Break A Leg Review Interview: Joy Strachan-Brain

Interviewed by Helen and Garry McWilliams

Joy Strachan-Brain is best known as Birmingham-born lead singer of popular band ‘Quill’. Between us we’ve been supporting ‘Quill’ for 15 years in total and we were devastated by the sudden loss of bass player (and Joy’s husband) Ben Brain in April 2012. The band have valiantly carried on and the release of Ben’s self-penned EP ‘England’ coincided with our visit to watch Joy perform with Jasper Carrott and many other well-known ‘brummies’ in touring show ‘Made in Brum’ at New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. We caught up with Joy before the show…

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Thank you for talking to Break A Leg Review, Joy – tell us about your new EP ”England’ and why did you think this was the right time to release it?

‘England’ is made up of three songs that my husband (Ben) wrote and we decided to release it as an EP to coincide with St George’s Day. Ben loved England, the countryside and he loved animals which are reflected in the songs that he’s written.

Have you had good feedback, so far?

It’s been good, we’ve only just got it out there and we’ve done a DVD to go with it. It’s given me something to focus on over the last twelve months, really. It’s made me get on with things, the same as the ‘Made in Brum’ show has, that’s been great as well.

Have the band managed to move on without Ben?

The first couple of months were a bit slow, I didn’t even know if I was going to carry on. Then I thought I don’t fancy getting a day job now, and I know that Ben would have wanted me to carry on.

You’d have really been missed if you hadn’t carried on!

Well, once we made the decision to carry on we auditioned bass players and they were all really good to be honest. Christian who we have now is a very good bass player, he doesn’t sing, but I might try to get him singing – not a solo but maybe backing vocals.

How can everybody get hold of the EP?

You can buy it on our website www.quill-uk.com and it will be available on Amazon for download, next week I think. Watch this space, I would say, though…

Have you enjoyed touring with ‘Made in Brum’ and which has been your favourite venue so far?

Oh, it’s been great but I’m hoping tonight will be the best being on our home ground. It’s had fantastic audiences wherever we’ve been, though – to be honest the show works well anywhere because the only thing that’s come out of Birmingham is us! The music isn’t from Birmingham, so the show lends itself to go to any area.

Our final question, you released a solo album a few years ago – will you release another one in the future?

Not at the moment as we’re working on another ‘Quill’ album that Ben started working on before he passed away. The good thing about the new ‘Quill’ album is that most members of ‘Quill’ feature on it somewhere.

Thanks to Joy for giving up her time for us right before the ‘Made in Brum’ show started! We can recommend the new EP ‘England’, Ben has written three amazing tracks called ‘Twister’, ‘Tumbling Years’ and the title track ‘England’. Our review of ‘Made in Brum’ will be shared with you when it has been published at www.thegoodreview.co.uk.

A link to Quill’s website can also be found here: https://breakalegreviewblog.wordpress.com/links/

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The Good (Inte)review – Angela Douglas

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Interviewed by: Helen McWilliams

You may have watched those mad-cap, unforgettable ‘Carry On’ films that have stood the test of time (to the disbelief yet delight of many actors from those films) and indeed recall the ‘blonde’ love interest back in the day before Barbara Windsor and her infamous flying bikini top. That ‘blonde’ is Angela Douglas and she made appearances in ‘Carry on Cowboy’, ‘Carry on Screaming’, ‘Follow That Camel’ and ‘Carry on Up The Khyber’. ‘Carry on Screaming’ is my personal favourite, but I was fascinated to find out which one (if any) is her favourite and indeed why there was little mention of these films in the revised edition of her autobiography ‘Swings and Roundabouts’.

Hello Angela, thank you for talking to The Good Review – I’ve read your autobiography ‘Swings and Roundabouts’ and thoroughly enjoyed it…

Thank You!

What made you decide that this was the right time to re-visit it?

Because I was asked to do it simple as that, it never occurred to me that it would be re-published again or that I would be asked to add an extra chapter. I was delighted, it was nice to be able to bring it up to date but it had never occurred to me to touch it again.

Have you had good feedback from the revised version?

Yes, lovely – people have been very generous. Also, people who have come into my life since I wrote the previous book have got to know the other side of my life.

