When? Tuesday 12th February 2013
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Scott Austin, Robert Carter, Paolo Cervellera, Loic Consalvo, Boysie Dikobe, Roberto Forleo, Paul Ghiselin, Carlos Hopuy, Chase Johnsey, Philip Martin-Nielson, Trystan Merrick, Raffaele Morra, Lawrence Neuhauser, Alberto Pretto, Giovanni Ravelo, Carlos Renedo, Davide Maronglu
In my January preview piece, I designated Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as a ‘must see’ show at the Alhambra; I am delighted to say that some years since my last Trocks experience, the evening proved every bit as enjoyable I had hoped.
The all-male cast – in-character throughout as a touring Russian Corps de Ballet and given such delightful names as “Nina Immobilashvili” – find the perfect blend of comedy and genuine dance theatre. This ensures that a hearty laugh is never too far away from – albeit sometimes just a flash – of unquestionable dance quality from the talented company.
In my opinion, the secret of Trocks long-lasting success is that one can really take away what they wish from the evening; many admired the athleticism of the ‘ballerinas’, many enjoyed the faux-bona-fide ballet stylings, complete with pre-recorded orchestral support (undoubtedly a necessity for the show to see light of day). Ballet fans will quietly enjoy the somewhat overt nods to classic repertoire such as Swan Lake and Les Sylphides, whereas others with no interest in ballet can simply enjoy the ridiculousness of it all and the amount of fun the players are clearly having on stage. In short, the packed Alhambra audience were having a ball too.
True, the sets and costumes are serviceable at best and no live music is an obvious sacrifice to make; the focus is wisely kept on the seventeen-strong cast and their incredible legs. The decision to include two intervals would appear to be a justified one, with the hard-working cast looking tired towards the end of some vignettes. Despite this, the evening flew by in a sea of visual gags and tutus.
- Harry Zing
When? Tuesday 5th February 2013
Who? Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway et al – full list here.
In my life, I’ve made no secret of my love – some could even argue obsession – with Les Misérables. If I had to, I’m sure I could recite the entire libretto (and, even more worryingly, many of the stage directions and technical cues) by heart. I’m certainly not alone in being a young(ish!) person whose affinity with theatre of all flavours began with “The Glums”. As a child, I found musicals somewhat unappealing; all that dancing around, bursting into song – it’s just not cricket. Or, in my case, football. Sure, The Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and even Mary Poppins are fun, carefree ways to spend a rainy afternoon for many, including my older self, but to me they aren’t the musical theatre that I fell in love with. Les Misérables doesn’t trifle with flying cars, magic handbags or
singing nuns in convents (Ed. have you seen the movie?). Les Miz is a dark, dramatic and hugely emotional three hour journey into a world of war, death and famine, with a cast of characters it is impossible to view as anything other than tragic heroes. Les Misérables transcends the ‘musical’ bit of musical theatre; I view it as a majestically scored, entirely sung through play. The original, finest and unquestioned masterpiece of the last three decades of British theatre.
This is why I can’t keep away. I have seen the West End production in excess of thirty times – on occasion simply to see a friend or highly rated cast give their take(s) on a character already performed by hundreds of other actors around the world. Every cast change I am there, every new production. I am incredibly blinkered and defensive about a show – sorry, a franchise – a multi-million pound brand to which I owe and am owed no affinity – simply because it stirs such strong emotions. But last year, the love affair ended, or so I thought:
In August 2012 I made a simply horrendous visit to the West End production, a little over a month into the run of the new (present, as of February 2013) cast and was left feeling angry and bemused. Practically the only show in town charging full price, understandably given that the Friday night I attended was a sell-out, was looking tired and frankly in the worst shape I’d seen it since the dark, dying days at the Palace. The cast were too young; only a few experienced heads dotted inbetween the drama school leavers and talent show runner ups. The direction was loose and erratic, the wide-eyed Duracell Bunny youngsters, full of beans and trying very hard atop the barricade simply looked lost. Unforgivably, some key lines were even lost due to the incidental over-acting of the keen-to-impress young turns, randomly crying out ‘in character’ with such gems as “Yeah, kill him!” (after capturing the undercover Javert), and, best of all, a truly Braveheartesque “FREEEEEDOOOOOMMMMMMM” during the ‘Final Battle’ from one over-zealous student). Ken Caswell wouldn’t have stood for such hijinx. The cast themselves were just okay (not helped by the fact that star turn Sierra Boggess was off sick, despite spending most of the same day tweeting about yoga classes, yoghurt and Yogi Bear – ed. careful of libel).
I felt disheartened. The cuts were one thing, the thin, stretched orchestra were another. These are sacrifices one has taken on the chin over the years since Les Mis Lite opened at the Queens Theatre way back in 2003. But it felt like the candle had gone out, the love affair had ended. Les Misérables was no longer the vast, beautiful, soaring masterpiece I remembered. It had become a watered-down love story about a group of attractive, similar looking twenty-somethings fresh from Arts Ed and Mountview, with triple-threat abilities and great physiques who couldn’t look anything less like a group of malnourished, down-on-their-luck revolutionaries. From memory, the only cast member who looked older than thirty was Jean Valjean, Argentine Geró Rauch, who unfortunately had an accent so thick it deemed his performance unintelligible to most.
And then, in December, I was sent a demo copy of the Les Misérables movie musical soundtrack, and I declined to review it, such was my negative reaction.
How wrong I was.
Coming tomorrow… Part 2: The Movie Review
- Harry Zing
2012 was an incredible year for Britain – and for our regional theatres. The biting recession certainly hasn’t slowed the thriving arts scene in our great country and 2012 saw some truly remarkable blockbuster productions visit our beautiful and historic Yorkshire theatres. Happily 2013 promises a lot more of the same! Here are some of the biggest shows coming up in the first quarter of 2013…
Until 13th January 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Cinderella – The Rock ‘N’ Roll Panto
From press release; “Following the sensational audience reaction to our first rock ‘n’ roll panto, Aladdin, the team return with the most popular pantomime of all. Starring a cast of actor-musicians, singalong rock, pop and soul hits and of course the amazing boulder fight all the essential elements of traditional panto are all here.”
I was very disappointed to be unable to attend this production as it looks an absolute blast. The reviews are also very solid and hopefully a third Rock ‘N’ Roll panto will be in the offing for the 2013/14 season.
21st-26th January 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Sex & Docks & Rock ‘N’ Roll
From press release; “From the team that brought Big Society! A new musical comedy with a riot of songs, cookery classes, cups of tea and class war, Sex & Docks & Rock ‘N’ Roll is a family comedy about love, change and solidarity set against the backdrop of the 1960 Liverpool dockworkers’ and seafarers’ strike.”
The second City Varieties musical theatre offering in as many years from the quirky Red Ladder Theatre Company. Expect politics aplenty and a fair few laughs.
27th January 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Tikaram is renowned for taking an age between albums – on average seven years – which has only added to the enigma.”
This one certainly one which has me intrigued as I must profess until now ignorance to Ms. Tikaram’s lengthy and – at times – bizarre career. A quick look on YouTube reveals that Ms. Tikaram is certainly not an unknown, in fact this video from a 1988 edition of “The Top of the Pops” has been watched by over 2.2 million people. Even the ticket price is enigmatic, the erroneous 60 pence just screaming intrigue…
29th-31st January 2013 – St. George’s Hall, Bradford
The Moscow State Circus – Babushkin Sekret
Along with Cirque, the Moscow State Circus are one of the most revered names in circus performance. Their latest production, Babushkin Sekret, is inspired by The Legend of the 12 Chairs, and promises the usual astounding collection of aerialists, clowns and acrobats in a setting a million miles away from the big top.
