Monthly Archives: January 2016

Royal Exchange Theatre ~ Wit

POSTERIMAGEwebsite532

The naked ambition and witticism of this incredibly moving, informative and real play is to be commended. Written by Margaret Edson and produced by Raz Shaw, Wit brings a missing jigsaw puzzle piece to the line up of productions which are showing across the UK at the moment.

I think if a play forces you to sit back in your seat because its drawing you in so much that your own memories are triggered to such an extent as mine were – then someone’s doing something right! Any play dealing with Cancer may evoke emotions in members of the audience, sadly it’s too common an occurrence in people’s lives. That’s why this production carries such an important message.

Julie Hesmondhalgh takes the lead role of Vivian Bearing, a professor of metaphysical poetry who is arguably obsessed with poet John Donne and indeed her very existence seems to be fuelled by etymology. She’s isolated and diagnosed with stage four ovarian Cancer for which she is taking a particularly potent dose of Chemotherapy, eight doses to be exact and the full dose each cycle. Hesmondhalgh embodies the character, she has her own head shaved and looks every inch the part. The set creates the perfect clinical environment with the space that The Royal Exchange Theatre provides also playing its part in this element.

There is much hub-bub around the staff to-ing and fro-ing, while Bearing comes to terms with the illness that will take her life and reflects back on her life as an academic. I particularly noted that while Harvey Kelekian M.D. (played by Tom Hodgkins) delivered the diagnosis, his voice faded into the background and became a blur as Bearing took in the devastating information. An interesting turn of events develops when Jason Posner M.D. (played by Esh Alladi) who is conducting research into Cancer, reveals that he took Bearing’s course at University because it was such a difficult course. Posner has no bedside manner whatsoever, and indeed shares characteristics with Bearing, as she later considers. In contrast, Jenny Platt’s portrayal of Susie Monahan R.N. B.S.N is ditzy and bubbly, she is not motivated by the highfalutin. Julie Legrand took a superb part as Bearing’s Literature Professor and her latter appearance provides one of the most moving moments when she is the sole visitor to the hospital bed.

Kudos to Georgina Lamb for the movement in this piece, as this goes a long way towards setting each scene and brings the cast together as a team in excellent symmetry.

Wit is on award winning Royal Exchange Theatre until Saturday 13th February, Julie Hesmondhalgh gives the performance of her career, in my opinion – don’t miss it!

Link to purchase tickets is here: http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/wit

 

Rehearsal for Murder ~ Malvern Theatres

RFM

Suspense, intrigue, twists, turns and a cast of talented actors among whom there is no weak link. What more can one ask of a new thriller which is currently touring the UK?

Written by the writers of Murder She Wrote, Richard Levinson and William Link (adapted for stage by David Rogers), directed by Ray Marsden, Rehearsal for Murder has a set that drew me in from the beginning and it inspired the ultimate experience for me as an audience member, I almost forgot that I was in the theatre! Instead, I felt like I was watching an all-consuming whodunit on television. This, I attribute to the polished, slick performances and exceptionally engaging writing.

Robert Daws plays Alex Dennison, a playwright who is setting up his own murder investigation exactly one year to the day after the opening night of his west end play. Moreover, it’s the anniversary of his fiancée, Monica Welles’s death, she was the star of his play and a well known movie star. Welles is played by actress, Amy Robbins and she brings glamour, heart and realism to the role. Dennison is the lynchpin of the piece and it can’t be an easy feat to effectively ‘carry’ the play with a tremendous amount of dialogue to go with it, however this challenge is one that Daws embraces and succeeds in. He gives an outstanding performance, backed up by the tenacious Susan Penhaligon as Producer, Bella Lamb, who provides a great deal of humour. Also, Steven Pinder who brings a delightfully edgy quality to the part of Lloyd Andrews, the Director together with brash leading man, David Matthews who is portrayed to marvellous effect by Robert Duncan, one feels there’s somewhat of a ‘tongue in cheek’ nuance utilised.

