Wind In The Willows ~ London Palladium

Wind In The Willows is running at the London Palladium and you can book tickets here: Wind In the Willows Musical

Star rating: *****

Wind In the Willows is one of my favourite childhood stories and a refreshingly new musical take on the story hasn’t gone amiss. so thanks to Julian Fellowes, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe there’s a spanking brand new musical at the London Palladium and it’s simply sensational.

All of the well-known characters are there and they have catchy, toe-tapping musical numbers to accompany their travels as they strive to contain their bumptious, over-bearing mate, Mr Toad.

The popular plot which revolves around Mr Toad’s obsession with having to have the next big thing in his possession without a thought for others. Ratty, Mole and Badger endeavour to bring the vagrant amphibian to order with weasels, stoats and foxes attempting to foil them at every turn. A classic tale of good triumphing over evil and the solidarity of good friends.

The set which worked superbly on the Palladium stage  drew me in from the outset, as far as I was concerned, I was watching the action from the river bank, the wild wood and from outside Toad Hall. The motor cars used were incredible, all attention to detail had been carefully adhered to and it was quite something to watch Toad’s first car undergoing construction during the vibrant number ‘The Amazing Mr Toad’. The interior of Badger’s house was mesmerising, I felt that I needed eyes everywhere to fully appreciate how intricate it appeared to be.

My personal highlights from the score include ‘One Swallow Does Not A Summer Make’, ‘The Wild Wooders’ and ‘We’re Taking Over The Hall’ has to be my overall favourite. Aletta Collins’ choreography was stunningly effective, enabling characterisation to be combined effortlessly. The fight choreography shone too, thanks to the direction of Kate Waters.

Neil McDermott plays Chief Weasel as sumptuously sinister and conniving – there’s just enough comedy in there to redeem the role. He’s really quite the epitome of evil as he takes off with the otter pup, Portia (Emilie Du Leslay) to fatten up for his lunch, while her usually ever-present mum, Mrs Otter (Denise Welch) fears the worst, quite rightly. Gary Wilmot never fails to impress me, he is such a wondrous musical theatre performer, in my opinion, that the role of Badger could not be better cast. His vocal ability remains as extraordinary as ever and he offers the solid stability that the role commands. Simon Lipkin as Rat and Craig Mather as Mole make for a duo de force, they make the perfect pair of pals and Lipkin in particular brings great sarcasm to the role of Ratty… especially during their duet ‘Messing About In A Boat’. They also dealt with a props mishap marvellously! Mentions must also go to Natalie Woods (whom I was already familiar with from her appearance in Gypsy) as the tap dancing horse and Jenna Boyd as both Mrs Hedgehog and Gaoler’s daughter, what an incredible voice! Plus Evan James as Bucky the Rabbit, he stole almost every scene for me, what a cheeky little turn. What of Mr Toad? Well, Rufus Hound was indisposed, unfortunately, but what we were treated to in his place was an understudy performance so astonishing that at times I wondered if Mr Hound had walked on and we hadn’t been made aware. Kudos to Chris Aukett, big shoes to step into and yet he poop pooped with gusto and made the role his own.

If you’ve never seen Wind In the Willows, you couldn’t wish for a more zany, exuberant version to introduce you to the classic story. Enough of the original tale remains while the new take on the masterpiece adds a new dimension which in turn transforms this glorious show into a masterpiece in its own right. Grab a ticket now, you’ll feel poop pooped if you don’t!

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On 19 August 2017 I was fortunate enough to be invited back to see Wind in the Willows as Rufus Hound was off sick when I reviewed the show. Rufus certainly puts his own stamp on the role of Mr Toad and it’s difficult to imagine anybody else in the part, now. His verve, mischievousness and sheer unbridled energy is a joy to watch. I have always rated Rufus as a performer, but he has excelled himself in this production and it seems to come naturally to him.

Chris Aukett was understudy at my first visit and I have to applaud him for a job well done, he couldn’t have played the character more like Hound if he had tried. Indeed whether you get the familiar name as Toad or his understudy – you have a performance de force worth every penny.

