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? 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? 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 16th July 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Hambi Pappas, Sydney Smith, Kate O’Mara, Jennifer Bryden, Max Hutchinson, Vanessa Morley, Mark Wynter, Susie Amy, Ben Nealon, Denis Lill, Chloe Newsome
“It’s intolerable!” shrieks actress Susie Amy as Kay Mostyn, drawing audible gaffaws from several members of the audience around me. This ill-advised first act exclamation of disgust and hopelessness echoed around the majestic Alhambra theatre, almost daring an ironic rebuttal from a pithy, fed up theatregoer.
Many in the audience may have already been familiar with Christie’s 1937 novel Death on the Nile, a piece made famous to current audiences when adapted for television, first in 1978 starring Peter Ustinov and most recently in 2004 with David Suchet. Agatha Christie was famously dubious that her top protagonist and most famous creation – Hercule Poirot, the hero of Death on the Nile – could be successfully brought to life on the stage. She decided therefore to re-work the piece into Murder on the Nile starring a new cast of characters, some key differences in the plot and, crucially, no little Belgian detective to save the day.
The Bill Kenwright owned Agatha Christie Company’s new production of Murder on the Nile is beyond disappointing. Even by the finale which, as expected, packed at least something of a punch – albeit watery low-alcohol punch – it was frankly hard to care who anybody was, what their alleged motives were or even if the boat they were cruising on sank – just as long as they all died quickly. The plot is a classic Christie cozy; a group of wealthy people are boarding a boat set to cruise on the Nile, through happenstance (or otherwise..?) several of these people know each other – or seem to have an awful lot in common. Unfortunately, things take an ugly turn when a cleverly planned murder occurs and, with the police unavailable it falls on our morally irreproachable hero to solve the crime and bring the murderer/thief to justice.
The first act feels like an eternity; the exposition is clunking and obvious with characters spouting lines such as “But you KNOW nobody can inherit my vast fortune until I am either twenty five or married!”, as one female character arrives on honeymoon with her new penniless, playboy husband. Some forty-five minutes in, the crew (both of them) are still milling around loading luggage aboard the boat, while we are introduced to characters with an absolutely bewildering array of phony accents. When the ship does finally set sail in the second act it is the perfect metaphor, as things do finally get moving in the plot, but by then the damage is done; a lady two rows in front is fast asleep, winning the battle of the visual imagery.
To say the evening is lacking direction is something of an understatement; Joe Harmston treats Christie like a cartoon. Characters are bloated, outrageous parodies of better actors doing parody. Why does “Harun, the Steward” keep opening and closing the bar while surely important (or else, why are they there?) conversations are going on downstage? Why does Musa, the crew member/mountebank begin the play in his pants, only to get dressed seconds later in the middle of the stage? Trying to sex up Christie is a novel idea, at least. Why does everybody speak with very strange accents, with some actors even struggling to keep a solid RP down? The questions are endless and the product hopeless. These questions did, whilst ignoring the distractions offered by the restless and visibly bemused audience by the midway point in the first act, give me a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the beautiful English Renaissance stylings of the Bradford Alhambra’s beautiful ceiling art and proscenium decor.
Unfortunately, the cast are far from blameless for the state of Murder of the Nile. The entire performance was sorely lacking in energy and passion, but without being unkind, several of the cast were clearly out of their comfort zone and, undoubtedly, their depth in terms of talent. Curiously, in a supporting comic role, veteran of stage and screen Kate O’Mara mumbles and bumbles her way to top billing, a position which rightfully should’ve gone to Denis Lill as protagonist Canon Pennefather. Despite his character being a dullard in clerical clothing, Lill at least makes his lines sound like he is having a conversation when he is supposed to be, rather than just exchanging blocks of text in a strange accent and throwing his arms around, as in the norm for the company in this production. The cast are as stilted, wooden and unconvincing as I can recall seeing in a professional production in recent years; to her credit Chloe Newsome as scheming Jacqueline over-acts dreadfully, but at least brings some melodrama to the fore, which engages briefly. The performance was also blighted by unforgivably poor diction from the cast. An unfortunate high-pitched whistle caused by an unfortunate patron’s hearing aid was distracting in the first act, fortunately the venue took swift and remedial action to investigate and resolve this issue for the start of the second act. Murder on the Nile is home to the worst Scottish, most half-baked Eastern European, borderline racist Egyptian and ropiest French (Spanish?) accents on the British theatre touring circuit, no mean feat and a resounding success for director Harmston and the production team.
