**** (4 Stars)
Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York - 28 May, 2014
Having never seen an amateur production of the stage version of High School Musical, I was unsure of what to expect. However, I was blown away by how good this production was!
The show started off with a “Wildcat Cheer” and although there were difficulties with the sound limiting the amount of great vocals and speech it did not alter the cast’s performance and they carried on showing a real dedication to their show. The first act came to an end after Connor Mellor (as Zeke Baylor) had his tremendous song “Stick to the Status Quo” and then pushing his lovely cake into Sharpay. In the second act the technical difficulties had been sorted out and everyone could now be heard, this took the show to a whole new level increasing everyone’s performance it also meant that by the end of the show we had a few members of the young audience giving a standing ovation singing and dancing along to their favourites songs “Breaking Free” and “Megamix”.
Christian Mortimer who played (Troy Bolton) and Megan Forgan who played (Gabriella Montez) really managed to capture the relationships for each other and combine their acting skills together pushing them forwards showing a true and believable performance. Kelly Stocker as Sharpay Evans alongside Jake Husband as Ryan Evans brought out the comedy of these characters and had the audience in laughter throughout.
The age of the audience really suited for this musical and represented a real boost within the cast on stage because of the great reactions given within the whole theatre. This show was really brought to life and beat all my expectations.
*** (3.5 Stars)
Salisbury Playhouse - Friday 28 March, 2014
The Worst Wedding Ever has the audience in fits from the start. Before even entering the auditorium a live band in the foyer creates a light-humoured atmosphere setting the scene for the evening. It then transpires that the band would be masking the scene changes throughout the performance and the songs cleverly entwined with the plot and on each appearance they would emerge from another area of the stage; even bursting out of the garden shed at one point! They enable the upbeat atmosphere to be maintained throughout the production and meant the audience were constantly entertained.
Chris Chibnall is the highly accredited writer of this production, having also written ITV's hit drama Broadchurch. It is the exquisite script that enables you to feel relaxed and at ease, with no forced jokes having you squirming in your seat.
Chibnall plays on stereotypical family traits, which cause the audience to erupt with laughter because the family often found themselves in dilemmas all-too familiar! Nevertheless, towards the end of the play a more sincere tone is adopted and very current issues began to appear, such as gay marriage and the ever rising costs of marriage. The script has you laughing because of its witty content, yet simultaneously feeling the characters’ pain.
The beautiful naturalistic set is a treat for the eyes and built on the naturalistic family environment the script played on, again successful as it drew the humour closer to our familiar.
It goes without saying that it's the skill in the actor’s delivery of these humorous lines that had you laughing in your seat. Carolyn Pickles who plays Liz, the mother, captures the fussy, interfering nature of her character, whilst Rebecca Oldfield, who plays Alison, has the audience in stitches after her incident in the porterloo! However, some accents are not sustained it is easy to fall into the trap of over-exaggerating your character with comedy and occasionally this is the case, meaning the naturalism is lost, which actually was where the true comedy lay.
Nevertheless, The Worst Wedding Ever is a superb production, with a brilliant cast and beautifully sculpted script.
The Worst Wedding Ever is playing at the Salisbury Playhouse until 19 April 2014. All the info is here: http://salisburyplayhouse.com/page/worst-wedding-ever
**** (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)
Finborough Theatre - 28 March, 2014
Émile Zola’s 1867 novel is drastically re-imagined by Nona Shepphard and Craig Adams at the Finborough Theatre with breathtaking brilliance.
The story centres on a young woman, Thérèse Raquin (Julie Atherton), who’s stuck in a life of misery and disappointment. Forced by her aunt (Tara Hugo) to marry her cousin Camille (Jeremy Legat), Thérèse begins a lustful affair with Camille’s schoolfriend Laurent (Ben Lewis). After drowning Camille on a boating trip, Thérèse and Laurent are consumed by guilt and we see their relationship, now fuelled by torment and hate, slowly reach its inevitable end.