As the story swaps between scenes from 1989 (the present day that the play is set in) and 1988, the tale comes together like a well crafted jigsaw. The set encompasses the action, beautifully, while the audience are led well and truly up the garden path to draw the wrong conclusion! Or are we? With a bereft playwright playing detective, in the company of an anxious Director, jealous understudy and cock-sure leading man, the finger could point anywhere!

If you like a gripping whodunit, this is the production for you, and it will be in Malvern until Saturday 30 January – tickets are available here: http://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk or via box office number 01684 892277. Alternatively, Rehearsal For Murder will continue to tour around the UK afterwards, and you can find all dates and information here: http://www.kenwright.com/microsite/rehearsal-for-murder/

Don’t Miss It!

 

Spotlight On… Robert Daws and Amy Robbins

Bob unspecified

*** Spotlight On… Robert Daws and Amy Robbins ***

They met while filming ‘The Royal’ for ITV, and now they’re happily married with two children. Now, they’re touring the UK with ‘Rehearsal for Murder’, so I caught up with Amy Robbins and Bob Daws to find out all about the show.

Hi Robert and Amy, thank you for talking to ‘Break A Leg Review’,so tell me about ‘Rehearsal for Murder’, what can the audience expect from the play and which characters do you both play?
We play a playwright, Alex Dennison, and a movie star, Monica Welles. They have fallen in love and are about to get married. Tragedy strikes on their opening night in the West End and the play follows Alex’s unique investigation into Monica’s suspicious death. The audience can expect all the twists and turns, murder and suspense you’d expect from the writers of Columbo and Murder She Wrote.
Are you both fans of murder mysteries? Do you have a favourite whodunit author?
We love a good thriller. Bob has more interest has more interest in murder mysteries because he writes them himself. He has an Amazon best seller called The Rock and he is about to publish two more murder mysteries following the same characters, DI Broderick and DS Sullivan.
Is this the first time that you have worked together on stage? Is it something you will be keen to do again?
Yes it is. We worked together for eight years filming The Royal, but this is the first time we have managed to be in a play together. We are enjoying it very much, so will certainly not rule out future opportunities.
You met each other while working on ‘The Royal’ – so apart from meeting and eventually getting married, what are your favourite memories of that show and do you think it ended at the right time?
We had completed eight series and the time seemed right to move on to other things. We had a wonderful time on the show and worked with  many wonderful actors, directors and writers. We also married and had our girls whilst filming the show, so it will always be a very special time for us.
Robert, you first came to my attention in the wonderful and hilarious ‘Outside Edge’, what are your over-riding memories of that series and can you play cricket in real life?
Another lovely show to have been part of. A great cast and terrific scripts by Richard Harris. Nothing but fond summer memories of the show, and yes, I play cricket, with sporadic flashes of average ability.
Amy, you first ‘appeared in my living room’ in ‘Casualty’, which I still regularly watch to this day, did you enjoy your experience of that show.
It’s one of the great TV shows and I was very happy to be a part of it. Robert was actually the hospital manager for a year, but our paths never crossed.
What’s next for you both when this tour finishes?
Happily several projects are in the air, at the moment so we can sit back a bit and take a view. Doesn’t happen often in an actor’s life so we’ll enjoy it while we can.
Thanks to Amy and Robert for taking the time out to answer those questions.
Our review of ‘Rehearsal for Murder’ will be up, tomorrow and you can find information relating to its stop at ‘Malvern Theatres’ on our ‘What’s On’ page.

 

Spotlight on… Lesley Nicol

untitled

*** Spotlight On… Lesley Nicol ***

How do I introduce this ‘Spotlight On…’? This is an actress who has been on my interview wish list since before this blog-site was born and she has been one of my personal heroes for the past two decades at least (longer, probably!). Many of you will know her as ‘Mrs Patmore’ from the ridiculously successful ‘Downton Abbey’ – so, overwhelmingly, I give you my interview with Lesley Nicol!

Lesley, thank you so much for talking to Break A Leg Review, I first became a fan of yours when you starred as Mrs Beaver in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for the BBC, but when did you feel that your career really started?

