Monthly Archives: December 2016

Break A Leg’s Top Performers in 2016

Selecting the performers who have impressed me above others this year has been almost as difficult as choosing my award winners! At least I had a panel to assist with that, though!! I’ve given some thought to the various actors and actresses on stage and screen who have ‘made’ 2016 for me, and these choices are from my heart and my head…

Top 25 Performers On Stage:

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Gregory Ashton and Joseph Martin

Gregory Ashton ~ Two Short Plays About Gays, The Hope Theatre

Matt Barber ~ Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Touring

Stephanie Beattie ~ Steel Magnolias, The Hope Theatre

Steven Blakeley ~ The Roundabout, The Park Theatre

Judy Buxton ~ Blast From The Past, Upstairs at the Gathouse

Ken Christiansen ~ The Fix and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, The Union Theatre

Robert Daws ~ Rehearsal For Murder, Touring

Charlotte Gorton ~ The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Ariel Harrison ~ Steel Magnolias, The Hope Theatre

Jeffrey Holland ~ And This Is My Friend Mr Laurel, Jermyn Street Theatre

Louise Jameson ~ The Mousetrap, Touring and Two Short Plays About Gays, The Hope Theatre

Rebecca Johnson ~ Present Laughter, Touring

Julie Legrand ~ The Rivals, Touring

Phyllis Logan ~ Present Laughter, Touring

Nicholas Le Prevost ~ How The Other Half Loves, Duke of York Theatre

Joseph Martin ~ Two Short Plays About Gays, The Hope Theatre

Lee Mengo ~ The Rivals, Touring

Steve Nallon ~ Dead Sheep, Touring

Richard Rhodes ~ Blast From The Past, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Amy Robbins ~ Rehearsal For Murder, Touring

Maggie Robson ~ Steel Magnolias, The Hope Theatre

Lin Sagovsky ~ Steel Magnolias, The Hope Theatre

Samantha Shellie ~ Steel Magnolias, The Hope Theatre

Jo Wickham ~ Steel Magnolias, The Hope Theatre

Lucy Williamson ~ The Fix, The Union Theatre

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Stephanie Beattie and Jo Wickham

Top 25 Performers On Television:

Gemma Dobson BBC 2

Andrew Buckley, Lorraine Cheshire and Sandra Huggett in a scene with fellow cast members in In The Club

Mark Addy ~ Young Hyacinth

Chizzy Akudolu ~ Holby City

Laurie Brett ~ Eastenders

Andrew Buckley ~ In The Club

Lorraine Cheshire ~ In The Club and Trollied

Dominic Coleman ~ Trollied

Jason Durr ~ Casualty

Lloyd Everitt ~ Casualty

Amanda Henderson ~ Casualty

Sandra Huggett ~ In The Club

Faye McKeever ~ Trollied

Kevin McNally ~ Lost Sitcoms: Hancock’s Half Hour

John Michie ~ Holby City

Brendan O’Carroll ~ Mrs Brown’s Boys 

Sarah Parish ~ Trollied

Neil Pearson ~ In The Club

Claire Price ~ Home Fires

Carol Royle ~ Casualty

Daniel Ryan ~ Home Fires and Mount Pleasant

Cath Shipton ~ Casualty

Derek Thompson ~ Casualty

Charles Venn ~ Casualty 

Alex Walkinshaw ~ Holby City

Jason Watkins ~ Are You Being Served and Trollied

Adam Woodyatt ~ Eastenders

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Robin Sebastian and Kevin McNally with the rest of the cast of Hancock’s Half Hour

And that’s all folks! See you next year for more of the same.

 

 

Break A Leg’s Top Five Television Programmes of 2016

Television is as much of a passion for me as the theatre, I am delighted to have been able to include episode reviews and related interviews on the site, this year. After all, my interest in theatre stemmed from the desire to see performers from the television perform on stage. So, here’s the best of what’s been floating my boat this year on the small screen, this year.

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Sandra Huggett played Maxine in In The Club… one of my favourite new characters.

