Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Justin Live!

Royal Spa Centre, Leamington Spa

27 July 2011 (11am)

Justin is something special!

Well, he has to be if he can get me sitting in the middle of a packed theatre full of pre-schoolers at 11.oo in the morning! Not on my own obv!

Four years ago today I was preparing for our wedding tomorrow with not even the slightest inkling of where I'd be sitting four years later! But there I was - with Mr FB and a toddler - at show watching a CBeebies fave! Who'd have thought?!

OK - I admit that I did get a hysterical fit of the giggles when Justin Fletcher burst onto the stage to an upbeat musical number and shouting "Hello Leamington Spa, are you ready to party?!" And I did mumble to Mr FB, "He's not flipping Robbie Williams, is he?!"

But as we settled into a show of songs and jokes, I saw the look on my littl'uns face and got 'with it', throwing myself into (well singing a little bit and clapping my hands) favourites such as If You're Happy and you Know It, The Hokey Cokey and Old MacDonald - my baa-ing sheep was a particular triumph!

I think if you don't have a child under three, the name of Justin Fletcher will mean diddly squat, but if you do, then he's likely to be a bit of a legend.

He is known for his slapstick routines and a wide range of characters in programmes such as Something Special - which was created for youngsters with learning difficulties but loved by all and Gigglebiz - a kind of pre-school Little Britain. He also won the first BAFTA ever given to a presenter of pre-school programmes for Something Special and in 2008 was awarded an MBE for services to children’s television.

He also voices Tweenies characters and Timmy Time and is pretty ubiquitous on CBeebies.

Indeed, my 17-month-old recognised him immediately on the stage and watched transfixed. Within minutes he was amongst the audience, standing on a chair two rows in front of her, singing and clapping as she looked up at him open mouthed, not quite believing that "Mr Tumble" was just feet away.

Justin has been recorded as saying that most children, including his own niece, think Mr Tumble is a separate character but he hasn't fooled my daughter - "Tumble dancing" she pronounced, even though he wasn't dressed as the clown - not much gets passed her and frankly freckles and a clown nose is not a heavy disguise!

She loved the nursery rhymes and the impressions of Gigglebiz faves (the time demands on a kids show wouldn't allow for full costumes and make-up) and seemed particularly entranced by his four backing dancers, dressed brightly and performing with an enthusiasm that only those in kids' shows seem to have!

He also went through all the animals using the Makaton sign language for children with learning difficulties which is used in Something Special and his slapstick humour had all the kids and a lot of the adults too laughing hysterically.

The show is just a presentation of sheer joy and I take my hat of to anyone who can sing and dance - and smile while they're doing it - at that time of the morning!

For those who have commented that I have changed - I haven't - as sitting in a theatre watching a show that is sold out and full of boisterous youngsters is not usually my ideal morning out.

But I thought the show was great and Justin is "something special" in terms of children's entertainment but I would rather it had been performed to just the three of us!

However, to see my little girl amazed by what she was seeing and not at all phased by three-year-olds running up and down the aisles, made it all worthwhile and I will put up with hundreds of screaming kids any time - just for her!

I am very pleased and proud at how well she's taken to live theatre although I think it will be a number of years before she's ready for Shakespeare as the RSC don't tend to look kindly on members of the audience giving a loud running commentary on what's happening on stage!

But bring on panto season - she's ready!!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Much Ado About Nothing

Wyndham's Theatre

23 July 2011 (Mat)

Much Ado about Tennant and Tate

It wasn't until I saw A Midsummer Night's Dream by the RSC at the Barbican at the age of 14 that I realised that Shakespeare's comedies might actually be funny. Reading them off the page in the classroom I thought that the words were very pretty but they certainly weren't hilarious. The RSC changed that for me.

Much Ado About Nothing at the Wyndhams will surely do the same for anyone who feels the same as my young teenage self.

It's vibrant, fresh, funny (obv) and a genuine feel good production that is highly likely to bring a smile to even the sourest of faces.

Putting David Tennant and Catherine Tate together as Beatrice and Benedick works superbly. The chemistry they developed in Dr Who continues on the stage (so I'm told anyway as I gave up on the inexplicable plots of that series circa 1983!)

But Mr FB assures me that they made a good team on the telly and they certainly did in this Shakespeare as the comedy revolves around and between them with large dollops of well-timed slapstick in the eavesdropping scenes and fantastic timing and intonation of the lines throughout.

Tennant looks like he is clearly enjoying himself from the moment he enters in a golf buggy and donning a blonde wig and micro mini for the masked ball to the slapstick of the scene where he is tricked into thinking Beatrice loves him - the copious amounts of paint are worthy of any panto! But he also transforms superbly into a man in love - and someone that you would really want to love back!

Tate uses all her comedy talents and timing to the full to cleverly portray a woman who uses jokes as a defence against becoming emotionally detached. She teeters on the edge of looking like she might come out with an “Am I bovvered?” at any moment but thankfully she doesn't - although I'm sure that much of the audience would have howled with laughter in much the same way they did at anything remotely funny David Tennant did, be it spoken or merely a comic glance!

Director Josie Rourke has set the action in early 1980s Gibraltar where dashing Richard Gere in An Officer and A Gentlemen-esque navy officers - presumably high-spirited post-Falklands - trick B & B into falling in love.

I loved the 80s vibe, the clothes I thought I'd forgot, the characters at the masked ball from Adam Ant to Thatcher, Hero's replica Lady Di wedding dress, the music which very cleverly sounds like famous 80s tunes but aren't quite. Who'd have thought that "Sigh No More" and a "Hey Nonny Nonny" to a disco beat would actually work!

The plot, as so often in Shakespearean comedies is preposterous in parts, but the more modern setting actually makes part of it more believable than I have ever seen before.

Beatrice's cousin Hero has supposedly betrayed her fiance Claudio with another man the night before her wedding and because the action takes place mere decades ago as opposed to centuries, it allows for a raucous hen party scene which makes the whole thing more plausible, as Hero's maid, wearing her mistresses hen veil gets off with someone else at the disco!

Among the supporting cast Tom Bateman and Sarah MacRae are an attractive Claudio and Hero and John Ramm is another comic highlight as an actually funny Dogberry played as a jobsworth who thinks he's Rambo!

Sure there will be purists who will scoff and sneer but the fact is the theatre was full and the audience were enjoying themselves immensely on a day when laughter was in short supply elsewhere. It's a lot of FUN and if it gets more people to enjoy Shakespeare then that can only be a good thing!