It’s called ‘Swings and Roundabouts’ and when I read it I felt I understood why, but what made you choose that title?

To be really honest, I based it on Dirk Bogarde’s autobiography title ‘Snakes and Ladders’ as I thought that was a really good title. However I obviously couldn’t use that title so I thought why not ‘Swings and Roundabouts’.

What impact did the ‘Carry On’ films have on your career and why do you think they’ve stood the test of time?

It was pointed out to me that I barely mention them in my book.

Yes, I noticed that…

I think Dexter (Dexter O’Neill from Fantom Films, published Angela’s updated book) has included extra photographs from the ‘Carry On’ films. But the book wasn’t about my career and work, it was about life and love and of course an extraordinary relationship.
The films had a huge impact on my career, although at the time we were all rather ashamed of being in them, we looked at it as another job that we fitted in between what we call ‘proper work’. We had a lot of laughter, I wore some beautiful clothes. At the time when I made them, I made them quite early on between 1966-1968 and those films stand up absolutely on their own, they’re charming and funny. Later on they got crude and I’m really glad I’m not part of those.

Did you feel that you were in them at the right time?

I did them at the right time for me, I could have gone on and done a couple more which would have been nice in hindsight – I’d have liked to have done ‘Carry On Henry’. I left because I wanted to have a baby and what I was told to do was to stay at home and calm down.
Of course, without the ‘Carry On’ films, Helen – who knows if you’d be talking to me now?

Oh, absolutely – who knows? I love the Carry On films and you are one of my favourite actresses from them. Which Carry On Film is your personal favourite from those that you appeared in?

‘Carry On Cowboy’, because it was my first one and it’s a charming little film. I made such great friends there was Peter Butterworth, Sid (James) and Kenny Williams. Everyone was so lovely to me.

It sounds like you have really lovely memories of that one. Do you have a preference as to whether you work in film, television or theatre?

Film and television, I loved my time in the theatre and I loved my time touring around the country – the theatre has been very good to me, but I think I’m best on film.

In the book you mention the various holiday destinations that you journeyed to with Kenny, have you been back to any of them in recent years?

Oh yes, I’ve been back to the South of France, New York, Paris, Rome – all the places that I went to with him. I’ve continued to have a nice life, not quite on the same luxury scale, of course.

Your Father was very influential in starting your career on stage and screen, do you have advice for anyone wishing to start a career as an actor?

I would hesitate to give advice, it’s such a different world and you have to be prepared for a life of unemployment – although you might just as well go into our game because there’s unemployment everywhere! When I entered the business I was about 14 years old and thought it was a bit of a lark, there were only about six of us all up for the same part, now you can go into a room and there’s thirty of you. I wouldn’t tell anyone not to do it, because if you’re going to do something – you’ll do it! It’s a bit like telling someone not to have plastic surgery!

Finally, what projects have you got in the pipeline that I can share with our ‘readers’?

I’m struggling to write a novel, I’ve been told I should continue to write after such good feedback – so I’m struggling with that at the moment. I’ve just come out of the studio for radio where I’ve recorded ‘The Last Tycoon’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m up for a nice part in an eight part television series, which I’d love to do because the parts for my age group are usually so unrewarding and I’m not ready to be put into an ‘old lady’ box!

I quite agree! Well thank you ever so much for talking to me today, Angela – it’s been a real pleasure.

Thank you dear, have a nice weekend.

Huge thanks to Angela Douglas for allowing me to interview her, also thanks as always to Dexter O’Neill and Fantom Films. Please visit http://www.fantomfilms.co.uk to purchase a copy of Angela’s updated autobiography ‘Swings and Roundabouts’. Standard paperback copies cost £12.99, special hardback editions cost £24.99.

First published at www.thegoodreview.co.uk on 22nd April 2013.