 

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La Cage Aux Folles ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

La Cage Aux Folles runs at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 1 July 2017 – tickets can be booked here for all venues on the tour: La Cage Aux Folles

Star rating: ****

The best of times is now, a more fitting musical number there never was – indeed La Cage Aux Folles is an uplifting, life affirming joy of a show. Although tinged with moments of heartbreak, the recovery process is so beautifully told that the overall feeling is one of sheer delight. Bill Deamer’s slick, detailed and deliciously naughty choreography combined with Jerry Herman’s spectacular score made for a marvellous evening at the theatre.

La Cage Aux Folles tells the story of couple, Georges (Adrian Zmed) and Albin (John Partridge), Georges runs La Cage Aux Folles, where drag acts are the specialty of the day and Albin (aka Zsa Zsa) is the star turn. When their son, Jean-Michele (Dougie Carter) announces that he’s getting married… to a woman(!) there’s an elaborate plan hatched to prevent his intended’s parents (Paul F Monaghan and Su Douglas) from discovering the truth about the family set up. Anne (Alexandra Robinson) the bride to be, is the daughter of parents who are so conservative to the extreme that Jean-Michele fears he will not be permitted to marry their daughter if they discover the truth. With a little help from Jacqueline (Marti Webb) events take an interesting turn.

The tale is peppered with song upon song, including popular numbers such as We Are What We Are, I Am What I Am and of course, The Best Of Times. The costumes themselves are quite something and the decadent set framed the action perfectly too. Comedy is the over-riding theme, however it is a very current piece despite its age and the underlying undertones are quite touching.

Adrian Zmed gave a superb performance as Georges, the glue holding the situation together and he had palpable chemistry with John Partridge who shone as Albin. This part was made for Partridge, without a doubt and he performed it as though it was his first ever time in the heels, the joy emulating from him was infectious and his audience interaction was hilarious. Samson Ajewole appeared to be in his element as Jacob the ‘maid’, mincing and swaggering with attitude. There were also notably excellent performances from Dougie Carter as Jean-Michele and Paul F Monaghan as Dindon, the conservative father-in-law-to-be. However, the unexpected show stealer was Su Douglas who played the mother-in-law-to-be, Marie – comic timing, a sensational singing voice and stage presence in abundance, I’ll be watching out for her again in the future. A mention must also go to the boys in the ensemble who made the most incredible divas.

As an overall musical, it may not be the most popular or indeed everybody’s cup of tea. However, it packs a punch, offers all-round entertainment and I recommend it for Partridge’s performance alone.

 

Ackley Bridge – Series One Episode Three

Ackley Bridge, well well well! What an amazing episode which covered so much and crosses boundaries that other dramas haven’t dared to cross. I love this series and can’t speak more highly of it! Let’s look at the highlights, even though the entire episode was one big highlight…

Nas ~ what a terrific character, her ethnic background and the fact that she’s homosexual make her a complex girl if ever there was one. A brave move, as I’ve said before – but this episode sees her explore her sexuality further as she pushes the teacher she is in love with to the brink and their past history emerges too. More to come from this given the finale of the episode.

Mandy & Sadiq ~ So Mandy and Sadiq have been up to naughties and they’re both having the same idea, there will be no repeat. Although is this really the end of it? I fear not, sexual tension ahoy! However, Sadiq’s son is on to them…

Your Disco Needs You! ~ Brilliant scenes with Missy and Nas hitting the night club and boogeying to the Kylie hit Your Disco Needs You! Missy was in her element and Nas had a better time outside! An inspired plot which the girls played out fantastically.

Karaoke ~ I have to mention the character of Lorraine on karaoke singing Baggy Trousers. It was hilarious and too funny – well done to Lorraine Cheshire, you make the most of your role and Lorraine is a great character thanks to you.

Second Series Please!! ~ I’m already anticipating a second series, please Channel Four? Can we have some more? A show like this could run and run, like Waterloo Road.

