Friday, 5 June 2009

Never Forget

Milton Keynes Theatre
2 June 2009

Never forget the real thing

Never Forget, or the ‘Take That musical’ is possibly the campest musical that I have seen in a long while, and I think that’s saying something! But it’s loads of fun and made me smile a lot throughout!

It’s the story of five lads who audition to join a ‘Take That’ tribute band as a way out of their current lives and problems. It’s the bog standard morality tale that’s often used to link songs in juke box musicals – fame slash love slash lust (insert whichever is most appropriate) comes at a price etc etc etc - but to be fair, this one does have some quite amusing lines!

In any case, to be honest, I really wasn’t too fussed about the story. I actually gave up on it after one of the boys decides he wants to leave the band to pursue a solo career (predictably), and all the others are really upset – but they’ve only ever done ONE GIG anyway by this point, so I felt it was a bit of an over reaction! Instead, I concentrated on the fact that the whole show is really just an excuse to play some of the fab fives’ great back catalogue and I spent much of the show remembering and marvelling at how Gary Barlow had written such fabulous tunes!

The five guys in the lead roles were Mark Willshire as Ash, the Gary Barlow figure, who had a good voice but seemed to struggle a bit with the high notes. Then there was Adam C Booth as Jake (Robbie) who had some of the best comedy lines which he delivered well and was probably the best dancer of the five. I really warmed to Tom Bradley as Adrian, the awkward banker who gradually grows in confidence and this journey provides him with some lovely comic business. And Scott Garnham also gets a lot of laughs as the Spaniard Jose who loves and reveres his mother (as we all should of course!)

Philip Olivier, bless him, as Dirty Harry, is not a singer or a dancer, and he admitted as much to me in a pre-show interview, saying that he had a very hard time learning these skills just for this show. But to be fair he has a good stab at it and plays the role of the stripper who’s not the sharpest tool in the box, with genial charm. But his main attraction of course is his fine physique – and with this he certainly doesn’t disappoint. He gets his kit off within five minutes of first appearing on stage, much to the appreciation of the mostly female audience, myself included!
In reality none of the lead five lads are great dancers, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt and put this down to the fact that the story is about how they had just started out in a tribute band, so were still learning to dance like TT. Ergo, it was all part of the show. However, they were all probably still better than Gary Barlow still is!

The backing dancers were an entirely different story though – all excellent - and I enjoyed Karen Bruce’s choreography too.

It all builds into a grand finale and the obligatory montage of the band’s songs with the audience on their feet, singing, clapping and dancing as if it was the real thing.

But it wasn’t. It was great fun, but it wasn’t TT. Nevertheless, if you love the UK’s best-loved pop band then you’ll enjoy this too –especially if you’re in a Hen Party! However, it made me never forget that you really can’t beat the real thing! Roll on the 4th July at Wembley!

Just one note to prospective audiences. It all starts with a loud note that will make you jump. You can jump, by all means, but please don’t laugh for TEN MINUTES about the fact that you jumped! It’s REALLY annoying.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Little Shop of Horrors

Milton Keynes Theatre
11 May 2009

Rich dark chocolate factory stuff!

This wonderfully kitsch and camp show which also boasts some great songs is an un-taxing and fun evening, but I have to first say what I spent most of the production contemplating!

Reading the programme before curtain up I discovered that I knew one of the three puppeteers who take it in turns to “work” the man-eating plat Audrey II. The last time I had seen Iestyn Evans was when he was a young teenager who both built and “worked” Audrey II in a local amateur production that I was working on. So, my thoughts during the show were split between being delighted that this really nice young man had developed a very successful career for himself in the world of professional puppetry, a world that he had always seemed destined for and, luckily for him, had worked out – and the horror of realising that I had last seen him 14 years ago – 14 YEARS – OMG!

I also spent a lot of time listening for the bass line in the songs as the bass guitarist had spent a week at our flat in Coventry when the show was at the Belgrade. I didn’t have to listen hard – it was very loud – but very good!

So, onto the show – the stage version of what has become a cult movie - Ashman and Menken's B-movie horror spoof musical, this time produced by the people from the Menier Chocolate Factory.It opens at Mushnik’s Florists on Skid Row, where the struggling proprietor is about to close down. But then, his downtrodden assistant Seymour finds a “strange and interesting plant” which he calls Audrey 2 after his fellow assistant Audrey, for whom he holds a considerable torch. However, the plant soon becomes stranger and hungrier and leads Seymour down a very dark path indeed, because Audrey needs blood in order to survive.

Matthew White's production has lots of charm, even if it’s all quite ludicrous! I don’t know why but I didn’t expect Clare Buckfield to be any good as Audrey, but she is and has a surprisingly strong singing voice too. Alex Ferns has a blast as the sado-masichist dentist (aren’t they all?!). This is a man who does a very good line in playing people who are “not quite right” (I cite Trevor in EastEnders) and in this role he was a man who really looked like he was enjoying himself! Quite over the top but this didn’t matter a bit.

The cast also features the dependable experience of Sylvester McCoy as Mushnik, even though his American-Jewish accent was another “not quite right” thing, but as this also gets laughs, maybe it was planned that way! Clive Rowe is an excellent voice of Audrey II , the plant which grows impressively throughout the show until it dominates the show. He exudes just the right amount of wit, and Damian Humbley as the meek amateur botanist Seymour strikes the right note of indecision and torment that the role requires.

The Ronettes-style trio of Nadia Di Mambro, Cathryn Davis and Donna Hines, who provide the narration have incredible voices, but sometimes the strength of their chords over powered the actual words which was a shame. Also, the all round cast felt a little lacking in number. It was fun having Alex Ferns come back playing many different parts but it would have been nice to have more in the cast so that more could be made of the bigger numbers. However, I guess cost precludes this and the fact that it’s obviously Ferns in all these other parts is a nice touch I guess!

One thing that I must take issue with though – and for this I blame the marketeers and not the production – and that’s that with a tough titty, a cr*p and at least two sh*ts I would argue against the seven-years-old and up label. Couple that with feeding body parts into a plant and you could scar some poor little blighters for life.

But this is a vibrant and fun production with some lovely dark comedy, it’s just that it’s for secondary age and above only I think!

Sunday, 26 April 2009

England People Very Nice

Olivier Theatre, National Theatre
18 April 2009 (Mat)

A great portrayal of human Bean's!