Priscilla Queen Of The Desert – New Alexandra Theatre

Reviewed by Helen McWilliams

Following the West End success of this high energy show, we entered the auditorium with exceedingly high expectations. There were many elements throughout the bright and bubbly evening’s entertainment that met these expectations. Jason Donovan reprising his role of ‘Tick’ (Mitzi) was a real treat and he demonstrated just how well he has made the transition from soap star to pop star to theatre star. Richard Grieve who is known to television viewers as ‘Sam’ from ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Jonny’ in ‘Emmerdale’ gave a refined performance as ‘Bernadette’ who is changing gender. Following in Tony Sheldon’s footsteps can’t have been easy as Sheldon certainly played the role to critical acclaim, but Grieve showed off a superb singing voice and looked great in a ‘frock’!!

Graham Weaver gave the most elaborate performance of the night as ‘Adam’ (Felicia) and looked stunning in the selection of ‘drag’ outfits that he sported. His entrance to ‘Venus’ was a highlight, ‘Colour my World’ towards the end of act one was also excellently led by Weaver and brought great hilarity when the ensemble appeared dressed as paint brushes! The ‘divas’ make regular appearances and are played by Emma Kingston, Ellie Leah and Laura Mansell. Most of their entrances are ‘flying’ ones which is no mean feat. Also making a humorous contribution was Alan Hunter as ‘Miss Understanding’, I will never watch Tina Turner in quite the same way again!!

The story is based on that of the film, where ‘Tick’ decides to make the trip to Alice Springs to see his young son (played by Oscar Francisco) whom he has never seen. His wife, Marion (Julie Stark) arranges for him (together with ‘Adam’ and ‘Bernadette’) to appear at the casino where she is working. Putting the old act back together, including newcomer ‘Felicia (‘Adam’) ‘Tick’ doesn’t let on that they are making the trip from Sydney in order for him to meet his boy. In the meantime, ‘Adam’ has managed to con his mother into giving him money for ‘Priscilla’ the bus which is to be their transport. ‘Priscilla’ for the UK tour is not on the same scale as the West End version, but it’s a good effort none the less. I particularly liked the coloured lights that appeared as the ‘boys’ painted her up during ‘Colour My World’.

It’s a fast-moving musical with some brilliant one-liners and disco tunes that the audience were clearly lapping up. ‘I Love the Nightlife’, ‘Shake Your Groove Thing’ and ‘Boogie Wonderland’ all had me itching to get up and dance, Jason Donovan sang ‘MacArthur Park’ in act two and I felt it was the best performance of that number that I have ever seen. Accompanying that particular tune were members of the ensemble dressed as green iced cakes with umbrellas – what creativity!

It’s lots of fun, might not be to everybody’s taste but from the standing ovation received at the end, it seems that most patrons left in high spirits. Priscilla is on at the New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 30th March and you can find tour date details at http://www.priscillathemusical.com.

First published 30.03.13

Maurice’s Jubilee – National Tour

Reviewed by Helen McWilliams

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This production deserves to play to a full house every night, and hopefully as word spreads, it will!

Stupendously intricate writing combined with the talents of three outstanding actors, one of whom (namely Nichola McAuliffe) is responsible for penning this superbly witty yet tragic story, makes Maurice’s Jubilee my must-see of 2013.

Julian Glover takes the role of Maurice, a retired Jeweller who is happily married and has received the news that he is terminally ill. Although he loves the ‘Queen of his heart’, Helena (born in Germany but protests that her family originate from Poland) who has been lying about her age for the past twenty something years, Maurice fell in love with another woman sixty years ago. The ‘other woman’ is in fact the Queen, with whom he danced on the night before her Coronation while he was employed to protect the crown jewels. Therefore Her Majesty has unknowingly played the third person in his marriage to Helena. Indeed, Maurice believes that he has a long-standing appointment with the lady in question at 4pm on his 90th birthday, and he isn’t going to let his illness get in the way of it. This appointment sparks an unlikely twist which is tantalising and delightful to watch.

It appears that life for Helena (played with great sensitivity and grace by Sheila Reid of Benidorm fame) has not been without its disappointments and she has in effect been ‘sharing’ her husband all of their married life. Now that fate has dealt its latest and final blow to which Helena appears ambivalent to begin with – yet another woman enters their lives. This time it’s Katy, their well-meaning unmarried Palliative Care Nurse played with wonderful humour by the multi-talented Nichola McAuliffe. Katy might believe that honesty is the best policy when it comes to the heartbreakingly inevitable question ‘how long….?’ but she also stresses that a positive attitude and having something to look forward to is ‘better than chemotherapy’.