Ackley Bridge Cast & Information

Casualty ‘It Had To Be You’ ~ Episode Review

An episode filled with romantic and frustrating undertones from among the regulars and the guest roles! Here are some highlight from a dramatic and emotive instalment:

Darren Tailor (SAM BARNARD) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Alistair Heap

Interviews ~ It’s interview day for the Consultant’s post and Elle is swatting, Dylan doesn’t feel it necessary to go into details (when does he ever?!) and Lily’s presence in the hot seat is a surprise to Connie. However, the results could be more interesting than first thought!

Love hurts ~ Lily and Iain finally got it on in spectacular fashion last week, but their relationship seems doomed from the start as the cracks begin to show just hours after they were in bed together. Can opposites really attract?

Ethan ~ The bereaved brother is still moping and in limbo, I’m wondering how long it will be before the killer who the audience all know, is brought to justice. I’m expecting a showdown, I hope its soon!

Connie vs Sam ~ Connie is soon strutting about and throwing her weight around again, interrupting Lily’s interview and making her disapproval known to Sam. It looks as though her ex is still into playing games when she walks in on him naked from the waist up. Would they ever rekindle their long lost romance and what will she say when she discovers that Sam has handed in his resignation as Medical Director?

Duffy ~ I want to give Duffy a mention in this ‘highlight’ as I really felt that every side of her character was captured in this episode. We saw her admit that she had married her best friend (awww!), show compassion in abundance and she was as efficient as ever. What ever did Holby City do without her?

Casualty Episode Cast List

Spotlight On… Cast & Creatives of Misprint Theatre’s ‘Flashback’

Misprint Theatre presents ‘Flashback’ at Theatre Utopia, there’s just one chance left to see this show and the link is below, so book now to avoid disappointment!

Box Office

Kara Chamberlain (actor)  and Amy Toledano (actor and co-director) chatted to Break A Leg about the show:

Here’s Kara and what she had to say about the show…

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell me about the piece and your character(s)

As an ensemble piece, we all play the voice of the narrator as well as some of the people who play cameo’s in Man’s life. I play his sister, as well as one of the women he dates and another woman who he meets at a club.

What was your initial impression of the script?

This is an incredibly important piece of theatre because it explores a very stigmatised issue: men’s mental health. There are already a lot of negative ideas and stereotypes surrounding mental health, but in a culture where men are told to “man up” and “stop being a girl” their mental health struggles are more often silenced. Flashback explores key issues impacting society today – social media, phone use, the pace of life, pressure to succeed, constantly comparing ourselves to our friends online – and shows audiences how devastatingly addictive these things can become. Through Man’s story we see an average millennial grow up in a world where he is not taught how to handle success, failure, emotion, or isolation and is eventually lead to suicide. The play reminds us that all humans feel emotion, all of us can be depressed at times in our lives, and men need to be able to express their feelings and ask for help without judgement.

Did you have any ideas about what you wanted to bring to the role(s)?

I am thrilled to be part of the ensemble creating this piece. I came into the project a bit late, and aim to add my energy and support to the beautiful work going on in the show.

How does the space lend itself to the piece?

Theatre Utopia is a unique venue, in that it has a stage that makes it feel like a traditional theatre but it can be transformed. For this piece, audience are placed around three sides of the room and the action takes place in the entire space. It means that the audience is never far from the action, they are brought in as bystanders instead of distanced by a stage and a curtain.

What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?

This play is for anyone who has a Facebook account, an Instagram feed, or a smart phone. It is for anyone who has felt down or hopeless or isolated, even for a second. It is for men and women who believe that everyone has the right to health and the help that requires.

Here’s what Amy had to say from her perspective as an actor in the show…

Tell me about the piece and your character(s)

It is quite a unique piece that focuses on the life of one particular man and the events in his life that lead up to his tragic death. I play the character of “Woman” who is this man’s first and most intense love. She provides the hope, the positive energy and love that keeps this character going. She is a very confident and warm woman who loves deeply and who we see give everything to this man.

What was your initial impression of the script?

When we had our first read of this script the main thing that I was taken with was the style. It is quite poetic and I loved the fact that all the actors were on stage the entire time. I also loved the idea that all the male actors in the company.