31st January 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Hansard is celebrated as the principal songwriter and vocalist/guitarist for the Irish group The Frames. He has a reputation for grounded, real life songs whether he’s busking the streets of Dublin or at the Hollywood Bowl.”
Another journey back to YouTube reveals another intriguing booking for the City Varieties. Hansard makes a folksified, mature Ed Sheerin, in closest comparison. A promising date in the diary.
Until 3rd February 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
It would be remiss of me to forget Cinderella, starring Billy Pearce, at the Alhambra. The annual pantomime’s mammoth run sees it occupy the theatre until 3rd February. This production is of the highest order, as detailed in my review here and is well worth a visit – even without youngsters in tow! *Must See*
Until 23rd February 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
Opera North: Otello/La clemenza di Tito/La voix humaine + Dido and Aeneas
Opera North’s new season sees no fewer than three new productions debut at the Grand.
Verdi’s Otello (16th Jan-16th Feb) “reunites the production team of director Tim Albery and designer Leslie Travers who created Opera North’s recent, widely acclaimed Giulio Cesare; Music Director Richard Farnes conducts.”
Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito (31st Jan-22nd Feb) sees “ John Fulljames, Associate Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House, directs Opera North’s first production of Mozart’s sublime opera seria.”
Finally, from 14th Feb-23rd Feb Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine shares a double bill with Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas to conclude the season.
2nd February 2013 – St. George’s Hall, Bradford
Brendan Cole: License to Thrill
Brendan Cole, noted ballroom dancer best known for his appearances on “Strictly Come Dancing”, brings his brand new show “License to Thrill” to Bradford’s St. George’s Hall for one night only. The show promises a cast of 20 musicians and dancers in a “spectacular night of theatre entertainment”. Having watched a few press videos, this production looks an excellent dance show and one that looks well worth a visit.
2nd February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
The Guestlist (A charity event in aid of Cancer Research)
From press release; “A two-hour set of MTV unplugged-style songs including those by Adele, Amy Winehouse, U2, Seal, George Michael, Paul Young, The Eagles, Snow Patrol, The Killers, Elton John, Michael Jackson, KT Tunstall, Alison Moyet, Otis Redding, The kinks, Bill Withers and Dolly Parton performed by an array of musicians who have performed with Justin Timberlake, James Blunt, Sting Squeeze, Joe Cocker, Jools Holland, JLS, Alexandra Burke, Ben E King, Ronnie Wood”
8th-21st February 2013 – Restaurant 1914, Bradford Alhambra
Fawlty Towers: The Dinner Show
Yes, I know what you’re thinking and no, I haven’t lost my mind. Situated in the completely redesigned upper circle bar area, the brand new Restaurant 1914 at the Bradford Alhambra looks very nice indeed. Having only peeked up there myself, I noted the privacy blinds segregating the smartly-dressed diners as waiters whizzed past me with plates of delicious-looking food. What better way to showcase this ambitious new investment than recoup some of that expense with a dinner themed show? Fawlty Towers: The Dinner Show sounds rather self explanatory; “A delicious three-course meal and interactive comedy is hosted by Basil Fawlty, his long-suffering wife Sybil and their confused but loyal waiter Manuel – all brought to life by a critically-acclaimed cast of professional actors!”.
As always, these events hinge on the quality of two things – the food, and the cast. If both are as good as they promise to be, this could be a fantastic evening and something a little different for adults young and old alike.
9th February 2013 – The Studio (Bradford Alhambra)
Paul Tonkinson: Fancy Man
From press release; “After storming the comedy circuits for years and much badgering from fellow professionals, Yorkshire man, and former (double award-winning) Time Out Comedian of the Year,Tonkinson takes to the road, with his eagerly anticipated debut tour”
12th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
John Shuttleworth – Out of Our Sheds
John Shuttleworth (created by comic Graham Fellows) is back with a brand new touring production “Out of Our Sheds”. From press release; “Shuttleworth ventures beyond the garden gate to tread the mean streets of Britain. Which is better: city life or country living? Supermarket or village shop? Or is it better to sit in your shed and count the cobwebs?”
12th February 2013 – The Studio (Bradford Alhambra)
Jethro: UK Tour 2013
From press release; “Always slightly on the edge, Jethro’s fruity Cornish humor is the perfect remedy to cheer everyone into cachinnation. Turning everyday events into farcical stories, embellished into hilarity with his trademark west country dialect.”
Jethro is of the “having a funny voice is funny” school of comedy, one which made Joe Pasquale into a star. The difference is, Jethro actually has some amusing material and, waffle aside, you are guaranteed a few laughs at this one!
12th-13th February 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
You can sum up Trocks (as the company are affectionately known the world over) in three words; really, really, funny. Essentially a comedy dance troupe, Trocks are an all-male dragged-up ensemble who believe they are the greatest ballet dancers in the world. Much like the late Tommy Cooper, who himself was a talented conjurer who sent himself up for laughs, Trocks’ act is funny because each member of the ensemble is actually a talented and accomplished dancer. *Must See*
13th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Sadie and the Hotheads
From press release; “Downton Abbey star and Hollywood actress Elizabeth McGovern takes up lead vocal duties with her hotly tipped band Sadie and the Hotheads as they head out on a headlining UK tour.”
Another fascinating booking from the ambitious City Varieties team. Actress Elizabeth McGovern has become one of the most recognisable faces on television thanks to her performance as Cora in Downton Abbey. It seems music is a great passion of hers and, having listened to a few “Hotheads” songs, I must say I am impressed. Definitely worth a look.
15th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Totally offensive and he hates your guts. He once emptied a room with just his warm-up material.”
16th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “World-class stand up from the internationally acclaimed star of Live at the Apollo and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow. No gimmicks, just great craic!”
17th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Russell Kane: Posturing Delivery
From press release; ‘What if I’m one of the guys who never has a baby? Why is this not a male subject? I plan to give birth live on stage then raise it – in front of you. Come along!”
18th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Celebrated virtuoso of the Flamenco guitar, Juan Martin has been voted one of the top three guitarists in the world. His latest project explores the roots of flamenco, with music including Moorish and Indian gypsy music, Sephardic song a well as his own inimitable flamenco style.”
19th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Famous for his role as founder member of rock group Del Amitri, Currie’s music is dominated by strong imagery and storytelling.”
21st February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Hailed as the originators of British folk-rock music, Fairport Convention has just celebrated its 45th anniversary. The 2013 Winter Tour features songs from their most recent studio album Festival Bell. There will also be an opening set from John Watterson who will perform revivals of Jake Thackray’s quirky songs.”
21st February 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Cannon, Campbell, Watchorn & O’Conner formerly of ‘The Dubliners’
From press release; “Sean Cannon, Eamonn Campbell, Patsy Watchorn and banjo virtuoso Gerry O’Connor continue the legacy of Legendary Irish Folk group THE DUBLINERS, celebrating 50 glorious years in the music business.”