Thérèse Raquin is a truly remarkable piece of theatre. This dark, brutal exploration of the animalistic tendencies of human nature is brought to life by Craig Adams’ complex score, which wonderfully utilises haunting melodies and rich harmonies to pack an emotional punch.
The musical unpredictability is striking: sharp, unnerving dissonance is followed by sensual harmonies from the 'River Women' that are reminiscent of something more accustomed to Destiny's Child. (Spine-tinglingly brilliant.) It's remarkably effective and, for me, the little runs and riffs give a story rooted in 19th-century Paris a hint of modernity and a new lease of life.
Refreshingly, there isn't the typical '11 o'clock number' that we're all so used to, that's not what Thérèse Raquin is about. It's an ensemble piece that deals with the social constraints of the 19th century, highlighted by the mundane, almost robotic, life of Thérèse's contemporaries.
It's a far cry from the naturalistic ethos of Zola's work, but Shepphard's book captures his scientific tone nevertheless with physiological references woven throughout: the piece opens with the ensemble singing, “Blood and nerves/Blood and nerves" (serving as just one of many possible examples).
Laura Cordery's design evokes the murky backstreets of 19th-century Paris whilst also conveying the blandness of Thérèse's life. Dark wooden beams fill the small acting space, littered with secret spaces for the cast to meander through. Shepphard's production could perhaps be sharper as things seem to wander in the second act, however this is me actively looking for something to criticise - it's a near-perfect piece of storytelling.
It must be said that the talent on show is phenomenal with the cast working seamlessly to bring this story to life. Atherton's turn in the title role is captivating. She doesn't speak for the majority for the first act, but she doesn't need to. Her eyes convey the pain and stifling boredom more than any words could. Furthermore, her frustration and claustrophobia resonate on a personal level as anyone who has moved back home after university can relate to the suffocation and yearning for freedom so felt by Thérèse.
Tara Hugo's heartbreaking portrayal as the well-intentioned but deeply selfish aunt is stunning. Although Hugo is perhaps not the strongest singer, there's enough emotion and depth in her performance for it not to matter; the image of her paralysed in a chair, vacantly staring out over the audience is chilling. Ben Lewis and Jeremy Legat are both consummate performers, the former being the rugged alpha-male with a powerhouse of a voice and the latter providing a great deal of humour.
Quite simply, Thérèse Raquin is fantastic. Emotive, powerful and dark, a must-see.
Thérèse Raquin will transfer from the Finborough to the Park Theatre from Wednesday 30 July to 24 August, 2014. Buy your tickets here: http://www.parktheatre.co.uk/
**** (4 Stars)
Richmond Theatre - Monday 24 March, 2014
First premiered in 1945, British classic post-war play See How They Run returns to theatre almost 70 years later produced by the newly-formed Reduced Heights Theatre Company, run by television and film actor, Warwick Davis.
The play still remains very farcical with a lightning quick pace from start to finish, filled with slap-stick elements that are perfectively timed, coupled with an array of dead-pan punchlines, which keeps the laughter soaring throughout. The cast may all be of reduced height but their energy levels and their ability to deliver fast and snappy gags was of a high standard.
Davis plays the unfortunate Reverend Lionel Toop who is challenged by characters Lance-Corporal Clive Winton played by Phil Holden, Reverend Arthur Humphrey played by Jamie John and the intruder played by Raymond Griffiths, which all played a big part in the chaotic elements of the play. Other characters include Lionel’s wife, Penelope, played by Rachel Denning and The Bishop of Lax played by Jon Key who were the less farcical and more serious characters of play that frequently delivered impeccably timed, dry-humoured punchlines keeping the show more grounded. Penelope goes up against a loud and energetic maid called Ida and a posh, elegant Miss Skillon who were all integrated into the silliness of the story successfully with their own comical mishaps.
See How They Run is currently on tour around the UK. Details here: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/see-how-they-run/richmond-theatre/