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Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

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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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Okay, confession time. I have never seen the film The Shawshank Redemption. That’s right, I’m the one. And maybe this is a good thing because when you see a play that has also been made into a film (although they were both adapted from different source material, in this case Stephen King’s novella ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’), it can be difficult not to compare. I’m reliably informed that this play is actually closer to the source material than the film is, but nonetheless both tell the same story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who is imprisoned for the double murder of his wife and her lover. Andy is innocent but he still serves years in prison for the crime he didn’t commit, and during that time he becomes best friends with Ellis Boyd Redding – or ‘Red’ – who is also in prison for murdering his wife (although Red freely admits that he is guilty).

Despite his physical incarceration, Andy refuses to allow the cruel and corrupt prison staff or the more sadistic fellow prisoners to trap his mind or break his spirit, and his determination to remain true to himself and his values, slowly changes those around him. As Andy’s imprisonment goes on, he becomes involved in doing accounts for the prison warden and helping to shield corrupt financial practices from the authorities, but despite now having the protection of the staff, he is still determined to get his freedom.

The part of Andy Dufresne was played by Paul Nicholls, who was excellent in the role and perfectly conveyed the character’s sense of self-worth and strength of mind. However, the standout role was Red, played by Ben Onwukwe. Red is arguably the biggest character in the play, and certainly has the biggest speaking part, as he narrates the story of Andy’s life in prison and speaks directly to the audience. The rest of the cast were also excellent, including Jack Ellis as Warden Stammas.

Viewer discretion is advised – there is a lot of swearing and depictions of extreme violence, including rape, so this is definitely not a show for children. However, it is a beautifully told, well acted, moving tale of the strength of one man’s spirit. Highly recommended.

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The Comedy About a Bank Robbery is the third play from the masterminds that are the Mischief Theatre Company, following the successes of (the Olivier award winning) The Play That Goes Wrong, and (the Olivier award nominated) Peter Pan Goes Wrong.

This latest play is something of a departure from the format, as unlike the other two productions, this is not a play-within-a-play; it is however as jaw-achingly funny as the previous two plays, proving once again that this theatre company are an incredibly talented group of writers and actors.

So here goes with the story:- It is set in 1958 in Minneapolis, and Robin Freeboys (played by scriptwriter and actor Henry Lewis) is manager of a quiet bank which just happens to house a huge diamond owned by a Hungarian prince. Robin’s daughter Caprice (Charlie Russell) collects boyfriends – usually for whatever money she can fleece out of them – and sets her sights on Sam (Dave Hearn), a young con artist, who is also the son of Ruth (Nancy Wallinger)…who just happens to work for Robin Freeboys at the bank! Matters get even more complicated when Caprice’s boyfriend Mitch (scriptwriter and actor Henry Shields) escapes from prison with a plan to steal the diamond from the bank…

What ensues is a comedy caper full of slapstick, double entendres and plays on words (what would you expect with a character called Robin Freeboys?!) and mistaken identities. One of my favourite scenes was when Sam meets Mitch and has to pretend to be Caprice’s father – I was literally crying with laughter at the incredible performances of Dave Hearn and Charlie Russell.

The whole cast were absolutely spot on and seemed to be having a whale of a time with their roles – kudos to Gareth Tempest, understudy to Jonathan Sayer, and who played the role of eternal intern Warren Slax. It was no small part but Tempest handled it beautifully. Henry Shields and Greg Tannahill were also terrific as Mitch and his hapless associate Cooper. And then there’s Chris Leask, listed in the programme as playing ‘Everybody Else’. No exaggeration here either – he takes on multiple roles with apparent ease, and has a great scene to himself at the beginning of the second half where he shows off a great talent for physical comedy.

This play is absolutely not a musical, but there are some great doo-wop numbers involved during set changes (Nancy Wallinger, take a bow – what an amazing singing voice you have!), which serve to illustrate the time period. And talking of set changes, there is one part of the action which is incredibly clever and daring in its perspective and the way the scene is staged. I don’t want  to give away any spoilers, but it is intended to show Freeboys and Salx from above, and the way it is done is simply ingenious.

Quite honestly, there is nothing at all about this show that I could fault. I loved every minute of it, and the audience around me all seemed to be of the same opinion. I hope this production runs and runs, and I urge everyone to go and see it!

(For more information about the Mischief Theatre Company, or this production, please click here.)

 

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“Joy in it’s purest form,” says the poster for this show – I think that’s an understatement. This show is simply delightful, and absolutely flawless.

For anyone who does not know the story, it is set in New York in the 1950s. Gambler Nathan Detroit (here played by Maxwell Caulfield) is trying to find a location for his floating craps game, but is struggling to find the$1000 dollars he needs to pay a local gangster the rent to use his location for the game. To add to his woes, Adelaide (Louise Dearman), Nathan’s fiancee of 14 years has got tired of waiting for them to get married and is putting the pressure on.

