Cinderella ~ Mitchell Arts Centre

Star rating: ****

Mitchell Arts Centre is playing host to a two week run of the popular fairy tale classic, Cinderella, this Christmas and it’s as traditional a pantomime as you can get – with a very current and highly comedic script thrown in for good measure.

Pantomimes around the country appear to be adapting their stories to make the principal females feistier and Tim Churchill and Paul Wood’s version is no exception. There are nods to well known television shows such as Gogglebox and Jeremy Kyle as well as a brand new take on the age-old pantomime comedy song ‘If I was Not a…’.

With a simple yet highly effective set providing an elegant and practical backdrop for the action-packed show, we were treated to a good dose of musical numbers which included the hit of the year from ‘The Greatest Showman‘ – ‘This Is Me’, ‘Make Your Own Kind of Music’ by Paloma Faith and naturally we had to join in with ‘Baby Shark‘, the gimmick tune of the season. The strong cast interacted brilliantly with the audience, offered opportunities for the crowd to participate and kept a remarkable level of energy going given their numerous two show days and the fact they’ve had one day off to enjoy Christmas before getting back to it!

Cathy O’Reilly made the perfect Fairy Godmother, not only did she look the part, there was a twinkle in her eye and her vocal ability, which we’d not previously heard – simply stunning! She’s a joy to hear. Tim Churchill, who not only co-wrote the show but also directed it, is well known to us as Mr Lyons and other characters in the Blood Brothers tour. As an Ugly Sister he positively shone and was every inch the pantomime dame as he carped, sneered and appeared to enjoy every minute. He was joined by Paul Deakin as his sister and together they were a menace and hilarious in equal measure. Their names were apt too, Theresa and May! Amy-Jane Ollies is another face who’s become familiar to us as part of the Blood Brothers ‘family’ and in the title role of Cinderella, she was every inch the rags to riches girl. Her comic timing was particularly notable and naturally her sensational singing voice lent itself to the role, she had lovely chemistry with Matthew Dye as Buttons and Robert Dearn as Prince Charming. Dye did a great job of getting the audience involved while Dearn had a superb double act going on with Liam Wakeford as Dandini. In this incarnation, Prince Charming and Dandini were reminiscent of Ant and Dec and it worked fantastically. Den Siegerstz from BBC Radio Stoke completed the line up as Baron Hardup, making his panto debt. He may not have been as overtly natural in panto-land as his co-stars but it was clear he was enjoying his first official role and how wonderful that his daughter is part of the Hanley Babes who appeared in the show too.

There is so much to enjoy in this traditional pantomime, relevant political jokes for the grown ups, a cast who come across as being one big happy family themselves and plenty of magic along the way to entertain the young ones. The parting shot which sums up how well the show was received by our four year old? “I want to be in this show when I grow up”. You can’t say fairer than that can you? Oh no you can’t!

Book your tickets here: https://mitchellartscentre.co.uk/

My Top 10 Performers ~ 2017

Performers on stage… I’ve seen a few, but then again… no I’ve definitely seen a few and I’m full of admiration for so many of them. So, who made my top ten this year? Well I’ve had a difficult time whittling the list down but the top ten have each impressed me in ways that have continued to resonate as the year has worn on. Here we go, in no particular order!

Claire Machin ~ I think that The Girls has to be my favourite West End show of 2017 and although it didn’t make my top 5 shows list, it’s still up there as one of the highlights of my theatre-going calendar. I think Claire Machin was one of the crowning glories in that show and she’s also one of my favourite interviewees ever. I urge you to see this amazing lady on stage if you can, her voice, her tenacity and her energy are all infectious. She’s a star.

Daniel Taylor ~ I’ve seen this man in three different guises this year and excels in each of them. Whether he’s imitating Tommy Cooper, spitting and whining as Sammy in Blood Brothers are donning a pair of high heels and mocking Cinderella – he’s an actor de force and will always have my support. Amazing performer and one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, not just in 2017.

Michele Dotrice ~ She’s been one of my favourite on screen actors for years and years, however seeing her in The Girls (twice!) has cemented her as one of my stage favourites too. She can sing, she has comic timing in abundance and she whipped her kit off live on stage too – my hero! I would say I’d like to see more of Michele on stage, however….!

 

Graham Martin ~  I’ve always admired Graham’s ability to play multiple roles in Blood Brothers to an extremely high standard (to the point where I feel the show wouldn’t be the same without him), but he also impressed me in The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre. I’m only sorry to have missed his performance as the King in pantomime this year. Graham’s one of the finest triple threats in my humble opinion.

Sarah Jane Buckley ~ Sarah Jane was my first ever favourite soap star, I’d not really had a favourite character in any of the soaps prior to Kathy Barnes rocking up in Hollyoaks and stirring things up. Sarah Jane is my favourite Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers too, however this year I also had the chance to see her play Mrs Johnstone when she stepped in for Lyn Paul. She was absolutely sensational, I could wax lyrical forever. I’ve also finally seen her in pantomime this season, which was another amazing experience. There’s nothing Sarah Jane can’t do, she’s a natural in every genre of performance.

