Dr Hook Starring Dennis Locorierre ~ Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Dr Hook are continuing to tour into 2018 – all information can be found here: Dr Hook Tour Dates

Star rating: *****

Dr Hook are a band who’s music has stood the test of time regardless of the various incarnations that have taken place as the years have rolled by. Dennis Locorierre remains at the helm, his voice in as fine a form as it has always been in and he has a fantastic band behind him, all of whom are exceptional performers and musicians in their own right. Together they provided us with a varied evening of music that the majority of the packed house were familiar with and there was a good bit of banter from Locorierre too.

When I think of Dr Hook I immediately recall ‘Sexy Eyes’, ‘Better Love Next Time’ and ‘Sylvia’s Mother’. However, their back catalogue boasts other incredible hit songs such as; A Little Bit More, When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman and Sharing the Night Together. To experience these hits live is special, to see Dr Hook sing live is akin to listening to one of their albums. In fact hearing their music in a concert setting makes them sound even better if that were possible.

One of the highlights of the evening for my husband and I, personally was ‘Shine Son’ which neither of us had heard before, as parents to a small boy ourselves, the lyrics resonated. What’s true of this song and indeed each of Dr Hook numbers is that there is always such an intricate yet basic story at the heart of each one. Ballad, rock, country – they do it all and their ability to switch genres so extraordinarily is commendable.

A special mention must go to ‘Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball’ which was certainly a crowd pleaser!

Symphony Hall was rocking with fans of all ages in attendance and an electric atmosphere. Go and see these guys on tour if you can, it’s understandable as to why most of their tour dates are sold out. Dennis Locorierre has stage presence to rival his peers and his vocals are out of this world.

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Cinderella ~ Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Cinderella runs at the Belgrade Theatre until 13 January 2018 – book your tickets here: Belgrade Theatre

Star rating: ****

It’s the first pantomime of Break A Leg’s busy season – oh yes it is! What better way to kick start it than with Cinderella at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre? Written and directed by Iain Lauchlan who also plays one of the Ugly Sisters (Dyspepsia), it’s a traditional take on the popular story with just the right dose of modern twists.

The set should be commended, for engaging the whole audience before the orchestra struck up – the splendour of the scenery was not lost on my three year old son, my mum or myself. The glitzy finish, clock and fabulous mice were all a fantastic starter in advance of the main course which was also exceptionally glorious. It was a chameleon of a set in fact and the lighting (designed by Pete Cramer) enhanced the ambience. Add to this a flying horse which could rival any creature from the Harry Potter movies and you’ve got yourself a pantomime that will leave a lasting impression.

Maggie Robson as Fairy Godmother

Cinders herself was a gentile, cheery and elegant leading lady played by Alice Rose Fletcher. One criticism being that she wore her ‘rags’ well and the ‘rags’ were extremely vibrant. Fletcher shared some beautiful duets with Bethany Brookes who played Prince Charming. Dandini was played by Letitia Hector and she was extremely exuberant with a powerful vocals. Maggie Robson was resplendent as the Wicked Stepmother, a villainous piece whom Robson embraced, looking fierce with a hint of Cruella De Vil as she revelled in causing Cinderella misery. Maggie also played Fairy Godmother and so vast was the transformation that it was easy to forget that she was playing both roles. Robson ended act one with a stunning solo. Iain Lauchlan and Greg Powrie were an amazing double act as the Ugly Sisters, I particularly enjoyed their grand entrance through the stalls and they worked brilliantly opposite one another. The chemistry worked and the slop scene with Buttons Craig Hollingsworth) was one of the highlights as the sisters prepared for the ball. Buttons is a character who is almost like the glue that pieces the story together, he’s in love with Cinderella but she loves him like a brother. He’s ‘in charge’ of the Ugly Sisters and he also take an integral part at the ball. There was nobody better than Craig Hollingsworth to play the ‘lynchpin’ and his quick wit, zany humour and happy go lucky persona worked superbly.

Memorable slop scene!

The audience participation and interaction in this pantomime was also notable, Buttons selected a lady from the front row to help him to practice telling Cinders that he loves her. Meanwhile the Ugly Sisters each have a boyfriend from the audience, both of whom have to be seated on stage before the end of the Scottish tune that signals their ‘moment’ – landing in their seats before the music stops ensures they avoid a snog from their ugly ‘suitors’. You can imagine how long the music plays for…! I must also mention Buttons and his nod towards a certain ginger singer/songwriter – Ed Sheeran is Cinderella’s favourite!

There’s a good mixture of songs although I’d have happily listened to a few more, lively choreography and a strong ensemble – I think that Coventry have a pantomime to be proud of this year. Oh yes they do!

 

Blood Brothers ~ Theatre Royal, Nottingham

Blood Brothers is on UK tour, all details can be found here: Blood Brothers UK Tour

Star rating: *****

Blood Brothers is one of Break A Leg’s favourites and it’s always a joy to review the show, the dynamics are different each time and yet the overall drama, comic timing and splendour of the production never waivers.

