My Top 10 Performers ~ 2017

Performers on stage… I’ve seen a few, but then again… no I’ve definitely seen a few and I’m full of admiration for so many of them. So, who made my top ten this year? Well I’ve had a difficult time whittling the list down but the top ten have each impressed me in ways that have continued to resonate as the year has worn on. Here we go, in no particular order!

Claire Machin ~ I think that The Girls has to be my favourite West End show of 2017 and although it didn’t make my top 5 shows list, it’s still up there as one of the highlights of my theatre-going calendar. I think Claire Machin was one of the crowning glories in that show and she’s also one of my favourite interviewees ever. I urge you to see this amazing lady on stage if you can, her voice, her tenacity and her energy are all infectious. She’s a star.

Daniel Taylor ~ I’ve seen this man in three different guises this year and excels in each of them. Whether he’s imitating Tommy Cooper, spitting and whining as Sammy in Blood Brothers are donning a pair of high heels and mocking Cinderella – he’s an actor de force and will always have my support. Amazing performer and one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, not just in 2017.

Michele Dotrice ~ She’s been one of my favourite on screen actors for years and years, however seeing her in The Girls (twice!) has cemented her as one of my stage favourites too. She can sing, she has comic timing in abundance and she whipped her kit off live on stage too – my hero! I would say I’d like to see more of Michele on stage, however….!

 

Graham Martin ~  I’ve always admired Graham’s ability to play multiple roles in Blood Brothers to an extremely high standard (to the point where I feel the show wouldn’t be the same without him), but he also impressed me in The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre. I’m only sorry to have missed his performance as the King in pantomime this year. Graham’s one of the finest triple threats in my humble opinion.

Sarah Jane Buckley ~ Sarah Jane was my first ever favourite soap star, I’d not really had a favourite character in any of the soaps prior to Kathy Barnes rocking up in Hollyoaks and stirring things up. Sarah Jane is my favourite Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers too, however this year I also had the chance to see her play Mrs Johnstone when she stepped in for Lyn Paul. She was absolutely sensational, I could wax lyrical forever. I’ve also finally seen her in pantomime this season, which was another amazing experience. There’s nothing Sarah Jane can’t do, she’s a natural in every genre of performance.

Tim Churchill ~ Another Blood Brothers star who is my favourite Mr Lyons for sure, but who also starred in Stoke Repertory Theatre’s The Hollow and showed another element to his acting talent. It’s given me a taste of what other roles he would lend himself to, a very talented actor.

Cathy O’Reilly ~ I was really impressed by Cathy’s performance in The Hollow at Stoke Repertory Theatre, she can convey so much without words and the movement and fluidity she put into the role has stuck with me. She’s a talented actor who I’m keen to see perform in other roles in the future. I believe she would be able to play a variety of characters, this introduction has been the tip of the iceberg.

Sean Jones ~ I’ve watched Sean as Mickey in Blood Brothers many, many times and he is inspirational in the role. I feel every nuance of emotion in his performance. So he most definitely makes it to my list because he’s the best Mickey in my favourite musical. I also saw him in as Silly Billy at in Sleeping Beauty Rhyl Pavilion Theatre and he was amazing. Completely reminiscent of my favourite comedy stars whom I grew up watching with comic timing to rival any stand up comedian.

Amy Thompson ~ Amy was on my radar on Channel 5 as a Presenter on Milkshake! because I have a three year old, however last year I was blown away by her performance as Sleeping Beauty at Malvern Theatres. This year, I’ve watched her in the role again and she wowed me all over again, so for her sheer triple threat ability – she’s one of my top performers of 2017.

Robert Daws ~ I’ve always rated Robert Daws, another actor who began as an on-screen favourite then blew me away with his stage roles. How The Other Half Loves was an excellent fit for him, he conveys so much without words and embodies every character he portrays. I highly recommend catching him in a theatre production, I was only sorry not to have been able to have seen How The Other Half Loves again.

 

 

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My Top 5 Productions ~ 2017

2017 has been a bumper year for Break A Leg, we’ve literally been all over the place in as many theatres as possible and loving every minute. There’s been some new links made which we’ll be taking forward to 2018 and a couple of new reviewers are joining the team to cover London theatre. Thanks also go to Chloe Buckles who has guest blogged for us and hopefully she’ll carry on doing so for the new sister blog TV & Movie Scene

Anyway, without further ado – here are my top five favourite theatre productions of the year.