Simon Scullion’s singular but sumptuous two-tiered set of the observation deck of the Lotus is the saving grace of this production; Mike Robertson’s lighting even feels stiflingly hot – although it is only Lill who considers to dabbing the (real) sweat from his forehead. We’re in Egypt, people! Unfortunately, productions like this do come along now and again and keep us all honest; with so much great theatre so far in 2012 in our Yorkshire theatres and so much more to come*, there is no doubt in my mind the only way is up from here.
- Harry Zing
*Bradford Theatres have just announced their Autumn 2012 line up, boasting visits from ‘international hit comedy’ Bouncers, 42nd Street starring Dave Willetts and Marti Webb (‘Think of Broadway, damn it!’), Julius Caesar from the RSC, Daddy Cool, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and, arguably most excitingly, The Mousetrap on its first ever UK Tour!
When? Tuesday 3rd July 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Faye Brookes, Iwan Lewis, Les Dennis, Ray Quinn, Tracey Penn, Hannah Grover, Sinead Long, Sophie Isaacs, Micha Richardson, Lewis Griffiths, Katie-Marie Hicks, Zak Nemorin, Jon Reynolds, Lori Barker, Gemma Baird, Graham Lappin, Mark Anderson, Rhona McGregor, Chris Milford, Nia Jermin, Antony Hewitt, Niamh Bracken, Michael Steedon, Barnaby Thompson, Amy Ross, Hannah Woolley, Andy Rees, Tara Young
Legally Blonde: The Musical is the campiest, fluffiest musical you could ever wish to see. The show has earned a cultish status since its 2007 Broadway debut, with no small help from the popular 2001 movie which inspired it, indeed many even arrived in costumes; long blonde wigs and bright pink sparklies were the order of the evening – and not just from the women! With the West End and Broadway sister productions now sadly gone, this 2011/2012 national touring production certainly hits the mark with laughs aplenty, some catchy tunes – and as much kitsch as anyone could possibly want.
The story sees Elle Woods (Faye Brookes) embark on a gloriously implausible journey of self-discovery, as she decides to enrol at Harvard Law School in order to impress her would-be boyfriend Warner Huntington (Ray Quinn); supported by her doting friend Emmett (Iwan Lewis), Elle discovers there is more to life than boys and designer handbags. Briefly. Heather Hach’s book is so delightfully passive so as not to interfere with the crux of the matter in Legally Blonde: The Musical, which is just good old fashioned Broadway style showbiz. In actuality, Legally Blonde: The Musical is a classic musical along the lines of 42nd Street – cleverly and attractively packaged for a younger theatregoer.
Despite being somewhat smaller in scale than the West End and Broadway predecessors, Legally Blonde: The Musical is a fantastically well-produced show in every sense. The production values remain exceptionally high, the bright, shimmering costumes (Gregg Barnes) are wonderful, as is the ever-reliable Richard Mawbey’s wig work, proving Legally Blonde doesn’t always translate to Literally Blonde. Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell gives the piece as much double entendré as the masses can accept and never crosses the bad taste barrier. His choreography work is exemplary as ever and, naturally in line with both the theme of the piece and this particular choreographer’s oeuvre, is absolutely screaming; hilarious, yet just as focused and appropriate as is necessary. The production numbers are the most memorable moments of the show without any question; the subtext laden second act opener “Whipped into Shape”, for example, sees the young company savouring some potentially tricky unison dancing with skipping ropes. Later on, we witness a hilarious ‘outing’ of a ‘gay European’ – under cross examination in court! With the kitchen sink all but thrown, I should mention the dogs – yes, dogs – which make several appearances throughout the evening to much adoration from the audience.
