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For this performance of the much loved Shakespeare play, the action has been moved to Mexico in 1910, shortly after the Mexican revolution. Soldier’s Don Pedro, Benedick and Claudio are returning from the war, with Claudio anxious to see his love Hero, while Benedick and Hero’s cousin Beatrice have a snippy, sarcastic relationship. The audience of course know that they love each other, even if Benedick and Beatrice have yet to realise it themselves. Fortunately, Don Pedro and the rest of their friends scheme to bring the two together, and I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that despite their reluctance, they do of course work things out in the end. Along the way however, Don Pedro’s scheming sister Don Juana (as opposed to Don John) schemes to break up Hero and Claudio which causes their wedding to be wrecked when Claudio falsely believes that Hero has cheated on him. Bumbling and inept detective Dogberry fortunately steps in to save the day, and naturally the situation resolves itself.

I was very intrigued to see how the more modern Mexican setting would change the staging and perhaps alter the focus of the play, as opposed to it’s original setting in Messina. Fortunately although there was a more ‘brutal’ atmosphere to the staging, the comedy and the verbal sparring between Beatrice and Benedick remained safely intact, and I thought Beatriz Romilly and Matthew Needham were excellent in their respective roles. I also really liked Steve John Shepherd as Don Pedro. Anya Chalotra brought just the right amount of sympathy and vulnerability to the role of Hero, and Claudio was played well by Marcello Cruz (Claudio is not my favourite character in this play; I always thought he was gullible, and disloyal to the lady he was supposed to love – Cruz managed to straddle the line between displaying that and yet somehow getting the audience onside at the end).

The role of Dogberry was played by Ewan Wardrop – for me, Dogberry is one of the funniest characters, but also one of the easiest to overplay…he could easily tip over into being annoying, but Wardrop was note-perfect in this production.

Plenty of Mexican music added to the atmosphere, with two musicians constantly on stage and shown in silhouette. The props were also clever, with Don Pedro and Claudio strolling around in stilts of a sort, and with wire horses (no, I haven’t described that very well, but trust me, it worked).

All in all, this was a very enjoyable and very imaginatively staged production of the play, which shows how Shakespeare can retain all his original beauty yet still be adapted to different times and settings.

If you are a Shakespeare fan (or even if you’re not) I would recommend you try and catch this production while it’s on.

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The full title of this play is actually Vice Versa (Or the Decline and Fall of General Braggadocio at the Hands of his Canny Servant Dexter and Terence the Monkey). And if that doesn’t give you the idea that you are in for a few hours of fun, laughter and daftness, then I don’t know what will.

The play is a new script by Phil Porter, described as ‘lovingly ripped off from the Roman comedies of Plautus’. The story revolves around the pathetic and self-deluded General Braggodocio, who has taken as his concubine the unwilling Voluptua. She, meanwhile is having a clandestine relationship with her true love Valentin, and the General’s servant Dexter has to hide the fact from her boss, while simultaneously scheming to get Voluptua, Valentin and herself out of the General’s clutches.

I can honestly say that from the moment the play started until the moment the cast took their final bows, I had a constant grin on my face, and it is no exaggeration to say that I laughed out loud genuinely and frequently – the whole audience seemed to share a real enthusiasm and found the play extremely funny.

Felix Hayes certainly had no qualms about sending himself up in the role of General Braggadocio, and was terrific in every scene. The whole supporting cast were fantastic too, with Byron Mondahl and Steven Kynman great as his two inept servants Omnivorous and Feclus. Ellie Beaven and Geoffrey Lumb also shone as lovers Voluptua and Valentin, and Nicholas Day was truly hilarious as Philoproximus Braggadocio’s neighbour who is complicit in the the double crossing). Special mention also to Kim Hartman who played a prostitute called Climax(!) However, the main plaudits surely have to be reserved for Sophie Nomvete as Dexter – not only did she have the job of tying the whole story together and keeping the audience involved, she also had the biggest role and the most dialogue – she never missed a beat, and the unpacking the shopping scene (watch the show! I don’t want to spoil this scene for you!) was incredibly funny, well written and brilliantly delivered.

This play actually holds the records for the most amount of props (244) used in an RSC production, and indeed they were brought out with frequency. The whole production was colourful and brash, with a lot of physical ‘slapstick’ style comedy as well as numerous double entendres and puns.