Some people think that Richard Bean’s ‘England People Very Nice’ is racist. Well, in that case they have really missed the point. Just because a play shows racist behaviour doesn’t mean it’s a racist play. What Bean is doing is showing us this behaviour to highlight exactly what it is and that while it’s wrong, how it can come about so easily. But it’s also an extremely funny play and by making us laugh, making us realise that we are laughing at some uncomfortable stuff and by making us question ourselves, he is drumming a point home far more effectively than making a worthy speech. In other words, it’s classic satire!

In showing us the past 400 years of people’s reactions to incomers, he shows us that there have always been racist reactions and sadly, we also see that this will probably always be the case. It’s not about skin colour though, it’s about reacting to different cultures, and how all cultures have been intolerant to each other. In short, those who are already in a place will resent the arrival of new people who seem to be given everything they need.

From the arrival of the French in England to the Irish, to the Jews and finally through to Bangladeshis, the new culture that arrives is resented by the old guard. But what also really comes across is that as time goes on, the so called English people are made up of all the cultures that have arrived in the country and begs the question what is an English person anyway?

The one thing that also came across about why new people are resented is that they are all perceived to be getting something that the people who are already in the country aren’t getting, be it jobs or housing. The Protestants are uneasy about the Irish Catholics, who, in turn, are hostile to the Jews, who feel displaced by the Bangladeshis. Then finally, it’s suggested that they are angry about seemingly preferential treatment being given to Somalis.

The irony is that this is kind of a play within a play because it’s being put on by “inmates” in an immigration centre”. They have arrived in this country and certainly none of them are getting an easy ride – they are in prison.

The device used to show how things don’t change is clever. In the first half the same actors play the central characters in each section. Then in the second half, the same actors play the same characters over a period of about 60 years – without seemingly ageing. It shows that people’s reactions are exactly the same and that some things never change. But what Bean also shows is that in every case, love transcends the racial divide.

Nicholas Hytner’s production is fast-paced and helped by animations by Pete Bishop which move the story along. And though they were from the same kind of school, I enjoyed these much more than I ever did Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python stuff which frankly I found a bit scary!

It’s massive cast, by modern standards, but I’d pick out a few for a special mention - Sacha Dhawan and Michelle Terry as the star-crossed lovers in every phase, Sophie Stanton as a wonderfully brassy barmaid and Fred Ridgeway as a wise old publican.

The jokes are plentiful but it all makes a serious point. You become more and more aware of an Englishman being Daniel Defoe’s “heterogeneous thing”, essentially mongrels, and it is integration that encourages tolerance. As a result, there’s also an implied suggestion that it’s the unwillingness of some communities to integrate that causes dangerous problems, and it is this that is the most chilling message. This is probably where the racist allegations come from. I didn’t see it like that at all but all art is subjective.

There has, and sadly probably always will be racism and intolerance, and because of this there will also always be a heated debate about multicultural Britain. Richard Bean’s play is a timely – and maybe even timeless – contribution to that discussion.

Beauty and the Beast

Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage
16 April 2009

Christmas comes early!

This is a nice little show. It was slick, funny and colourful with engaging performances that delighted the audience.

The cast tell the classic tale with genial exuberance, but in case you’ve lived in a cave all your life with no electrical supplies to have viewed the numerous telly adaptations or the 1991 Disney version, it tells the story of a Prince who’s been turned into a Beast by an evil witch because he doesn’t fancy her. He can only turn back into a Prince if a beautiful young girl falls in love with him. And guess what – one does – eventually!

I am now going to resist the temptation to rant on about the dubious morals of this story, i.e. can men only be Princes if beautiful young women love them? Do only beautiful young women deserve to marry handsome Princes? STOP ME NOW!

My only gripe is that for an Easter show it felt distinctly seasonal, although there is nothing really wrong with that I guess. But this isn’t a panto. It looks like a panto, it feels like a panto, it has goodies and baddies , heroes and villains. The saving grace was that there were no flashing wands! But it also doesn’t have any ‘It’s behind yous’, or a dame, or a song sheet, or a ghost scene, so it’s not a panto - therefore why did I feel like I was watching one?! Maybe it was down to the fact that it was written and directed by the wonderful Gordon Craig panto legend Paul Laidlaw.

But apart from that, it’s also a feel-good show, with a moral – true beauty lies within. This was played out slightly in the casting of the Beast, because even when the talented Wesley Hughes turned into the handsome Prince, he was frankly a tad generously proportioned, but in a normal bloke / comforting kind of way. Nothing wrong with that of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a slight double chin. But he was a nice bloke, with a fantastic voice of course, and that’s what matters. And I also think that this was inspired casting because it kept to the theme of the play. Why should the beautiful heroine only ever get to marry those with chiselled features?

The heroine, Belle, was charmingly played by Katie Lavelli and the arrogant Anton, the Beast’s competitor for her affections was played by Nathan Lubbock-Smith, in a very impressive performance that included so much charm and humour that you didn’t know whether to love or hate him!

The good humour and panto-like joie-de-vivre permeated the whole show and the use of familiar songs with slightly changed words added to the illusion. But they were all great renditions and the hilariously camp “Everybody ought to have a maid” brought the house down.

This was an amiable, enchanting evening which proved to be a real audience pleaser and put me right in the mood for Christmas, albeit some eight months early!

Thursday, 16 April 2009


Milton Keynes Theatre
13 April 2009

Come to the Cabaret!

When Mr FB saw the warning in the Foyer that the show contained “elements of nudity”, he literally did a hop, skip and a jump into the auditorium, I kid you not!

And talking of philistines, I am ashamed to also admit that I had never seen Cabaret before, not the film, not the stage show, nothing. But it’s one of those shows that you actually think you HAVE seen, mainly because you know so many of the songs. However, in my defence, I can reveal that I HAVE read Christopher Isherwood’s series of short stories collected under the title Goodbye to Berlin (1939), which provided the inspiration for the play 'I Am A Camera', and subsequently this musical.

So I was worried that I would be let down by some sort of weak story linking these fab songs together, but I wasn’t, and in the hands of this talented company I was actually enthralled.

In the show, Sally Bowles is a performer at the Kit Kat Club in Berlin for whom, along with her fellow entertainers, life is all about shows, drink, sex and trying to get money for essential items such as clothes and booze.

However, this is 1930s Germany and against all this fun and decadence, the rise of the Nazis is ever present and increases as the show goes on.

The excesses of the era are represented in the Kit Kat cabaret songs which are slick, sensual, colourful, amusing and very well executed by the company.

