**** (4 Stars)
Birmingham Repertory Theatre – Tuesday 17 June, 2014
Written by the incredibly talented Alan Ayckbourn, Woman in Mind depicts the gripping story of Susan, a housewife who is unknowingly suffering from a mental illness. The play follows Susan as she embarks on a perturbed journey between her own realities and her imagination.
Woman in Mind is potentially the most genre diverse play I have seen to date, being extremely comical consistently, whilst also covering a truly dark and perplexing issue. As an audience you find yourself laughing and then crying within minutes.
The beautiful garden-like set that we are faced with at the beginning appears to be towered by a large transparent box, and although one could argue that this does not change enough throughout the play, it becomes the central aspect, with many key moments happening inside.
The company deserve tremendous amounts of praise for the quality of naturalistic acting shown throughout the play. Meg Fraser leads the cast excellently, switching between and executing remarkable Received Pronunciation and a clear Scottish accent.
The use of lighting in the play is of extremely high quality, with the colour changing to reflect the mood of the characters brilliantly. Following this, at one truly memorable moment the lighting suddenly transforms the set from a raging storm, to an outburst of glorious sunshine. The lighting designers warrant strong commendation, as their work is a key and memorable aspect of this production.
Woman in Mind, is written excellently by Alan Ayckbourn, the most frequently performed English language playwright in the world after Shakespeare. He carefully highlights issues, such as the divide between upper and lower class, which are shown in both of Susan’s worlds, whilst subliminally telling an extreme tale of mental health.
Woman In Mind is at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 28 June. Tickets: http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/event/woman-in-mind/
*** (3 Stars)
Donmar Warehouse, London - Saturday 14 June, 2014
Ivan Turgenev’s 1862 novel was adapted by renowned Irish playwright Brian Friel and premiered at the National Theatre in 1987. Now it’s been revived at the Donmar Warehouse under the direction of the acclaimed Lyndsey Turner.
Fathers and Sons deals with generational difference and radical political philosophies in late nineteenth-century Russia, namely nihilism (the rejection of all religious and moral principles). We follow Arkady (Joshua James) who has returned home after graduating along with friend Bazarov (Seth Numrich). Their newfound beliefs cause tension within the house – particularly with Arkady’s uncle Pavel (Tim McMullan) – as they begin their quest to ‘revolutionise’ Russia. Arkady and Bazarov soon begin to question their own beliefs when they each fall in love with sisters Katya (Phoebe Sparrow) and Anna (Elaine Cassidy) respectively.
At first, Numrich’s Bazarov is irritatingly arrogant and his cockiness soon becomes overbearing. However, as we see his inner-turmoil bubble to the surface, his descent is inescapably touching. James’ Arkady has similar glimpses of greatness, but is a little melodramatic at times.
There are fine performances from the ensemble, particularly Arkady’s endearing father Nikolai (Anthony Calf) and Bazarov’s father Vassily (Karl Johnson). However, a slight quibble would be the female characters: they’re frustratingly two-dimensional and have stories that go relatively unexplored, particularly Nikolai’s serf-mistress Fenichka’s (Caoilfhionn Dunne) battle with juggling her new social position.
Overall, this is an interesting production that examines humanity’s longing to be loved both in a romantic sense and a familial sense. There are highly-impressive design elements from Rob Howell and the ensemble work brilliantly together.
Fathers and Sons is playing at the Donmar Warehouse until 26 July. Book your tickets here: http://www.donmarwarehouse.com
**** (4 Stars)
Grand Opera House, York - 26 May, 2014
Arriving at the Grand Opera House in York on Monday night, I felt as though I’d stumbled across a weird sort of time warp. Dozens of middle-aged couples and large groups of friends dressed up to the nines and swathed in large red feather boas (yes, even the men) filled the auditorium. 20th Century Boy is a musical inspired by the life of rock legend Marc Bolan and his band T-Rex, and the majority of the audience had no doubt experienced the story of the outrageously-dressed Glam Rocker the first time around.
The story unfolds through the narration from both the characters of Bolan and his son, Rolan, who was only two years old when his father died in a car accident in 1977. We learn that the boy who aspired to be “bigger than Elvis” achieved a string of great classic hits, suffered a breakdown of his marriage, alienated many of those close to him, fathered a son from his relationship with his former backing singer, Gloria Jones, and eventually died after a drink-fuelled celebration of his forthcoming 30th birthday. His now grown-up son travels from Los Angeles to London to discover the story behind the father he never knew, and meets many of the characters who played a key part in Bolan’s life.
The cast is strong, particularly Warren Sollars in the title role who certainly looks and sounds the part. Strong voices and performances also come from Katia Sarenti playing Helen Shapiro and Lucy Sinclair playing Bolan’s wife, June Child. Credit must go to both Donna Hines who played the part of Gloria in the first act, and to a seamless transition into the role by understudy Lakesha Cammock in the second act.