The cast fizz more than they pop; young Faye Brookes heads up the cast in just her second professional show. Brookes can sing and dance with the best of them, but at times struggles to find the humour in potentially hilarious scenes. Brookes is however quite likeable and believable in the role, thanks to her age and committment to her acting. As Professor Callaghan, Les Dennis – outstanding in 2009′s Eurobeat – has a similar opportunity to camp things up nicely. Whilst not in the least bit scary or as formidable as the book would have us believe, he is at least visibly enjoying himself and proved a surprisingly good singer, particularly in his first act ‘bad guy’ song “Blood in the Water”. Rhona McGregor performs admirably covering for Niki Evans as salon owner Paulette; McGregor has some impressive chops and rinsed every second of her act one number “Ireland”, an expositionary ditty which pays off in the Finale. The Greek Chorus of ‘Delta Nu’ ensemble ladies are nothing if not vocal throughout, whereas Lewis Griffiths gives something more of a visual performance as the comically virile UPS Man. Undoubtedly the standout performance comes from Iwan Lewis as the stolid Emmett Forrest, a performer I saw most recently in the Donmar Warehouse’s trite 2010 production of Passion. His characterisation and commitment to the moment belies his young age; if Lewis can truly bring life to a character as plain-Jane as Emmett, I would be fascinated to see him in bigger and better acting challenges in the future.
Legally Blonde: The Musical offers a fabulous few hours of pure escapism; musical theatre in its purest, campiest form – and I love it.
- Harry Zing
When? Tuesday 26th June 2012
Where? Grand Theatre, Leeds, stalls
Who? Samantha Womack, Matthew Cammelle, Cameron Jack, Daniel Koek, Jodi Kimura, Elizabeth Chong, Luke Kempner, Dominic Taylor, Nigel Williams, Carly Anderson, Jill Armour, James Austen Murray, Chris Bennett, Lawrence Carmichael, Mairi Cowieson, Stephen John Davis, Eddie Elliott, Maria Lawson, Nyron Levy, Dean Maynard, Adam Pritchard, Rebecca Seale, Dominic Smith, Mikel Sylvanus, Danny Whitehead, Bleu Woodward, Nick Wyschna, Matthew Crowe, Lisa Dent, Chris Jenkins, Sophia-Rose Kerry, Nicholais Kerry
I am certainly no stranger to Bartlett Sher’s sumptuous 2008 Lincoln Center production of South Pacific, which arrived at the Leeds Grand Theatre last night. I have had the pleasure of seeing the production (winner of seven Tony awards) both home and abroad – and the show has lost none of its charm, appeal or, most importantly, quality since my first visit. Sher’s South Pacific has rightly been recognised as one of the great classic musical revivals and, in my opinion, this tour is the finest and most grandiose touring musical theatre production in recent history.
Sher’s production is the first full-scale revival to hit Broadway, and presently the UK touring circuit, in almost forty-five years and it has a lot to say, always doing so with clarity, beauty and intelligence. Unlike many classic musicals, the message of South Pacific is timeless and universal; it teaches but never preaches. The central love story between self-confessed ‘hick’ Ensign Nellie Forbush (Samantha Womack) and refined French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Matthew Cammelle) is entirely believable and the central theme of racial prejudice is never used cheaply or without factual historical justification. The second act ‘You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught’ sung by Lt. Joseph Cable (Daniel Koek) provides a seething indictment of the inherently racist culture of the day, speaking almost directly to the audience and asking them to examine their own prejudice. Indeed, it was this perceived ‘communist agenda’ which saw the song cut when performed in some Southern United States. Cable, himself, cannot hide his self-loathing for the prejudice he feels, risking his own chance of happiness with native beauty Liat (Elizabeth Chong).