22nd February 2013 – The Studio (Bradford Alhambra)
Tom Stade Totally Rocks
From press release; “Following last year’s sell-out debut UK tour, don’t miss Canadian émigré Tom Stade with his brand new live show”
23rd February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “The star of Everyone Quite Likes Justin (R4) goes back on tour with his stand-up romp.”
23rd February 2013 – The Studio (Bradford Alhambra)
WOW, A Celebration of the Music of Kate Bush
My only tribute act inclusion, simply because I am a big fan of Kate Bush and this production is a new one on me. The show promises “Kate’s greatest songs and a state of the art light and video show will ensure a fabulous evening of entertainment”. Worth a look simply because it is a little different.
24th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Al Murray – The Only Way is Epic
From press release; “Britain’s most irrepressible innkeeper will be serving up his premier brew of ale-inspired acumen and bar-room buffoonery. Get your orders in now!”
26th Feb-2nd March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
James and the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl is still a hit with children and this production, from children’s specialists The Birmingham Stage Company promises to pack them in. If your children enjoyed their previous production of George’s Marvellous Medicine, Horrible Histories and The Jungle Book, they will love this.
1st March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Sharon Shannon has music at her fingertips….literally! The accordionist from Ireland has achieved legendary status throughout the world and has made the much-maligned accordion ‘cool’ in her home country. Renowned for her collaborations, not just in Irish traditional music, but through all musical genres, Hip-Hop, Cajun, Country, Classical and Rap. “
2nd March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “World Famous Hypnotist Andrew Newton makes a welcome return to the City Varieties after last year’s sell out tour of Australia and New Zealand. This show marks the 31st year since he first performed at the theatre and promises to be as funny as ever. It’s not just the people on the stage who will find themselves part of Newton’s carefully controlled insanity – someone at home will have an unexpected call!!!”
2nd-9th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby
From press release; “Discover the heady, indulgent days of New York’s Long Island during the glamorous 1920′s as Northern Ballet bring F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby to the stage. Nick Carraway comes to know his infamous neighbour Jay Gatsby – a mysterious millionaire with a secret past and a penchant for lavish parties and beautiful women. As the sparkling façade of Gatsby’s world begins to slip, Carraway comes to see the loneliness, obsession and tragedy that lies beneath. The seductive style of the era is recreated through stunning sets and costumes. Music by Academy Award nominated and BAFTA winning composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Murder on the Orient Express), will be played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia. With an unparalleled reputation for telling stories through dance, Northern Ballet are the perfect company to translate this popular American novel into ballet. As The Great Gatsby steps into the spotlight, don’t miss your opportunity to see what promises to be one of the most stylish adaptations of this classic work.”
3rd March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Pete Firman – Hoodwinker
From press release; “Don’t miss Pete Firman, ‘the new poster-boy for British comedy magic’ (The Telegraph), as he returns to the road with an all-new box of tricks. Fresh from BBC1′s ‘The Magicians’, with his own trademark blend of comedy and jaw-dropping magic, this is a show not to be missed!”
4th-9th March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
The Woman in Black
I am not afraid to say it, The Woman In Black is a genuinely frightening experience. Forget the sub-par movie adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe, the stage play is atmospheric, dark and moody – and bound to have you on edge throughout. Yes, it has been touring and playing the West End for decades – but it keeps on delivering. *Must See*
10th March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Richard Herring – Talking Cock
From press release; It’s an object of shame and pride; it inspires laughter and fear; it’s a symbol of power, yet it’s incredibly fragile; it can be a pound of flesh or an ounce of winkles, it can be used to express both love and hate; it creates life, it can condemn us to death… and it can do wees as well. How can one tiny flap of sponge and sinew be all these things? Richard Herring intends to find out in this tenth anniversary update of the critically acclaimed show that exposes the truth about men and their flutes of love. Sell-out at the Edinburgh Fringe 2002 and Melbourne Comedy Festival 2003, translated and performed in over a dozen European countries, published as a book by Ebury press.
Herring is a fine comedian and wordsmith and is at his absolute best when staying on-script.
11th-16th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
The Mousetrap – Diamond Anniversary Tour
12th-23rd March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Hairspray is an absolutely joyous musical and the tour is a triumph. I have seen this tour several times previously – as well as several visits to the now departed West End production and the novelty and sheer delight simply doesn’t wear off with repeat viewings. The current cast stars comedian Mark Benton as Edna, EastEnders’ Lucy Benjamin as Velma Von Tussle, X Factor 2011 competitor Marcus Collins and newcomer Freya Sutton as Tracy. *Must See*
13th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “LipService, Britain’s favourite literary lunatics, are back with ’A Swedish self-assembly crime thriller’. Inspector Norse (orThe Girl With Two Screws Left Over). It is bitter mid-winter. Ex-popstar recluse Freya looks out of her log cabin at a rural winter scene. She smiles and turns back to her meatballs. but who is the stranger Nordic Walking across the frozen wastes? In a fur hat. With a chisel. Days later a man is found dead in a barn nearby with a bizarre message carved on his forehead. Enter Inspector Sandra Larsson in her authentic, rustic knitwear. With her own personal life unravelling before our eyes, it is up to her to follow the pattern of a mystery with many holes. Cast on multi-award winning comedy duo LipService, Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding. Cast off your preconceptions as they weave a web of mystery that will leave your nerves jangling!”
14th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
The Irish House Party!
From press release; “Dublin’s No’1 award winning music and dance show offers the warmest of welcomes to the finest house party in town.”
Also playing at Bradford St. George’s Hall on 16th March.
14th March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
From press release; “One of British comedy’s biggest stars comes to Bradford for one night only! Don’t miss Micky Flanagan at St George’s Hall!”
Limited availability remains on this one, so book early!
14th March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
Justin Moorhouse: Justin Time
From press release; “He won’t have his face painted as a tiger but we can guarantee laughs from Justin!”
16th March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
The Irish House Party!
From press release; “Dublin’s No’1 award winning music and dance show offers the warmest of welcomes to the finest house party in town.”
Also playing at Leeds City Varieties on 14th March.
17th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Gretchen Peters returns after rave reviews for her eighth album, ‘Hello Cruel World’ – a joke that, like the lovely melodies and deliciously textured arrangements framing these 11 songs, sweetens this captivating music spun from a year of turmoil. Her career kick started with Martina McBride’s 1995 recording of Peters’ ‘Independence Day’ which made her a songwriting sensation.”
18th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Folk rock pioneers, pop stars, an inspiration to generations – Steeleye Span have been many things, and are now a six piece again, This show will see them visit the classics that have made them one of the most successful British Folk Rock bands ever. 2012 finds Maddy Prior – the voice of Steeleye for 37 years – back at the helm of a line-up featuring band stalwart and fiddler extraordinaire , Rick Kemp on bass, Peter Zorn and Julian Littman on Guitars and Liam Genockey on the drum stool.
20th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Following on from their hugely successful 2012 tour, the girls return in 2013 with hilarious all-new sketches, as well as all the very best bits from last time round. Looking at everything that makes today’s woman tick (or ticked off!) – from the joys of teenagers, to the hell of IKEA, the madness of holiday reps and the insanity of DIY. Is your man more James May than Christian Grey? Then grab your girlfriends and head for a hilariously funny evening with the Hormonal Housewives – what they can’t teach you about modern womanhood isn’t worth knowing!”