The story of the Johnstone twins who were separated at birth is led by the one and only Lyn Paul who has vocal ability which lends itself so perfectly to the role of Mrs Johnstone. Tell Me It’s Not True is a number which she has undoubtedly made her own. It’s fair to say that Mrs J fits Lyn Paul like a glove. Sarah Jane Buckley is a fine match for her as Mrs Lyons, I actually can’t imagine anyone else playing Mrs Lyons now – and yet I was lucky enough to see her as Mrs Johnstone when she understudied the role (see review here:  Sarah Jane Buckley Review) I don’t think I can elaborate on that experience any better than I did in that mini review!

I enjoyed the perspective I had on the set and backdrop on this occasion, I notice something different each time and I felt drawn in by the lights of Liverpool and particularly delighted in the ways in which the lighting accentuate the mood of the narrator (played terrifically by Chris Chisnall, so sinister and yet the softness of the heart of the character does shine through). Shoes Upon The Table is my absolute favourite song in the show, the strong, rousing beat of the music reflects the seriousness of the situation and I find its reprises are so in keeping with the nuances of the musical.

Sean Jones is an exceptional Mickey, from the 7 (nearly 8) year old with his hole-riddled pullover which he can pull down over his knees to the troubled and almost terrifying adult he becomes as a result of life’s twists and turns. Together with Mark Hutchinson as Edward, they have believable chemistry and the relationship with Linda (Danielle Corlass) has so many dimensions, its a clever little web. It’s clear that Linda loves both of the boys but in widely different ways and I feel sure that had the shoe been on the other foot, she would have had her heard turned by Mickey for different reasons leaving ‘Eddie’ jealous and suspicious.

The ensemble who play numerous roles between them should also be commended for the slickness with which they move from character to character. Graham Martin, Graeme Kinniburgh, Andy Owens, Alison Crawford, Tim Churchill and Amy-Jane Ollies make a tight-knit group who are each responsible for keeping the action flowing. I especially enjoyed Daniel Taylor’s portrayal of Sammy, I think he’s the best I’ve seen in the role.

This musical will continue to stand the test of time, I’m confident of that, and with popular tunes such as Marilyn Monroe, My Child and Easy Terms at the helm – it’s not difficult to see why the show packs houses out all over the UK.

 

 

 

Spotlight On… Star of Follies, Sarah-Marie Maxwell

Last year I saw an outstanding young actor in the ensemble of The Fix at The Union Theatre, Sarah-Marie Maxwell stood out for all of the right reasons and somehow I knew this was just the start of a fantastic career for her. Since then she has appeared in The Braille Legacy and She Loves Me. However, until 3rd January 2018 you can see her in The National Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of Follies and I’m so excited for her! Sarah-Marie was interviewed for Break A Leg last year and I’m delighted that she agreed to chat to me again, so without further ado…

Thank you so much for talking to Break A Leg again. Tell me about Follies and your experience so far.

Follies has been an incredible experience so far. At 24 having the opportunity to work with such fantastic people and in The National Theatre of all places is so overwhelming. I honestly pinch myself most days I’m in the building. 

What are the challenges of the show?

This is a mammoth show with moving set, a revolve, huge costumes and a cast of 37 strong so it does come with its challenges. I think, certainly for myself anyway, staying completely connected with my older self purely by observing throughout the first 45 minutes of the show, wearing a relatively heavy headdress is a challenge but one I enjoy and discover new things during each performance. 

What are your personal highlights?

It’s so difficult to choose just one highlight as the piece is stunning in its entirety. If I narrowed it down to 4 moments they would have to be the duet between our gorgeous Alison Langer and Dame Josephine Barstow. ‘One More Kiss’ is so haunting, so beautiful that it goes straight through you and Alison and Josephine’s voices are pure perfection together. It’s very moving and has had us all crying since rehearsals.

The second is singing ‘Beautiful Girls’ at the top of the show after we’ve seen the Follies ghost showgirls take the space and the Follies ladies re-enter the theatre after many years. Every single cast member is on stage and it feels like a phenomenal celebration of the past and present. It’s magical! A truly special moment. 

I just have to mention Imelda Staunton’s version of ‘Losing My Mind’ it’s hard to put into words how fascinating she is as a character to watch and she has been my idol for many years so it’s madness I get to share the stage with such a fiercely talented woman. She blows the roof off the Olivier stage after that number and with her performance it’s inspiring. 

And my very own highlight would have to be opening the show as a 1930’s Swarovski encrusted, feather wearing showgirl. I feel nervous every time standing at the top of the tower waiting for my green light to go. I can’t quite describe the feeling when I step out onto that high balcony and see the faces in the audience, it’s hard to put into words but it’s certainly a feeling I’ll never forget. 

Did you have any ideas of what you wanted to bring to the character?