Maurice deals with his ‘lot’ fairly courageously with many jokes cracked at the expense of the illness and himself. Indeed this play had the audience in fits of laughter which is unexpected for such a serious subject matter, yet also demonstrates how hilarity can be found in the darkest of places. I am confident that most members of the audience could relate to at least one element of the story, I certainly could – this is observational comedy at its cleverest.

A lengthy monologue from Maurice (just before the interval) regaling the night before the Queen’s Coronation was performed to perfection by Julian Glover. The pace, tone of voice and overall delivery created an atmosphere in the auditorium in which you could hear a pin drop. Glover had the audience in the ‘palm of his hand’ and there were collective gasps of ‘wow’ when the curtain came down.

This new writing simply must not be missed, it boasts an amazing cast and I recommend it as a ‘complete’ evening at the Theatre. Visit http://www.mauricesjubilee.com for tour details and to book tickets.

First published 13.03.13

The Good (Inte)review – Gwen Taylor

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Interview by Helen and Garry McWilliams

Hello Gwen, thank you for talking to The Good Review – are you enjoying the tour of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and what was it like having the break at Christmas between tours?

First of all, I love this play and I love ‘Miss Daisy’ – the tour has been tiring so it will be good to have a rest at the end of it, but I couldn’t turn this part down. It was lovely to have Christmas off but lovely to get back to it again.

Which theatre has been your favourite on the tour?

I have to say Derby because it’s my home town and they make an enormous fuss of me in Derby because I know everybody and they know me. Otherwise I would say Mold because we weren’t expecting the reaction that we had there.

Which do you prefer between an old theatre or the newer build theatres?

I like either, as far as the set for the play is concerned this theatre [Wolverhampton Grand] has a lovely big stage and plenty of space which makes a difference. The dressing room’s quite nice too!

What’s it like working with Don Warrington and Ian Porter?

Oh they’re both a joy to work with, we all get on very well and I’ve worked with Ian before. Ian understudied the role of Boolie in the West End and he’s solid as a rock.

After all these years treading the boards and appearing on screen, do you still get nervous? If so how do you handle the nerves?

I do still get nervous, I just take a few deep breaths and try not to think about it too much.

Do you agree that it wouldn’t be right if you didn’t get nervous?

Well that’s what people say, but it would be nice not to, but I don’t mind if I do because it’s an exciting job and a responsible job. Especially in theatre where the audience have paid their money. Television I don’t tend to, except when there’s an audience if you’re filming a sit com, but even then I don’t worry because I know it can be re-taken. I used to pride myself on not making mistakes, though.

What advice have you got for anyone who wants to become an actor?

I wouldn’t give advice, if you’ve got to do it you’ll do it and if you’re tough enough you’ll get on, if you’re not you’ll get hurt. It’s such a strange business and breaking into it is strange. I was 30 when I started out, though so there is time for people. Ideally I suppose write your own play, put it on and get people to come and see it – although I don’t really know what the answer is.

It’s a difficult business because you don’t know where your next job is coming from?

There’s that and it’s difficult if you’ve got family. There was a Northern Irish actor who worked with Graham (Graham Reid – Gwen’s husband who is a playwright) in his plays and came one day and said he was going to give it up because he couldn’t tell his two daughters when they could go on holiday the next year. He misses acting but at least he can tell his girls when they can go away on holiday.

With Wolverhampton being the final stop for ‘Daisy’, have you got anything in the pipeline after the tour has ended?

‘Butterfly Lion’ again in the autumn, I’m down to do a 14 week tour of that. Also Graham has a new play opening in Belfast at the Lyric Theatre on 1st May, it’s called ‘Love, Billy’.

Do you still enjoy touring?

I do although it is tiring, but I wouldn’t do it without Graham. It also depends on the part though. Of course it’s lovely to be able to play a role close to home, but I wouldn’t go in the West End just for the sake of being close to home.

Would you go back to ‘Coronation Street’ if they asked you?

