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? Wednesday 12th September 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Ace Bhatti, Don Gilet, William Ilkley, Ian Reddington
When Yorkshire playwright John Godber‘s hit comedy Bouncers debuted some 35 years ago at his beloved Hull Truck Theatre, it proved an instant hit. The production has seen numerous re-writes and updates in the decades which followed its 1977 premiere, including the fantastically-named ’1990′s remix’ – and presently – the 2012 tour from Watershed Productions, for which Godber has again taken the reigns as director. The play is widely regarded as being culturally significant; its legacy reinforced by its status as a GCSE text today – indeed, Bouncers proves just as watchable for a seasoned theatregoer as for a large group of difficult-to-please teenage students.
Bouncers is an observational piece telling the story of four lads and four lasses on a night out as they try to dance, drink, vomit, urinate and fart their way to ‘happiness’. Night after night, weekend after weekend, the Bouncers watch on; they’ve seen it all before. Ralph and Les are passive – normal; Lucky Eric is very strange – Judd is a psychopath. The roles are played by the same four actors, dressed in plain black suits; when playing the girls, a limp wrist, a mince and a glittery handbag are deployed as visual aids; the lads swagger their way into Asylum Nightclub and the Bouncers grimace, banter and otherwise wallow in their self-loathing. There are laughs aplenty throughout; the hilarious ‘sex scene’ was wonderfully executed (though be warned, strobe lights are used for this segment) and, although it might be considered cheap laughs by some, the performances as the girls on their night out were surprisingly genuine. There was something oddly amusing about the characters simply announcing their names when they entered – ala the Teletubbies – and I will never look at a Smurf the same way again.
It is impossible to ignore the similarities of Godber’s writing to that of fellow popular playwright Willy Russell; both men are from working class backgrounds (Godber is the son of a miner from a West Yorkshire mining town) and both write with a belt of much-needed humour, with younger people firmly in mind. They also both clearly have a fondness for rhyming couplets, which are used at the beginning and end of the play as a simple framing device which brought closure to the ‘night out’ in a very apt manner. The play is observational in a very literal way; there is little exposition or plot over the course of the two hours, neither is there too much fleshing out of the characters. The Bouncers are the most developed; Lucky Eric, who breaks into monologue throughout the play, arguably takes on the mantle of creating dramatic impetus. Part amateur philosopher, large part pervert, I was unsure what to make of his rambling speeches about young girls ‘soft, tender thighs’ and his witnessing of what appeared to be a serious sexual assault in a pub, which he claimed ‘ … aroused him more than ever before’. Whilst the content was not shocking by modern standards, it felt strangely out of place in the context of an otherwise amusing comedy and left me squirming in my seat in places; like listening to bad ‘sexual fiction’, read by a fifty year old on audio book.
Godber’s 2012 updates are plentiful and a mixed success; thumping modern club music is pumped out throughout the evening with Rhianna, Jessie J (and the Outhere Brothers (?)) – and the like – setting the scene very much in the modern day. There is a half-hearted stab at social and economic commentary, which I found quite hard to swallow; Godber’s belief that young people are victims of the society they have grown up in was always certain to divide an audience who didn’t pay to see social comment – from either end of the political spectrum. Some changes (or lack thereof) are simply factually incorrect; the opening verse implies patrons need to wear a suit to enter a 2012 nightclub, that young girls go to a salon to get a large beehive perm for a night out (or young men go to smokey, terrifying barber shops to get a ‘Joey Barton’ do) – or, for that matter, that groups of young women dance around their handbags in the middle of the nightclub dance floor and groups of men compare the size of their penises and urinate on each other for laughs in the toilets. I’m not sure I’ll ever know what a ‘large shot’ is either. These may seem small inaccuracies, but for a play which is not narrative driven but based on Godber’s interpretation of young people’s actual lives in 2012, these are errors which need correcting to ensure credibility with the people Godber is attempting to portray.