Was it easy to translate from page to stage?

I found that with the script- the vision was there from the beginning. The way its written lends itself to really interesting staging and physical theatre which has been amazing! The transition was very very smooth.

Did you have any ideas about what you wanted to bring to the role(s)?

I was immediately drawn to the role- I knew that her and I were quite similar and had been through similar experiences I really wanted to keep that authenticity in her. The main thing for me was playing her very honestly and showing the audience how much this man depended on her.

How does the space lend itself to the piece?

We are very lucky to have a fantastic space to work in. We’ve set up the space in traverse so we get quite close to the audience but also are able to distance ourselves as well which is really brilliant and is quite representative of the piece.

What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?

I would say that if people are interested in seeing new writing with a new type of format then this is for them. Its definitely something different to what happening in theatre at the moment and people will be able to relate to a lot of the characters as our main goal is represent the everyman and his struggles. You will come out having laughed and cried which is exactly what a piece of theatre should do!

Here’s Amy and what she had to say about the show in her capacity as co-director…

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell me about the piece and your vision for it

I am very lucky getting to work with Jamal (Chong) on this. He’s written something really fresh and I immediately had huge vision for it. I knew I wanted some very movement heavy moments and some very still moments and I had very clear vision for the different stages of this man’s life.

Did you have initial ideas about casting and what you wanted actors to bring to the piece?

We are blessed in that we are a company that have worked together for a little while now, so most parts cast themselves. In terms of the female roles we knew we wanted it to be diverse and the women to lend themselves to many different kinds of characters and we are incredible blessed to have the brilliant actors we do working with us on this.

Have rehearsals altered your initial thoughts, at all?

Definitely. Its so wonderful to work with such open and collaborative actors. Everyone has been so open to trying new things, and being very brave and particular in their choices.

What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?

That this show is something everyone can identify with, it is fresh and interesting and you will definitely come out having felt something.

Finally, any advice for budding directors?

I am quite a green director myself but this has been a brilliant experience for me in listening and looking at the bigger picture instead of just focusing on one particular character. I think the best advice is to just do it. Find new writing and shadow experienced directors and listen listen listen above all!

Thanks to both ladies for their time and I hope the run has been going brilliantly!

The Tempest ~ Stafford Castle, Stafford Shakespeare Festival

The Tempest runs until 8 July 2017 – book tickets here: The Tempest Tickets

Star rating: *****

Following the triumph of last year’s production of Othello at Stafford Castle, the team have pulled off yet another masterpiece of a spectacle with their latest Shakespeare Festival offering, The Tempest. Produced by Derrick Gask and directed by Clare Prenton, a more magical evening with such an engaging take on the Shakespeare classic I could not have imagined. It gives the RSC’s production a run for its money, that’s for sure!

A brief synopsis: Prospero, Duke of Milan is usurped by his calculating brother, Antonio, aided in his mission by Prospero’s political enemies. Prospero and his five year old daughter, Miranda are marooned on an island as a result where survival seems unlikely. However, with the aid of a spirit, Ariel and Ariel’s son, Caliban – he and Miranda have lived on the island for twelve years. When an opportunity for Prospero to seek revenge upon his brother and his cohorts, he summons magic to help him in his conquest. It’s a stormy tale with plenty of highs, lows and a good deal of comedy – all of which are highlighted to perfection in this incarnation.

The set is a marvel, with the castle in the background, it is a wonder to behold, the staging is in effect quite simple, but the use of lighting and special effects enhances the scenery and offers the perfect atmosphere for every nuance of the story. The nautical feel is evident but not over-bearing and leaves plenty to the imagination. What struck me with this production was the visual way in which the back-story was put across to the audience at the beginning, with added musical entertainment and dancing giving a light feel in contrast to the dramatic and turbulent tale which unfolds.