Well they did say would you be available again and I said I’d love to go back but only if there was a good storyline, otherwise I don’t really see a reason for the character to return.

Thanks to Gwen for talking to us, please see Garry’s review of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and look out for the tour of ‘Butterfly Lion’ which opens in Colchester at Mercury Theatre on 5th September 2013. Also watch out for Graham Reid’s play ‘Love, Billy’ and visit http://www.lyrictheatre.co.uk for information and to book tickets.

First Published 12.04.13

Driving Miss Daisy – Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Reviewed by Garry McWilliams

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A five star effort from director David Esbjornson who has taken Alfred Uhry’s script and created an enchanting production.

This was our second visit to see the play, my wife (Helen McWilliams) reviewed previously [read here] when ‘Daisy’ arrived in Malvern in November 2012 – however I was interested to watch for a second time and review it from my own perspective. What struck me this time was prior to ‘curtain-up’ (for want of a better phrase as the set was visible and we took our seats) the appearance of the props on stage were not dissimilar to ‘Phantom of the Opera’ (although not on the same scale) and there is no indication of the magic that comes to life when the play commences. Once the production is in full flow the projections at the back of the set provide an atmospheric as well as informative touch and the ‘car’ is a wonder to behold indeed.

Gwen Taylor is outstanding as Daisy Werthan, the 72 year old who refuses to allow her son Boolie to trample all over her fiercely guarded independence. Just because she has crashed her car doesn’t mean that she feels unable to get back behind the wheel again. However, Boolie Werthan (Daisy’s son, played superbly by Ian Porter) has other ideas. Enter Hoke Coleburn (Don Warrington) who is looking for employment and takes the job as Miss Daisy’s Chauffeur. Warrington brings a warmth and vulnerability to Hoke to the point that if one were to take ‘sides’ – his would be the ‘side’ worth championing. Taylor and Warrington are a winning combination and their on-stage partnership is truly seamless. All three of the actors are perfectly cast and it would be difficult to imagine anybody else in the roles.

The story on the surface is that of an unlikely friendship which develops following Daisy’s initial reluctance to rely on anybody but herself and Hoke’s insistence that he should work for the salary that he is receiving from Boolie. However the script delves into class division, illiteracy and also examines some racial issues. There are many highly amusing performances such as Hoke’s delight in telephoning Boolie to advise him that he has finally managed to undertake the duties he is employed to do and driven Daisy to the ‘Piggly Wiggly’ store. Daisy’s distain at her daughter-in-law is hilarious, the line ‘that’s the biggest lie I’ll tell today’ following a telephone conversation with her son where she has sent her ‘love’ to said daughter-in-law met with many chuckles. There are also poignant moments woven in with the light comedy and as Daisy’s health deteriorates some of her bravado goes with it – although not all of it is lost!

The play lasts for 1 ½ hours with no interval and it seemed to hold the attention of everyone in the auditorium. At times one could hear a pin drop, the audience appeared to listen to every single word and their reactions which included applause after various scenes were reflective of the faultless production.

Driving Miss Daisy is making its final stop at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and finishes on Saturday 13th April. If you want to book tickets for the remaining shows please see http://www.daisyontour.co.uk. Please read the interview with Gwen Taylor for details of her forthcoming projects.

First published 12.04.13

Sons Without Fathers – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Arcola Theatre and KP Productions Present
A New Version of Anton Chekhov’s Platonov by Helena Kaut-Howson

Reviewed by Helen and Garry McWilliams

‘A tale of sex, vodka and shattered dreams’ is the premise of this adaptation of a Chekhov classic. This proved to be an accurate summary of a powerfully emotive play.

Opening with a party is a good introduction to the central characters, as well as an insight into how the focal point: Mikhail (Misha) Platonov lives. The set is reflective of the corrosive nature of Platonov’s character (according to set designer, Iona McLeish), featuring aluminium stained by toxic spillage and a prominent ladder which we personally felt demonstrates the highs and lows of each character, it is used by Platonov in particular and adds an extra dimension. As always, with any Chekhov play, there is deeper meaning and this is a play that we could analyse on many levels. The characters in this tale, it seems are all searching for a better life and self-definition, which relates to the Russian way of life. This was transparent due to the precise direction by Kaut-Howson and is also reiterated in the programme notes.

