**** (4 Stars)
Unicorn Theatre, London - Tuesday 25 March, 2014
Engaging and inspiring, this play keeps the audience captivated from beginning to end, following the journey of ‘the Boy’ and his toy velveteen rabbit. This simply structured storyline keeps not only children in the audience engaged, but adults too. Their relationship is tested and trialled through thick and thin, including when ‘the Boy’ suffers from scarlet fever and also as the velveteen rabbit has doubts over what is real, and what is only child’s play.
The minimal use of dialogue captures the Boy’s ‘Toy Story-esque’ world, allowing the audience to be captivated by the physical theatre used. There are some marvellously magical moments between the two flawless actors, Christian Roe and Syrus Lowe. Roe’s Stanislavski-style rabbit was faultless as he exerts such truth behind his eyes. His Benedict Cumberbatch / Arthur Darvill ‘vibe’ and highly expressive face really made him stand out as an actor to watch for the future.
Wilkie Branson’s choreography is an absolute joy to watch and captures the childish snapshot well. I really savour Purni Morell’s overall direction as I feel his interpretation is stimulating and inventive. The simple props are used imaginatively and are thoroughly believable, as one of the younger audience members demonstrated, as they questioned rather loudly, mid-scene, ‘Is that a real fire?!’
I feel over all, this production is cleverly designed, created and performed and will be appreciated by all ages, as within this elegantly simple piece, there are definitely a variety of relatable levels. Although the start drags on slightly, children will enjoy the visual excitement, whereas adults have a chance to escape back to their childhoods.
So find out for yourself whether the velveteen rabbit is real, or simply just a toy...
The Velveteen Rabbit is playing at the Unicorn Theatre until April 19. All the info is here: https://www.unicorntheatre.com/the-velveteen-rabbit
***** (5 Stars)
Birmingham Repertory Theatre - Monday 17 March, 2014
Telling a mesmerizing tale of love, courage and sacrifice Birdsong is the hit stage show based on Sebastian Faulks’ best-selling novel adapted for stage by Rachel Wagstaff.
The curtain rises to reveal what one can only describe as phenomenal set, enormous amounts of credit must be given to the arts and design team as the set presents the mood of the play from the very beginning. Over the course of the play, the set is used to its full potential, switching between a great living room and the harrowing trenches of the Great War.
The action throughout this play makes the production truly gripping. The distinct flashbacks from the trenches of the Western Front in the First World War and Amiens, France switch from one another seamlessly and create a true sense of life through the eyes of protagonist Stephen Wraysford. The flawless transitions shown would not have been possible however, without the extremely high quality of acting brought to the character from George Banks whose compelling performance throughout is deeply moving.
The use of lighting in the production is of very high standard, with any set changes being out of sight to the audience. Furthermore, the lighting highly emphasises the scenes in which a tunnel is featured making the moment both impressive and intriguing due the atmosphere created.
Each member of the company deserves praise for their work with each cast member delivering a truly realistic approach to their character. The on-stage chemistry between the company is more than evident as each of them work brilliantly in unison with one another.
Birdsong, directed brilliantly by Alastair Whatley marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War grasping every emotion a soldier would have felt on the battlefield. Receiving a standing ovation from the audience, this heart-wrenching, poignant and powerful piece of theatre may turn out to be one of the most memorable pieces of theatre to reach the stage.
Birdsong is currently on a UK Tour. For all the information click here: http://www.birdsongthetour.com
**** (4 Stars)
Grand Opera House, York - Monday 17 March, 2014
This production is the new, updated version of the classic 80s musical. Being too young to have seen the original, I can’t compare the two, but I certainly noticed that it is brought right into the current day. In one of the very first scenes, the auditionees are seen receiving their results just as we ourselves often do – either via mobile phones or tablets.
I attended the opening night of the York run, and the house was pleasingly full, spanning all three generations and predominantly female.
The story traces the three-year journey of a new intake of students at the New York High School for the Performing Arts. The characters are all majoring in dance, acting or singing, and, with a lot of “hard work”, they all aspire to become famous in their chosen field.