The cast do well across the board, but William Ilkley gives the stand-out turn as wind-up merchant Judd, making the most of his one-liners and truly looking the part to boot. Ian Reddington is fine as Lucky Eric, but for reasons of keeping my dinner down I can’t dwell on the speeches he is given to recite. Ace Bhatti is hilarious in a brief cameo as a Club DJ and is wonderful as Suzie, particularly in the nightclub scenes. Finally Don Gilet as Les isn’t given a lot to do, but earns plenty of laughs when given the opportunity.
Bouncers is an amusing few hours which zip along nicely; it doesn’t work as a piece of social commentary but as a light-hearted comedy, accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, it proves a successful revival. John Godber, who was in attendance himself, will be delighted with the ovation his ‘baby’ received – and I’m sure this isn’t the last incarnation we will see of Bouncers in the years to come.
- Harry Zing
When? Monday 31st October 2011
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Robbie Kmetoni, Janette Manrara, Kallyanne Brown, Damian Samuel, Ash Leigh Hunter, Kevin Clifton, Giselle Peacock, Santo Costa, Emma Slater, Jorja Freeman, Kieran McMahon, Sasha Farber, Stephen Wright, Aliaz Skorjanec, Gary Wright, Karen Hauer, Jemma Armstrong, Dianne Buswell, Faye Huddleston, Trent Whiddon, Gordana Grandosek, Floris Bosveld, Natascha Dejong, Steven Rogers, Peter Saul, Jessica Lingotti, Jason Gilkison (Director/Choreographer)
Is it possible to make ballroom dancing modern, relevant and extremely cool? So asked Director/Choreographer Jason Gilkison back in 1999 when he developed Burn the Floor, the sexy, sassy dance sensation currently setting the Bradford Alhambra theatre alight. Fresh from a season on Broadway, a successful West End run and currently on an international tour, Burn the Floor last night proved that it deserves its status as a triple-A dance production and the première showcase for international ballroom dancing. The varied and wonderfully well executed array of ballroom dances are a delight from the first minute to the last, ranging from joyous swing and jive numbers to outright unashamed allegory like the intensely passionate “Burn For You” or the sexually charged rumba, featuring a blindfolded Karen Hauer, who particularly shone throughout the evening.
In fact, it is the cast – along with the superb choreography from Gilkison and longtime collaborator and friend Peta Roby – which make this show the success that it is. They are hard working, wonderfully talented but above all else and in my eyes, crucially, they love every single second on stage and really take their opportunity to shine with both hands – well, feet. I also particularly enjoyed Kevin Clifton’s high energy (almost manic) performance and the little flourishes added to his characters, which made the whole experience more human and down to earth – and established a connection to the audience. There was not a fault to pick with the cast who clearly gave their all – no mean feat after three years on the road and yet another international tour to come after Christmas.
The show itself was split into four sections, two styles per act; Inspiration, Things That Swing, The Latin Quarter and Coda, each one with particularly strong moments; even if you are not a fan of say, jive dancing, it is impossible not to smile and feel an involuntary toe-tapping during “The Dirty Boogie”. Whilst the pre-recorded music works well enough, I would have preferred a live band on stage or in the pit, but I can appreciate the additional cost would almost certainly mean a reduction in the dancing cast which, at sixteen in number for this tour stop, felt just right for the large Alhambra stage. There are, however, two live percussionists (Joe Malone and Henry Soriano) who are excellent throughout. Joining them on stage at regular intervals are the two vocalists, Peter Saul and Jessica Lingotti, the former particularly impressing again with moving and soaring vocals in “Burn For You”, which really was worthy of the ticket price alone. It was also very interesting to learn that the show is regularly updated and re-rehearsed for each venue; one number, Shakira’s Act II “Objection (Tango)” isn’t even listed in the programme/brochure* as it was only added to the show a month or so ago.