21st March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “The Manfreds, with original front-man Paul Jones, will be performing many of the tracks from the highly acclaimed album The Five Faces Of Manfred Mann, re-released as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations, along with a mix of their biggest hits and the jazz and blues songs for which they are famous. Paul Jones, with his award winning harmonica sound, will be joined by Mike Hugg on keyboards, Tom McGuinness on lead guitar, Rob Townsend on drums, Marcus Cliffe on bass guitar and Simon Currie on saxophone/flute.”
21st March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
From press release; “Shakatak have enjoyed a level of success and career longevity rarely paralleled in contemporary music but then Shakatak is a particularly unusual group.”
22nd March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
Boogie Nights – The ’70′s Musical in Concert
From press release; “The original and best loved West End hit 70′s musical in an unmissable remixed one night concert event of the year”
It can be very hard to judge which of these tribute productions will be of the highest quality and which might leave a slightly disappointed feeling. This production certainly has some names in the “cast of 14 singers, dancers and live musicians” including The Osmond Brothers (Merrill, Jimmy and Jay), Gareth Gates, Andy Abraham and Butlins regular Chico, which might go a little way to justifying the £35.50 top price. I’ll reserve judgement on this one until I see it.
24th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Jo Caulfield – Better the Devil You Know
From press release; “The minute Jo Caulfield hits the stage you know you’re in for a good time. Nominated as ‘Funniest Woman’ (LAFTA Awards) and ‘Best Female Stand-Up’ (Chortle Awards), Jo Caulfield is one of the most popular and successful female Stand Up comedians in the country. Star of Radio 4’s critically acclaimed It’s That Jo Caulfield Again and recently seen on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Mock The Week, Have I Got News For You, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Best of The Comedy Store and The Apprentice: You’re Fired. Expect razor-sharp observations and scandalous one-liners as Jo asks; Why are drunken girlfriends so much fun? Which hotel has the best porn? What constitutes an airtight alibi? Is friendliness overrated? The celebration of anger continues with acerbic stories about dating, relationships, bad service, wrestling with a self-scanner in Tesco Supermarket and humiliating herself in public. Come join Jo’s celebration of anger.”
25th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
Hairy Bikers – Larger Than Live 2013
From press release; “Last time round we told you our story, but this time, we’re taking you round the world. Starting with our northern roots, we’ll share our rip roaring tales of decadent do’s, big dinners and culinary catastrophes. There will be a bit of dancing, a bit of flirting, a bit of singing, and some downright hilarious stand-up comedy. Filled with plenty of surprises, expect the unexpected… and if you like us on the telly, you will love us ‘Larger than Live’.”
26th-30th March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty
From press release; “New Adventures’ 25th birthday culminates with the world premiere of Matthew Bourne’s latest re-imagining of a ballet classic. Sleeping Beauty sees Bourne return to the music of Tchaikovsky to complete the trio of ballet masterworks that started with Nutcracker! and the international smash hit, Swan Lake. Our story begins in 1890 at the christening of Princess Aurora, a time when fairies and vampires fed the gothic imagination, before moving forward in time to the modern day. Featuring designs by Olivier Award winners Lez Brotherston (Set and Costumes), Paule Constable (Lighting) with Sound Design by Paul Groothuis, which will take the audience into the heart of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score in specially recorded surround sound.”
Fresh from Sadlers Wells and a deluge of glowing reviews, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty has all the hallmarks of another world class production. Bourne’s new Sleeping Beauty is arguably his most modern ballet re-imagining yet, even going so far as to remove the orchestra and replace them with a pre-recorded score, a move which has caused much controversy in the industry but was deemed essential for the affordability of the show. I really can’t wait for this one. *Must See*
27th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Ian Hunter + Guests
From press release; “Ian Hunter & Mott The Hoople recorded four crazed but critically-acclaimed and highly influential albums for Island Records and possessed enormous live prowess, but poor record sales led to a temporary split and a move to CBS/Columbia. With David Bowie’s ‘All The Young Dudes’ as the launchpad, Mott The Hoople hit superstar status between 1972 and 1974 – seven hit singles, four chart albums (including ‘Mott’ – still regarded as a seventies’ classic); they were the first rock band to sell out a week of Broadway concerts in New York’s theatreland, and Ian wrote his universally acclaimed book, Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star. Mott reunited for five nights at London’s prestigious Hammersmith Apollo in 2009 and were awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from Mojo and Classic Rock magazines respectively.”
27th-28th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
Harry Hill: Sausage Time
From press release; “The self-styled floppy-collared loon is back with a live show that promises incontrovertible proof that God exists. Joined by showband ‘The Harry’s’, there’s a section exclusively for Tongans, a chance to catch up on Harry’s Nan’s latest ailments, the legendary Stouffer the Cat and a debut solo stand-up spot by Gary, Harry’s son from his first marriage and recognisable for his role as Alan Sugar in Harry Hill’s TV Burp. There’ll be expert-whistler-of-chart-hits grandson Sam and an all-singing, all-dancing finale. Oh, and a giant sausage.”
29th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “The first album from folk-rock legends Strawbs, was recorded with Sandy Denny in 1967, a year before her first album with Fairport Convention. On the strength of this, A&M signed Strawbs as the first British band on the label. The band has a devoted fan base that continues to grow on the strength of both their recent recordings and classic hits. As Strawbs now move gracefully into their fifth decade of music making, the band comprises David Cousins, along with lead guitarist Dave Lambert, and the astonishingly versatile Chas Cronk, who together formed the front-line of the classic 1970s line-up. “
30th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
The Animals & Friends
From press release; “The Animals were the second British band to top the American charts after The Beatles with the multi-million selling and legendary anthem, House of the Rising Sun. The band subsequently achieved over twenty global Top Ten hit records, many of which reached No.1 in various parts of the world. Animals & Friends features original Animals’ members John Steel (drums) and Mick Gallagher (keyboards – The Blockheads, The Clash, Paul McCartney) plus Danny Handley and Peter Barton.”
30th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
The Solid Silver 60′s Show
From press release; “They say that if you remember the 60s you weren’t there! Fill that gap in your memory with The Solid Silver 60s Show and relive the 60s with original artists singing their greatest hits! Now in its 28th year the show features the unforgettable talents of Mike Pender (the original voice of The Searchers), Dave Berry and Wayne Fontana, all backed by New Amen Corner, and with special guests The Merseybeats. Hear the classic hits performed by the original hitmakers!
- Harry Zing
When? Tuesday 18th December 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Billy Pearce, Lynda Bellingham, Brendan Sheerin, Brian Godfrey, Ben Stock, Hannah Grover, Christopher Drake, Afnan Iftikhar, Daisy Boyles, Matthew Prince Chambers, Jack Gow, Chelsie Johnson, Ricky Lee Loftus, Kerry Pearce, Innis Robertson, Laura Watson, the Children of the Sara Packham School of Dance
Billy Pearce has become as much a staple of Christmas as mince pies, The Snowman and difficult relatives. The “80′s TV comedian” – in his own words – is clearly enjoying his 14th year of pantomime at the Bradford Alhambra. Starring as Buttons in Michael Harrison and Alan McHugh’s new Cinderella, Pearce is a blast and provides the beating heart and northern soul of a very strong pantomime production.