I loved the production and would happily have sat through it again straight away. I definitely recommend that anyone who enjoys a good solid belly laugh sees this production while it’s on!

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La Cage Aux Folles tells the story of Georges, a night club manager (played here by Adrian Zmed) and his romantic partner and star attraction Albin (John Partridge). Happily together for 20 years, their lives are thrown into disarray when Georges’ son Jean-Michael (Dougie Carter) wants to marry a young woman named Anne, but her ultra-conservative parents do not approve of homosexuality (or much else it appears). Jean-Michael wants Albin to stay away when Anne and her parents visit, as they believe that his biological parents are still married. This naturally leads to devastation for Albin, who has raised Jean-Michael as his own for years, and also paves the way for a hilarious evenings of misunderstanding, mistaken identity and shocking revelations.

During the show, the audience are treated to a smorgasbord of highly imaginative, colourful and flamboyant dances by Les Cagelles, the dancers at Georges’ nightclub – a group of young men who dress like beautiful young woman. Albin of course is the club’s star with his alter-ego Zaza, a bitchy, vulnerable and extremely funny drag queen. Stage veteran Marti Webb also appears as restauranteur and friend of the couple, Jacqueline.

I loved the show – the songs, which include the showstopping I Am What I Am as well as others like With Anne On My Arm, Look Over There and The Best of Times, were all performed to perfection. John Patridge’s rendition of I Am What I Am moved me to genuine tears.

Despite the subject matter, this is most certainly a comedy, and Partridge and Zmed make the most of their roles, with Patridge (as Zaza) riffing with the audience for some time in the first half of the show. The more farcical elements are in the second half with the visit of Anne and her parents.

The show got a standing ovation at the end, and it was well deserved. If you want to hear some beautiful musical numbers, watch some spectacular dancing and have a good belly laugh, you should definitely try and see La Cage Aux Folles!

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There can’t be many theatre goers who have not at least heard of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical Evita, which tells the story of Argentine First Lady Eva Peron. And surely any musicals fan worth their salt knows the shows most famous song, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. I saw my first production of this musical back in 2013; I went to see it pretty much on a whim and was absolutely blown away by it, so when I heard that another production of the show was touring, I just knew I had to see it.

In this particular production, Emma Hatton – fresh from the West End production of Wicked – takes the title role and Gian Marco Shiaretti has been making waves with his excellent performance as the cynical narrator Che.

However, during the performance that we saw, Che was played by understudy Matias Stegmann – and he certainly did not disappoint!! With arguably the largest part in the whole play, tasked with relating Eva’s story to the audience while maintaining a healthy cynicism about how effective she actually was in her role of First Lady, Matias Stegmann radiated star quality – he had a beautiful voice and the charisma required for the role and I will be looking out for this actor in the future.

Emma Hatton as Evita was also superb throughout – her voice is second to none and her rendition of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina actually moved me to tears. This is the song that the audience was waiting for and she did not disappoint – as she stood on the balcony ready to begin, you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium. What pressure!! I must also mention Sarah O’Connor, who played Juan Peron’s girlfriend (ousted when the social climbing and ambitious Eva came on the scene) and who performed the beautiful Another Suitcase Another Hall wonderfully. Such a sweet sweet voice – another one to look out for in future. Kudos also to Kevin Stephen-Jones as Juan Peron. Peron himself is actually not a major role in the play, but Stephen-Jones nevertheless stood out in the part.

With beautiful music and a stellar cast, this show is one to look out for – if you get chance, I highly highly recommend that you go and see it!

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Click here for my review of the 2013 production of Evita

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The first time I saw this show was in May 2014 (review here) and it was just about the funniest thing I had ever seen. Since that time, I have seen the two other major plays that The Mischief Theatre Company  have staged – Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery – and loved them both. So when I heard that this one was coming back to Wolverhampton, I knew I just had to see it.

I’m not going to write a really long review as a lot of it would be just repeating what I wrote the first time, but suffice to say that the show was just as funny second time around. This time it was an entirely different cast – due to the fact that the original cast are currently performing on Broadway!! – but they put on a superb performance and the whole audience seemed to love it as much as I did.