The nudity mentioned is basically all tasteful back views, but that’s not to say that the show isn’t steamy. There are some very highly charged scenes with much canoodling going on between all the sexes, something which bought some hilarious ooohs and aaahs from what was, shall we say, quite a mature audience.

The legendary dancer/actor Wayne Sleep is scarily watchable as Emcee. With a face packed with make-up that highlights not only his eyebrows but his ambiguity, I wasn’t sure whether I was terrified of him or on his side – maybe both! He also has some comic-dancing to do which I have to say was incredible stuff for a 60-year-old. He’s certainly still got “it”.

Samantha Barks was a good Sally Bowles. The acting side of things was competent but not outstanding, however, she certainly knows how to belt out a tune and this show gives her plenty of chance to do just that with songs like, Maybe This Time, Don’t Tell Mama and the anthemic title song. She may have only come third in the BBC’s ‘I’d Do Anything’, but for me anyway, she has certainly come out of it smiling and with a better show to boot! Sally Bowles versus two-song Nancy in Oliver – no contest!

Henry Luxembourg played Cliff, Sally’s American lover, and I am also ashamed to say that, at the first sight of him, I whispered loudly in surprise to Mr FB, “that’s Toby the serial killer from Hollyoaks!” However, he was convincing in that and he’s believable in this, a very different role.

He grows from his initial wide-eyed innocence about the Berlin that he arrives in, through to his revulsion of the Nazis and finally rejection of them and their country.

It is this theme that makes it far more than your average musical and other supporting characters add to the darker themes. There’s Fraulein Schneider, played by the excellent Jenny Logan, whose engagement to Herr Schultz (Matt Zimmerman) is ended by the threat of what is going to happen, and the Nazi presence grows throughout the course of the show.

This culminates in an ending which, to say it is downbeat is somewhat of an understatement. The musical leaves us in no doubt where Nazi Germany is heading and the tableau of naked figures as the final scene drums this point home with force.

I had no wish to clap along at the curtain calls, I felt sad and shattered, but also somewhat uplifted by the fact that I had watched one of those rare things – a musical that really made me feel something. Not since Blood Brothers have I been quite so impressed by this kind of entertainment.


Geilgud Theatre, London
11 April 2009 (Matinee)

Enjoy without question!

Alan Bennett is without question one of Britain’s best-loved and brilliant playwrights. Alison Steadman is without question one of Britain’s best-loved and brilliant actresses. Both have the most wonderful talent to make the nuances of the ordinary, very, very funny whilst at the same time, make you realise that these nuances are sometimes also very, very sad. So, to experience both in one afternoon, with one acting out the other’s words, is a pure joy!

This is what happens at the Gielgud Theatre in ‘Enjoy’, a play that Bennett wrote in the 80s, and which has rarely seen the light of day since. (Although I did see and enjoy it in Watford two years ago!) It was critically mauled when it was first performed but that hasn’t happened this time around – probably because Bennett was way ahead of his time and people can now relate to it more. In fact, this current production was actually the highest grossing Alan Bennett play in the West End on advance sales – ever!

‘Enjoy’ looks at life in 1980s’ Leeds and how modern life was changing. Some, like Wilf, want to change with the times while others, like Connie, want to hold onto the past – as she comments, “Mr Craven [Wilf] has always been on the side of progress. He had false teeth at 27″!

And that’s the underlying theme for the whole play – not the false teeth, but the disagreement.
Long suffering elderly couple Mam/Connie, (Steadman) and Dad/Wilf (David Troughton) bicker and reminisce about better times in front of a “visitor”, who sits in the corner documenting their life for reasons that become clear as the play moves on.

Mam tries to show this observer that they are acting completely normally, while clearly they are not. She brings out the best china that they never use, an act brutally exposed by Dad. But this simple act of not doing what they normally do hides the fact that they really ARE an unusual family. And while in many plays, the bickering of a couple who have been together for years often disguises deep underlying affection – you get the feeling with these to that they don’t really like each other at all, they are just used to each other!

This is a couple out of love, confined to their home together, despising each other more every day, and wishing their kids would come back and stay. But it soon becomes clear that the reasons that they don't are complex and often very dark.

No one in the play is really what they first appear to be and that makes the whole experience thrilling and completely unpredictable. But it’s also very funny, it’s all laced with memorable Bennett one liners and numerous laugh out loud moments.

He excels at the observation of the ludicrous – although you don’t realise that things are ridiculous until he points them out. Why did I find the line “I always knew he’d be a student – I could see him opening a bank account wearing a scarf” so funny? Because Mr Bennett made me remember those adverts for student accounts and made me wonder why on earth I didn’t think that their portrayal of a stereotypical student was preposterous the first time around!

But like all classic Bennett, one minute you’re laughing and the next you’re gasping in shock. This wouldn’t be Bennett without the undercurrents of more serious issues like child molestation, prostitution, homosexuality and wife beating. But all of these issues make the narrative much more real and hard hitting, however surreal it gets.

As the play draws to a close there is an Orwellian Big Brother feel to proceedings and you could see why people in the 80s might not have got it. These days the audience is far more used to the idea not only of clinging on to your childhood and a better time but also people watching you as you live your life!

Alison Steadman is wonderful as she changes from being hilarious to moving in the space of a sentence and she is complemented perfectly by Troughton as Wilf. They both give the production a chemistry and pathos it truly required to make it work.

Carol Macready is Mrs Clegg in a riotously funny, but sadly quite brief, scene, just as she did at Watford, and Josie Walker as their brassy and seemingly hard-hearted daughter Linda also reprises her role with great aplomb.

Is it uncomfortable viewing? Sometimes yes – not least because both Mr FB and I could see, in Connie and Wilf, a potential future of forgetting what each other has said, rubbing each others frail limbs and reminding each other when to go for a wee (the memory loss part is already there!) But is it satisfying viewing? Absolutely no question!

Friday, 10 April 2009

Star Wars: A Musical Journey

O2 Arena
10 April 2009

Going over to the Dark Side!

Fans of the Star Wars series will absolutely love watching their beloved 12 odd hours of films condensed into two hours of best bits with John Williams fabulous score played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with singing from the London Concert Choir.

And those, like me, who aren’t fans of Star Wars will love it for exactly the same reasons!