Stephen Beckett would never have been my automatic choice for the role of Prospero, and yet his portrayal was so thoughtful, considered, understated at times and powerful that I cannot imagine anyone else in the part – he surpassed the Prospero’s I have watched before. His chemistry with daughter, Miranda (Grace Carter) was extraordinarily believable, their father/daughter relationship played out beautifully and Carter was a genteel yet gutsy Miranda who could not have suited the role better. Gavin Swift’s Ariel was agile, able to blend like the proverbial chameleon and occasionally had a violin in tow, which he played brilliantly. Zephryn Taitte’s Caliban seemed almost benign to begin with, fairly non-descript, yet he came into his own when he met the drunken butler, Stephano, played with excellent comic timing by Jonathan Charles and Trinculo, the ‘jester’ who in this piece was a ventriloquist and played expertly by James Hornsby. The trio were a comedy force to be reckoned with and certainly a hit with the audience. James Lawrence put the sneer, simper and cunning into the ever-plotting Sebastian with gusto, Lawrence returns after his performance in Othello last year and he is an asset to Stafford Shakepeare Festival. Richard Gibson breathed new life into the bumbling Gonzalo, playing him with an air of smugness, I felt, which befitted the role and allowed the character to come to the fore more so than in other versions that I’ve seen. A special mention must also go to Katrina Kleve who gave a glorious performance as Francesca, a fine dancer, singer and all-round entertainer.

Miss The Tempest at your peril, Stafford Shakespeare have produced yet another superior version of a popular classic and the setting of Stafford Castle sets it off in stunning fashion.

 

 

Idina Menzel ~ Symphony Hall

Idina’s tour dates can be found here: Idina Menzel Website

Star rating: ****

An evening at Symphony Hall is one never to be missed, it’s one of my favourite venues. An evening in the company of musical theatre and film star, Idina Menzel, was also an evening full of promise. Unfortunately it promised to bring that dreaded number ‘Let It Go’ with it, cue head in hands, fingers in ears was my thought process ahead of the start of the concert! I am happy to report that a cunning way of performing the track (which still resonates and occasionally grates after all this time) with fans on stage helping out was a lovely gesture on Idina’s part. Who doesn’t dream of meeting their idol, let alone singing with them, and it much improved the experience I had anticipated engaging in a toilet break, for!

Opening the gig by playing drums was a nifty move and I was heartened by the fact that Menzel made so much of the fact that she got her big break in the musical, Rent. Seasons Of Love was one of the highlights for me and her deep respect for the show, the late writer and the fact that it had been responsible for the start of her journey shone through. The rendition of Don’t Rain On My Parade gave Streisand a run for her money and Bridge Over Troubled Water was an apt choice considering recent happenings around the world. Her banter was easy with the adoring fans and she engaged wonderfully with the audience, feeling like we were permitted to take a glimpse into her private bubble added an extra dimension to the evening. Menzel also admitted that she had been suffering from Laryngitis, there were certainly moments where she was unable to hold the microphone close due to potential note wobbles. In spite of any health hindrances, nothing could beat her a cappella version (without microphone) of For Good from Wicked. It was a beautiful moment and showcased extraordinary vocal capabilities.

Menzel’s command of the stage is quite something, if it had simply been an evening of just her with no band or backing vocalists, I still believe that it would have been a great evening’s entertainment. Although the band and backing singers certainly enhanced the show and the violinist in particular was quite stunning to listen to. It was refreshing to have the warm up artists selected from among the band too. One criticism would be the length of time we waited in between the warm up artists and the main lady herself. The momentum built nicely while the support act performed and the atmosphere felt a little flat afterwards and took some building back up, in my opinion.

Overall, the setlist contained a good mixture of music and the old favourites which she is associated with were all thrown in for good measure. If you can go and see the lady in action, I urge you to go – if she can sing like that with a poorly throat, then at full fitness she would be phenomenal! A fantastic role model for all of the Elsa wannabes out there too!