In The Club – winner of Break A Leg Critic’s Choice Awards for best Television Drama, I adored this series which has been penned by the magnificent Kay Mellor. When I watched the first series it was not long after the birth of my Son and I could identify with so much that was featured in the storylines. Series two was well worth the wait and I am desperate for a third series. Fantastic writing, perfect casting and left me wanting more. Come on BBC!

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The reappearance of Cath Shipton as Duffy has been a highlight of Casualty for me, this year.

Casualty – I have been a fan of Casualty since it first started and always loved Duffy and Charlie. The fact that Cath Shipton has made a permanent return as Duffy this year and the character has been paired off with Charlie (Derek Thompson) has been another good reason to watch. I think that the full cast of regulars they currently have is incredibly strong. Their 30th anniversary episode was like a movie in quality and the episode that Amanda Mealing directed (she usually plays Connie) was one of the best of this series, in my opinion. Long may the show reign.

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Home Fires – I’ll miss this series so much!

Home Fires – I was really getting into this series and the second series which aired this year was my incredible. I felt that the cast had gelled and the various storylines had me gripped. The fact that it finished on such a cliff hanger is still disconcerting and I am shocked at ITV’s decision to axe a popular series which had been taken to viewers’ hearts. It had the right cast and setting to be as big as the likes of Downton Abbey if it had only been given the chance.

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Holby City has taken viewers on a real rollercoaster ride, this year.

Holby City is another medical drama that I have stuck with from the word go. This year has seen some of my favourite characters leave (Digby, for a start off!) and a few eyebrow raising storylines (Serena (Catherine Russell) and Bernie (Jemma Redgrave) getting together, for one!). It’s as strong a series as it’s sister-how, Casualty and I have enjoyed the cross-overs that have occasionally occurred. There need to be more of those!

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When it comes to comedy, Trollied has been the pick of the crop for me. Jason Watkins and Sarah Parish (pictured) have been a highlight of the show with their hilarious partnership.

Trollied – there haven’t been many comedies that have been on my must-watch list, this year. Trollied is one of the best programmes on Sky One, in my humble opinion and series six has been one of the best they have produced. The banter between the characters is an excellent demonstration of fantastic observational comedy and every actor in the show plays their role brilliantly. I don’t think it would be the same without any of them, now. Long live Valco, a seventh series must surely be on the cards?

That’s it for 2016, I look forward to being a to cover more from the box in the corner of your living rooms, next year! There are some exciting shows coming up which may well end up on this list next time.

Break A Leg’s Top Five West End Shows of 2016

West End theatre visits are such a vital part of my theatrical calendar and I have firm favourites that I like to see over and over ~ it’s always fantastic to see the new shows and other revivals too of course! However, my year would not be complete without a spot of Masquerade and Chiquitita! Here’s the best of what I’ve been watching this year…

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Gillian Wright and Jason Merrells in just one of many side-splitting scenes in How The Other Half Loves.

How The Other Half Loves (Duke of York theatre) – this was recommended to me and ended up snagging the Best West End Show award at Break A Leg Critic’s Choice Awards earlier this month. Gillian Wright was the stand-out performer for me, but the whole cast were spot on when it came to portraying a classic farce on stage. It provided my friend and I with a much needed belly laugh or two, it was a pity we had left it late in the run to see it as I would have gone again.

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Miss Saigon (Prince Edward Theatre) – as a regular theatre-goer, you may find it surprising that I had not seen this show before, however it managed to escape my radar until this year. I took my husband to see it as a Christmas 2015 present and it was one of the most emotional and powerful musicals I have sat through. Having a male toddler myself, I found the fact that a little boy was at the centre of the action was a hard hitting issue to cope with. If it hadn’t have been performed to perfection, I wouldn’t have felt it quite so deeply. What a tear-jerker.

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The Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty’s) – this will always appear on my top fives list, it is without doubt a classic show which is never a disappointment whenever I decide to pay another visit to see it. I have particularly enjoyed Megan Llewellyn’s performance as Carlotta, this year and there are always an incredible cast of understudies for Phantom. It never matters to me if an understudy goes on in any show, unless I REALLY wanted to see a particular performer, because often I find that you discover another hidden gem of a talent. However, I do find that in Phantom, you are guaranteed a phantastic understudy (see what I did there? No?…. Phan…. Oh forget it!).