The stage set up is interesting, with the top half given completely to a mezzanine level on which the band plays. Although this arrangement allows the audience a great view of the musicians, it does limit the scenery possibilities. The moveable trucks, which do give a good representation of locker rooms, stairways and other school settings, are wheeled off-stage and around each other so often that it becomes rather tiresome to watch.
The cast has boundless energy, and features probably stronger dancers than actors, with a couple of exceptions. Landi Oshinowo, playing Miss Sherman, has great stage presence and a voice to match. The scenes between Serena (Sarah Harlington) and Nick (Alex Jordan–Mills) are probably amongst the most believable. The eye is always drawn in the dance scenes to Alex Thomas, playing Tyrone, who has incredible technique and puts all others in the shade: even his ballet dancing partner seems to land more heavily than this graceful giant, twice her size.
Overall, it is a great, feel-good show, but the plot itself is a bit of a mish-mash of individual stories. You leave the theatre on a high of a well-known Disco hit, but you don’t have much empathy with any of the characters. This is no fault of the cast – it’s just a journey that maybe has too many passengers.
Fame is currently on a UK Tour. All the information is here: http://www.atgtickets.com/search/?search=fame
**** (4 Stars)
Liverpool Empire - Thursday 13 March, 2014
The Buddy Holly Story follows the brief career of the American Rock ‘n’ Roll star as he graduates from a small-town country singer to having a whirlwind pop/rock 'n' roll career before the tragic plane crash that took his life.
The ambience of the entire show comes from its incredible, energetic cast including a fresh faced Roger Rowley who plays Buddy. He provides an unforgettable experience for an audience as he recreates Buddy’s hits like "That’ll be the Day" and the crowd pleaser that is "Peggy Sue".
Even though the story was about Buddy himself, it is the joint effort from all of the cast that makes it the joy it was to watch. In Act One, Buddy’s supporting band ‘The Crickets’ have us all laughing at their happy-go-lucky, charismatic behaviour with Joe B Mauldin (bass player) dancing with a double bass like nobody has ever before and Jerry Allison (drummer) giving a solid beat by slapping his thighs for a good few minutes having us clapping along.
However, my favourite performance, still in Act One, was a few months after Buddy’s success, where you are transported to downtown New York, in Harlem’s Apollo Theatre and he and the Crickets are able to smash through the radical racial divide and win over a tough audience showing the power that his music had. The Harlem couple that performed "Shout" had the crowd up on their feet as an air of nostalgia made it around the theatre making it a truly wonderful performance.
At the peak of Buddy’s popularity we are taken on a journey to the Clear Lake Concert in Act Two. Here we had The Big Bopper singing "Chantilly Lace" and Ritchie Valens giving us a sultry rendition of "La Bamba" with the hip thrusting looking like it would never stop as people joyously danced through the aisles.
Almost everyone was on their feet for "Rave On" and there was no way they were sitting for the finale of "Johnny B Goode"!
This is an enchanting musical even after 25 years of being performed and the performance brings something fresh to these classic songs. I did think that the story aspect was somewhat lacking but jamming in so many songs into a 2 1/2 hour performance, it’s to be expected. It’s a credit to Buddy Holly and really grasps the spirit of how he performed.
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is currently on a UK Tour. Full information here: http://www.buddythemusical.com
Richmond Theatre, London - Monday 17 March, 2014
The Two Worlds of Charlie F. is a rich tapestry of stories told by war veterans about their experiences of fighting in Afghanistan. Originally created as a rehabilitation programme for wounded, injured and sick (WIS) soldiers, Stephen Rayne's production was performed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in 2012 and is now receiving a wider audience as it goes on tour.
As such, it feels wrong to give this piece a 'star rating' as that is not what it's for.
It offers an insight into what life is like for disabled soldiers and is open and honest. Whilst it felt a little one-side at times, this an important piece in understanding that the conflict lasts long after a soldier returns from war.
There is a clever combination of music, dance and song, which allows the soldiers to express themselves in various ways and they work really well together. There is a strong sense of camaraderie, obviously gained through working with each other for such a long period of time.
The Two Worlds of Charlie F. is playing around the UK. Details here: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-two-worlds-of-charlie-f/