the lack of Miss Rabbit, even though I was delighted that Madam Gazelle was included (unashamedly naming her as my favourite character!!).
Go and see it, you’ll be sorry to miss this – from scenery to the atmosphere in the theatre, all absolutely brilliant.
Phyllis Logan may be due to reprise her role of TV’s favourite Scottish housekeeper, Mrs Hughes in the ever-popular Downton Abbey. However her latest role at Theatre Royal, Bath in the Ustinov Studio couldn’t be further from the kindly yet no-nonsense character that viewers were desperate to see romancing the Downton’s Butler. In ‘Switzerland’, writer Joanna Murray-Smith has characterised the late great Patricia Highsmith, author of such novels as ‘Strangers on a Train’ and ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ thus providing Logan with a wondrous challenge. It’s one that she meets head on and indeed as Highsmith, I believe Logan gives one of the best performances of her career. Given that I was already a fan, this opinion speaks volumes.
The play takes place in the last days of Highsmith’s life, she’s holed up in her Switzerland home where she lives a fairly simple life. Although she’s surrounded by a multitude of weapons which are her pride and joy, perhaps not an unusual interest for a crime author. Clouds of smoke billow frequently as the dying writer puffs away on cigarette after cigarette and she’s also keen on an early morning beer or many, many wee drams. A visit from a representative from Highsmith’s New York based Agent catalyses a chain of events which ultimately leads the audience to question everything they’ve just seen. Yes, Edward Ridgeway (Calum Finlay) arrives and he’s hell-bent on cajoling Highsmith into writing another Ripley before she succumbs to whatever illness he seems to know is ultimately going to claim her. Certainly, we see the worst of the author’s character as she bays bear every ugly nuance, even going so far as venturing into Ridegway’s bedroom in the middle of the night with the latest knife in her grizzly collection. However, changes in Ridgeway’s persona as the piece unfolds suggest that all is not as it seems.
Logan’s American accent never falters, she’s embraced this monstrous, bizarre, show tune loving (I’ll never listen to ‘Happy Talk’ the same way again), homosexual in ways that I could never have anticipated. To be able to forget that it’s the actor playing a part is always testament to their capabilities and I forgot that Phyllis Logan was playing Patricia Highsmith. Calum Finlay is a superb match as Edward Ridgeway – antsy, edgy and subtle before the crux of the matter unfolds. The chemistry between the pair is palpable at times and the pace they create between them is nothing short of overt perfection. Director, Lucy Bailey’s touch is evident throughout – the symmetry between the actors and the director is quite remarkable. The set invites the audience into the home of an intelligent, troubled mind and you almost need to be able to have your eyes everywhere all at once to take it all in. There are clues everywhere in relation to Highsmith’s personality. Joanna Murray-Smith has written an intricately woven script so intense that 1 hour 40 minutes without an interval is thoroughly necessary.
If you enjoy dark humour, a twisting tale of solitude, doubt and indeed, love awaits you and it’s truly glorious.
The story of Peter Pan is well known by many, film adaptations (live action and animated), pantomimes and musical versions are plentiful and everybody has their favourite incarnation.
ABD Productions have staged this latest production for a limited run at Malvern Theatres. It’s a hybrid of musical theatre and pantomime, with catchy musical numbers, frequent audience interaction and a mixture of both professional and local juvenile performers.
Elliott Hanna (he once played Billy Elliott in the West End, which is where I remember him from – he’s certainly grown up since!) starred in the title role which he played to perfection. He was accompanied by Phantom of the Opera and Opera North star Janey Cowley as Mrs Darling (and the Spirit and the Mermaid!) who was in spectacular voice, a superb choice for all of those characters. There was a fantastic performance from David Thomas who played Mr Darling with a firm hand and later on, Captain Hook – terrorising his crew whilst in hot pursuit of Peter Pan. It makes a delightful change to see a show of this genre in the summer months as usually one has to wait until the festive season to attend a production that all ages will appreciate.