The staging is simple; an elevated area upstage houses the percussionists and gives a performing area for the singers – oh, and a mirror ball is flown in and out occasionally, but there is little to say about the staging other than it puts the onus on the dancers to fill the space and become the stars – and they certainly do just that. The costumes (Janet Hine) are what you would expect from a tour of this calibre and do not disappoint the men in the audience – or the women for that matter! There is no plot or real narrative drive, which I am actually thankful for, Burn the Floor isn’t preachy, it has nothing to “say” – it is simply some of the finest ballroom dancing you will ever see, performed by a young and very talented international company of dancers. What more could you want from a dance show?
Burn the Floor plays at the Bradford Alhambra until 5th November 2011.
- Harry Zing
*The gorgeous, glossy full colour programme/brochure is a marked step up from the usual fayre offered by producers and we at CTS applaud them. I have written a piece for the first edition of the new segment Zing’s Rants about the state of programmes in theatres presently; Burn the Floor is an example of how to do it properly.
When? Wednesday 22nd June 2011
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Robin Cousins MBE, Danny Bayne MBE, Carina Gillespie MBE, Ricky Rojas MBE, Richard Vincent MBE, Derek Andrews MBE, Josh Dever MBE, Kate Somerset How MBE, Lauren Stroud MBE, Laura Wilson MBE, Lois Urwin MBE, Jason Capewell MBE, Darren John MBE, Sammy Kelly MBE, Nancy Hill MBE, Sophie Zucchini MBE, Alice Mogg MBE, Olivia Fines MBE, Holly Adams MBE, Tarryn Gee MBE, Natalie Marie Dignam MBE, Llandyll Gove MBE, Matt Crandon MBE, Albey Brookes MBE, Matthew Jeans MBE, Tyman Boatwright MBE
Last night at the majestic Bradford Alhambra, ‘Grease’ was the word. Another word, ‘cheese’, would also substitute nicely, summing up both my opening line and a couple of hours of pure musical theatre fluff at Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s classic Broadway hit, a show which remains as popular today as it has ever been.
This tour, fresh from the West End, is yet another minor re-working of David Gilmore’s West End production from way back in 1993. The production boasts a very sizeable cast and the show certainly looks the part; the aesthetics of this production are the solid ground on which its lasting success has been built. Terry Parsons’ tiered neon set and Gilmore’s zippy direction have a slick, polished and sugary feel to them – as if everything has been covered in icing. The cracking band are very impressive and their playing is tight and chipper throughout. This is very much a ‘nice’ Grease in the same child-friendly ilk as the ever-popular movie; the spiky edges of Grease have been a long time blunted.
Sadly, the high quality of the production wasn’t carried over to the casting which is, to put it very kindly, on the lax side. The cast is led by talent show winner Danny Bayne, who performs alongside Carina Gillespie as Danny and Sandy respectively. Bayne plays the role to extremes, he is almost a hammier, more hyperactive and strange incarnation of John Travolta (if such a thing were possible), he almost never stops gurning, fidgeting and giving knowing winks and smiles to the audience, just in case we didn’t get the idea that he is in on the joke. His vocals are often flat and performed comically intentionally, at least part of the time this is to disguise occasions when he genuinely struggles vocally. Bayne does have some good comic timing on occasion and his dancing is where he truly excels; he would certainly make a good dancer in the context of a smaller cog in a bigger machine, but this was sadly a little too much for him. Similarly, as Sandy, Gillespie gives a ropey impersonation of Olivia Newton John, the soundalike attempt being taken to new levels with an ear-ringingly shrill “Hopelessly Devoted to You”.
Scenes ranged from the enjoyable “Those Magic Changes”, to the rocking “Greased Lightning”, to the to-the-millisecond tight and catchy “We Go Together”. The clearly very well rehearsed production numbers stood out, particularly the latter showing off Arlene Phillips’ sprightly choreography best of all. Some numbers felt decidedly less polished; “You’re the One That I Want” was frankly a mess both visually and aurally and remained the one occasion when the generous use of click tracks throughout the show had gone a bit too far.
The rest of the cast certainly look closer to their thirties than their teens*; none more so than stunt casted Robin Cousins MBE (Teen Angel) who actually seems to give the best performance of the night in his cameo number without even trying, summing up how disappointing the cast were generally. Elsewhere, Ricky Rojas does have an impressive set of chops as Kenickie, and Sophie Zucchini danced well as Cha Cha when given her chance, but this was certainly a show where the production was the star.