In my opinion, cutting down 12 hours of ridiculousness to just two can only be a good thing. And as I was assured by my Star Wars fanatic husband that they had cleverly picked out the very best bits to tell the story as well – this kind of proves my point really – that only one sixth of it was ever vaguely interesting, because the story, such as it is, could be told in well under half the time! But, despite this, I’m still not sure exactly why and who they were fighting but Harrison Ford was quite fit when he was younger!

I also now know that Luke and Leia were brother and sister and that Darth Vader didn’t end up as Luke’s dad because he shagged his mum while she was with Anakin in some kind of starry love triangle, I found out that Darth WAS Anakin - still not sure exactly how and this happened though! And there was I thinking he was Dave Prowse the Green Cross Code man – “Feel the Force Luke – and look both ways before you cross!”

Now I’ve got that off my chest, I have to say that this is a very enjoyable way of watching the films, and one that should have been employed from the start! One thing that you can’t deny about the series is the fact that the music is fantastic. And hearing it like this, with the Royal Philharmonic in full view and scenes from the films on the big screen behind them, is not only quite breathtaking, but you really begin to see what a skill it is to both score a film and then musically direct the orchestra. You have to write the right music for the action which then has to be played with exactly the right timing. So whatever I think of the film is actually quite irrelevant as this is probably the one and only time that I have found watching any of it remotely interesting! And the Star Wars fans in the audience - i.e. most of them - absolutely lapped up every minute of it!

Anthony Daniels, aka C3PO, narrates the whole thing, introducing each section and explaining what’s going on (a Godsend for me!) He also lapses into his character occasionally which brought howls of delight from the devotees. (For goodness sake - he's only an actor - he goes to the loo like all of us!) The story is explained using excerpts from the films, not in chronological order (I am reliably informed!) but showing clips from all six to illustrate a point. I found this a great way of telling me what was going on and I did see a chink of the light after only - well - 32 years! Meanwhile the fans found it fascinating - mainly because not only do they go into ecstasy at the smallest clip of the films WHENEVER they see them, here they could show their "superior" knowledge by pointing out which bit was from which film. (Yawn!)

The orchestra plays Williams’ score which has been specially chosen to fit the action on the screen and illustrate the particular mood that that part of the story brings. This was the fantastic part for me, listening to live and loud soaring music whilst watching how effectively it went with the action.

It’s a performance like I have never seen before and never thought I would want to, but in appreciating the skill that went behind putting music behind these iconic films, it was all strangely uplifting! Have I gone over to the Dark Side? Have I seen the light? Well no, not exactly, only a chink in the plot department, but I have learned stuff from the evening that will at least allow me to appreciate something about them in the future. The plot is still rubbish though!

One extra point - being up very high in the Arena I discovered that my new mini binoculars are a real boon! Roll on Michael Jackson!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Waiting for Godot

Milton Keynes Theatre
16 March 2009

Much ado about literally nothing!

I love Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot but I don’t think I’ll ever truly know what it’s about – and that, I guess, is part of the joy of watching it.

But I have to say that in this wonderful production, as well as wondering, yet again, what Samuel Beckett had in mind, I was completely mesmerised by the fact that I was watching some of the country’s greatest actors – on the one stage – at the same time!

You’re usually lucky to be watching one – but to get Sir Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Simon Callow and Ronald Pickup altogether was just such a privilege, it’s simply the only word you can use! In fact, you would only have to write a part for Simon Russell Beale – oh yes, and Anthony Sher - to get the full house of the UK’s top performers in my book!

But first – what’s the play about? Well, if I could answer that I would have made my name as a respected academic years ago, because any kind of discussion about what Waiting for Godot "means" usually ends up as a tangled mess. Audiences and critics alike have tried to do it for years, so I’m not going to attempt a solution here – just give a few random thoughts about what I like to think it’s about, because that’s really what I think Beckett wanted to achieve – people talking about it! So, job done Sam!

The action of the play – or inaction anyway – centres on Vladimir (Stewart) and Estragon (McKellen). Two men who appear to be tramps, but no one really knows who they are. They mess around affectionately, bickering and arguing like some old married couple who have been together so long that everything that needs to be said has been discussed! But no one knows where they have come from, or where they are going. All we know is that they are waiting for someone called Godot. Into their world comes the brash Pozzo (Callow) holding his servant Lucky (Pickup) on a rope, and they are brought messages from Godot by a mysterious “boy”. And nothing really happens throughout, but you are still glued to your seat for two hours!

I love this play because you can watch it over and over again and still get different things out of it. For me, Sean Matthias’ production highlighted the idea that the characters are all performers and Vladimir and Estragon are more of a double act in this production than I’ve ever seen before, right down to the scratching of their heads in a Laurel and Hardy-esque fashion.

And Stephen Brimson Lewis’s fabulous set depicts them waiting in a kind of dilapidated old theatre with boxes, wings and a fly tower so that you can imagine that perhaps the two once used to work there as a music hall act. Callow’s Pozzo is dressed as a circus ringmaster who drags Lucky around like the organ grinder’s monkey. To compound this theatrical idea, as Mckellen and Stewart actors take their applause, they also shuffle along to Flanagan and Allen's Underneath the Arches, while, on this particular night anyway, the audience stood to applaud in a well-deserved ovation.

Some commentators have focused on the religious imagery of the play. The characters talk of the crucifixion and Christ but it has also been suggested that Godot is really God, and that the tramps attitude towards the elusive character – partly hope and partly fear – represents the state in which many Christians live.

As for me, well, I like the religious argument, but I also like to see Vladimir and Estragon as two characters who are representing us in our own lives, whichever faith we follow. They are quite literally messing around waiting for something of note to happen and to be honest, sometimes that’s exactly how I feel myself! It manages to squeeze out comedy and pathos from the idea of boredom – something that it’s all too easy to identify with!

Whatever you think about the play, the fact remains that there is very little action. As the characters say on more than one occasion - “Nothing happens”. Therefore, you have to rely on the actors to make the fantastic word play come alive and in these four, I don’t think you can get better. The performances are outstanding.

McKellen and Stewart portray both the ease and frustration of a longstanding friendship that is mesmerising as they ponder and contemplate. Callow provides the perfect foil as the loud man of action who never actually achieves anything for all his bluster. Lucky only has one speech, but, as a mixture of words and expressions that seemingly bear no relation to each other, it is surely the most difficult to learn and portray ever written! It would be tempting to learn it by rote but, in Pickup, you can really hear the thought processes working as if he had only just thought up the whole thing!