The choreography which was created by Elliott Hanna was a notable feature, plenty of ensemble scenes and opportunities for the juveniles to showcase their ever-growing talent. It was also a pleasant surprise to see juveniles in the roles of Tinkerbell and Tiger Lily. It’s also worth mentioning that Elliott Hanna was tasked with teaching the rest of the cast ‘how to fit in’ – at the tender age of 15 himself, this was surely no mean feat for the young star.
The scenery provided an atmospheric backdrop to the action as Peter Pan whisked the Darling children away on a journey to Neverland. Neverland itself was a beautifully engaging set, imaginative and creative. There’s flying too, as would be expected – not always seamless but it certainly captured the imaginations of the young audience members.
My four year old son was entranced by the entire piece, his favourite was undoubtedly Captain Hook! This production is fun for all the family and it’s an adaptation that’s easy to follow too. The run at Malvern Theatres has finished, however it’s worth looking out for in the future.
Shrek is one of my all-time favourite animated films, the sheer hilarity of the fairy-tale mickey taking ticks the box and the musical stage version is no different. With a few tongue-in-cheek nods to other musicals such as ‘Gypsy’, ‘Wicked’ and ‘Les Miserables‘ for good measure, this show has it all – outrageous comedy moments, catchy songs and a cast de force. It comes as no surprise that Nigel Harman, (who created the role of Lord Farquaad in the show’s west end debut) has directed this hit, what a superb job he’s done!
The stage incarnation doesn’t differ to widely from the movie, in fact it offers some of Shrek’s back-story which synchronises with Princess Fiona’s in a back-handed destiny kind of way! All of the jaded fairy tale characters are there too, from the Big Bad Wolf dressed as Grandma to a depressed Pinocchio to the Gingerbread Man. They’ve been kicked out of their homes by the dastardly Lord Farquaad and they’re heading in the direction of Shrek’s swamp. Outraged at the idea of sharing his home, Shrek embarks upon a journey to seek out Lord Farquaad and re-home the fairy tale rejects. Along the way he meets the talking Donkey, who becomes his insistent side-kick throughout. Subsequently, Shrek becomes a reluctant hero when he rescues the secretive Princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a love-struck Dragon (a sight to behold).
Steffan Harri plays the over-sized green loveable Ogre and he is outstanding in the role, from the Scottish accent to amazing vocal ability. The chemistry with Laura Main as Princess Fiona is also palpable and in case any ‘Call The Midwife‘ fans are wondering, Laura Main is an exceptional Princess Fiona. Her singing voice is pitch perfect and she showcases herself wonderfully as a triple threat. Marcus Ayton shines as Donkey, he gives Eddie Murphy (who voices the character in the movie) a run for his money. Samuel Holmes as Lord Farquaad steals all of the scenes he appears in, he’s on his knees for a start off – to achieve the under-sized stature. Add a bit of razzmatazz and his musical numbers are comedy gold. Lucinda Shaw was awe-inspiring as the Dragon, the sheer power of her vocals continues to resonate. Comic timing is one of the many strengths of the multi-talented cast and I include the brilliant ensemble in that. Every performer is going above and beyond to recreate a well loved movie and they should all be proud of the ‘job’ they’re doing.
The songs in the show punctuate the story brilliantly, ‘I Know It’s Today’ was one of my favourite numbers performed by Princess Fiona, together with a selection of Princess puppets. She also has a show-stopping scene with the song ‘Morning Person’. ‘Big Bright Beautiful World’ epitomises the heart of the tale and ‘Freak Flag’ provides the ensemble with a fantastic opportunity to take the helm. The whole soundtrack is toe-tapping, engaging and memorable though.
The set captures the essence of the film and moves seamlessly with the action. The choreography is also notable, it’s fairly uncomplicated to allow for cumbersome (and stunning!) costumes, yet it’s effective and eye-catching. Congratulations to Choreographer, Josh Prince and Assistant Choreographer, Jacqui Sanchez.
Miss this show and you’ll miss out, it’s the ultimate feel-good musical and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It was also the first full length musical we had taken our junior reviewer to, and at just 4 years of age it was a risk, however it was a risk worth taking as he was captivated. Therefore, I say with confidence that Shrek the Musical is a show for all the family.