The partial standing ovation was inevitable; I don’t think there was a single person in the theatre who hadn’t already seen the show or the movie. I think it is fair to say that the ones who remained seated were average Joe Theatregoer. Did it earn such an ovation? Well, I think many would have risen to their feet if a monkey in an Elvis wig had taken a curtain call. Many of the best productions I have witnessed have not had standing ovations, yet every popular musical does, which speaks volumes.
Grease is one of those shows that is going to be with us for the rest of our lives on and off; this tour is far from perfect, but if you love the film you will be singing and clapping along from the off.
Grease is playing at the Alhambra until Saturday 25th June.
- Harry Zing
*This is even more strange than it may seem; long have touring productions had the reputation of casting fresh young drama school graduates for budgetary reasons, yet the cast of Grease are actually surprisingly experienced – to the detriment of the aesthetic believability. Derek Andrews, I noted, has just finished understudying the Phantom in the original cast of Love Never Dies, and here he is made to sing a song called ‘Mooning’ about a teenage boy who likes to display his bottom in public.. acting is a strange old game!
When? Tuesday 29th March 2011
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Jacqueline Boatswain, Geoffrey Burton, Clare Corbett, Graeme Dalling, Tina Gray, Andy Hockley, Cornelius Macarthy, Elizabeth Moynihan, Matthew Pattimore, Robert Pickavance, Duncan Preston, Matthew Rixon, Grace Howe, Robin Simpson, Elexi Walker, Mark White, Venetia Maitland, Phil Pritchard, Imogen Smith, Des Yankson
This brand new Touring Consortium Theatre Company/York Theatre Royal production of Harper Lee’s classic 1960 American novel has plenty of style, but is suspiciously lacking in substance.
Still working from Christopher Sergel’s dated 1970 play adaption, director Damian Cruden has attempted to slick up proceedings in this glossy new outing. The production is certainly not lacking in ambition or financial backing; designer Liam Doona’s stark wooden sets and accurate costumes are very attractive and impressive (if perhaps looking a little too ‘new’ for what one imagines to be a slightly run down environment) and the cast boasts a company of a whopping twenty-one actors, making this one of the largest touring plays cast-wise that I have ever encountered. That is not to say that all of the money spent was done so wisely. Doona, with director Damian Cruden, has chosen to incorporate projected images onto the stark backdrop, with the actors required to mirror the actions seen on screen at key (and often very poignant) moments – the result being an often woefully out of sync Marx brothers Duck Soup-esque routine – more of a distraction than anything else – not least than when in a key moment the projection failed with a flickering and rebooting screen. I was also left confused by the inclusion of the narrator figure from the original adaptation, a completely unnecessary character whose importance is frankly nil. I feel that perhaps a braver move was needed here to remove this character completely, as she serves no purpose. Unfortunately, these creative choices – along with a few others – actually detract somewhat from what should be an earthy, serious and poignant piece.
Heading up the cast as Atticus Finch – a literary icon and part famously immortalised by Gregory Peck in the epic 1962 movie adaption – is experienced stage and screen actor Duncan Preston, returning to the role for a second outing. Preston is believable as the decent, highly moral small-town solicitor; his air of authority is felt whenever he is on stage. As Finch, he has an easy manner and gives an extremely likeable interpretation; when asked by his spry daughter Scout (Grace Rowe) if they were indeed as poor as she suspected, Preston is both brutally honest and yet secretly shamed by his confession. Rowe herself is fine as the chirpy daughter, as is Matthew Pattimore’s stroppy but well-meaning brother Jem. Cornelius Macarthy stands out as the – shown clearly to be – innocent Tom Robinson, his accent and mannerisms are dead on the money and his wide-eyed confusion and honesty are the only factor which could possibly elicit an emotional engagement in this production. The subject of accents – one which is always likely to come up in plays such as this – is one which is perhaps better left alone. It’s safe to say some were fair, some were dire and some sounded Australian.