 

Songs and Solidarity ~ Trafalgar Studios, Sunday 25 June 2017

SONGS AND SOLIDARITY A West End concert for those affected by the Grenfell Tower Fire

Sunday 25th June 2017 at 7.30pm

Trafalgar Studios 1

14 Whitehall London SW1A 2DY

Box Office: 0844 871 7632

www.atgtickets.com/shows/songs-and-solidarity/ trafalgar-studios/

Tickets £25 – £45
all tickets are subject to a restoration levy of £1 per ticket and transaction charge of £3.50 per transaction

Giles Terera and Danielle Tarento are presenting a West End fundraising gala evening of song, dance and comedy for the hundreds of families made homeless and the relatives of those who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire.

SONGS AND SOLIDARITY will take place at Trafalgar Studios 1 on Sunday 25 June at 7.30pm.
Among a host of people taking part are Jason Manford, Mark Thomas, Dreamgirls star Tyrone Huntley, Wicked star Rachel Tucker, West End composers Stiles and Drewe, playwright, novelist, critic and broadcaster Bonnie Greer and the West End Gospel Choir.
Giles Terera said: “I’m sure for all of us our immediate response is to want to try and reach out and help, either as an individual or collectively. The community that has suffered this horror has always been a strong, close knit, diverse, creative one. As an artistic community we aim for those same values. At the same time it is a community which has been marginalised and ignored for a very long time. So as well as the vital response of trying to contribute financially and materially we have an opportunity to come together stand in solidarity with those directly affected and say this should not have happened.”
The evening will feature contributions from*: Nikki

Amuka-Bird, Julie Atherton,Rikki Beadle-Blair, Vikash Bhai, Dame Judi Dench, Noma Dumezweni, Clare Foster, Bonnie Greer, Tyrone Huntley, Cassidy Janson, Alexia Khadime, David McAlmont, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Omar F Okai Company, Earl Okin, Jon Robyns, Stiles and Drewe, Claire Sweeney, Rakhee Thakrar, Mark Thomas, Rachel Tucker, Gok Wan, West End Gospel Choir.
Musical Director Tim Sutton

The evening will also feature a silent auction with some sensational theatre-related lots!
*line-up may be subject to change

All proceeds will go to the Grenfell Tower Fire Fund set up by Eartha Pond to ensure the donations go directly to the victims. If you can’t attend but wish to make a donation, please visit Grenfell Tower Fire Fund

Spotlight On… Cast & Creatives from Lesley Ross’s: Rameo and Eweliet

All Star Cast for Rameo & Eweliet

A starry cast led by Evening Standard award winner Tyrone Huntley, Olivier award winner Sharon D.Clarke and RTS award winner Tony Maudsley, bring to vivid life Ripley Theatre’s recording of The Sheep Chronicles: Rameo and Eweliet.

The story of two flocks, the black Ramulets and the white Mintagewes, this reworking of the timeless classic (aimed at 6 to 11 year olds) combines riotous humour, a great dollop of Shakespeare’s original verse, and a score adapted by Josh Bird from the Romeo & Juliet classical repertoire (Bellini, Berlioz, Gounod & Tchaikovsky) making it the perfect introduction to the Baaaaard…

The colour blind casting features the superb Tyrone Huntley as the white sheep Romeo and newcomer Kate Hume as the young black sheep Eweliet.

Tony Maudsley narrates as Flyer Lawrence the wise old owl, with Julie Atherton, Haydn Oakley, Daniel Boys, Paul Bazely, Genesis Lynea, Laura Jane Cook, Gabrielle Brookes, Gladys Hall-Ohver, Simon Burr, Simon Willmont, Rose Shalloo, Suzanne Procter and Sharon D. Clarke completing the cast.

Next month sees the release of another musical audio recording, The Sheep Chronicles: The Amazing Adventures of a Girl Called Red, by James Williams & Lesley Ross. Featuring Hadyn Oakley, Debbie Kurup, Llio Millward, Aaron Lee Lambert, Jodie Jacobs, Kate Hume, Anthony Matteo, Laura Jane Cook, Larry Le Conte and Daniel Boys, the narration is by Doctor Who‘s Louise Jameson.

The Sheep Chronicles: Sleeping Beauty & The Ewe’s Duty, also by Williams & Ross, is currently playing the Brighton Fringe.