  1. Blood Brothers ~ My ultimate favourite musical and they have one of the best casts ever at the moment. I have managed to get along to see the show three times this year. At Belgrade Theatre, Coventry and at Nottingham Theatre Royal with Lyn Paul in the role of Mrs Johnstone, but also at De Montfort Hall where the added bonus was that Sarah Jane Buckley was playing the role of Mrs J while Lyn Paul was off – one of my most unforgettable moments of this year is definitely having the opportunity to see Sarah Jane in the lead role. I’m already planning a number of return visits for next year. From the score to the exceptional performances to the story and setting itself – this is my musical of choice every time.
  2. How The Other Half Loves ~ I saw this production last year when it was in the West End and I loved it. This year it toured and I managed to catch it at Malvern Theatres, it’s one of my favourite farces and even with some cast changes from West End to touring, this one has still stood out as a highlight of the year. Robert Daws was a fantastic addition to the cast as was Sara Crowe – I’d have loved to have seen it a few more times before the tour finished. Such a watchable piece and belly-laugh-inducing.
  3. 9 to 5 The Musical ~ This piece never fails to bring a smile to my face and the incarnation performed at Upstairs at the Gatehouse will forever be a happy memory. To be able to watch the show in such an intimate space with a strong cast was a pleasure and a privilege. Thanks to Joe Hodges and the cast and crew for an experience like no other.
  4. The Hollow ~ I made a concerted effort to see more locally-based theatre towards the end of this year and fully intend on keeping to the same path next year. Especially as so many fantastic companies and theatres in the midlands and surrounding areas have embraced my little blog. The Hollow was the first of two Agatha Christie plays I saw at Stoke Repertory Theatre and I loved it. A strong cast, some of whom were familiar to me and others who I’m so pleased to have discovered. I’m looking forward to seeing more of United National Theatre Company’s work in the new year. They do great theatre and they are doing the Midlands proud.
  5. All Our Children ~ My first trip to Jermyn Street Theatre and to see my lovely Rebecca Johnson being her amazing self on stage, too – a real treat. The play was a debut piece by Stephen Unwin who I am mostly familiar with as a Director. It was and remains one of the most intensely moving theatrical experiences of my reviewing career to date. I enjoy theatre that challenges the way I think and this play offered the chance for that and much more. The easiest five stars I’ve ever pulled out of my bag of stars!

Cinderella ~ Liverpool Empire Theatre

Cinderella runs until 7 January 2018, book your tickets here: Liverpool Empire Theatre

Star rating: *****

QDOS are renowned for their lavish, special effects-laden productions and Cinderella at Liverpool Empire Theatre is no exception. With a small cast of lead roles, an extremely able ensemble and a set to rival most of the pantomimes I’ve seen this season – it’s one to bag a ticket for if you can.

What was notable about this incarnation of the popular fairy story was that the lead roles were minimal, leaving the show in the hands of just seven lead characters. All of whom were more than capable of moulding the show into a stand-out spectacle in the best sense of the word. The pace of the production was quick, sharp and ideal for young audience members, capturing the attention of my three year old son and holding his interest for the entire show. Not one of the scenes dragged on, there was a slickness to every nuance.

Olivia Sloyan was a fantastic choice to take the title role, stunning vocals and she acted the role beautifully. Duncan James made for one of the best Princes I’ve seen particularly as he lacked the ‘cheese’ factor as is often associated with the so called hero of the piece. Of course with a singer from Blue at the helm, every song he featured in was exceptional. James Templeton and Daniel Taylor were hilarious as the Ugly Sisters, their partnership was one to be reckoned with and they were mean, cackling disaster areas with quick changes to rival most Dames! Add John Evans to the ensemble as Buttons and the element of comedy sky rocketed, his comedy background shone through and my face ached from laughing at his cornucopia of jokes. What a gem to add to an already sparkling cast. To top it off, Jodie Prenger as Fairy Godmother is a moment I will never forget, motherly, caring and ditzy with those trademark powerhouse vocals and a cheeky glint in her eye. She was my son’s favourite and she truly set the stage alight in every way!