As before, I found that the jokes came at such a rapid rate that you were still laughing at one, when another fresh wave of laughter at the next one hit you. (Seriously, you could have genuine face ache at the end of this show.)

There were some minor changes from the previous performance…I imagine that shows tend to evolve given the individual talents of the cast members – but by and large the story remained much the same and all the gags I had found funniest first time around were still intact.

Members of the cast were milling through the audience prior to the show – including chatting with my parents, husband and myself – and getting the audience in the mood for a good chuckle. My husband actually ended up going on stage prior to the show proper starting as the hapless audience member who had to help them construct the set that was falling apart even as they were building it.

All in all a great night out. Even though I have already seen this show twice, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to go and see it for a third time. I highly recommend this for anyone who loves a good laugh (and lets face it, who doesn’t love a good laugh from time to time)!!

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As the subtitle suggests, this musical tells the story of Buddy Holly – or at least the story of his rise to fame, for the show starts while Buddy is looking for a record deal. Naturally it contains all his most famous songs, and given just how well known and loved those songs are, it must be a daunting task to take on the role.

Full disclosure here – I probably would not have gone to see this show if I hadn’t been taking my mother, who really likes Buddy Holly’s music, given that she spent much of her youth listening to it. But along I went, looking forward to an enjoyable afternoon, and I have to say this show delivered enjoyment by the bucketload. Alex Fobbester played Buddy (he alternates performances with Glen Joseph), and he was absolutely fantastic. Like the rest of the cast, Fobbester played his instruments live during the performance  and they did full and complete justice to the songs.

The story charts his career, taking in his marriage to Maria Elena, and his fallout with backing band The Crickets.

The second half of the show is given over to a performance of touring show that Holly was doing with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens when all three were killed in a plane crash in 1959. This gives Thomas Mitchells and Jordan Cunningham playing Big Bopper and Valens respectively the chance to shine, as they perform those singers’ most famous songs – Chantilly Lace (Big Bopper) and La Bamba (Valens) – and they both thrilled the crowd.

The entire audience were up on their feet clapping along by the end of the show, with many of us dancing in the aisles. The standing ovation that the cast received at the end was very well deserved. And me? I am most definitely a Buddy Holly convert, and am in fact sitting typing this with Buddy Holly’s music playing in the background. For a career that last less than two years, this man gave the world of music a precious gift and a lasting influence. Whether you are a Buddy fan or not, I strongly recommend this show.

For anyone who is interested, here is a list of songs that feature in this production:

Rose of Texas

Rip It Up

Changing all those Changes

That’s Be the Day

You’ve Got Love

Brown Eyed Handsome Man

Everyday

Shout

Not Fade Away

Peggy Sue

Words of Love

Oh Boy

Listen to Me

Think it Over

Well Alright

True Love Ways

It’s So Easy

Why Do Fools Fall In Love?

Chantilly Lace

Maybe Baby

Peggy Sue Got Married

Heartbeat

La Bamba

Raining In My Heart

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Rave On

Johnny B. Goode

 

 

 

 

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You’ve probably seen Nina Conti on television (f you haven’t, get yourself over to YouTube right now and see what you’ve been missing). She is a very funny ventriloquist whose main (but not only) puppet is the foul mouthed monkey. Monkey was in fact the only puppet she used during this show, unless you count the various members of the audience who she got up on stage and used as life-size puppets, complete with facial masks.

At the top of the show, Nina told the audience that every performance is 90% improvised, and you soon realise that this must be correct, as every audience is different and therefore each night there will be a whole new source of characters. On this particular night, she had a couple who were out with their friend for her birthday on stage, a risk assessor for an insurance company and a Paramedic. Her reaction times to these people are quick and usually hilarious as she makes up the script for them as she goes along, and to be fair they all joined in good-naturedly.

For me however, the funniest parts of an altogether extremely funny performance were when she had Monkey on stage with her…especially when Monkey hosts a Q&A with the audience while Nina herself is in a black bag, and he then fills her in on what was said by the audience.

Overall, this was a hugely enjoyable evening packed with laughter! Judging by the faces of the rest of the audience as people filed out afterwards, this performance was a great success and I would definitely recommend catching a Nina Conti show live if you get the chance.

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