Special mention must also be made of 11-year-old Gabriel Steele who is sharing the role of “boy” with another youngster. On only a day’s rehearsal, including just one run through on the stage, he was a natural, appearing completely un-phased by his illustrious stage companions and delivering his lines clearly and confidently. Definitely one to watch!

When this play first appeared on stage in 1955 (what a shock that must have been to audiences used to a diet of Coward and Maugham!) Kenneth Tynan ‘got it’. He wrote in the Observer that it has “no plot, no climax, no denouement; no beginning, no middle and no end. It arrives at the custom-house, as it were, with no luggage, no passport and nothing to declare; yet it gets through as might a pilgrim from Mars.”He believed that it did this because it proved that a play was basically a means of spending two hours in the dark without being bored. He was right, as far as Godot is concerned anyway (read last week’s Pack of Lies review!), and over 50 years later he still is, because this play with these performers is a theatrical triumph!

God of Carnage

Richmond Theatre
11 March 2009 (Mat)

"Don’t let the title put you off!"

I saw Yasmina Reza’s play in the West End last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. But much as I love Ralph Fiennes and Tamsin Greig, I think I enjoyed the new cast in this touring production more. For not only have they shaved off about ten minutes in this “straight through” 90 odd minute play, making it much tighter and pacier, they also have the absolute master of the one-liner - Mr Richard E Grant - in the production who is one of the best in the business at delivering ultimate put downs and sarcastic asides.

And that’s just one of the joys of this fascinating play about the relationship between two couples. The title God of Carnage doesn’t really convey a feeling that there will be a lot of laughs but the play actually conjures up plenty and they all come out of what is an enthralling study of the human condition and reactions.

The action begins in the living room of a middle class French couple (Roger Allam and Lia Williams) whose child has been hit in the face with a stick by another boy, which has resulted in two of his teeth being removed. They are joined by the parents of the culprit (Grant and Serena Evans) who have come round to discuss the situation. It all starts quite gently as both couples are a little nervous, but it’s a wonderful slow burner and eventually the angry recriminations come out, which also highlight the weaknesses in each of the couple’s own characters and relationships.

It’s like Art, Reza’s first success in the UK, in that what begins as a low key discussion builds into an all out battle, this time between the sexes, and the fact that you go straight through the play without a break adds to the build-up of intensity.

After a nicey, nicey start, all the characters begin to cast off their inhibitions and release formerly hidden insecurities. In doing so they seem to validate the pronouncement of Grant’s character that The God of Carnage – or primitive aggression - is unstoppable once the genie has been let out of the bottle!

Joining Grant in the cast to release that particular genie are Lia Williams, Roger Allam and Serena Evans and the four provide a great evening (or afternoon) of entertainment!

Don’t get me wrong because I love Fiennes, and Ralph, if you’re reading this – which I accept is highly unlikely – I think you’re fab and you were great in this – it’s just that this part is just made for Grant because in all honesty his character Alain is like a new Withnail - bitter, cynical and seemingly unaware of everybody else’s feelings, or if he is aware, he doesn’t care!

In the rest of the cast, Roger Allam’s transformation from being friendly and tolerant to raging is hilarious, but at the same time sad, while Lia Williams, who has been seen to relish emotionally volatile parts in the past, doesn’t disappoint as Veronique, a highly emotive woman who wears her heart close to the surface. Alain’s wife Annette, played by Serena Evans, has been living in the shadow of her husband for too long and her release is a joy to watch as, like Veronique, she becomes just as aggressive as her spouse, if not more!

So, don’t let the title put you off. This is an extremely funny play that, like all good comedies of manners, gives you a very satisfying amount to think about as well and I left the theatre particularly concerned that a minor bicker about who was going to make the tea could escalate! But another bonus is that there’s plenty of time to go out for dinner afterwards too which is always a bonus in my book!

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Pack of Lies

9 March 2009
Milton Keynes Theatre

Good story but not tightly packed!

I’ve never found the seats at the Milton Keynes Theatre to be particularly uncomfortable before. And I saw High Whitemore’s Pack of Lies a few years ago and thought it was a good story. So why did I find myself shifting around in my seat for more or less the entire two hours duration of this show? Well, in short, I think it’s because this production needed a big kick up the proverbial behind it!

It’s still a good story.

In short, a bloke, Mr Stewart (Daniel Hill) turns up at the house of Bob and Barbara (Simon Shepherd and Jenny Seagrove) and their teenage daughter Julie (Corinne Sawers) to ask if they can use their home as a surveillance house. After a bit of persuasion they agree, but it turns out that their house is being used to watch their best friends, Peter and Helen Kroger, (Peter Slade and Lorna Luft – yes – Judy Garland’s daughter, no less!) who live across the road, because the powers that be believe that they maybe KGB spies!

It sounds unbelievable that this could happen in a normal suburban street, but it did and the play is based on the true story of the Krogers’, which was quite a famous one in 1961.

The strength of this play is that it sensitively shows the impact of the spy world on a normal family and makes you think about how you would feel if you discovered that everything your best friend had told you about their life was a complete lie and that your friendship was therefore based on nothing. Barbara is devastated by the revelations and Jenny Seagrove’s performance makes this palpable.

It’s quite a sad play in this way but there are also some laughs, many of them coming from the performance of Lorna Luft who is a brash but friendly and incredibly likeable Helen Kroger, a performance that makes the outcome all the more heartbreaking. And Simon Shepherd’s Bob is a good mixture of knowing what is the right thing to do and discomfort at doing it.

The problem is that it’s soooo slow and, on the night I saw it anyway, needed lashings more oooomph! However, if you’re enjoying it you can say that the slow pace is the turning of the screw, the tension building, the claustrophobia. If you’re just shifting around in your seat – it’s just slow!

There is also a feeling of inevitability – you know what’s going to happen, because they keep telling you. They tell you everything, all the time, so much so that you begin to think there must be a massive twist, and to be honest, I think that it would have been a lot more entertaining if there had been. If Mr Stewart turned out to be not who you thought he was, or Bob and Barbara were MI5 or their daughter the real Russian spy, but none of them were, so it all left you feeling rather deflated by the end, thinking “and” – but by then it’s all over. Maybe I watch too many films!

It’s all very interesting and the performances are good – but – just talk a bit faster!

The Convicts' Opera

7 March 2009
Warwick Arts Centre

Bawdy fun and food for thought!

I LOVE plays within plays – there are so many layers, so many questions as to who exactly the audience is and does life imitate art or vice versa. It makes my head spin, so fancying a bit of theatrical dizziness, I jumped at the chance of seeing director Max Stafford Clark’s re-imagining of John Gays The Beggars’ Opera, written by Stephen Jeffreys and co-produced by Out of Joint and the Sydney Theatre Company.