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Kinky Boots (Adelphi Theatre) – Wowzers, how I love this show, I’ve always been a fan of Cyndi Lauper, too so it’s pretty cool that she is responsible for it. Matt Henry has definitely found his metier and the cast have so much energy and verve, it’s infectious. Singing The Sex Is In The Heel on a weekly basis in not unusual at Break A Leg HQ since the arrival of this gem. Walking out of the theatre and wanting to turn around and walk right back in there for more is the over-riding feeling with this one.

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Mamma Mia (Novello Theatre) – I am as much of a fan of this musical as I am Phantom, two totally different shows that both leave me craving more. It seems to get better each time, which given that the cast has changed almost every time I have seen this, is testament to the production itself. Standing up and jigging to Waterloo  is always the highlight of the show for me. Remaining on the ground and restraining myself from leaping onto the stage to join in is the difficulty. I never did take to the film in quite the same way, I much prefer to pay homage at the theatre than via the telly.

I hope to be covering more West End shows next year, here’s to it! OK, I’ll probably see Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia again… I admit it!

Break A Leg Top Five Touring Shows of 2016

Touring productions are part of the vast majority of shows that I go along to review, so whittling down a short list of the top ones from 2016 is no mean feat. The task has been eased somewhat as a few of my personal idols have been treading the boards this year and their appearances were highlights in themselves. Here we go, folks:

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Phyllis Logan as Monica in Present Laughter – I’ve waited a lifetime to see her on stage… it was worth the wait!

Present Laughter tour – the winner of Break A Leg Critic’s Choice Award for best touring/regional production, I had multiple reasons for taking this show to my heart. First of all, I’ll make no bones about the fact that I have been a huge fan of one of the stars of the play, Phyllis Logan, since I was a very little girl. So to see an idol on stage was a particular delight, and she was brilliant, plus she is also now a Patron of the website. Thumbs up all round! I thought that the cast as a whole were incredible, though and as well as having the pleasure of seeing another fantastic and well-known actor tread the boards, Samuel West, I also enjoyed Rebecca Johnson’s performance. I had seen her in Wendy & Peter Pan at the RSC in 2015 and loved her, so to see her in a Noel Coward play (I am a real fan of Mr Coward’s work) was a treat. I could gush further about the production, but I think the award for the show speaks for itself and I watched it once with a press ticket in my hot little hand and paid to see it again. That always speaks volumes, too! Well done to Stephen Unwin, who directed brilliantly.

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Rehearsal For Murder featured a stellar cast!

Rehearsal For Murder tour  – another play on my list for so many reasons, the chance to see Amy Robbins and Robert Daws on stage together couldn’t be missed and the cast were all superb. Stellar performances from each and every one and excellent direction. It was a dramatic thriller which had me gripped and frantically trying to fathom who dunnit. It also made for terrific interval debating between my husband and I. Neither Mr Daws or Ms Robbins disappointed, either and I’m now all the keener to see them tread the boards again. My interest in thrillers was also piqued from this particular play, so it was a winner in all respects!

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Julie Legrand was outstanding in The Rivals, she was so ready to play Madame Malaprop!

 The Rivals tour – my first trip to Bristol Old Vic Theatre and what a pleasant one it was, too. With Break A Leg Critic’s Choice award winner, Julie Legrand as Madame Malaprop amongst a cast who worked together so smoothly and wonderfully well. It was my first introduction to the work of another one of Break A Leg’s award winner, Lee Mengo as Bob Acres. Although I was familiar with the play, I had not seen it performed before, and my face ached from laughing. The entire production was a joy from start to finish, the theatre had a welcoming and enticing atmosphere and I met one of my long-time idols, Ms Legrand, afterwards too which was a moment I’ll never forget. A brilliant night at the theatre.

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Blood Brothers will always be one of my favourite musicals. What a score!