Harrison, who Executive Produces, wisely keeps the focus on high quality for all-comers, not just the very young, making Cinderella a very successful family show. The sets are astonishing and no expense has been spared; in particular, some wonderful moments of stage magic are sure to delight the younger members of the audience, with gasps of delight clearly audible in the packed house on press night. Throw in live animals, some incredible puppet design and plenty of knowing nods and winks for the more mature panto-lover and Cinderella delivers a near-flawless pantomime experience for young and old alike.
Joining seasoned performer Lynda Bellingham – who gave a disappointly stiff Fairy Godmother – are a talented cast of triple-threat performers and some fine comic turns. Brian Godfrey/Ben Stock are amusing as the traditional Ugly Sisters, with their first act cover of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” winning plenty of laughs. Christopher Drake makes a dashing Prince Charming and Hannah Grover is an appealing Disneyfied princess Cinderella. Afnan Iftikhar has a lovely singing voice but could do with practice on his Prince Charles impersonation! Supporting the adult cast are a well-drilled teams of children from the Sara Packham School of Dance, who perform without fear. Lastly, in a classically tenuous pantomime link, Brendan Sheerin – host of Channel 4′s Coach Trip – is the coach driver. Ouch! Sheerin does well enough in the part and enjoys himself – I have certainly seen much worse!
But it is Pearce who sells the show with his infectious enthusiasm and humour. The children go crazy for him and he is cheered, clapped and screamed at (he usually screams back) whenever he is on – or about to come 0n – the stage. The adults in the audience can also take a lot from Pearce, with plenty of self-deprecating humour and safe innuendo. Throw in the occasion ad-lib and Pearce is a name that is guaranteed to sell tickets year after year.
In Bradford Alhambra pantomime tradition, bookings are already being taken for next year’s production – Aladdin – shout out if you can guess who is returning?!
- Harry Zing
When? Saturday 15th December 2012
Where? o2 Academy, Leeds, stalls
Who? Ellie Goulding + band (support: Sons and Lovers, Yasmin)
Anybody who has been to an “o2 Academy” branded venue up and down the country knows exactly what to expect from this particular stable. The bar prices are standard for a regional live music venue (lager from £3.90 a pint, soft drinks £1.80 a half – December 2012) and the queues are manageable with three bars inside the auditorium, each well staffed. Security is never an issue and inside the auditorium there is little if any presence – somewhat predictably in this case for such ‘low risk’ gig. The venue is a decent size and holds approximately 2300 on two levels, with the more sedate upper balcony area proving the wiser choice for children and those who don’t enjoy being in smelling distance of other patrons. The sight-lines are generally good, with the auditorium raking adequately for even the smallest patron to comfortably see the action on stage from the sound booth backwards. Restrooms are intentionally scarce and require a trek through to the lower level bars, making not drinking too much before the act comes on a necessity!
A strong set from the indie pop stylings of Sons And Lovers kicked things off nicely, with their marquee single “Set My Heart on Fire” standing out. After a brief interlude, young DJ/singer-songwriter Yasmin, clutching a Macbook-Air, made her way to the stage and played a short set of remixes. Unfortunately, such is the lack of fanfare for support acts at live gigs that many in the auditorium – initially, myself included – were aware that she was actually an act playing a live set. Unlike Sons And Lovers, who leafletted after their act, constantly mentioned their band name during their set and so on, Jasmin didn’t utter a single word throughout her performance. Her set was almost impossible to differentiate from the ‘filler’ music that was being played by the venue between acts, which was a shame as Jasmin is an accomplished vocalist and established talent already, with two UK top 20 hits to her name. She has also supported the likes of Ed Sheerin and Example in the last year, but here her act came and went without most people in the audience even realising.
Ellie Goulding arrived on the stage seconds after her band, shortly before 8:30pm, and launched straight into three tracks from her outstanding 2012 studio album ‘Halcyon’: ‘Don’t Say a Word’ opens the show almost as a piece of musical theatre, with Goulding playing a basic, pounding beat on a downstage drum during the refrain, a gimmick that was to recur ad-nauseum throughout the evening. ‘Hanging On’, sees Goulding curiously singing with two microphones – with one set to an ethereal filter to replicate the post-processing effects heard on the studio recording of the track. It is not until ‘Joy’, the seventh number of the evening, that Goulding truly settles into her rhythm and the track – helpfully explained to us as being ‘about joy’ pre-song by Goulding, eventually proved the strongest of the evening.
The evening continued to improve with a strong rendition of ‘Explosions’, before the filters, vocal layers and production effects were briefly dropped for ‘Guns and Horses’ from Goulding’s 2010 debut album ‘Lights’, played and sung beautifully – and solo – by Goulding on electro-acoustic guitar. A new song premiered, ‘Without Your Love’, which is about – you guessed it – a break up. The song is an attempt at replicating the repetitive anthemic qualities which made ‘Anything Could Happen’ a chart and cultural success, but sadly fails to hit the mark. Goulding returns for the scripted encore, her cover of “Your Song” and “Starry Eyed”, both from ‘Lights’. The former was somewhat ruined by unavoidable audience participation, leaving the number just about the weakest of the evening. Leaving the stage at 9:50, Goulding played for approximately 80 minutes.
There is no doubt that Goulding offers the classic ‘package’; attractive and in great physical shape, Goulding is seen as something of a middle-class hero to a generation of young, predominantly female, fans and it is her image as both a serious artist and a fashionista which forms a large part of her artistic credibility with her target audience. Yet, it seems Goulding is so desperate to be respected that she can seem to be trying too hard. At one stage, having asked the audience if they were having fun – and naturally receiving a reply in the affirmative – Goulding forgets herself, replying back without an ounce of irony, ‘good-o!’. Goulding later explains between songs that she has a nervous vocal tick – one which makes her sound ‘like a pirate’, and her singing teacher had scolded her for it. A 2012 pop act ignoring her own ‘rule of cool’ by telling the audience that she has singing lessons was also quite a turn-up for the books. Goulding was keen to remind us she has just got back from touring in the United States and, at times, appeared to have adopted an American twang when she spoke, much like fellow British talent Joss Stone before her, whose career was undeniably damaged by trying to be something she isn’t. A lovely display of ego didn’t go unnoticed either, as Goulding scolds some badly behaved revellers; “Yeah, I really love how all you guys are just chatting away down there, it’s great”.
In fact, I was truly surprised just how awkward some of Goulding’s act was. For such an accomplished vocalist with songwriting skills – and being a performer who is keen to show her diverse musicality – her performance skills are surprisingly limited. Goulding doesn’t really dance per se, neither does she stand still. A nervous performer, she seems to go through a clutch of stock moves depending on the nature of the song. The recurring trait of brushing her hair down over her eyes then flicking it away becomes hypnotic (this resembles passion), the hip-hop style bopping/pointing at the audience (this means we are meant to dance) reminded me somewhat of Cerys Matthews. In a ‘emotional’ song Goulding keeps a lot more still; it really is performance by numbers.