The Beggars’ Opera is not merely seen as the first musical. Set in the underworld of 18th century London, the criminals vices mirror those of the rich and as such is a powerful satire of the time. It is, in itself, also great fun and packed with romance and intrigue and this new twist just adds to the entertainment.

In this re-working, it’s all set on an 18th century ship where, a group of convicts on their way to Australia, put on the show which depicts the life that they are leaving far behind. In doing so art begins to mirror life and confusion between artificial construction and reality runs riot.

There is also a wonderful score which combines the folk tunes of the original with fun reworkings of modern classics including "Sailing", “Those Were The Days”, “500 Miles”, “You’re So Vain”, and “I Fought the Law”.

Forget about why a ship’s captain would let prisoners stage something so subversive, and you will enjoy it very much because it is an inventive and enjoyable romp with some great performances from a top ensemble cast.

Top in my book was Juan Jackson who begins to identify fully with Macheath, the character he has to portray. And my enjoyment of his charismatic performance has nothing to do at all with the scene where he displays his perfectly toned and outstanding body in a small pair of swimming trunks – honest! He had a fab voice too!

But I also enjoyed Ali McGregor as the lovestruck Polly Peachum with an arsonist alter-ego packed with attitude and Glenn Butcher as the slightly camp director trying to mould this group of outcasts into a company.

The Convicts’ Opera is a pile of bawdy fun but alongside the actual journey across the world, there is also a spiritual journey for the convicts as the transformational power of drama works its magic.

Then afterwards, spend the entire journey home arguing with your husband about whether the swimming trunks scene was strictly necessary. For the record, I thought it was. And Mr FB is heading for the gym! Bless!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Tempest

RSC, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
24 February 2009

Not all message and metaphor

I was a nymph in The Tempest when I was about 12. It was an all-female production, but sadly not in the all-male Swan Lake sense, where having all the parts played by one gender enhances the production by providing new insights. It was an all-female Tempest because I was at an all-girls school and needs must!

There really was nothing new about my school production at all it was as traditional as it comes, except for the rather fetching (not!) pink nylon dress that I had to wear! These kinds of experiences can taint your view of Shakespeare for life, but luckily, the existence of the RSC and many other forward thinking and exciting companies are our theatrical saviours.

The RSC’s latest production of The Tempest, directed by Janice Honeyman, is in collaboration with the Baxter Theatre Centre of Cape Town and is just one example of how a 400-year-old play can have exciting new life pumped into it. It’s a spectacular riot of colour, innovation and emotion, that shows that Shakespeare is just as relevant today as it ever was.

Instead of being set on some non-descript fantasy island, the action takes place on an African isle. Looking at the play as a study of colonialism is a popular view, but this setting takes the idea further so it appears more to be about South African apartheid. This is most clearly shown in the relationship between John Kani’s magnificently dignified Caliban who declares "This island's mine" and Antony Sher’s tormented Prospero who tries to control and abuse him. Other notable performances come from Atandwa Kani as a captivating Ariel and Tinarie Van Wyk Loots as a beguiling Miranda.

However, it’s not all message and metaphor because as well as having these creditable undertones, the production is also reminiscent of The Lion King. The warm lighting takes you to a desert type location, the puppets and ethnic costumes are a riot of colour and the frenzied dancing and singing to the music of an on stage band is fun and uplifting.

This is a magic new take on Shakespeare’s last play and a great birthday present! (Thanks Mr FB!)

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Boeing Boeing

Wimbledon Theatre
19 February 2009 (Mat)

Flying out of reality!

I love watching a good meaty drama on the stage, looking at motivations, characters and whether or not there are metaphorical messages to be gleaned, something to tell us about how we live – or should live – our lives. Philosophical points to be made. Coming out exhausted, but at the same time morally or spiritually uplifted - I love it!

But at the same time, there is much to be said for simply having a laugh and not having to think too much, just enjoying an entertaining couple of hours in the theatre with not too much to think about on the way home other than the fact that you must go and see more comedies because they make you feel good!

And that’s what Boeing Boeing does. The subject matter of one man trying to keep up with three fiancées without the other finding out and other characters unwittingly drawn into the deception, is classic farce and one of which there have been many variations of over hundreds of years. But if people didn’t enjoy that sort of thing, then people would write more plays about it!

Marc Camoletti's play uses the fact that all three are of different nationalities to get much of its comedy, showing that the Brits will still laugh at stereotypical portrayals of other nationalities despite being told that they shouldn’t. Meanwhile, protagonist Bernard studies the airline schedules to keep the girls apart which makes for a good farcical device. The result of all this of course is much confusion and a lot of running about through doors but thankfully no one loses their trousers! However, as with all of this genre, you just know that it will all be resolved in the end, and of course it is, but I think that the good thing about Boeing Boeing is that throughout, I was never exactly sure how they were going to sort it out.

The three fiancée characters, although somewhat stereotyped, were all well portrayed. Sarah Jayne Dunn was fresh from Hollyoaks and in her first stage role as a glamorous all-American gal was competent and, strangely for the subject matter, convincing, even in her American accent! Thaila Zucci was the gorgeously emotional Italian Gloria, and Josephine Butler’s Gretchen got most of the laughs as a delightfully overbearing German with hilarious pronunciation!

Susie Blake’s years of stage experience were on show in a lovely understated performance as Bertha, the grumpy, deadpan housekeeper who has to fit her own cleaning and cookery around the different nationalities.

Real brothers Martin and John Marquez as the serially betrothed Bernard and his long lost cousin bounce off each other perfectly and the timing of the whole cast was quite breathtaking throughout, matching some of the extreme physical humour and racing plot!

I loved the set – simple, minimal, stylish and white except for the introduction of flashes of three kitschy colours for each girl.

It’s all very silly but funny and pleasurable and if I can steal /paraphrase what a lot of actors say these days when plugging their shows “just what we need to cheer ourselves up in these difficult times”. And if there is a message to be gleaned from this show, well, for me, it’s to go and see some more comedies because sometimes, you’ve just got to have a laugh!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Three Days of Rain

Apollo Theatre, London
7th February 2009 (Matinee)

Bring on the Rain!

Forget five days of snow, Jamie Lloyd’s engrossing production of Richard Greenberg’sThree Days of Rain took me well away from the travel difficulties of the past week!