Blood Brothers tour – always a favourite musical of mine, I did the same trick as with Present Laughter – bought a ticket to see it at one theatre and had a press ticket to see it elsewhere.  I never tire of Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone, I think it’s fair to say that it is her part and I’m always guaranteed to enjoy her performance. Adding Sarah-Jane Buckley to the cast as Mrs Lyons has really set it off. I have always thought that she has been an excellent actress each time I’ve seen her either on telly or on stage. Not only have I found her to be one of the best actresses to play Mrs Lyons, but I gather that she did a fine job when it came it stepping in to Ms Paul’s shoes and taking on the role of Mrs Johnstone. I adore the musical score for this show and I look forward to seeing Graham Martin play the multiple roles that he has made his own over the years. Graham is a friend of my husband’s and it’s always a good excuse to see him when Blood Brothers does the rounds.

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Rocky Horror Show… long may they continue making a man with blonde hair and a tan – they have a regular punter in little old me!

The Rocky Horror Show tour – another of my all-time favourite musicals that, had I have had the time, I would have paid to have seen at another theatre after having reviewed it with my press ticket in Malvern. I had seen Liam Tamne in Hairspray and Les Miserables before, but he really came into his own as Frank-N-Furter. OK, it helped that he was easy on the eye, but the mischief and mayhem that he put into the role was outstanding. I love everything about this show, from the audience participation and leaping out of my seat to do the Time Warp, which never gets old – to the variety of narrators that grace the stage. We had Steve Punt play the narrator on this occasion and he was amazing. Hats off also to Sophie Linder-Lee, my favourite Columbia so far. I fully expect that this show will be in my top five choices again, next year!

Phew what a challenge that was… I wonder if any shows will knock The Rocky Horror Show and Blood Brothers off the list in 2017? Excited to out!

Break A Leg Top Five Theatres of 2016

I have spent a good percentage of my life in a variety of theatrical settings throughout 2016, when Break A Leg launched in 2013 I could mostly be found in Midlands based theatres in my reviewing capacity. This year I have started to spread my wings and I am so delighted, grateful and privileged to be invited along to review shows all over the UK.

I have never given much thought to my particular favourite venues, but as this is a year in review, it’s only right to give a shout out to some of my best loved spaces. So – here are my favourite theatres of 2016:

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The Hope Theatre ~ above Hope & Anchor in Islington. What a venue!

The Hope Theatre – Taking my number one spot for ambiance, use of space, range of productions and the fact that it is a hidden gem in London’s crown. My absolute favourite off-west end theatre and a place I am excited to be able to return to as regularly as I possibly can. There are no airs and graces, just a friendly team who are as passionate about theatre as the people who come to see the productions. Top-notch!

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Malvern Theatres, one of my top rated Midlands venues.

Malvern Theatres – By far my favourite Midlands theatre, there are two amazing spaces hidden inside a modern building which also boasts a bar with plenty of choice and a lovely eatery. The team are a delight to liaise with, Louise Thomas who deals with press is one of the loveliest people I have dealt with since I started the site and the atmosphere is always relaxed, welcoming and inviting. They have an awesome range of shows on their programme every year. I can’t wait to make a return visit, soon.

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Bristol Old Vic – glorious!

Bristol Old Vic – I’d never been before, but my desire to see The Rivals there brought about my debut visit. It is undergoing refurbishments at the moment, but the space is glorious and I couldn’t stop looking around the auditorium, my eyes were literally everywhere. I can’t wait to see the finished product and to return to review more of the excellent shows that they have there.

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New Wimbledon Theatre, a wonderful addition to the theatres that Break A Leg are reviewing in.

New Wimbledon Theatre – I made my debut visit to review Cats at this theatre and I fell in love with it. From the foyer to the auditorium, I felt that there was an overwhelming air of grandeur without seeming ostentatious. Ornate décor is one of the over-riding themes of the place and what an amazing piano bar. I am chomping at the bit to return and sorry I was unable to attend press night for their recent pantomime.

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Wolverhampton Grand Theatre ~ refurbished and looking amazing!

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre – refurbished and looking good, the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre remains a theatre to be proud of. They have a great selection of visiting shows and their press nights are always a delight. The new art deco interiors have spruced it up and helped it to take an a personality that was always lurking, but has now come to the fore. I am impressed!