We learn that everyone is in love with Platonov, the local school master (played by Jack Laskey with amazing energy and a wildness that brought the character to life with simply breath-taking effect), males and females alike are drawn in and are so besotted that they feel he is their chance of a better life. Of course it’s obvious to the audience that Platonov is anything but and indeed we were left wondering just what they see in the tousle-haired, alcoholic who is the reluctant ‘hero’ of the piece. ‘Hero’ and ‘Villain’ in the same guise, in fact. Even student Isaac Vengerovich (Oliver Hoare) is intrigued by the disillusioned teacher. Vengerovich represents the future and a new generation that Platonov appears to despise, yet envy simultaneously.

Simon Scardifield is the local doctor, Nikolai Triletsky – another slave to vodka, Scardifield plays the ‘clown’ with precise comic timing. A drunken doctor shouldn’t be so amusing, yet Dr Triletsky provided many comedy moments. Boyish in his relationship with Platonov and Sergei Voynitsev (Tom Canton) who is still in honeymoon mood with his beautiful new wife Sophia (Marianne Oldham). Sophia is a character of many depths and the transition from shy, uncomfortable newly-wed to the edge of delirium is portrayed brilliantly by Oldham. Susie Trayling is outstanding as the sexual predator, Anna Petrovna, step-mother to Sergei. Petrovna is blissfully unaware of the deep admiration from Osip (Mark Jax) a local vagrant and criminal. Jade Williams makes an excellent contribution as Maria Grekova, yet another woman mesmerised by the ‘leading man’. There is a ‘Mrs Platonov’, too – Nikolai’s sister, Sasha who is meek, mild and eager to please her husband. Amy McAllister takes this role and we felt that the audience were sympathetic to her character’s plight.

This is far from a love triangle for many reasons but it is certainly an unsightly mess! The root cause? Mikhail Platonov, who is so wrapped up in himself that he’s oblivious to the chaos around him – or maybe that’s the effect of all the vodka! There’s electric sexual tension, despair and cringe-inducing moments courtesy of a talented cast and a visionary director. The only slight down-side is the length of the play itself and the pace of act one appeared to ‘plod along’ more so than act two.

‘Sons Without Fathers’ runs until 4th May and we highly recommend it, please visit www.belgrade.co.uk to book your tickets!

Jack Laskey as Platonov in Sons Without Fathers at Belgrade Theatre Coventry - credit Simon Annand  Jack Laskey as Platonov and Marianne Oldham as Sophia Voynitzev in Sons Without Fathers at Belgrade Theatre Coventry - credit Simon Annand

Photographs courtesy of Simon Annand.

 
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Amy MacDonald – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

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Reviewed by Helen McWilliams

It’s twenty four hours later and I’m still ‘buzzing’ and hunting out my Amy MacDonald albums to continue in the same vein as the night before. This concert undoubtedly deserves the five star rating I’ve awarded it, and I’d be first in the queue to see the lady in question again.

Amy MacDonald is a multi-talented artist with a unique sound and a Celtic flavour to her music which reflects her Glaswegian roots. She entertained a packed house full of fans of various age groups (including small children who seemed to know the songs just as well as their parents did) with a band of musicians who played guitars, keyboards and provided backing vocals to an extraordinarily high standard.

Ben Montague was the support act, another artist of many talents with superb vocals and turning his hand to playing the keyboard and guitar during his set. He was an ideal support act for Amy MacDonald and he played a couple of excellent numbers that are now lodged firmly in my memory, I wish I’d purchased one of the CDs that he was selling in the foyer! You can find more information on Ben Montague via his website http://www.benmontague.co.uk.

Amy opened her set with ‘4th of July’ from her album ‘Life in a Beautiful Light’ released last year. She wore a dress that sparkled in the varied lighting and dealt very well with the ‘shout outs’ from fans in the audience, it is evident that she is a well loved artist. To listen to her sing live is the same as listening to her albums, she is one of the best live performers I have had the pleasure of watching in a long time. Her voice carries beautifully over the sound of the band and I could hear every word that she sang.