The Sheep Chronicles: Rameo and Eweliet “An Ewe Musical” is available now on itunes, amazon, and from CD Baby.

Here are some exclusive interviews with the cast and creatives:

First up we have cast members; Tony Maudsley (TM), Kate Hume (KH) and Haydn Oakley (HO) …

Tell me about the piece and your character?

TM: Well its basically Romeo & Juliet with wool and feathers instead of breeches and doublets, sprinkled with lots of Lesley Ross’s sparkle, humour and magic. Rameo & Eweliet is the very accessible version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, reborn with youngsters in mind and giving them a little leg up onto the literary journey that they’ll no doubt cross paths with further along in their educational careers. Kids, if given the choice, will often pick up a Shakespeare play and immediately discard it when faced with the unfamiliar language and what is to them, an unnatural way of speaking. In Rameo & Eweliet, Lesley Ross has cleverly amalgamated the old with the new, thus allowing the young listener to taste the old without having to be overwhelmed by it, whilst still being able to enjoy the plots and themes and magic of the original.

In the piece, I play Flyer Lawrence, the feathered, flying owl version of the Shakespeare’s wise old monk. The animal version of Friar Lawrence of course had to be an owl. Both bumbling, wise and suspicious in equal measures, though the Flyer, in my opinion, has the edge over the Friar in that he can do a 360 degree head spin…a huge asset in a farmyard where you don’t know who you can trust and who you can’t!!

HO: ‘Rameo & Eweliet’ is a new and exciting project from the creative mind that brought you ‘Barry The Penguin’s Black & White Christmas’. It is an imaginative and interesting take on Shakespeare’s classic love story. But with sheep!? I play Tybalt, the short-tempered cousin of Eweliet our heroine. Eweliet … get it?

KH: So, the piece follows the story of two flocks of sheep; the Ramulets and the Mintagewes. It is a lovely retelling of the classic Shakespeare story, aimed at children and with the addition of songs, set to well known tunes. My character is Eweliet – she is a feisty and fearless animal, belonging to the black Ramulet family.

Haydn Oakley

What was your initial impression of the script?

HO: I felt impressed by the imaginative and engaging way it introduced a new audience to the classic story. We are always looking for ways to reengage with Shakespeare and this is another example of how versatile and gifted a writer he was … a bit like Lesley Ross 😉

KH: I thought it was very clever and extremely funny – and I still do! The farmyard setting means that is easily accessible for children but a lot of the subtle humour will appeal to adults too.

TM: My first impression of the script was one of sheer delight. It was clear, condensed, entertaining, and wonderfully funny, without skipping over the more tragic and serious themes of the original. The great thing about this script is that you’re not being thrown in at the deep end. It takes you gently by the hand and leads you into a world that is new in many ways but that doesn’t completely alienate you and make you feel like you want to run for the hills. The script lifts from the page beautifully and with the addition of modern lyrics set to some of the best classical music ever written, translates to being one of the best educational tools I’ve ever come across.

Was it easy to translate from the page to the recording?

KH: Some of the script is made up of the original language, so that was a joy to record! After listening to the final recording, I feel as though the further script and songs, which are more modern, blend beautifully with the traditional Shakespearian words. I think it reads very well and I am very proud to be a part of it!

HO: I think that it is Lesley who would best be able to answer that, but I’m constantly impressed by the way he can take a story and rework it. Lesley’s imagination is one of his best qualities as a writer but his fearlessness in creating a piece of work like this is also abundantly apparent here. Romeo & Juliet but with farm animals. I suspect he might have been reading George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ around the time he formulated this idea.

Did you have any ideas about what you wanted to bring to the role?

HO: I wanted to bring a touch of menace to the role. Having previously played a Penguin detective with a dry sense of humour for the same writer, it was great to play a character with a different set of emotions. Tybalt is angry at the world and I think that comes across in his words and the way he sings in the musical.

KH: I wanted to ensure that Eweliet came across as courageous and dynamic. I think it is easy for the female romantic character to fall into the soppy and slushy category (!) so I knew I would like to avoid this.