Let’s see if the list changes at the end of 2017 or if the above five venues will continue to top the list…

 

Break A Leg Top 5 Off-West End Productions of 2016

 

2016 has been the year that Break A Leg has been out and about seeing what the off-west end productions and theatres have to offer. I have adored going to see new spaces, places and new faces – it’s been aces! So, without further ado… here are the top five choices from among the many I have had the pleasure of reviewing:

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Actress, Ariel Harrison starred in Steel Magnolias at The Hope Theatre

Steel Magnolias at The Hope Theatre – this was obviously going to take my number one spot when it also won the Break A Leg Critic’s Choice Award for Best Off-West End Production! I had no idea how this was going to play out on stage when I first took the wonderful people at The Hope up on their press invitation. I knew the film and I had no pre-conceived ideas of how it would translate to stage. For a start off it felt as though I was in the salon from the outset, I was completely engrossed and in the interval my husband turned to me and said “this is absolutely brilliant”. We were itching to get back up to see the second half! It was so good that I returned with a group of friends which included two of my website’s Patrons, Judy Buxton and Jeffrey Holland and I paid to see it again. I have fallen in love with The Hope and Matthew Parker is one fabulous Director who has my continued support. The actresses in the cast were all previously unknown to me, except that I had interviewed Samantha Shellie (Shelby) and Stephanie Beattie (M’Lynn) ahead of seeing the show. I have taken all of them to my heart and I am a firm fan of each and every one of them now. It’s the first time I’ve been wowed by a group of performers I haven’t previously seen on TV or in the West End. I could sit and watch this play again and again, even now.

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Break A Leg Critic’s Choice award winner, Charlotte Gorton starred as Mari in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at The Union Theatre

The Rise and Fall Of Little Voice at The Union Theatre – this has always been one of my favourite films and I have studiously avoided seeing it on stage in case it didn’t match my expectations. I am so glad that a friend happened to be Stage Managing it and asked me along. Not only was I able to be there to see the final production staged at the old Union Theatre, but I was so over-awed by the show itself that I would have gladly returned to see it again. Little Voice works brilliantly in an intimate setting, it adds power to the piece in a unique way that I can’t put my finger on. I am also delighted to have been introduced to the superb talents of Charlotte Gorton, Ken Christiansen, Carly Thoms, James Peake and Glenn Adamson. All names to watch out for, believe me.

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Two more Break A Leg Critic’s Choice Award winners… Ken Christiansen and Lucy Williamson in The Fix

The Fix at The Union Theatre – so, when The Union Theatre moved across the street unto its new premises, my friend was stage managing again and over I trotted to see The Fix. The only off-west end musical I have seen in 2016 and what a musical it was. Ken Christiansen was in the cast which was a huge draw for me after his incredible performance in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, and Lucy Williamson was taking the role of Violet Chandler. I was already familiar with Lucy’s work and I think she is one of the most impressive triple threats out there. I had listened to the soundtrack of this production before, but watching it in the spanking brand new space and in an intimate setting was an experience I will never forget. Christiansen and Williamson were an absolute force, together and blew the roof off a musical that has entered my personal top five. Hats off to Michael Strassen, who directed it and a big shout out to Sarah-Marie Maxwell who was an exceptional member of the ensemble and who I am keeping tabs on!

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A few members of the cast of the jewel in Camden Fringe’s Crown… Blast From The Past (Photo shows Andrew Irvine, Judy Buxton, Richard Rhodes and Anthony Kavanagh).

Blast From The Past at Upstairs at the Gatehouse – there may be some bias here as my friend wrote, directed and starred in this production, but I had seen it performed previously in 2015, before she was my friend. The longer script for this incredible tribute to the nail bombing at the Admiral Duncan pub was a bonus in what is a cleverly crafted comedy drama. Anna-Lisa Maree, who wrote, directed and starred in the show has a Derren Litten-style eye for finding humour in the most extraordinary of circumstances. The play enables Judy Buxton to get her teeth into roles that you wouldn’t normally associate her with, a northern tart and an Irish clairvoyant for two. Richard Rhodes who is known for aliases such as Sheila Simmonds and Cookie Monstar, played Nathan/Phoenix Rose brilliantly and his comedy impersonation of Cher makes me chuckle to this day. It also gave me the chance to see Anna-Lisa as an actress, and she is no one-trick pony, let me tell you. Look out for more from this talented lady.