I don’t really think there was a time to be honest, there have been certain jobs that have been important, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was one of them because it was filmed over several months, rather than quick TV. It felt like a significant thing to do.

I don’t ever think “oh, my career has taken off”, it’s all about the current job and whether it’s fun. There have been notable high spots which have been The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, East is East, Mamma Mia and Downton Abbey. They have all been things that make you go “oh blimey that was a bit special!”

When you became a actress, were there any roles that you had a particular ambition to play or still want to play?

No, I always struggle with that when people ask me this question. I did want to play Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers and I did play her, I loved that, that was a good fit but otherwise there isn’t anything I’m aware of that I want to do.

I saw you play Rosie in Mamma Mia three times and thought you were amazing, what are your best memories of that show?

It was surreal even auditioning for it, I actually auditioned for Bjorn. I was introduced to what felt like about twenty people so it didn’t even feel like a normal audition. I was walking along a long line of people and when I got to Bjorn, I curtsied! He didn’t quite understand the joke.

Then, I was singing Dancing Queen for him and I’m good at music but I’m not very good at remembering the words of songs so I was singing “doing the dancing queen” and he looked at me, very puzzled and said “no, no, no, it’s not “doing the dancing queen” it’s “digging the dancing queen!”. I said “oh yeah, sorry!” and thought “why didn’t I know that?!”.

But it was quite a surreal job because I was in it between 2000 and 2002 when it was a hot show, I’d look out into the audience and see Cher, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep – all the Americans were coming to see it. Of course, now we know why, because they made the film.

It was just glorious, though and my dad came to see it 35 times! He became a great fan of the show, he loved it.

Many people claim that Abba songs are notoriously difficult to sing, did you find that to be the case?

I think people who sing karaoke, for example, think it’s easy to just knock one out. We had the best musical team and they were very strict about what we did, it was very strictly organised and beautifully directed. I know we were given certain guidelines about how we were to sing the songs.

In fact I was in a tour of The Vagina Monologues with Linda Robson, we were in Worthing one night at a karaoke bar and the little minx got me up on stage to sing an Abba song, but all the words were wrong! That was really weird!

You’ve done many more musicals as well as Mamma Mia, would you be keen to perform in a musical again or indeed on stage in any capacity?

Yes, yes I would, I like to sing actually, I’m trying to get brave and follow my dear friends Annie Reid and Richard Dempsey, both of whom have done such brilliant cabarets. I’d love to have a go but I’m a bit scared, I’m trying to get my confidence together to do that.

I have to move onto Downton Abbey, the series finale was well worth waiting for, were you happy with how things turned out for Mrs Patmore? Did she have a good ‘send-off’?

I didn’t feel it was a ‘send-off’, because it didn’t feel like the end to me and it might not be the end, there might be a film, we don’t know. I didn’t feel like he’d put the final stamp on it, he did a bit with some characters, but I thought it was just a really good episode and very touching. It would have been nice if things had progressed a bit further with Mr Mason, but not everybody can have a happy ending because life isn’t like that.

I thought Mrs Patmore really got a chance to shine as a character in this series and I agree that she hasn’t had a storyline ‘ending’ as such, so if the rumoured movie does go ahead, what do you think we’d find the character doing in the future?

I have no idea, I wouldn’t even try to guess, I do know he’s got an idea for the movie and he’s always doing about five things at once, he’s a workaholic, so you never know!

The Downton Abbey Text Santa sketch for ITV was hilarious and easily lived up to expectations after the previous year’s effort featuring George Clooney, how many takes were needed to film it?

I think we did it a couple of times because I wasn’t sure how bonkers to be, really, but I just decided to be totally bonkers, I thought that was the way forward. Of course, Gordon Ramsay wasn’t actually there so I didn’t have anyone to shout at. But I got the best Christmas jumper, with a pudding on it! I’m glad you thought it was good because the George Clooney one was quite special wasn’t it.

As you’re a household name, you have been able to promote exceptionally worthwhile charities such as Animals Asia. How did they come to your attention?