But it isn’t all politics; the book is extremely good, but it would mean far less without Rodgers and Hammerstein’s iconic score. Accomplished Musical Director Jae Alexander produces an incredible sound from his talented seventeen piece orchestra; from the moment the Overture swells the audience are tuned in. South Pacific boasts an incredible amount of memorable tunes: “Dites-Moi”, “Some Enchanted Evening”, “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame”, “Bali H’ai”, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair”, “A Wonderful Guy”, “Younger Than Springtime”, “Honey Bun”. South Pacific is a masterclass of how to work in some truly wonderful showtunes to a meaningful and deep story, one moment you may be tapping along to a belting production number, the next you are fighting back a tear. South Pacific is a masterpiece.
Originally designed for a thrust stage, the adaptation to a standard proscenium arch changes little; Michael Yeargan’s designs are delicious and set the scene wonderfully well with wooden shutters giving that desired ‘thrown together’ native shack feel; similarly the costumes (Catherine Zuber) are perfect in that they are rather worn (by stage standards!) giving that touch of realism which is so often overlooked. The second act ‘variety show’ segment sends this up wonderfully well, the script calling for costumes made from recycled bric-a-brac – we get just that! Donald Holder’s crisp, island paradise lighting deserves praise as does Richard Mawbey’s good wig work, particularly with Womack’s Mitzi Gaynorish rug.
The outstanding cast more than do the production justice; Samantha Womack makes a very likeable Nellie Forbush and excels with her acting throughout, overcoming the difficulty of the curveball act one finale wonderfully well and keeping the audience on side. Matthew Cammelle, who has replaced the superb Jason Howard since my last visit, does a good job and looks entirely comfortable as Emile de Becque, his bass-baritone voice is perfect for this role and he shares some lovely moments with Womack and his stage children. Daniel Koek, returning to the Leeds Grand stage for the first time since 2008′s Sadler’s Wells production of West Side Story, sings absolutely beautifully and is one of the finest pure tenor voices I have heard sing the part. Much like in 2010′s Chess, Koek doesn’t solely rely on his outstanding vocals; he has clearly worked very hard on his acting in recent years and has come a long way to give such a well-judged Lt. Cable. Jodi Kimura is also excellent as Bloody Mary, proving far less sinister than her predecessor, Tony Award winner Loretta Ables Sayre. Kimura had played the part for eighteen months on the US tour, so she brings a wealth of experience to the part and it shows, right down to the exaggerated physicality she adopts for the role, her Bloody Mary is more entertaining than scary.
Across the ensemble the quality is sky-high; Cameron Jack, covering for Alex Ferns, gives a very funny take on Luther Billis – the comedy relief of the show – his New York accent is perfect, as is his comic timing, his dragged-up second act performance at the variety show was particularly memorable! On this evidence, Jack has a lot to offer and I’m looking forward to seeing him in future roles. Nigel Williams and Dominic Taylor are solid as the authority figures Captain Brackett and Commander Harbison, largely playing with a straight bat. Stephen John Davis, whom I had previously seen as The Phantom and as Javert in Les Misérables in the West End, makes the most out of his ensemble role as a Seabee, particularly being allowed to shine in “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame”. I would be very interested to see what Davis was able to do with the role of Emile de Becque, for which he is first cover, as he possesses an outstanding voice and has proven he can cut it in the top roles in musical theatre.
I simply cannot rave about this production enough. The cast and orchestra are among the finest I have ever seen in a national touring production and the production values are mind-blowing. South Pacific is the definition of a must-see show. South Pacific plays at the Leeds Grand Theatre until 7th July 2012.
- Harry Zing
When? Monday 18th June 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Matthew Kelly, Claire Sweeney
It would be simple enough to critique Willy Russell’s Educating Rita as a distinctly 1980′s re-telling of Pygmalion; but that perhaps may be a disservice to a piece which continues to perform consistently on its own merits – in the box office, at the very least – proving that if a play is warm, funny and the public can relate on some level, they will keep coming back. The play has been approved as a featured text on the GCSE national syllabus for almost a decade and, much like Blood Brothers – another GCSE text – Educating Rita, like Pygmalion, has more to give than a simple fictional tale. The story is centred around circumstance, specifically (and, almost universally in Russell’s eighties heyday) about the struggles of the working class in his native Liverpool. But it is nigh-on impossible to examine Educating Rita without sounding like a Year 10 student’s coursework; the ‘subtext’, using the term loosely, is not so much obvious as intrusive at times and doesn’t merit further comment. Only the most generous theatregoer could consider Russell’s sociopolitical work as serious comment; at best Educating Rita is an amusingly written anecdotal reference to his working class roots and own journey of self-development – at worst it is a dated, mildly patronising exaggeration of what he perceived to be the quintessential working class Liverpudlian. Either way, what Educating Rita does deliver is an amusing and entertaining few hours of well-acted fluff.