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Louise Jameson and Gregory Ashton starred in The Diva Drag

Two Short plays About Gays at The Hope Theatre – this one was on my radar courtesy of one of my website’s Patrons, Judy Buxton. She wanted to see her friend, Louise Jameson in the production. Off we went and we were very much looking forward to our trip to The Hope, as I had already been twice by this point and Judy had been once. Greg Ashton had written both short plays and he starred in both pieces, too. He is such a talented man, I am so delighted that our paths have crossed. Middle Aged Rent was the first of the two plays and Greg co-starred with Joseph Martin. It was a thought provoking piece which was performed with minimal fuss and that allowed the script to speak for itself. The Diva Drag followed and this starred Greg with Louise Jameson as his character’s mum. What an amazing platform this was to show another aspect to Louise’s talents. It also allowed Greg to showcase another nuance of his own performing abilities. I absolutely loved both plays and The Hope was the perfect setting for them.

So… let’s see what 2017 has to offer, shall we? Bring it on!

 

Mrs Brown’s Boys, Christmas Day 2016 ~ Episode Review

The best way to round off Christmas Day, in my humble opinion, is to sit down in front of the telly and see what the Brown Family are up to. Mrs Brown’s Boys is always a highlight of my viewing calendar and this year’s instalment did not disappoint. The usual comedy with the Christmas tree looked set not to be at the heart of the storyline, when Agnes (Brendan O’Carroll) decides that she’s not having a tree this year for fear of it attacking her! Buster (Danny O’Carroll) is rather put out that he won’t be selling a tree to her, this year and has another surprise coming when Dermot (Paddy Houlihan) rocks up dressed as a cat and wants Buster to dress in a similar costume. Dermot is vying for an advertising contract with a big firm and there is a competition set between Dermot’s company and his ‘opponents’ to win the contract. The opposition are dressing as dogs, and the opportunity for comedy moments is taken at every turn.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 03/12/2016 - Programme Name: Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas and New Year Special 2016 - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1 - Christmas ) - Picture Shows: (L-R) Dermot Brown (PADDY HOULIHAN), Agnes Brown (BRENDAN O'CARROLL) - (C) BBC Studios - Photographer: Alan Peebles

Picture Shows: (L-R) Dermot Brown (PADDY HOULIHAN), Agnes Brown (BRENDAN O’CARROLL) – (C) BBC Studios – Photographer: Alan Peebles

Meanwhile, Grandad (Dermot O’Neill) is quite unwell and due to undergo tests, Agnes shows her usual sympathy for the situation and, as usual, she can’t wait to see the back of her father-in-law. However, we all know that he holds just as previous a place in her heart as everyone else in the family does, and it’s quite heartening to see her so delighted when he finally finds amusement in something later in the show, even though it is at her expense.

Things are hotting up at Wash and Blow when the shop catches on fire and Rory (Rory Cowan) and Dino (Gary Hollywood) set up camp in Agnes’s front room until they find an alternative.  It was fascinating and hilarious to see Rory and Dino at work as we’ve never been to Wash and Blow, before.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 03/12/2016 - Programme Name: Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas and New Year Special 2016 - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1 - Christmas ) - Picture Shows:  Rory Brown (RORY COWAN), Support Artist - (C) BBC Studios - Photographer: Alan Peebles

 Picture Shows: Rory Brown (RORY COWAN), Support Artist – (C) BBC Studios – Photographer: Alan Peebles

So, does Mrs Brown change her mind and have a Christmas Tree? Buster makes that decision for her and provides a family of trees, which ultimately end up in a domino effect and the largest tree knocks out Agnes. Hence Grandad’s laughter! What of Dermot’s bid to win that lucrative contract? With a little help from a sneaky Buster, things are looking good for Dermot’s business.