I read about it on Twitter throughPeter Egan, Peter was a friend, not a close friend at that point, I didn’t know him very well but I was aware that Peter is very very involved with animal welfare. I remember clearly looking at a picture of a moon bear, about to investigate and read the article with it and said “oh god, Peter not another sad animal story”. I do follow him on Twitter, I read what he shares and it’s always sad, but on this occasion I didn’t think for one moment that it would grab my heart, which it did. Then I investigated the site and started reading about what bile bear farming is and I suppose interestingly when I look back, I was showing one of the videos to my niece here in America and my husband, just to show them and I started really sobbing and they looked at me like “what in god’s name is wrong with you?” and when I think about it, if I had been aware of it (which I wasn’t), that was probably a sign that I was totally hooked by the sadness and the tragedy of this.

Then I started to watch some of the films featuring Jill Robinson, there’s a very disturbing documentary called Cages of Shame which I watched, and I met her after that. Somewhere in the works somebody told me that 160 million people in China watch Downton Abbey, so I asked Jill if that meant I could be any help to her and she said “yes it would mean that and if you’re able to come out to China to visit us we could get the local press and use the fact that you’re here”. So I did and now I’ve been out four times because I’m totally and utterly besotted with Jill and the cause. To meet a moon bear is absolutely amazing and I’m totally up to my neck in it, I won’t ever be able to walk away from that.

The fact these bears can learn to trust humans again is something we can learn from, when all they’ve known is fear of pain and that a human has meant hurt to them – when you go out there you can hand feed them and they’re relaxed with you. You wonder how they’ve made that transition after twenty years stuffed in a cage.

Medical Detection Dogs is your other main charity, how did that one come to the fore?

I was at Chiswick Dog Show which is very close to where I live and I walked my dogs through the park and noticed these dogs with red jackets on and I heard someone say “go and find out about this, it’s amazing” so that got my interest and I went and listened to somebody and it was connected with things that I related to. I’ve had Cancer in the family and my husband has type 2 Diabetes, I love dogs and at this point they were quite a young charity, really not very well known at all. So I said “I think this is amazing and if there’s anything I can do”, I then watched a demonstration and met some of the dogs and the people, many of whom I’ve grown very attached to.

That is also not something I can walk away from, there are other ambassadors on board now and while I’m not in the country, that’s a good thing that other people are supporting and fundraising, but there place in my heart and always will be.

You recently filmed a piece for ITV’s This Morning reporting from Blue Cross  and Dogs Trust, I thought it was fantastic…

I want to know if Teddy from Blue Cross has been re-homed! He was so beautiful and people are scared of staffies and rotties, but in the right hands they’re completely people pleasing, easily trained dogs.

I give money to the Oakfield Oldies because we can’t have a dog where we currently live.

Oh do you! They were lovely and I can’t tell you how full of beans they were. There was a fabulous one called Chewbacca, he’s 13 and probably has many years left because they go into their twenties, that breed. He was a beautiful dog and all he wants is to sit next to you and have a cuddle.

Are you going to be doing any more of those films for This Morning?

I think the door might be open to do more, yes, they seemed to be pleased with it, they know I’ve got an interest in animal welfare so it could be something different next time.

Favourite Things (give me your first reaction to these questions):

Favourite time of year?

Spring.

Favourite memory from your career?

Seeing my dad dancing in the stalls at the Prince Edward Theatre, he was dancing to Waterloo.

Favourite Mrs Patmore line?

“Daisy, I said you could go for a drink of water, not a trip up the Nile”

and the other one which Sophie (McShera, who plays Daisy) and I laugh because we didn’t know what it meant:

“It’s you and me, Daisy, contra mundi”

Favourite way to spend your time off?

Walking the dogs on the beach.

Favourite holiday destination?

I’d like to go to Bali.

You can hear Lesley’s voice in ‘Goldie and Bear’ on Disney Junior – she plays the mad ‘Fairy Godmother’! I think I speak for many when I say I hope the ‘Downton Abbey’ film happens.