The joint production between the Menier Chocolate Factory and Theatre Royal Bath incorporates one static but detailed set (Tim Shortall) which fills the central space of the Alhambra’s vast stage; time passing is represented effectively enough by a projected tree outside of the large bay window of Frank’s bar-cum-office. It was a little strange as the lights dropped to watch Kelly scrambling centre stage to change cardigans each time the lights dropped, but in a two-hander needs must! The evening is coated in a thick blanket of whimsy through which no gravitas dare escape; and I say this very much as a compliment. Director Tamara Harvey understands the strengths of the piece – the humour, the accessibility – and thankfully plays to these rather than attempting to make the play any more serious than absolutely required. The acting throughout is of a good standard; Claire Sweeney stands out of the pair as Rita, although it is very hard not to compare her performance with that of Julie Walters in the 1983 movie adaptation, with Walters’ characterisation somehow a mite fleshier. Sweeney possesses excellent comic timing and, particularly in the first act, gets this side of her performance down to a tee. Matthew Kelly gives a fair turn as Frank and wins plenty of laughs; however, a few of these were a touch inappropriate and at the expense of pathos; no more so than in the final scene where I can’t help but feel Russell intended for the actor to play it straight, in a final dramatic realisation that they have reached the end of their respective journeys.
I can’t help but feel that in keeping the action firmly locked to its original setting, director Harvey has missed an opportunity with this new production to bring the piece into the modern day. Unlike Blood Brothers, which is very specifically written for the political and socio-economic climate of the day, the message in Educating Rita is timeless and could resonate more harmoniously with a younger generation if brought into the present. In short, nothing has really changed or likely ever will in what Russell is trying to say in Educating Rita, so there is no reason to intentionally keep the context out of date and lessen the relevance for the audience.
Educating Rita remains one of Russell’s better works and this production is well-acted and worth a visit. It plays at the Bradford Alhambra until 23rd of June 2012
- Harry Zing
When? Thursday 31th May 2012
Where? Grand Theatre, Leeds, stalls
Who? Emily Holt, Paul-Michael Jones, Charlotte Gooch, Thomas Aldridge, Colin Charles, Lynden Edwards, Joe Evans, Tony Stansfield, Shona Lindsay, Jack McKenzie, Emelia Williams, Aimie Atkinson, Gareth Bailey, Jacquie Biggs, Lizzi Franklin, Nicky Griffiths, Tim Hodges, Sarah Kitson, Helen Kurup, Fela Lufadeju, Liam Marcellino, Jonathan Ollivier, Adam Philpott, Kate-Emma Portlock, Russell Smith, Justin Thomas
It looks to be a year to remember at the Leeds Grand Theatre this year – and the summer season kicked off in style with the arrival of Dirty Dancing, Eleanor Bergman’s 2004 adaptation of the iconic movie, for which she also wrote the screenplay. The adaptation is entirely faithful to the movie, much to the delight of the primarily female audience, who watched in awe as Baby and Johnny brought the screen to the stage. That’s not to say Dirty Dancing is exclusively for fans of the film; there is much to savour here in the outstanding dancing, featuring wonderful choreography from Kate Champion, with Paul-Michael Jones particularly excelling in this field as Johnny. Jones has the unenviable task of emulating the late Patrick Swayze, whose performance is so synonymous with the film; I am delighted to say that Jones is an absolute success. Charlotte Gooch gives a top quality turn as Penny; she is entirely convincing with her acting but, more importantly perhaps in the context of the show, is an outstanding dancer and shines throughout. Emily Holt is Jennifer Grey incarnate in both appearance and mannerisms and is convincing enough in her portrayal of Francis “Baby” Houseman. I am truly impressed by the sensible and intelligent casting; the dancing from the company is superb and extremely tight throughout the performance, this is due to a high number of out-and-out trained dancers in the cast, who for the most part are not expected to sing. Naturally, a number of excellent vocalists are on hand to ensure the quality of the singing matches the excellence of the dancing. In avoiding the well-trodden triple-threat path, the production gains immensely in technical quality. Aimie Atkinson possesses a powerful, soulful voice and her singing is outstanding throughout.