Enter compulsive gambler Sky Master (Richard Fleeshman), who Nathan sees as his ticket to $1000 – knowing that Sky can rarely resist a bet, Nathan bets him that Sky can’t take a girl of Nathan’s choosing to Havana for the night. The rub is that the girl that Nathan picks is Sarah Brown (Anna O’Byrne), a local missionary who has little time for gamblers and sinners, and is certainly not someone likely to fall for Sky…

I don’t mind admitting that I had extremely high expectations for this play – I love the film, which featured Marlon Brando as his most beautiful as Sky Masterson, and Frank Sinatra is fine voice as the seedy but loveable Nathan Detroit. This production exceeded all my hopes – I can honestly say that I loved every minute. The four main leads were all excellent- Sky is a character who is both something of a bad boy, but who is also a gentleman and reveals depth of character. Richard Fleeshman was perfect in the role – lovely to look at, with a super singing voice, and perfectly embodied the character of Sky. He was paired perfectly with Anna O’Byrne who had the most beautiful voice, and was wonderful as Sarah Brown.

Maxwell Caulfield and Loouise Dearman were also both excellent and extremely funny as hopeless gambler Nathan (who needs to be both exasperating to his long-suffering fiancee, and endearing to the audience) and ever hopeful Adelaide. In fact, were it not for the fact that the rest of the cast were so terrific, Louise Dearman would have stolen every scene. She has a great voice, spot-on comic timing and the warmth the character needs.

Special mention to Jack Edwards as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, who delighted the entire audience with his spectacular rendition of Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat – just one of the many musical numbers which featured splendid choreography, excellent singing and so much colour and energy that you couldn’t help but be swept along.

If there was one thing I could change about this show, it would be that I wish I had bought tickets for more than one performance. Simply fantastic on every level.

(For my review of the 1955 film, please click here.)

 

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This RSC production of Shakespeare’s delightful comedy (one of my personal all-time favourite plays) is nothing is not ambitious. As well as professional actors, it also features several amateur drama groups taking turns playing the rude mechanicals – themselves amateur actors – for a number of performances at a time. Schoolchildren from various schools also feature as fairies in the forest. Rehearsals with the amateur groups were often done via the internet rather than in person, so all in all definitely an unconventional way of putting a performance together.

Having played in Stratford initially, the play then toured the country before returning for another run at Stratford, which is where I was lucky enough to see it. So does the experiment work? Well…yes, most definitely.

This play actually incorporates three separate but interlocking stories – the young lovers Lysander and Hermia run away together to the forest, having been banned from marrying by her father, who wants her to marry another young man named Demetrius. Demetrius is in hot pursuit of the couple, but he himself is pursued by Helena, who is in love with him despite his lack of interest.

Meanwhile, fairy king Oberon and fairy queen Titania are at loggerheads and Oberon decides to cast a spell on her, which results in her falling in love with a most unexpected character…

And the rude mechanicals, a bunch of amateur performers are rehearsing a play which they hope to perform in front of Duke Theseus and his new bride Hippolyta at their wedding. But when Oberon’s right hand ‘man’, chief fairy Puck gets involved, events take a strange (and hilarious) turn.

First of all, a note about the Rude Mechanical actors – if anyone has any fears that amateur means not very good, then fear no more. The Tower Theatre company, who were the company on stage for the production we saw, were more than able to hold their own against the professionals in this production. The play within a play that the mechanicals perform is farcical and it must be hard to play at being incompetent. However, these actors completely won the audience over, and also generated some of the biggest laughs.

The staging is wonderful – with costumes and a set that suggest a 1940s period, minimal but very clever scenery and some wonderful jazz music provided by live musicians on either side of the stage, it is a visual delight.

I loved the four young lovers – Jack Holden, Mercy Ojelade, Chris Nayak and Laura Riseborough as Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena respectively are all wonderful. If I’m nitpicking I would perhaps say that Laura Riseborough delivered some of her lines so quickly that it was occasionally hard to understand what she was saying, but generally speaking all the scenes with the four of them (or any combination thereof) were extremely funny, particularly the aftermath of Puck mistakenly causing Lysander to fall in love with Helena, where Demetrius and Lysander face off against one another, while Hermia and Helena find themselves at loggerheads.

Chu Omambala was a terrific Oberon – slinky like a cat, with a melancholy demeanour (after all, he and his beloved Titania are having some serious relationship woes) – he cut a fine figure in his classy white suit. Ayesha Dharker is beautiful and radiant as said Titania, and I loved the chemistry between the pair at the end.

Another relationship with amazing chemistry was that of Oberon and Puck – played by Lucy Ellinson in a scene-stealing performance. Ellinson prances and dances her way about the stage, with wide-eyed mischief and playfulness. Truly, it’s hard to take your eyes off her when she is on-stage, as she channels 1920s silent film stars such as Charlie Chaplin with her exaggerated but graceful movements.

Overall, this was a hugely enjoyable production, and one which I would highly recommend to fans of Shakespeare, or indeed anyone with a passing interest.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

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