Also, ‘Teddy’ from ‘Blue Cross’ has been re-homed!!

Links to Animals Asia and Medical Detection Dogs can be found below:

http://www.animalsasia.com/uk/

http://medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

The Snowman ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

44NK_M

The strains of “We’re Walking in the Air” brings to mind memories of cosy afternoons during the festive period, watching the animation based upon Raymond Briggs’ well known book. The Snowman, in my opinion is a dream of a film to watch and it translates delightfully on the stage.

The stage production follows the film with not a word being spoken and the tale is portrayed by way of music, dance and mime. The set provides an enchanting backdrop and it drew in the attention of my young toddler, immediately (in fact the entire production held his attention). There were some nice comedy moments between the boy and his parents and some well choreographed crowd scenes while The Snowman was built.

Oscar Couchman is outstanding as the boy, a star in the making! The family bond with his parents (played by Sophie Hartley and Anthony Edwards) was beautifully played. The Snowman himself was played by James Leece who remained unbelievably still for a lengthy period of time before he came to life!

When the boy and the Snowman took flight it was a joy to behold, seamless transitions from the stage crew made this a scene which one almost felt a part of. Choreography by Robert North was spectacular and performed by a terrifically talented ensemble who appeared to embody their characters so perfectly. The animals were all played with skill and care, from the family cat to the penguins, every movement was spot on.

Bill Alexander should be congratulated for the direction of a splendid piece of theatre which is heart-warming at any time of year, but is particularly welcome as a post-Christmas treat.

A short run at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre must end on Sunday 24th January so get your tickets, quickly! http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/event/the-snowman-2016/

Spotlight On… Megan Llewellyn

FullSizeRender

*** Spotlight On… Megan Llewellyn ***

She’s currently playing the Diva, ‘Carlotta’ in ‘Phantom of the Opera’ at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End – I found out what led actress Megan Llewellyn to this wondrous role and discovered her future aspirations.

Why did you decide that performing was the career for you, was there a defining moment?
I remember as a child being totally spellbound by MGM films. The likes of Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and Fred Astaire etc. were magical creatures to me. Aged 5 I would tap dance on the hard kitchen floor in my Mum’s hard soled slippers imagining I was in one of the films. Always knew I wanted to act.
How are you enjoying playing Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera? Were you already familiar with the show as an audience member?
I had only seen the show once about 10 years ago. I knew of the famous music from Phantom; All I Ask of You, Think of Me, Music of the Night etc. but didn’t know Carlotta’s. Now I know  it and I love playing her!
What do you think of Carlotta as a character?
She is a self indulgent Diva but there is a vulnerability to her too. It’s because of this that she can behave so appallingly. I reckon she’d be great to have at a dinner party….
Which is your favourite musical number from the show?
I love the opening, when the Chandelier rises to the sounds of the organ but my favourite song is Wishing you Were Somehow Here Again. I lost my Mum a few years ago, how many times I’ve wished her here again! Very moving song.
If you could play a different role in Phantom of the Opera, which one would it be and why?
The Phantom. He gets the best songs!

What are your future aspirations? Are there any roles that you have an ambition to play?
I’d love to sing more Sondheim. Also Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus. Eliza Doolittle would be a dream role.
Have you a favourite musical or opera?
Difficult to pick just one. I love The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, Into the Woods, which I saw at The Donmar Warehouse years ago…amazing production, I went to see it twice! Miss Saigon made an impression. Phantom is a great show too of course!
Opera-wise, Madame Butterfly.
If you hadn’t become a performer, is there another career you could see yourself having pursued?
I’d probably have gone into interior design. Already gutted and re designed 2 houses.
Favourite Things (give me your first reaction to these questions):
Favourite theatre?
The Royal Albert Hall.
Favourite song?
In Buddy’s Eyes, Sondheim.
Favourite time of year?
Late Spring.
Favourite author?
Enid Blyton, fond memories from childhood.
Favourite childhood memory?
The school proms at the Royal Albert Hall.