Supported by an able band of four, Goulding is at least in good hands. There was no interaction or chemistry between Goulding and her band of note, aside from one slightly embarrassing attempt at flirting by Goulding to guitarist ‘Chris’, whom she ‘admits that she fancies’, before quickly reassuring the audience she is ‘just kidding’. Ouch. Incidentally, the band are not acknowledged again or even introduced by Goulding, so I will do so here;
- Christian “Chris” Ketley – Guitar, keyboard, midi fighter
- Maxwell Cooke – Keyboard
- Joe Clegg – Drums
- Simon Francis – Guitar
But that only tells half the story. This concert, like the studio albums – especially ‘Halcyon’ – is produced to an inch of its life. A quick scan of the production credits on the album is very telling, look at all those producers and mixers! Goulding’s style, a hybrid dubstep/electro-pop/folk mishmash of genres leaves little room for the real talent that makes Ellie Goulding a star – Ellie Goulding. The Halcyon Days Tour is, essentially, the album with some live vocals by the onstage Goulding sung over the top. Often, how much singing Goulding is actually doing is open to debate. Now, it is not uncommon for performers to use pre-recorded mixes and layering effects to get the desired quality in a live performance, but I mean her performance was identical at times to the studio recording. The middle of set acoustic ‘segment’ of the set proves, in earnest, the only demonstrable examples of Goulding’s sheer talent, of which I have no question.
At £25 a head, the ticket prices weren’t bad (and the venue was far from sold out, with tickets available on the door) but I can’t help but feel that Goulding would be better suited in a more sedate environ. The thought of seeing an acoustic Ellie Goulding set in a theatre, city hall venue or even small club is a very attractive – albeit unlikely one.
The Halcyon Days Tour runs until April 2013 with more dates set to be announced.
- Harry Zing
When? Monday 26th November 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Steven France, Thomas Howes, Karl Howman, Bruno Langley, Graham Seed, Jemma Walker, Jan Waters, Clare Wilkie
2012 has been a quite extraordinary year for Britain. Completely apart from the world of theatre and performance – a remarkable half-sentence coming from me – it has been a year we can be rightly proud of. The remarkable success and legacy of the Olympic games is plain for all to see – and Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony spectacular in particular was a joy to behold (well, that didn’t take long!). 2012 also marked a very special 60th anniversary for someone, a certain lady on the throne, known the world over as a British institution. That’s right, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is celebrating it’s first ever full UK tour – and the Queen of Crime’s masterpiece is in positively majestic form.
Set exclusively in the grand hall of the newly established guest house Monkswell Manor, the set-up is classic Christie. A grisly murder has been committed in London amidst a huge snowstorm which is battering southern England. Newlywed couple, The Ralstons, are preparing to receive their new house-guests – each with their own secret reasons for visiting the isolated retreat. Before long, a police sergeant arrives – on skis – bringing news of the London murder, with the belief that one or more of the guests may be involved…
Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen and Adam Spiegel’s tour is a very timely tonic for the UK straight play touring circuit. One which is guaranteed to fill venues up and down the country for as long as the noted producers wish I suspect – but agreeably for all the right reasons. Director Ian Watt-Smith is no stranger to The Mousetrap, having directed the 38th, 41st, 58th and 59th years of the West End production and his intricate understanding of the piece is the key to this production’s success. Christie’s writing is sharp and witty, but in the hands of the wrong director can tumble into parody or, worse still, a ham-fest. Watt-Smith’s genius is in understanding what to play straight and what to send up; amusing and dramatically thrilling in all the right places, The Mousetrap absolutely flies by – and yet feels dense, tense and emotionally engaging.
The Diamond Anniversary tour of The Mousetrap is a brilliant, timeless and iconic production – and Monkswell Manor is positively lit up by one of the finest casts I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in a straight play in recent years. The entire company are strong: Steven France gives a hilarious performance as a flouncing, but deeply vulnerable Christopher Wren; Jemma Walker and Bruno Langley make a likeable and convincing Mr and Mrs. Ralston; Mousetrap regular Jan Waters makes a softer and funnier Mrs Boyle than I’ve seen previously and Clare Wilkie makes far more of Miss Casewell than could be reasonably asked of her, with a far subtler and considerably less angry vibe about her than many other actresses who have played the role previously as, to be blunt, ‘an angry lesbian’. Graham Seed as Major Metcalf shares some amusing first act banter with Mrs Boyle which earned hearty laughs from the audience; Karl Howman’s half-baked Italian-ish accent as Mr Paravicini is so ropey as to actually work in his favour, casting doubt on the character’s true identity…
The undoubted star-turn though comes from Doncaster born Thomas Howes as Detective Sergeant Trotter. Howes, known to television audiences for his performance as William in ITV’s Downton Abbey, shows his versatility and brilliance as a character actor and leaves a lasting impression on the audience with an outstanding performance. He looks, sounds and adopts mannerisms so far removed from his noted television turn that he is barely recognisable. And his performance is certainly not identikit, in fact, with director Watt-Smith, Howes adds quirks and traits to the character which help make the role truly his own – Howes will be a big loss to the production when he leaves the show at the end of the Bradford run. His replacement is yet to be confirmed.
The production values are superb and no expense has been spared in recreating the West End production for tour. Whilst the Diamond Anniversary tour is technically a new production, it is in essence a reproduction – Anthony Holland’s original sets, the costumes, lighting design and so forth are almost identically replicated from the West End, where the production is re-directed once a year – regardless of the frequency of cast changes – to help ensure freshness. From experience though it doesn’t, as the West End production housed less than a few hundred people the last time I attended, most of whom were tourists. The tour production feels infinitely fresher, the regional audience frankly better.
Admittedly, it does take a few scenes to adjust to some of the follies of ‘an Agatha Christie’ as one integrates oneself into her universe. Christie’s fictional settings are ones which surely felt old-fashioned even in her day, so in 2012 a fair amount of willing suspension is necessary for any audience. One such example are accents; most of the company adopt the tried and trusted attempt at 1950′s ‘BBC newsreader’ RP – a rather stifling necessity for an actor with a natural regional accent, perhaps straining to imbue their performance with credibility. It is fortunate, then, that Watt-Smith’s focus is on delivering fully fleshed out incarnations of each and every character and is hugely successful in doing so. The Mousetrap is more than a play, it is a tradition – a staple of British theatre. This sense of tradition is enforced by the company’s request to the audience at the curtain call not to reveal the identity of the killer.
I appreciate that The Mousetrap is not without its critics; many commentators have bemoaned the sixty-year West End policy of refusing to discount tickets for a show that frequently struggles to put bums on seats – and some simply find Christie’s famous ‘cosy’ trademark style simply too, well, cosy for a 2012 audience. But there is no denying that in front of a packed Bradford Alhambra audience, some sixty years since it embarked on its West End run, we were caught up in a very special Mousetrap. A true masterpiece, dare I even say with Howes heading the company for his final few performances, in its prime.
- Harry Zing
When? Friday 9th November 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Robert Anker, Minica Beason, Bradley Charles, Sheree Dubois, Natasha Gooden, Ess Green, Ross Green, Rowen Hawkins, Denny Haywood, Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, Sherona Knight, Kayla Lomas-Kirton, Cherelle Jay O’Donnell, Andry Oporia, Rohan Pinnock-Hamilton, Sarah Richards, Ross Sands, Letitia Simpson, Shaun Smith, Duwane Taylor, DJ Walde, Elliotte Williams-N’Dure
Kate Prince’s Zoonation have fast become a major player in the UK dance scene. Some Like it Hip Hop, a co-production with Sadler’s Wells, is a superb follow-up to Prince’s critically acclaimed 2006 Into the Hoods, a dance show which bridged the gap between musical theatre and ‘pure’ modern street dance. Very loosely based on Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic comedy Some Like it Hot, the narrative takes place in a dystopian city, where the Governor (Duwane Taylor) has blocked out the sun, banned books and relegated women to the role of second class citizens, doing menial jobs in a male oriented society. Those deemed not ‘up to scratch’ are exiled from the city gates by the tyrannical regime. Two women (Sarah Richards and the outstanding Minica Beason) decide to rebel – and posing as delightfully unlikely men – regain entry to the city with hilarious consequences. Narrator (Ross Green) moves the plot forward with rhyming couplets interspersed with superb dance scenes, perfectly complimented by superb live vocal performances by standout singers Elliotte Williams N’Dure and DJ Walde.