Liverpool have the best production of Cinderella I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this festive season and I cant recommend it highly enough – it’s got all of the traditions expected from a Pantomime with a whole lot of wow to go with it!

Sleeping Beauty ~ Rhyl Pavilion Theatre

Sleeping Beauty stays at Rhyl Pavilion Theatre until 6 January 2018 – BOOK NOW! www.rhylpavilion.co.uk/sleeping-beauty/

Star rating: ******

I’ve seen more than my fair share of Pantomimes this season – oh yes I have! I’m having a ball and I’ve liberally dished out the stars which have been richly deserved. However, I have found one which deserves more than five stars, and that’s Sleeping Beauty which is gracing the stage of Rhyl Pavilion Theatre.

I couldn’t find fault with this stunning spectacle if I tried and there’s not one weak link amongst an exceptional cast who each play a full role in the show. Unlike many shows I’ve seen before where a Fairy might only be seen for a few key scenes and a King would appear a handful of times – every character is at the hub of the perfectly paced production.

There’s a fantastic mixture of musical numbers and with Sarah Jane Buckley as Fairy Snowflake, Vicky Entwistle as Carabosse and Amy Thompson as Sleeping Beauty herself, at the helm, musically the show is already in superb hands. All three female leads have stunning vocal capability which they demonstrate to the maximum. Add Sean Jones to the mix as the hilarious Silly Billy and Chris Warner Drake as the Prince and the performance level is taken to another dimension. With Charles Burden as Nanny Glucose bringing a wealth of experience to the show and Sam Patrick making an excellent Pantomime debut.

The combination of modern material blended with traditional madcap pantomime high-jinx delighted the packed house and truly makes this a pantomime with something for everyone. Family orientated with jokes for adults and the smaller members of the audience.

The scenery is quite something, providing an elaborate backdrop fitting for the fairy tale. There are a few special effects which I won’t spoil, however the quality of the content means that effects are merely a bonus feature. Magic is created by every actor on stage who are each giving 110% to make this a pantomime de force.

The opportunities for audience participation are plentiful, the fourth wall is smashed, just as it should be. Sean Jones is nothing short of a comedy genius and his natural talent is reminiscent of the comedy heroes I grew up watching. Charles Burden’s Nanny Glucose is an able sidekick for Billy, a traditional Dame indeed with many quick changes and a superb range of costumes. Chris Warner Drake played the Prince as a solid, dependable hero and he was a perfect match for Amy Thompson as the gentile and beautiful Princess. I’ve seen Thompson as Sleeping Beauty previously and she never fails to impress me, she is one of the finest Pantomime Princesses I’ve seen. Vicky Entwistle as Carabosse was a revelation to me, such a seething, feisty and fiery baddie – Entwistle embraces the role and gave an outstanding performance. As for Sarah-Jane Buckley, she’s the epitome of magic, sparkle and silliness. She’s glitzy, glittery and also offers precise comic timing and a West Country accent! The best Fairy in Panto-land, in my humble opinion.

If you’re in need of a post-Christmas pick-me-up then this seaside extravaganza is just the ticket and you’ve got just over a week to see it.

Spotlight On… Star of Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – Samuel Townsend

Samuel Townsend plays Numbskull (and he makes a cameo appearance as Friar Tuck in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s pantomime, Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – here, he tells Break A Leg all about it… oh yes he does!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell us about your character.

I play Numbskull and basically I’m the silly character, although this time around there’s a lot of heart in the role and a lot of Numbskull’s motivations are down to his love for Maid Marian. He’s blind-sighted and makes silly mistakes throughout the show because of his love for Maid Marian. People can expect lots of slapstick from me and I’ll probably end up with lots of bruises!

Why do you think audiences love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime format so much? 

I think they’re different to things that people have seen before because it’s rare that you’ll see quadruple threats in one show. It’s a talented company. This time you get to see it all as it happens, it’s part rock gig and part panto –  a big family concert for everyone.

What’s your favourite thing about pantomime season? 

As we get closer to Christmas it’s normally the first thing on many people’s lists, my parents will watch a panto and that’s the beginning of Christmas for them. It’s nice to see everyone relax and sink into the start of Christmas.