Tim Churchill ~ Another Blood Brothers star who is my favourite Mr Lyons for sure, but who also starred in Stoke Repertory Theatre’s The Hollow and showed another element to his acting talent. It’s given me a taste of what other roles he would lend himself to, a very talented actor.

Cathy O’Reilly ~ I was really impressed by Cathy’s performance in The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre, she can convey so much without words and the movement and fluidity she put into the role has stuck with me. She’s a talented actor who I’m keen to see perform in other roles in the future. I believe she would be able to play a variety of characters, this introduction has been the tip of the iceberg.

Sean Jones ~ I’ve watched Sean as Mickey in Blood Brothers many, many times and he is inspirational in the role. I feel every nuance of emotion in his performance. So he most definitely makes it to my list because he’s the best Mickey in my favourite musical. I also saw him in as Silly Billy at in Sleeping Beauty Rhyl Pavilion Theatre and he was amazing. Completely reminiscent of my favourite comedy stars whom I grew up watching with comic timing to rival any stand up comedian.

Amy Thompson ~ Amy was on my radar on Channel 5 as a Presenter on Milkshake! because I have a three year old, however last year I was blown away by her performance as Sleeping Beauty at Malvern Theatres. This year, I’ve watched her in the role again and she wowed me all over again, so for her sheer triple threat ability – she’s one of my top performers of 2017.

Robert Daws ~ I’ve always rated Robert Daws, another actor who began as an on-screen favourite then blew me away with his stage roles. How The Other Half Loves was an excellent fit for him, he conveys so much without words and embodies every character he portrays. I highly recommend catching him in a theatre production, I was only sorry not to have been able to have seen How The Other Half Loves again.

 

 

Blood Brothers ~ Theatre Royal, Nottingham

Blood Brothers is on UK tour, all details can be found here: Blood Brothers UK Tour

Star rating: *****

Blood Brothers is one of Break A Leg’s favourites and it’s always a joy to review the show, the dynamics are different each time and yet the overall drama, comic timing and splendour of the production never waivers.

The story of the Johnstone twins who were separated at birth is led by the one and only Lyn Paul who has vocal ability which lends itself so perfectly to the role of Mrs Johnstone. Tell Me It’s Not True is a number which she has undoubtedly made her own. It’s fair to say that Mrs J fits Lyn Paul like a glove. Sarah Jane Buckley is a fine match for her as Mrs Lyons, I actually can’t imagine anyone else playing Mrs Lyons now – and yet I was lucky enough to see her as Mrs Johnstone when she understudied the role (see review here:  Sarah Jane Buckley Review) I don’t think I can elaborate on that experience any better than I did in that mini review!

I enjoyed the perspective I had on the set and backdrop on this occasion, I notice something different each time and I felt drawn in by the lights of Liverpool and particularly delighted in the ways in which the lighting accentuate the mood of the narrator (played terrifically by Chris Chisnall, so sinister and yet the softness of the heart of the character does shine through). Shoes Upon The Table is my absolute favourite song in the show, the strong, rousing beat of the music reflects the seriousness of the situation and I find its reprises are so in keeping with the nuances of the musical.

Sean Jones is an exceptional Mickey, from the 7 (nearly 8) year old with his hole-riddled pullover which he can pull down over his knees to the troubled and almost terrifying adult he becomes as a result of life’s twists and turns. Together with Mark Hutchinson as Edward, they have believable chemistry and the relationship with Linda (Danielle Corlass) has so many dimensions, its a clever little web. It’s clear that Linda loves both of the boys but in widely different ways and I feel sure that had the shoe been on the other foot, she would have had her heard turned by Mickey for different reasons leaving ‘Eddie’ jealous and suspicious.

The ensemble who play numerous roles between them should also be commended for the slickness with which they move from character to character. Graham Martin, Graeme Kinniburgh, Andy Owens, Alison Crawford, Tim Churchill and Amy-Jane Ollies make a tight-knit group who are each responsible for keeping the action flowing. I especially enjoyed Daniel Taylor’s portrayal of Sammy, I think he’s the best I’ve seen in the role.

This musical will continue to stand the test of time, I’m confident of that, and with popular tunes such as Marilyn Monroe, My Child and Easy Terms at the helm – it’s not difficult to see why the show packs houses out all over the UK.

 

 

 

Sarah Jane Buckley ~ My Mrs J (Blood Brothers ‘Review’)

This isn’t a review as such, more of a collection of thoughts following another fantastic trip to see Blood Brothers. This time I made my ‘debut’ in the audience in De Montfort Hall, Leicester and I wasn’t there in my usual capacity as a reviewer. The opportunity to see Sarah Jane Buckley, (who usually has a breakdown on stage eight shows a week as the well to do Mrs Lyons) play Mrs Johnstone was too good to pass up and words can’t describe how excited I was to finally be able to see her in the role.