The dancing throughout is superb, the cast have little to say but communicate fluently and emotionally through dance. The scenes comprise of a number of standalone songs inspired by modern hip-hop music, 1970′s disco and even a dash of acoustic folk music in the form of DJ Walde’s lovely second act guitar ballad ‘Destination Unknown’. Three memorable characters emerge; Sudsy Partridge (Shaun Smith) is fantastically expressive and excels in his second act rebellion, winning over the audience with a charming performance. Oprah (Natasha Gooden) is a feisty, rebellious teenager who comes to the city keen to right the wrongs of the past, she dances very well and enjoys a fun second act disco number. But undoubtedly the star turn of the evening comes from Robert Anker as Simeon with the “175 IQ”. His dancing and characterisation were faultless and the tricky moves he pulled off were simply stunning. Interestingly, the company rotate the lead roles very frequently, meaning repeat visits are a very attractive proposition. The largely British company are so talented and versatile I suspect they are entirely interchangeable; it would be fascinating to see the production again after the next rotation.
It was a delight to see the Alhambra filled with young people, who were enthusiastic from the off – and positively rocking by the deafening finale. For many, it will have been a first taste of theatre and I can’t think of a better show I have ever seen to introduce a younger generation into the arts. This is not to say Some Like it Hip Hop is limited by its target audience – if it even has one – as there is truly something for everyone with an open mind who enjoys quality dance theatre. Less of a traditional book musical than In the Heights, but certainly more than just a dance show Some Like it Hip Hop is one of the best dance musicals I have ever seen. Kate Prince’s Zoonation are as innovative and exciting a theatre company as any and the future looks very bright for British dance with Zoonation at the fore. Some Like it Hip Hop is a show I could watch again and again.
- Harry Zing
When? Thursday 8th November 2012
Where? Grand Theatre, Leeds, stalls
Who? Neil Morrissey, Samantha Barks, Iain Fletcher, Sebastian Croft, Daniel Huttlestone, Stephen Moore, Jack Edwards, Claire Machin, CJ Johnson, David Langham, Emma Dukes, Stevie Hutchinson, Victoria Hay, Sophie Caton, Alison Connell, Sarah Cortez, Beth Davies, Hadrian Delacey, Lee Dillon-Stuart, Nicholas Duncan, Paul Farrell, Kade Ferraiolo, Mary Fox, James Gant, Matt Harrop, Lincoln Hudson, Kara Lane, Joe Maxwell, Mikaela Newton, Ryan O’Gorman, Claire Parrish, Annie Wensak
2012 has been a truly defining year for the Leeds Grand Theatre. Under the ambitious leadership of General Manager Ian Sime and his team, the venue has steadily grown in stature and is now rightly recognised in the industry as one of the largest and most prestigious receiving venues in the country. Following a record-breaking sell-out run of The Phantom of the Opera – which followed equally noteworthy visits of AAA touring shows Dirty Dancing, Sister Act and South Pacific - Cameron Mackintosh’s Oliver! revival, which is playing the Grand for five weeks, is arguably the pick of the bunch in the theatre’s breathtaking 2012 calendar.
Oliver! is many people’s favourite musical for a reason; the songs are catchy, numerous and memorable – the show running order reads like a list of musical theatre standards: ‘Food, Glorious Food’, ‘Oliver!’, ‘Where is Love?’, ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’, ‘I’d Do Anything’ and ‘Be Back Soon’ are some of the well-known songs which feature in the first act alone. Oliver! is ageless, Lionel Bart’s book is poignant and entertaining in equal measure, the characters are instantly recognisable and wonderfully intriguing – the material is simply a godsend for the right production. And this is certainly the right production!
This 2011/13 tour, adapted from the 2009 London revival, is a joy from first to last – and I left the theatre beaming. The production numbers, in particular, are an absolute joy to behold with the teams – nay hoards – of talented children performing to an exceptional standard. A synopsis for such a well-known show is unnecessary; the only real variations from the original 1960 production – or the iconic 1968 movie – come in the form of minor directorial tweaks and the aesthetics of the staging, rather than in the plot or any aspect of character development. Laurence Connor takes the directorial helm and does a sterling job in balancing the importance of the plot with accessibility – of course, it helps when the book provides a showstopping production number every ten minutes, should the attention begin to wander! As it is though, the acted scenes are equally entertaining thanks to the weird and wacky cast of faintly menacing characters which fill the Oliver! universe.
Young Sebastian Croft, playing Oliver, sang with clarity and power throughout. Opposite him Daniel Huttlestone, set to feature as Gavroche in the 2013 Les Misérables movie, makes a very cheery and cheeky Artful Dodger. The highly experienced and hard-working adult cast are a match for the youngsters; David Langham gave an amusing turn as the mildly sinister Child-Catcher-esque undertaker Mr. Sowerberry and Stephen Moore shone as the kindly Mr. Brownlow. Samantha Barks, a runner-up in the BBC I’d Do Anything search for a Nancy, possesses a superb voice and belts with the best of them. ‘As Long as He Needs Me’ and the subsequent reprise proved arguably the stand-out number of the evening. Iain Fletcher is perhaps bordering on the panto as the villainous, psychotic Bill Sikes – indeed, he was roundly booed at the curtain call – but comes into his own in his final, dramatic moments leaving his performance feeling stronger than expected.
In my previous visit to Oliver! in the West End, I had seen stage legend Russ Abbott don the famous Fagin rags to great success and, initially, I had doubts about lead Neil Morrissey’s musical theatre credentials. However, after a nervy start, I am delighted to say Morrissey was terrific as a very bona fide Fagin. Thankfully shunning early slapstick for a much ‘smaller’ – and certainly more sincere – second act performance, by ‘Reviewing the Situation’, Morrissey had the audience rapt – the eruption of appreciation at the end of the number was one of the loudest and longest I have heard at the Grand.
Oliver! is also a particularly beautiful production and the sets and super-slick staging are a marvel. Very reminiscent of past Cameron Mackintosh productions such as his outstanding 2001 My Fair Lady or 2005′s Mary Poppins, the evening simply glides by as sets are flown in from all angles with such smoothness and symmetry as to leave you open-mouthed at the technical wizardry on show. Totie Driver/Adrian Vaux’s set designs are beautiful, the vast backdrops of London are living, breathing environs. The orchestrations (William David Brohn) are of the highest order, as one would expect from a tour of this quality. From the cheery bounce of ‘Oom Pah Pah’ to the swelling orchestral arrangement of ‘As Long As He Needs Me’, Oliver! boasts a particularly strong, classy band of fifteen, under the strong leadership of musical director Toby Higgins.
A fantastic, upbeat end to a year to remember at the Leeds Grand with Oliver! providing a West End experience in the heart of Yorkshire.