The stage play visually mimics the film to great success, the simplistic sets (Stephen Brimson Lewis) feature clever use of blinds and shutters and, delightfully, incorporates a revolve which is used to great effect throughout. Video projections (Jon Driscoll) are used – thankfully sparingly and in an unobtrusive manner – much of the time as a simple visual backdrop to the static upstage set pieces. Some decent effects are incorporated in the second act to portray some of the most iconic scenes from the movie, including the water scene, and there are plenty of nods and homages to the film throughout, including some watermelons being carried across stage, to the audience’s delight. Jennifer Irwin’s costume designs help with establishing the period and feel suitably 60′s, with the movie as a helpful inspiration. Tim Mitchell’s lighting is very complimentary to both sets and actors and his best work comes when creating visual magic in combination with the projections.
Dirty Dancing tells a simple tale, it is right to say it is rather two-dimensional and glossy, which may turn off some of the more hardened theatregoers. However, this is also the case in the movie – and the stage show certainly stands up in its own right to critical scrutiny. This is thanks to the very high production values, superb dancing from the talented cast and the inclusion of all the iconic moments which made Dirty Dancing the phenomenon it remains today. The jubilant standing ovation in some quarters before the lights had even dropped are testament to how much the audience invested in the evening. It is worth noting that this is the final date for some of this superb cast, who I cannot rate highly enough.
- Harry Zing
When? Wednesday 4th April 2012
Where? Leeds Grand Theatre, Stalls
Who? Cynthia Erivo, Denise Black, Michael Starke, Julie Atherton, Edward Baruwa, Cavin Cornwall, Gavin Alex, Jacqueline Clarke, Tyrone Huntley, Laurie Scarth, Daniel Stockton, Deon Adams, Donovan F. Blackwood, Livvy Evans, Nolan Frederick, Grace Gardner, Allison Harding, Sarah Harlington, Natalie Hope, Shirley Jameson, Dean John-Wilson, Kadiff Kirwin, Gemma Knight Jones, Katie Lavelli, Hannah Levane, Kathryn Martin, Joel Montague, Lucie-Mae Sumner, Laura Thorogood, Dina Tree, Mark Hilton
Excerpts of this review of Sister Act are taken from my previous review published in November 2011.
The gloriously entertaining Sister Act arrived at the Leeds Grand Theatre this week; the current stop for this blockbuster tour and the latest major touring production to arrive at Leeds Grand Theatre. It is testament to the theatre’s increasingly lofty status as one of the top receiving venues in the country that it continues to secure shows of Sister Act‘s calibre. Sister Act remains a simply fabulous production. Saint or sinner, there really is something for everyone here and with a talented cast, impressive sets and some great tunes, this ‘Divine Musical Comedy’ is a must see and, if anything, is even more dazzling four months on since my last visit.
Based on the 1992 family comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg (who co-produces), Sister Act tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier (Cynthia Erivo), a jobbing club singer and wannabe star who seeks police protection after witnessing her married, mobster boyfriend (Cavin Cornwall) shooting a man dead. Placed in a convent and transformed into Sister Mary Clarence, Deloris is in the care of the strict Mother Superior (Denise Black); initially baffling her fellow nuns with her outlandish behaviour, but later transforming them into an all singing, all dancing show choir, she wins the hearts of the nuns and the audience alike.