The overall energy of the show is good, but does seem to flag when the songs stop, and the dialogue takes over, particularly in the second act. The first act has almost the atmosphere of a rock concert rather than a selection of songs in a musical, and, if I wasn’t around to appreciate them in the seventies, I certainly recognised hit after hit as coming from the Billy Elliot film soundtrack ("Ride a White Swan", "Born to Boogie", "Children of the Revolution" amongst others).
This lively musical certainly delighted an audience who gave it a standing (or bopping) ovation on Monday night, and will no doubt have many of those recently introduced to the music for the first time reaching for their I pads to see what they missed – feather boas and glitter optional.
20th Century Boy is currently on a national tour! Buy your tickets here: http://www.20thcenturyboythemusical.co.uk/
The Edinburgh Festival Guide is out! We’ve been feverously perusing the pages in the office, browsing for a few choice musical picks.
A record-breaking 3,193 shows in 299 venues will be at the festival in 2014 - a whopping increase of 11% on the already huge 2013 programme!
So for those of you looking for some melodic mayhem or some lyrical luxury at the Fringe this summer here’s the countdown of our top 5 selections exciting crop.
5. Alba - A New Scottish Musical
Blurb: An exhilarating, heart-warming story of a young man, whose reluctant return to rural Scotland sparks an emotional rollercoaster of self-discovery, triggering him to rekindle his love for his home country and its people. Infused with traditional Scottish influences, the original score is performed live by an outstanding cast of actor-musicians. Finn Anderson’s Streets was nominated for two Off West End Theatre Awards including Best New Musical and described as ‘Breathtaking’ (Stage), ‘Ground-breaking’ (WestEndFrame.com) and ‘Fiercely creative and thrillingly fresh’ (AYoungerTheatre.com).
Homespun melodies echo across the highland hills this summer with Finn Anderson’s soul-searching new piece. Alba is a crowd funded project and has gained its place at the festival through tremendous community support. We’re excited to see if this home-grown musical bears fruit atop the fertile soil of the fringe.
Dates: 11-23 Aug
Venue: theSpace @ Surgeons Hall
4. The Despondent Divorcée
Blurb: A 1940s New York hotel spirals through a storm of media speculation following the eighth-storey suicide leap of a desperate young woman. A psychological thriller featuring the bittersweet poetry of Sara Teasdale and live jazz music. The audience enter the Kendrick Hotel's hauntingly desolate jazz bar and witness flickers of the fractured final days of Frances Dupree. The shameless exploitation behind a ferocious media circus is called to question in this unsettling story of identity, morality, and disgrace. Previous reviews: ***** (ThreeWeeks). **** (Scotsman). 'HookHitch grab their audiences and don't let go' **** (FestivalJournal.co.uk).
HookHitch, the young company behind last year’s acoustic daydream This Was the World and I Was King, return to the fringe with another musical trip back in time. Stepping away from their Folk-infused roots, The Despondent Divorcée looks set to be a captivating thriller with acid jazz pumping through its theatrical veins.
Dates: 31 Jul - 25 Aug
Venue: C venues - C cubed
3. The Horror! The Horror! - The Final Curtain
Blurb: It's 1924 and Alfred Brownlow's music hall troupe is in trouble. Audience numbers are down, the critics are sharpening their knives and the wolves are at the door. But there's always time for one more show, and they've got a hell of a performance for you this evening! Inspired by a sell-out run at Wilton's Music Hall in 2012, The Horror! The Horror! - The Final Curtain is an all new evening of ghoulish mayhem and music hall glee.
With the promise of cut-throat thesps and bloody backstage antics The Horror! The Horror! - The Final Curtain looks set to take you on a devilish descent into music hall madness. Curtain up!
Dates: 4-24 Aug
Venue: Bedlam Theatre
2. Magadi - The Bride Price
Blurb: Through drama, music and dance Magadi - The Bride Price takes the audience on a celebratory tour of the beauty of African customs. It is a celebration of love - love of another human being, love for who we are, what we have become and what we used to be.
The ever effervescent African Tree Productions returns to the fringe this year with ruminations on love and legacy. The South African cast are prided on their powerful physicality and joyously comic sensibilities; we expect them to bring all their characteristic energy to their new production Magadi - The Bride Price.
Dates: 31 Jul-24 Aug
Venue: Just the Tonic at The Community Project
1. The Girl Who
Blurb: Anna is searching for her parents. It’s up to you how she finds them. Inspired by the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books, The Girl Who places the audience in complete control of the story. You will be in charge of the characters' decisions, morals, successes and failures, allowing every show's path to be unique. Combining live music and immersive storytelling, The Girl Who is the latest piece by award-winning partnership Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie (Forest Boy, FreakShow). Presented in association with Noisemaker and Theatre Bench.
Two roads diverge in a yellow wood; will Anna take the one less travelled? The audience will decide, and that will make all the difference. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is offering an innovative musical experience, an immersively interactive journey through the twisting paths of a lost girl’s frightening world. Which way will you choose?
Dates: 1-25 Aug
Venue: Assembly George Square Gardens
**** (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.