Party hats off to Brendan O’Carroll, he is still managing to churn out side-splitting comedy which is always worth waiting for and the storylines are always fresh, too. I think there is still a place for Mrs Brown and her family, I can’t wait for the New Year offering and what a joyful Christmas musical number to finish on, too! More of the same, please…

Photo credits courtesy of: BBC

Sleeping Beauty ~ Malvern Theatres

Sleeping Beauty runs at Malvern Theatres until 8th January 2016 – to book visit: Malvern Theatres Website

Star Rating: *****

What a pantomime, in all the best senses of the word, Sleeping Beauty in Malvern is most definitely my pantomime of the season. It has been cast perfectly with stars who all grasp the concept of family entertainment and the heart of the tradition and have produced a glorious show which has really put me in the festive spirit.

The set provided an elegant backdrop, the costumes were fabulous and it was clear that this has been a real team effort where everybody should be commended for creating a magical party atmosphere. This pantomime take on the fairy tale varies slightly to the Disney version which most people are aware of, but the basics are all there and the straight forward story was easy to follow for my young toddler, he enjoyed every moment.

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Chris Pizzey stars as Silly Billy and has also directed the show.

Directed by Chris Pizzey, the story of Sleeping Beauty is told through a terrific mixture of popular musical numbers, slick and well placed choreography and the tongue in cheek humour that one associates with this genre of show. Amy Thompson is a beautiful Princess Rose, she has all the gentile, too-good-to-be-true loveliness but she avoids portraying her as sickly sweet and brings some substance to the role. Her vocal ability is stunning and she has wonderful chemistry with her Prince (David Barrett). Barrett plays the role in a humorous super-hero style but doesn’t take the character too seriously, which works. He is well-matched vocally with Thompson and I felt that the audience were on his side. Rebecca Wheatley was a wonderfully giggly and sparkly fairy, she was superb at telling the tale both through narration and song, I was already familiar with Wheatley’s singing voice and she didn’t disappoint. Chris Pizzey also took the role of Silly BIlly “when I say Silly you say Billy!”, as an experienced children’s’ entertainer he was spot on in the comedy role and his cheekiness was infectious. Quinn Patrick was my kind of Dame, as Nanny Glucose he interacted brilliantly with the audience, picking out a ‘boyfriend’ from among the audience. His comic timing was particularly on point and he had a hilarious scene with Pizzey in act two involving a ‘mirror’, what was a highlight. I was also delighted to hear Patrick call upon so many classic pantomime jokes, all of which he executed fantastically. What of the baddie? I hear you ask? Oh yes I do! Gillian Wright (who made her appearance to the tune of the Eastenders theme) is now my all-time favourite pantomime villain. As Carabosse, her evil laugh was a joy to behold, she coaxed the audience participation from the outset and she threw herself into her big number, proving that she is so much more than just Eastenders’ Jean Slater. Wright can sing, dance, express so many emotions with facial expressions which was entertaining in itself and she clearly enjoys what she’s doing. I would travel anywhere to see her on stage again.

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Gillian Wright is my favourite baddie to date! Fabulous as Carabosse.

If you want a traditional, family pantomime with plenty of opportunities to sing along, featuring a classic love tale told by a superb cast, this is the one for you. I can’t recommend it highly enough, a first class production.

Aladdin The Wok ‘N’ Roll Panto ~ Stafford Gatehouse Theatre

Visit www.staffordgatehousetheare.co.uk to book tickets. The show is on until 8 January 2017.

Star Rating: ***

Aladdin The Wok ‘n’ Roll Panto by Peter Rowe provided a different take on the traditional with a young cast, all of whom could play instruments and formed their own band on stage.

With music ranging from Tutti Frutti to ABC to Wild Thing to I’m Still Waiting, there were plenty of well selected musical numbers which fitted the theme of each scene and the cast were all talented musicians which was a refreshing take.