Had I been officially reviewing I would have given the show five stars, without a shadow of a doubt. Blood Brothers is one of my all-time favourite musicals and I still jump at the end of the show, every time! Of course, I cry too – great big fat tears because of the sorry ending which we are being led towards from the opening scene and because the music is so beautifully moving. Last night I was moved to tears because Sarah Jane was so spectacular as the leading lady.

Mrs Johnstone is the lynchpin in the story, there wouldn’t be a tale to tell without her, after all. The musical numbers that she sings are classics, from Tell Me It’s Not True to Easy Terms and every actress who’s taken on the coveted role has put their own stamp on the part.

Sarah Jane played the role with brashness yet gentility, she was straight-talking yet with an obvious heart of gold and she magnificently highlighted every nuance and trait which Mrs J encompasses. Not only was her characterisation remarkable in itself, but Sarah Jane’s vocal ability appears to know no bounds. I particularly noted how incredible her version of A Light Romance, was. I often feel that the song blends into the background as our attention is focused on Linda and Eddie, however I was drawn to Mrs Johnstone and the stunning rendition of the song being performed.

Tell Me It’s Not True is, of course the piece de resistance, and like all who have gone before her, Sarah Jane put her own stamp on that number and indeed, on the role itself. I never say no to a return visit to watch Blood Brothers, I’m always happy to run back for another amazing experience at the theatre. However, I will sprint to the theatre at top speed if Sarah Jane is playing the lead again. I have thoroughly enjoyed the performances from all the Mrs Johnstones that I have had the great pleasure of watching through the years – but I can safely say that Sarah Jane Buckley is MY Mrs J.

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.

 

Blood Brothers ~ Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Blood brothers runs at Coventry Belgrade Theatre until Saturday 11 March 2017 prior to the rest of the UK tour, to book tickets visit: Blood Brothers Tour

Star rating: *****

Blood Brothers is my favourite musical bar none, I have yet to find any show that has the capacity to bring me to my feet within a split second when the crowd gives the guaranteed standing ovation. This show makes me laugh, cringe, cry and after expressing my undying elation for the brilliance of the cast, I could quite happily sit back down and watch it all again. Although I realise that it would be an impossible task to ask the cast to do that! An emotionally draining piece it certainly must be and at curtain call, so many of the wonderful performers still appear to be caught up in the last few moments of the production.

The story tells the sorry tale of the Johnstone twins, Mickey and Edward who are separated at birth after their mother makes a bargain with her employer. Their lives intertwine despite their mothers’ best intentions and it makes for a hilarious, heartening and tragic story. The cast perform as a solid ensemble and each key member has the ability to make you believe that they are children who steadily grow up throughout the duration of the show. The knowledge that the saga won’t end well is something we are provided with from the first scene, yet it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying the drama as it unfolds. The scenes from Mickey and Eddie’s childhood are among my favourites, especially when they’re jumping on and off their ‘horses’.

This particular incarnation of the production stars Lyn Paul, one of the original and best Mrs Johnstones, she slips into character like its a second skin and the emotion she brings to the role is immense. Her voice carried beautifully around the packed auditorium and she’s lost none of the power that her vocal ability is renowned for. Sarah Jane Buckley matches her note for note and strength for strength as Mrs Lyons, Buckley was new to the role the last time I saw her. She was extraordinary back then but she has taken her performance to a different level, now. Pitch perfect, an actress de force and the transiton from desperate to joyous to raving mad is a measured and deliberate one. I can’t speak highly enough about her. Alison Crawford stepped into the role of Linda as understudy and she absolutely made the role her own. From portraying the character as a little girl to the troubled grown up, every nuance was there in abundance. One to watch for sure and I hope to see her play the part again.

Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone

Sean Jones is the best Mickey I have seen, he has precise comic timing to enable him to portray the young lad but he transforms completely when he’s all grown up. I haven’t seen Mark Hutchinson as Eddie before, but he played the role as a stark contrast to his brother and was a good choice as the more well to do of the pair. Jones and Hutchinson demonstrate strong vocal harmonies, especially in ‘That Guy’. Dean Chisnall is an imposing presence as the Narrator, his vocal ability never ceases to amaze me and he sings my favourite song ‘Shoes Upon The Table’ with power and venom. He slinks back into the shadows so that you almost forget he’s there. then creeps up again to remind the two mothers what they’ve done. Tim Churchill moves seamlessly between roles, playing a ramrod straight and frightfully posh Mr Lyons then transforming into Milkman, doctor and so on! He and Graham Martin are real chameleons of the piece as they take a variety of parts and give each the care and attention that they deserve. In Martin’s case, he starts off as Mr Johnstone, reappears as a kid on the street, plays two very different teachers and a well endowed and randy judge! Actors like this pair are the life-blood running through such a well-oiled machine as this popular musical.

With a set that invites you in and frames the action whilst adding to the ambience and catchy musical numbers which include ‘Easy Terms’, ‘I’m Not Saying A Word’ and ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ – I’d say the cast and crew give quite a show just like Marilyn Monroe!

 

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