- Harry Zing
When? Monday 29th October 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Beverley Callard, Ray Quinn, Philip Andrew, Jess Robinson, Duggie Brown, Sally Plumb, Cerie Hine, Lisa Howard, John Cockerill
Although I have never seen the warmly received, star-studded 1998 movie adaptation of playwright John Cartwright’s successful 1992 play, I arrived at the Bradford Alhambra for The Rise and Fall of Little Voice with high expectations. After all, the movie – as I was assured by friends and colleagues – was an amusing, yet poignant tale of one painfully shy girl’s reluctant journey to stardom. Her one means of expression comes through the small collection of LP records left to her by her beloved late father – and the (sometimes) uncanny impersonations of the various artists she adores.
Considering the time of the year, it would be apt to say that what could have been a whimsical treat of an evening, turned into a one trick pony. The underlying core of the play has oodles of potential for exploration, but sadly is realised in a disjointed, clunky and, at times, distasteful way. Impressionist Jess Robinson as ‘Little Voice’ stands out, but this potential star-turn is generally underused in the book. Thankfully, she is given a brief opportunity in a second act medley to show her full range of impersonations, ranging from an uncanny Cilla Black, to a passable Julie Andrews.
The play centres around Little Voice’s mother Mari Hoff (Beverley Callard), whose surname seems to have been chosen for one cheap first act joke. Despite delivering a performance almost identical to that seen for the last 21 years as her long-running Coronation Street alter-ego Liz McDonald; Callard failed, at times, to convince in her portrayal, often coming across forced and making numerous mistakes delivering the text. Her strongest moment comes in an Act II monologue, where the character ruefully evaluates her own life choices. Unfortunately, this segment is so alien to the would-be whimsical style of the rest of the play, it feels entirely out of place. A hard-drinking factory worker, who calls her daughter a ‘slit’ throughout and regularly uses the term ‘twat bone’, is suddenly found on the floor crying ‘I beseech you!’, as she begs for redemption. This bizarre turn of events is entirely unconvincing.
Criticisms of some of the acting and direction aside, my biggest problem was with the script, which I found at times distasteful and exploitative – not a word I would use lightly, but I feel is necessary in this case. Next door neighbour Sadie, played by poor Sally Plumb, is the ongoing figure of ‘fun’ and I must admit I felt rather uncomfortable with the jokes made at her expense. She is insulted throughout the play due to her size; the content of such jokes I found wholly unnecessary and actually bordering on malicious. Cartwright takes every cheap laugh on offer – we see the ‘fat girl’ dancing around stupidly, straddling a sofa, being called ‘fat’ names throughout with no retaliation, eating mouldy cornflakes, drinking ‘cups of sugar with bit of tea in it’ and vomiting on herself ‘for laughs’ – the latter humiliation being particularly disgusting and hardly referenced in the script. I fail to see how that particular ‘joke’ was either funny or expositional. Largely, this infantile humour is at odds with any feeling of whimsy or empathy built up with any of the characters.
The show features both a pre-show and interval performance, in the form of cabaret acts, an interactive raffle and bingo which went down quite well with the Alhambra audience. Duggie Brown plays the role of the compere Lou Boo and is convincing in a sparkling gold number. The remaining cast perform admirably. As Ray Say, Philip Andrew acts well throughout, but is perhaps a touch too nice – indeed, he is arguably the most likeable character – in spite of the predictable second act heel turn. The nicest moments in the play come with the interaction between love-struck Billy (Ray Quinn) and Little Voice; one scene involving an on-stage cherry-picker was well-acted and visually impressive. A memorable fire effect also stands out in the memory from designer Morgan Large and lighting designer Jason Taylor.
The plot is interesting, as are some of the characters who certainly have room for development. This could’ve been a charming story with a first-class star turn; but the final product sadly left me cold.
- Harry Zing
When? Wednesday 24th October 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? John Hull, Giuliano Contadini, Mariana Rodrigues, Antoinette Brooks-Daw, Isabella Gasparini, Graham Kotowich, Mark Dennis, Jessica Morgan, Dreda Blow, Hironao Takahashi, Darren Goldsmith, Olivia Holland, Shanti Mouget, Michela Paolacci, Hannah Bateman, Ayana Kanda, Julie Charlet, Luisa Rocco, Sebastian Loe, Matthew Topliss, Matthew Broadbent, Ashley Dixon, Joseph Taylor, Kevin Poeung, Isaac Lee-Baker, Nicola Gervasi, Jessica Cohen, Rachael Gillespie, Thomas Aragones, Jeremy Curnier, Josh Barwick
David Nixon’s Beauty and the Beast, returning to Yorkshire after its successful world premiere in Leeds last December, is modern ballet at its brilliant best. Almost Disney-meets-The Phantom of the Opera, Nixon’s charming and visually appealing production ticks all the boxes for a great night at the theatre; a moving and well-conveyed narrative is superbly brought to life by the terrific company – with the principle dancers particularly shining – set against the diverse and emotive backdrop of Duncan Hayler’s imaginative sets, which are expertly lit by top lighting designer Tim Mitchell (whose work I had most recently admired in Dirty Dancing).
Nixon, who directs and choreographs, is rightly proud of this production, which blends melodrama and a wide variety of contemporary ballet styles to stunning effect. At times, it is rather like watching a classic silent movie; the theme of the piece carries wonderfully with the entrancing score. John Longstaff’s arrangements integrate the music with the drama seamlessly; the profoundly gothic tone in the second act opening and finale (Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 – ‘organ’) surely could not have sounded better than it did on the night, under the baton of John Pryce-Jones and his talented orchestra.
The constantly shifting set pieces keep a real feeling of danger to the piece, in spite of the accessible family-friendly nature of the ballet; the beautiful backdrops are gorgeously lit and largely this is all the dancers need as a frame. Set pieces are flown in and out and – one faux-pas aside involving a to-scale lorry being reversed onto the stage – are very effective and in keeping with the tone of the piece.
Beauty and the Beast is a brilliant family show in the truest sense; there is something for the whole family to enjoy. The theatrics kept the immaculately behaved younger members of the audience rapt, while others sat in awe of the quality of the footwork – needless to say the muso’s were in for a treat too. Hironao Takahashi gives a wonderfully theatrical turn as The Beast; his dancing, whilst not world-beating from a technical viewpoint, was passionate and very physical and as he scales the second rigging of his castle and sneers from his lofty perch, he felt every bit the character I wanted him to be. Michela Paolacci is lovely as Beauty and is reminiscent of the likes of Mary Philbin, such was her tendency to the theatrical. Technically, her dancing was also a joy to watch and Paolacci remains one of the top talents associated with Northern Ballet, as she approaches her tenth year with the company. There are also standout performances from the conceited young Prince Orion, John Hull, and some fine comic relief throughout from the two sisters, amusingly played by Hannah Bateman and Ayana Kanda.
I absolutely adored this production, which I found to be of the highest quality. Nixon stops inches short of musical theatre throughout, making it hard to accept as a pure ballet; I personally enjoyed it as a piece of melodramatic theatre, with some terrific ballet dancing thrown in for good measure. For many who would never have dreamed of seeing a classic ballet, visiting this production will hopefully be the catalyst for a lifelong love affair with dance – and that can only be a good thing for the art and the industry in general.
- Harry Zing