The story followed the usual pattern of the missing lamp which Abanazer craves and his ploy to send a young peasant lad (Aladdin) to do the deed for him and the ensuing troubles following the same young tearaway after he is caught looking at and talking to the Princess. Of course there’s a genie into the bargain and Aladdin’s mother in the form of washer woman, Widow Twankey, who has another hapless son in her brood by the name of Wishey Washey.

Michael Hamway was a bright-eyed and spritely Aladdin, Katie Pritchard was full of fun and cheekiness as Cuddles The Monkey, Seren Sandham-Davies was a gentile Princess Lotus Blossom, Steven Simmonds was a very masculine Widow Twankey and Samuel Townsend was quite menacing as Abanazer. The jokes did seem to be aimed at adults for the most part and although the music held the interest of my toddler, he was not particularly engaged with the story, even though he is familiar with it having already seen two other productions of Aladdin this season. Although the cast showed energy and passion, the pace of the show was occasionally too quick and punch lines were lost. It seemed to be packed with toilet humour and some of the more traditional gags would have been welcome.

All of the above having been said, I like the concept of a panto featuring a talented group of all-rounders and there is capacity for this idea to blossom. With a sprinkling of more audience participation and a few more gags for the kids, the potential could be endless. If you’d like to see a fresh new take on this genre of show, give it a try and you’ll be guaranteed a great sing-along to some classic tunes.

Trollied Episode Seven, Series Six ~ Episode Review

A festive treat came in the form of the final episode of this series of Trollied, and it was an utter joy from start to finish. If I wasn’t feeling Christmassy already, I am now.

From the birth of a baby presided over by Dr Brian (Stephen Tompkinson) and viewed with disgust by Lisa (Beverley Rudd) and Colin (Carl Rice) while they each drink a can of lager and request a photograph of the ‘business end’. To the mutual wool pulling that Cheryl (Sarah Parish) and Gavin (Jason Watkins) are plotting against each other in a bid to surprise the other with a romantic proposal. To the fact that the store has run out of Baileys!!! How very dare they?

Is it the end for Neville (Dominic Coleman) and his relationship with Linda (Faye McKeever)?

The birth comes at a fortuitous moment for Dr Brian as he has been attempting to out-do his ‘rival’, the new Pharmacist. The safe delivery of the customer’s baby is what he sees as a triumph and he declares that he wants to leave his radio job behind him and return to Margaret’s (Rita May) side. Margaret is only too happy to ‘re-create’ the vacancy for Pharmacist as she cunningly mixes up the prescriptions of two customers which results in the new Pharmacist getting the boot. Naughty Margaret! At least we get the dream team back together again, though. Witnessing the birth of the unexpected arrival deters Colin and Lisa from making a baby of their own, for a start off, Lisa hadn’t realised it hurt when you gave birth…!

There’s also the continuation of the will they/won’t they plot between Katie (Chanel Cresswell) and Daniel (Samuel Anderson), I am happy to confirm that they do! Although I think it fair to say that we’ve all seen this coming from the beginning. The twists that have popped up along the way, not least the arrival of Holly (Georgia May Foote) in unwitting Daniel’s life, have all made it a fun and bumpy journey. However, as regular viewers will know, Valco founded relationships do not tend to go well for Katie, so should a series seven be on the horizon – I feel sure we won’t be treated to a happy ever after for this pair. Certainly not in the way that Mr Strong and Ms Fairweather’s romance has bloomed, anyway.

I loved that both Gavin and Cheryl wore the same outfit as one another to propose in, it also fitted brilliantly to have Cheryl propose to Gavin. She does wear the trousers, regardless of Gavin protestations and attempts to prove to the contrary. So, Sarah Parish might get her big while Valco wedding, yet! To have Neville (Dominic Coleman) spontaneously propose to Linda (Faye McKeever) only to be rejected as quickly as the proposal comes out of his mouth was quite hilarious. However, does this spell the end for them? Then there’s one more announcement to contend with, Lisa’s pregnant! She has been misreading the pregnancy tests and according to Sue’s (Lorraine Cheshire) calculations, is in fact four months pregnant. With so much to look forward to from the team at the supermarket we’ve all taken to our hearts, surely Sky One can provide us with more next year? Please!