Now, I’d better get something out of the way first. If you have read my review of The Common Pursuit at The Chocolate Factory last year, you will know that I have somewhat of a penchant for the lovely Nigel Harman (of Dennis in EastEnders fame!) and to be honest it was his appearance in this play that first attracted me into buying (sorry, BEGGING my husband to buy) the tickets.

To his credit, and my amazement, bless him, my long suffering spouse not only got us tickets, but got them in Row B where, if I wasn’t more socially aware, I could have reached out and squeezed his peachy cheeks! The temptation was great, I have to say!

I mention all this because I need you to know that while I find the Harman one of the most desirable men to walk the earth, I am always honest about his acting performance. Just being gorgeous doesn’t mean you can act, ( I won’t cite any cases here for legal reasons!) but thankfully, and in a totally un-biased way, Nigel CAN do the business!

In the end, the afternoon was a triumph, not just because we both really enjoyed the production, but, because after a very impressive performance, hubby has finally conceded that Nigel was, and I quote with trembling fingers “very good”. I thought he was a lot more than that frankly, but believe me, if you’ve heard what he’s said about him in the past, this represented a MAJOR change of heart!

Nigel was excellent and so were his two fellow cast members. The presence of the fantastic James McAvoy and the lesser known but equally impressive Lyndsey Marshal, completed a well matched and excellent trio that brought the world of the play to life and made for a more than satisfying afternoon!

So what’s the play actually about? Well, it basically explores how the private worlds and actions of one generation both affect and are reinterpreted by the next . The first act opens on a drab, long un-inhabited loft space in Manhatten in 1995. Into it walks James McAvoy as Walker who has found out that it was the place where his wealthy, but monosyllabic, architect father, Ned, lived and worked. Walker is reuniting with his sister Nan, played by Lyndsey Marshal, for the reading of their father’s will, to find out who will receive Ned’s main legacy - an iconic house designed with his late business partner Theo.

Joined by Theo’s son Pip, played by Harman, who gains more than expected from the will, they discuss all that has happened in the past and discover Ned’s diary which contains the mysterious words ‘three days of rain’, the only clue to the truth about their parents’ past, because sadly, Walker and Nan discover that the man who didn’t say much through speech, was no more forthcoming via the written word.

I don’t want to give away too much about what happens as it will spoil the entire thing for you, but suffice to say, in the second act the actors are in the same place but in 1960, where they play three different characters from the previous generation - both of their fathers and a mother - and we are given some sort of explanation as to what happened there, and why Ned might have written his will in such a way.

It’s basically a family drama, something irresistible to audiences and therefore writers alike! The children and their parents share some characteristics and not others, and in the second act you can see where the progeny came from in quite an Ibsen-esque “sins of the fathers” way, but without the syphilis!

I found the whole thing to be totally engrossing and not because I was staring at Nigel the whole time, it was the whole package that enthralled me! James McAvoy was brilliant as both the “troubled” Walker and the less forthcoming Ned, really bringing out the different problems and insecurities that both had. I think that without going into the nuances of his acting, the fact that I wanted to reach out and hug both, is testament to how he made me feel – and that’s what acting is all about!

I enjoyed Lyndsey Marshal’s performance as Nan and Lina as well, (despite my bristling when she hugged Nige!). Her measured and mostly calm Nan was a good contrast to the wilder, more unpredictable Lina but again you sympathised with both.

Nigel played Pip, an actor in the play who, ironically for Harman, is playing the eye candy in a TV soap. He is more brash and confident and gets most of the funny lines which he delivers with excellent timing. And I’m sorry about this but I have to say that he spends a fair bit of time getting wet in the rain and I couldn’t help my mind wandering and imagining him in the shower first thing in the morning! But back to his performance!

His second role, as Theo, is similar to that of Pip in the first act, but whereas Pip seems happy and comfortable in his chosen career, Theo’s frustration at his creative block is painfully palpable. And the fact that most of this happens in the rain is just a bonus!

The great thing about this production is that is provokes much thought and discussion about exactly what happened, and for someone like me, who always rather anally checks the times and dates mentioned by characters to make sure that they match up, it gives you much working out to do!

There are also so many echoes of the first act in the second that it makes you really want to see it again to makes sure that you get absolutely everything! In fact, yes, I think I really MUST see it again! And if maybe Nigel could remove a few more items of clothing when out in the rain .... then so much the better!! Sorry!


Royal National Theatre
3 January 2009

No gimmicks required!

After seeing seven pantos this season, and getting swept along by their unending cheeriness, the National Theatre’s production of Sophocles Oedipus was quite an antidote. Cheery it most certainly isn’t, but absorbing, emotional, tragic and generally fulfilling as a piece of theatre, it most certainly is!

There is a wonderful bitter sweet feeling of tragic inevitability. Bitter because the characters are heading towards their own destruction and there is nothing they, nor us, can do about it. And sweet because its content and structure is a perfect example of true dramatic tragedy.

Much of the success of Jonathan Kent’s production, as it is with any production of such a classic, is dependent on the performance of the tragic hero and Ralph Fiennes is a superb Oedipus. His disdainful arrogance at the start is brilliantly contrasted by his crumbling to a mere husk of a man as he slowly realises where he has come from and what it means.

No one stares quite so well as Fiennes – he literally looks right through to your soul. His eyes have always been amazing (remember Quiz Show!) it’s a real shame that he has to gauge them out in this!

Clare Higgins, as usual, is also outstanding as his ill-fated wife slash mother and her collapse as she recalls the horrors of her past is heart wrenching.

The chorus are a darkly and contemporarily dressed troupe who also often break into song, but not in a “let’s all sing a song about this” musical theatre way, but in tunes, created by Jonathan Dove, that enhance and contribute to the atmosphere.

I also loved the starkness and simplicity of Paul Brown’s set which meant that your attention wasn’t taken up by effects and extravagance, you just have to concentrate on the words. And in doing so, after 90 minutes straight through, you feel both exhausted and exhilarated.

It is a wonderful contrast not only to the lavishness, sparkle and glitz of panto but also to many other productions of the moment who need gimmicks, effects and lavish sets to draw people in.

If you just put on good plays with great actors you don’t need to mess about – and the full theatre at the National after a credit crunch Christmas proved it!

Robin Hood

Birmingham Hippodrome
21 December 2009 (Matinee)

In the hood!

I think we saved the best until last, without realising it of course! They say that in hard times people need glamour, and if this is true, then The Birmingham Hippodrome at Christmas is the place to be.