When I learned I was the younger self of one of the Follies ladies I did a fair bit of research to bring as much to the room as I possibly could, mostly on the 1930’s era in Paris as that’s where Solange is from. But after working one to one with Geraldine who plays Solange, we discovered things together and made choices based on what we both thought of the character. I felt I had a responsibility to capture all the things my co-worker envisioned her younger self to be before leaving the Follies. It was interesting and lovely to work closely with the lovely Geraldine Fitzgerald.

What do you think the strengths of the show are?

The show has so many strengths. I think not having an interval is the biggest strength in this particular piece. I know as an audience member having no interval seems daunting but Follies was originally written this way and it’s great that we at The National get to honour Sondheim and how he intended the show to be. It keeps the audience invested in every character till the very last beat. They come out really feeling like they have been on the journey with us.

Which character could you see yourself playing in future years and why?

If I could be one character in the show in the future I would really love to play Phyllis. She is such a complex character and has a huge emotional journey that I would love to explore and delve into in future years when I have more life experience. Watching Janie Dee as Phyllis in the show is mesmerising. I just constantly want to know what she is thinking as her character it’s so detailed.

Finally, sell the show to me – why should everybody beg, borrow or steal a ticket? 

The show really does sell itself but I can tell you, you do not want to miss it. From the set to the sensational costumes, the storyline and out of this world performances from industry legends. It’s a no brainer. 

Follies is the must see show of this year. So make sure when it comes to January 3rd 2018 you haven’t missed out! 

Team Break A Leg are in on 19th December and we can’t wait! Thanks again to ‘Young Solange’ for her time, Sarah-Marie Maxwell, you deserve every success and I can’t wait to be able to see you where you belong. 

Spotlight On… Actor, Matt Houlihan

Matt Houlihan is an actor I’ve recently been introduced to, he’s a busy man! Next year he’ll be treading the boards as Claudius in Hamlet, you can catch him in a web series called A Lesson Learnt and he also appears in a short film, Saving Me From Me. There are many more projects coming up for Matt, too – so I’m delighted that he had time in his schedule to chat to me about everything that he’s up to.

Watch the vlog to hear all from the man himself…

 

And Then There Were None ~ Stoke Repertory Theatre

And Then There Were None was produced by United National Productions Limited, they will be producing further pieces at Stoke Repertory Theatre in 2018. Watch this space…

Star rating: *****

Having reviewed The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre earlier this year, also care of United National Productions Limited, and thoroughly enjoyed the exceptional staging of one of Agatha Christie’s masterpieces – I anticipated great things from their version of And Then There Were None. I was not disappointed, in fact the production blew me away and had me on the edge of my seat with a constant eye on the mantelpiece!

The story chillingly centres around the Ten Little Soldier Boys rhyme and involves ten individuals arriving at a grand house on a remote island in Devon. Aside from the servants (who are married), none of the ten are related to one another or have prior knowledge of one another, or do they? The upshot is that there’s a murderer on the island who knows a piece of information about each one and he’s got a plan. A plan which includes the demise of each soldier figurine as the death toll rises.

In my opinion, it’s one of Christie’s most translatable stories as I have read the book, seen a few television adaptations and now I’ve seen it on stage – none of the mystery, intrigue or tension is lost at any point in any of the versions I’ve encountered. Its testament to Director, Robert Marsden and his cast that this production has lived up to that expectation, though.

There’s a set which lends itself to the comings and going of a fast-paced whodunit and also represents the grandeur of the building to which each ‘soldier’ has been summoned. The lighting provides an eerie tension in itself and the scene transitions are minimal yet seamless.

The cast boasts an impressive ensemble of actors at the top of their game; John Highton has one wondering if it was the butler whodunit with a bizarre air of mystery surrounding him as Thomas Rogers. Deborah Cornock (who impressed me as the murderer in The Hollow) played a timid yet assertive Ethel Rogers. Ashley Andrew was perfectly cast as Vera Claythorne, elegant, occasionally allowing fear to seep through while appearing far too calm considering the circumstances. Chris Wollaton cut a dashing figure as Philip Lombard, flirtatious and flippant, while in contrast, Patricia Jones was quiet, considered and disapproving as Emily Brent. Steve McTigue put in an excellent performance as the troubled General MacKenzie, equally James King was an ideal choice for the short-lived role of Anthony Marston – far too jolly and a speed demon. David Bowen captivated me as William Blore, his energy and verve were spot on and he drew my attention throughout, as did Ray Johnson as Justice Wargrave – a commanding presence indeed. A special mention must go to our Break A Leg Awards nominee Nigel Peever who played Dr Arnstrong. Peever was undoubtedly one of the stars of The Hollow, for me personally and his performance still resonates. However, as Dr Armstrong I felt that he was an even better fit (if that’s possible!) he underplayed his part and brought the character to the fore only when it was necessary.

Five stars for a piece which has become one of the highlights of my theatre critiquing year! Well done United National Theatre Productions Ltd, you’re putting Stoke on the map as a producer of amazing theatre.

 

 

 

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