Unusually for a popular stage adaption, one of the key staples of the film’s success, the music, is in fact entirely original to the production. Alan Menken’s upbeat 1970′s inspired score is the perfect platform for the ensuing shenanigans, and Glenn Slater’s lyrics are certainly some of the best I have heard from him.
Of the strong cast, Cynthia Erivo continues to shine as Deloris, possessing great comic timing and a fantastic voice. The spontaneous standing ovation she enjoyed was fully deserved, the appreciative Leeds Grand audience rising as one. Cavin Cornwall is a strangely likeable villain as smooth gangster Curtis Jackson, ably supported by his comic band of goons, Pablo (Gavin Alex), TJ (Tyrone Huntley) and Joey (Daniel Stockton). The four of them share some of the most hilarious and memorable moments of the evening, with Huntley particularly impressing with some strong vocals. Jacqueline Clarke also deserves a special mention as Sister Mary Lazarus, the aging hip-hopping nun, who drew huge laughs and applause from the Leeds Grand audience. The top-billed Denise Black and Michael Starke have both developed their performances since my last visit, and left a greater impression this time around.
Sat in the stalls, I marvelled at Lez Brotherston’s wonderfully showbiz costumes – I defy anyone to find a show with more sequins on stage at one time! Klara Zieglerova’s vast sets and Natascha Katz’ striking lighting help make this tour every bit as impressive as its West End predecessor – in fact, the improvements made to the book and staging actually make this tour a far more enjoyable experience which continues to delight on repeat visits.
With The Phantom of the Opera, Dirty Dancing and South Pacific still to come in an impressive 2012 line-up, the future has never looked brighter for this historic and beautiful venue.
- Rebecca the Guest Writer
When?: Monday 26th March 2012
Where?: Leeds Grand Theatre, Dress Circle
Who?: Lynda Bellingham, Camilla Dallerup, Jan Harvey, Sue Holderness, John Labanowski, Jane Lambert, Ruth Madoc, Joe McGann, Deena Payne, Lisa Riley, Kevin Sacre and June Watson
This is an update of a review of Calendar Girls, published in October 2011; the production has seen a cast change since my last visit. You can find the original review in full here which details the plot and production in more detail.
Having only just discovered the moving, funny and genuinely warm Calendar Girls last October – despite several years of touring and a successful West End run – I was delighted to be given the opportunity to re-review this wonderful play when it opened at the Leeds Grand Theatre last night.
The evening was as poignant and charming as my previous visit, if not more so thanks to the presence of the original Calendar Girls in the audience, who themselves received a standing ovation when introduced by actress Lynda Bellingham at the curtain call. The atmosphere was positively electric and the cast did themselves and the cause they essentially represent proud. It wasn’t the glamour of the red carpet event which the performance so special; it was the genuine sensation of community as the audience and cast came together to both create a beautiful evening of theatre and draw attention to such a worthy cause.
Bellingham as Chris plays it just right; her drive and ambition once in the limelight never wanders into arrogance and her presence alone spearheads the cast perfectly. Sue Holderness, replacing the outgoing Rula Lenska, is a slightly posher Marlene, giving a well-rounded and amusing performance. Deena Payne plays Cora with a straight bat; whilst perhaps the laughs weren’t quite as hardy as with the terrific Jennifer Ellison who preceded her, she is certainly giving her all. I also noticed the changes in the book to accommodate Ellison had been reversed, so that Payne’s Cora and Ellison’s Cora become almost entirely different creations – a wonderful compliment to the work of director Jack Ryder and his team on the production. Lisa Riley makes much stronger Ruth than the meeker, more vulnerable Debbie Chazen – and she really enjoys her payoff in the second act, which almost brought the house down. June Watson is again simply hilarious as retired teacher Jessie, Joe McGann’s performance is exceptional as John and had many of the audience visibly moved. I was one of them.
“This is your story” Lynda Bellingham told the home audience of Leeds – and with the show apparently set to finally hang up the iced buns for the last time later this year, Calendar Girls at the Leeds Grand Theatre is one of the must-sees of 2012.
Calendar Girls runs at the Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 31st March.
- Harry Zing
(Original review published October 2011 by Rebecca the Guest Writer)