What would you say to encourage people to buy the recording?

TM: Buy this recording and use it as an educational tool. Buy this recording if you want to tease your kids away from their X Boxes for an hour. Or buy this recording just to kick back with a cup of tea and sit back with your feet up and be highly entertained for a while. Lesley has pulled together some of the best talent that the London’s West End stage has to offer and neatly packaged their colossal skills with an upbeat and delightful interpretation of one of the greatest love stories ever told. I promise you, your kids won’t be disappointed and neither will you!

KH: There are so many elements to this piece – new writing, Shakespearean text, classical music, original lyrics and a great cast (!) that it is impossible not to enjoy!

HO: This musical is a great way for people to engage with a classic story. Whether 5 or 105 this story can speak to you. It has a great sense of humour and is also a superb introduction to classical music as the songs are all set to the likes of Bellini and Tchaikovsky.

Also the recording has a pretty stellar cast. Lesley has brought together a pretty impressive line-up of West End theatre performers to give his writing the best possible chance of being accessible to his audience. It’s worth listening to simply to hear the words spoken by the likes of Sharon D Clarke and Julie Atherton (Lady Ramulet and Lady Mintagewe respectively).

Thanks to all for excellent answers! I can’t wait to listen to this.

Lesley Ross

Next up is the Author, Lesley Ross…

Tell me about the piece and your inspiration for it

I have always loved Shakespeare, ever since I played Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aged 10. And as a young drama student I fell in love with Gounod’s opera Romeo and Juliette. So, having co-written several family musicals that featured sheep, and having recently adapted The Little Tempest for the National Theatre, when I was given the opportunity to work with a youth company on a new musical for their Edinburgh Fringe Festival jaunt, I suggested turning R & J into a family show using plenty of the original verse and a series of songs based on the R & J classical repertoire. Hence the use of Bellini, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and of course plenty of Gounod.

Did you have initial ideas about casting and what you wanted actors to bring to the piece?

As it was a show about division, and division drawn on colour lines, I definitely wanted a diverse cast, but I also wanted there to be colour blind casting, because they are ultimately not humans, but sheep, and therefore any actor could fit into any flock, irrespective of their colour. When we did the original show, the Ramulets were written as black sheep and the Mintagewes as white sheep for no other reason than the sizes of the sheep costumes that we had to hand. It was as simple as that. Beyond the diversity of the cast, the most important thing for me was getting to the truth of the situation, to remember that even though it was set on a farm and intended for young people, it was imperative that the listening audience believed what was going on. I had worked with the actor Kate Hume on Barry the Penguin’s Black and White Christmas and having watched the truth that she brings to any situation, she was always my first choice for Eweliet. Then, after seeing Tyrone Huntley in Memphis and Jesus Christ Superstar, I was determined to get him for my Romeo. For each of the other characters I had between one and three people in mind and in every case I somehow managed to get someone on my list. So I have been very lucky in that respect. Very lucky!

What do you hope the audience will take away from the piece?

Well, hopefully it is a message of love, that love can overcome hate, however tragic the circumstances. We live in very divisive times and at one point both leaders of the flocks sing “They’ve a point of view… Should they matter, too?” and that to me is the heart of the piece: to try and understand the other point of view. I also hope that any younger listeners may come to their next Shakespeare or their next piece of classical music unafraid to open themselves up to the verse, or to music they are unfamiliar with. In this piece, whenever there is heightened drama the characters tend speak Shakespeare’s verse or burst into song and hopefully we have guided the audience well enough that they accept these conventions without pause.

Finally, any advice for budding writers?

Write. Write. And write some more. Don’t be afraid to fail (I have, many times). Observe people, listen to what they say and compare it to what they do. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to let your noble characters do bad things, and your evil characters do good things. Oh, and be prepared to be relatively poor (and that even goes for when you are successful) … cos a life of creativity is totally worth it!

Thanks Lesley, you’re an inspiration and Break A Leg wish you every success with this and beyond…!

Here’s the website where you can find out more about Rameo & Eweliet and more.

The Sheep Chronicles Website

 

                               

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