Robin Hood is a massive panto. Huge. It is the panto that the credit crunch forgot! And while you can easily argue that the small local pantomimes are best for sheer charm and effort, I can honestly say that if you throw enough money at something, and add an awful lot of sequins and sparkle, then the truly gargantuan pantomimes are just brilliant too – and they don’t come much better than this!

With firework displays, a robot, exciting magical illusions, glitz, glamour, fabulous musical numbers with excellent song and dance, and an amazing, if somewhat surprising ice skating number – with an ACTUAL ice rink (well done stage crew!) this show had everything that a family audience could possibly want!

John Barrowman is a wonderful and heroic Robin Hood who has far more boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm than I’m sure the actual folk-hero ever did! Barrowman is a seasoned performer, a fabulous musical theatre star and popular actor – but surely he was born to be in panto! He is bezzy mates with the audience from his first entrance, kids love him, dads don’t feel threatened by him and all the women think they can “turn” him!

He also shows that he can turn his hand to anything by reprising his skills learnt in Dancing on Ice on the aforementioned rink, even if there was the odd wobble - to the delight of the audience!

Elsewhere, other excellent performances vie for supremacy and challenge Barrowman well! There’s the hugely talented ventriloquist, Paul Zerdin ( Will Scarlett) who has many incredibly clever solo slots, and, in an inspired move, Don McLean’s Friar Tuck has to dress as a woman to help Robin’s plans, thus allowing McLean to showcase his panto dame proficiency in a panto that might not otherwise have had one!

The sets are marvellous, the costumes sparkle, the Merry Men add handsome charm and every one of the many pennies ploughed into this is money well spent – as is the price of your ticket!

Jack and the Beanstalk

Alban Arena, St Albans
20 December 2008 (Matinee)

Rock on boys! We're having a ball!

To be honest, I wasn’t full of hope about this panto, but I was really very pleasantly surprised.
Cannon and Ball never really made me laugh in the 70s and 80s, when I pretty much laughed at anything. And to prove this, I will admit that I was more a Little and Large girl!

But to be fair, I did laugh at them in this, mainly because their years of stage experience and working an audience really showed. They have an enthusiasm that ripples through to the audience, their sense of silliness is a sublime tonic for a credit crunch Christmas and their skill at audience interaction is honed and polished.

The biggest laughs in panto seem to come when it looks like things have gone wrong. People in panto know this and as a result the “going wrong” is all meticulously rehearsed. If this was the case for this show, then the mistakes looked so realistic that I heartily congratulate the rehearsal process! Cannon and Ball played up to them gloriously and had the whole audience in the palm of their hands. Rehearsed or not, this is what it’s all about!

Thankfully, the rest of the cast do not flounder in their wake. Barry Hester is a excellent Dame Trot and there are good solid performances throughout, including Ricky K as Jack and an effervescent Karen Jeffs as Fairy Courgette.

My only criticism was having the Mr Bean character which seemed entirely superfluous to the whole plot and a completely pointless addition to the cast. If the producers added him in because they were worried that Cannon and Ball were the only “names” in the cast, then their fears were foundless!

The past few years of panto at the Arena have been fairly dire as a string of TV stars have been sent in to get bums on seats. Cannon and Ball really showed them up and are testament to the fact that experience does count for something – thank goodness!

Friday, 9 January 2009

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Swan Theatre, High Wycombe
18 December 2008

Hi-ho, hi-go to another Snow White we go!

Another day, another Snow White, and while Snow White at the Grove was excellent, this week just got better and better because Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Wycombe Swan has everything that a panto could ask for – except a dame! But as someone who always needs a dame, I was surprised to discover that this didn’t matter a bit – praise indeed eh?!

Glitz, glamour, comedy, song and dance with a charming Snow White with a pure voice (Lucy Sinclair), a handsome Prince, in the form of Sam Kane who also directs and an evil villain played by Sam’s elegant wife Linda Lusardi.

It’s slick, fun and unusually for a panto, at times highly original. Mostly these days, you just enjoy the execution of the familiar panto conventions like the ghost scene. And while these were very well done too, there were also scenes that I hadn’t seen in panto before, such as Muddles aping the Queen behind her full length mirror and the part where he is turned into a frog and involves a rock, a large mat and his green tights falling down!

Muddles (Kev Orkian) was genuinely funny and a huge hit with the audience, especially the kids. Sam Kane is a fitting Prince and this character was in the story far more than usual in order to show his great talents as an actor, dancer and of course singer. What a voice he has!

Linda Lusardi is excellent as the Wicked Queen and there was a delicious sense of irony as the rest of the characters continuously called her things like ugly old hag when she is clearly absolutely gorgeous, and looked simply fabulous in her elegant costumes.

Lucy Sinclair did all that is asked of the title role, she was sweet and innocent and sang beautifully and meanwhile, the seven dwarfs provided a good deal of the comedy, gently mocking themselves.

It’s all a lot of fun with a feel good factor that you only get from a close company who are clearly enjoying themselves – the only thing missing was Sooty and Sweep (see Grove Theatre below!)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Grove Theatre, Dunstable
16 December 2008

Bear-ly concealed delight!

After the disappointment of Peter Pan not really being a panto, with no dame and too much plot, it was absolutely fantastic to get back to traditional pantomime in Dunstable.

Watching Snow White I laughed out loud again and I have to say that this was mainly due to an orange bear and a squeaky dog. Yes, Sooty and Sweep – my heroes! Who could think that two small hand puppets (sorry for spoiling the illusion kids!) could be so funny. Well, obviously as a devotee (and owner of their DVD Wet and Wild Water Fun!) I knew this, but it was a pure joy to see it all confirmed on stage!

Richard Cadell has recently taken on the Sooty and Sweep mantle from the Corbetts. He made a loveable Muddles and the two furry animals were his pals. Sweep’s rendition of Nessun Dorma was hilarious, Sooty of course didn’t say much but stole the show!

There were others of course in the show. Letitia Dean was an elegant Wicked Queen, who was also delightfully camp at times. And to my delight there was a Dame. There isn’t normally one in Snow White, and Dame Donut was a little superfluous to the story but hey, it was a dame so what the hell! Her clothes looked a little shabby and weren’t as creative or outrageous as Paul Laidlaw’s in Stevenage, but I was past caring – as long as the bear came on again soon, I didn’t mind!

All in all, great festive entertainment, just like pantos should be!