I was delighted that she chose to include ‘L.A.’(from her first album) in the set and the audience were on their feet dancing to ‘Mr Rock & Roll’ and later on, ‘This is the Life’. Indeed ‘This is the Life’ provided the ’moment’ for the fans to take over and sing the lyrics back to Amy – I thought we all sounded pretty good! Throughout the evening I felt that she interacted wonderfully with the fans and I enjoyed hearing her talk about the background behind some of her songs, not at all surprised to learn that Glasgow is at the heart of ‘The Green and the Blue’.

A couple of cover versions popped up and both were amazing, ‘Higher and Higher’ had the audience on their feet dancing yet again and ‘Dancing in the Dark’ (an acoustic version of Bruce Springsteen’s hit) was a good choice for Amy’s vocal ability. It seems that she excels at acoustic tracks and there were many other notable numbers in the set, especially ‘Love Love’ which has moving lyrics and was one of many songs that she performed during the evening that I felt emotionally connected to.

I recommend that you try to catch Amy MacDonald on tour and visit http://www.amymacdonald.co.uk to beg, steal or borrow a ticket. Otherwise why not listen to her albums: ‘This is the Life’, ‘A Curious Thing’ and the afore mentioned ‘Life in a Beautiful Light’.

First published 05.03.13

Disney On Ice – Let’s Party – National Tour

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Reviewed by Helen McWilliams

LG Arena, Birmingham – Wednesday 20th February 2013

An exciting, energetic and delightful showcase of the best of Disney’s animated films told through stunning choreography accompanied by popular Disney tunes. This production by Feld Entertainment is a must for kids of all ages who will appreciate the bright, colourful sets and props combined with multi-tasking ice skaters at the top of their game. They demonstrated technical ability with elegant dance moves and all this dressed as Disney favourites, therefore remaining in character at all times. An impressive feat that made for a spectacular evening’s entertainment.

The opening of the show included a wide selection of characters from ‘Peter Pan’, ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ among many others. Mickey and Minnie Mouse made their appearance from the middle of a giant gift basket and a cheer went up around the arena. We were treated to a ‘Merry Unbirthday’ with ‘Alice’, ‘Mad Hatter’ and ‘Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum’ at which time children were selected from the audience to glide across the ice while sitting in a giant cake! It seemed to be a highlight of the evening for the lucky few. The famous scene from ‘Fantasia’ followed with ‘brooms’ sweeping their way around the rink in neon costumes which provided an added air of magic against the darkness of the arena.

No Disney show is complete without a contribution from the villains, they certainly didn’t disappoint as Jack Skellington, Captain Hook and Maleficent led a gruesome ensemble in a Halloween party extraordinaire. The choreography had a ‘Thriller’ feel to it and was one of the most memorable numbers. In stark contrast was the celebration of love featuring the Disney Princesses performing some of the most technically difficult moves with their Princes. There were spins executed at lightening speed coupled with strong lifts and the ‘head-banger’ move (I’m sure viewers of ‘Dancing on Ice’ and indeed skating enthusiasts will know the ‘edge of the seat’ moment that this particular element provides!).

Act Two explored many more cultures in a celebration that took the audience on a journey to Hawaii (courtesy of ‘Lilo and Stitch’), China and Japan. The costumes were exquisite, as one would expect and cumbersome in some cases – I didn’t envy the skater inside the ‘Ham’ (pig from ‘Toy Story’) costume; it led me to question if there were two performers inside.

My husband and I holidayed in Disneyland Paris twice last year and the high standard of ‘Let’s Party’ – the finale in particular, reminded us of the quality of the shows we saw over there. In our opinion, nobody does it quite like Disney! We both smiled widely all the way through (and waved to the characters…); my only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough. With a starting time of 19:00, an interval and then finishing time of 21:00 – it left me wanting more, although I can understand that as a children’s show time is of the essence in respect of their attention span.

Visit http://www.disneyonice.com for tour dates and to book tickets, the show stays at the LG Arena in Birmingham until Sunday 24th February. There will be an autumn tour entitled ‘Dare to Dream’, so if you miss this one, be sure to catch the next!

First published 25.02.13

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