The finest moments in this To Kill a Mockingbird come undoubtedly either side of the interval with the courtroom scenes, which are easily the best-written parts of the play. In particular Atticus’s closing statement to the jury (audience), a wonderful monologue about tolerance, was very warmly received. These scenes in particular reminded me greatly of the 2009 Old Vic production of Inherit the Wind, a play which is very similar in a lot of ways, having been written around the same time and which deals with similar themes.
To Kill a Mockingbird in this guise simply washed over me; the trouble is I had hoped to be swept away.
- Harry Zing
When? Monday 14th March 2011
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? James Gaddas, Jodie Prenger, Todd Carty, Robin Armstrong, Samuel Holmes, David Langham, Simon Lipkin, Graham MacDuff, Eric Idle (video), Philip Catchpole, Rachel Knowles, Kit Orton, Amy Papa, Tim Bonser, Paul Bullion, Persephone Fitzpatrick
If you like Monty Python, you will love Spamalot.
Spam, as it is affectionately known, is a hilarious re-working of the classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the stage. Originally written for a Broadway audience, the material is snappy, funny and uncomplicated with great original musical comedy numbers from John Du Prez & Eric Idle. The subsequent West End production (of which I endured many hundreds of performances backstage) was a replica of the Broadway production, making this the tour the first ‘British’ Spamalot to be staged.
Director Christopher Luscombe – something of a specialist in ‘adapting’ larger productions for tour – keeps the focus on the cast, and it is their talented and enthusiastic performances which make the evening what it is. Jodie Prenger – fresh from her performance at the Olivier’s on Sunday night – stands out as the Lady of the Lake, her voice is strong and her performance is definitely worthy of those who preceded her in the role, the likes of Sara Ramirez and Hannah Waddingham. Filling in for the indisposed Phill Jupitus as King Arthur was television regular James Gaddas. Gaddas has an excellent comic timing – as do the entire cast – and his rendition of ‘I’m All Alone’ with Patsy (Todd Carty) was the strongest number of the night. Graham MacDuff is excellent as ever in all of his roles, as are Robin Armstrong as Bedevere and Samuel Holmes (who bears a remarkable resemblance to fellow thesp Olivier Thornton) as Robin.
The running time is considerably shorter than the West End production, running 25 minutes lighter at exactly two hours including interval. Luscombe’s cuts are generally successful, but some are enforced due to staging requirements on tour; the end of Act I was particularly noticeable in comparison to the lavish West End staging. Which brings me on to the design aspect of the show, namely Hugh Durrant’s sets and costumes, which simply aren’t of the required standard of a major touring production. They would be fine perhaps for an ambitious high school production, but when the first set wobbled just minutes in, I had serious doubts whether they would even last the distance. I am sure this is not the fault of the experienced Durrant, but rather the meagre budget this aspect of the production has been afforded. The cast features just 12 (exactly half the size of the West End production) and an orchestra of seven. This became a problem especially in the ‘Knights of the Round Table’ segment which calls for a kick line – only four cast could be spared for this including the ‘full’ female ensemble of just two.
The show has often be labelled ‘adult pantomime’, a moniker it is hard to refute. There are a constant stream of pop culture references and even audience participation at the end; the second act finale in particular and the use of a planted audience member was awkward to say the least.
But despite the perhaps overly thinned-out aspects of this tour, it is a great production and very enjoyable from start to finish. The performances are all very good and Prenger in particular has a whale of a time munching on the set and feeding off the audience’s laughter. The camptastic outing of Sir. Lancelot is a riot, Eric Idle’s new cameo is hilarious and the all-new version of ‘You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz’ is a massive improvement on the original un-localised version; ‘celebrities’ from Susan Boyle to Simon Cowell get the Python treatment to the delight of the audience.
As a fan of the show, I strongly recommend this current touring production of Spamalot, which is playing at the Bradford Alhambra until Saturday 19th March.