Why do you think that pantomime is still an important part of Great British culture?

I think for a lot of people it’s their first experience in the theatre, we have lots of school shows and that is the first time these kids will have seen anything live on stage. It’s a British tradition and I think it’s something that is very staple British format. British humour, great songs, very much a celebration.

Who are your pantomime idols?

Steve Simmonds! I didn’t see that many pantomimes when I was younger but my Uncle watched a lot of Laurel and Hardy and I think that they’ve been an inspiration.

Finally, sell the show – why should everybody buy a ticket to see Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood? 

If you’ve seen it before you know what you’re getting, it’s a rock concert with something for everybody and all the family. If you haven’t seen it before it’s really quite a spectacle.

Spotlight On… Star of Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – Rachel Nottingham

Rachel Nottingham plays Britney in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s pantomime, Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – here, she tells Break A Leg all about it… oh yes she does!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell us about your character.

I’m playing Britney who is one of the Babes in the Wood and I’m very lucky to be working with Celia who plays my sister. We’ve got a good rapport going on hopefully. Britney and her sister Whitney are the typical ‘It’ girls so rather than being babes as in children we are Babes as in eye candy. We’re all about image and the way we come across, looking the best, getting the guys, I imagine they’re the sorts of people who have very expensive handbags and shoes. They’re quite cocky but they are goodies, I want them to be likeable, they’re a bit silly, they do fall in love in the show with the Merry Men.

Why do you think audiences love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime format so much? 

I think the great thing about the Rock ‘n’ Roll panto is that you’ve got the Dame and the silly gags, you’ve also got all the basics then you add into it a load of amazing songs that everybody knows, classic rock ‘n’ roll songs and you can’t really go wrong with performing those. The fact that it’s all played live on stage, I think audiences love that, I know when I go and see a show – to see the instruments played live on stage makes it come alive.

What’s your favourite thing about pantomime season? 

Genuinely the audiences, when you do a show normally, audiences can be great but when you do a pantomime the audiences are high on life, they all seem to really love it, they throw themselves into it. It’s a different kind of atmosphere, they’re completely on your side and they’re there to have a really good time. If you have fun with the show, the audience will have fun – it’s more a collaborative experience for audience and performers. It’s interactive and every show is different because an audience member might say something or do something that changes the scene.

Why do you think that pantomime is still an important part of Great British culture?

It’s been around for so long hasn’t it and everyone remembers going to the pantomime as a kid. I went to the Stevenage pantomime every year and it was so magical growing up and as an adult you get something completely different from it. That’s the great things about pantomime, it suits all ages. It’s magical for the kids but for the adults it’s hilarious and ridiculous. It’s so inclusive, non theatre goers come to the theatre which is great.

Who are your pantomime idols?

My friend Clare Halse, I saw her in The Babes In The Wood when I was 10 years old, she started off in pantomime and she’s done amazingly well as a dancer and performer. She’s playing Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street in the West End at the moment, she’s always inspired me to be a better performer. She’s an incredible dancer, dancing is her forte and it’s great to have seen her go all the way from panto to the West End.

Finally, sell the show – why should everybody buy a ticket to see Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood? 

It’s for everyone, it’s a really fun night out and there are some banging tunes in there too.

Spotlight On… Star of Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – Robert Wade

Robert Wade plays Will Scarlet and Blondel in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s pantomime, Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – here, he tells Break A Leg all about it… oh yes he does!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell us about your characters.

I play two characters, Will Scarlet and Blondel. Will Scarlet is a famous Merry Man, he’s full of himself, he’s a ladies man but he’s equally got a silly side I would say. The character of Blondel is the story teller and narrator-type figure, he’s high energy and a bit of a rock star. They’re both quite similar characters in a way.

Why do you think audiences love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime format so much? 

It’s the fusion of live music and acting/performance which is quite a cool thing as a visual, to watch actors who play really well and then sing all in one show. Rather than having the defined line between musician and the actor.

What’s your favourite thing about pantomime season? 

This is my second pantomime and I like the camaraderie between the cast members, you’re all in it together, you’re all doing two shows a day. You’re rushing back for Christmas, you’re rushing back for new year and everyone is doing the same.

Why do you think that pantomime is still an important part of Great British culture?

It grew from the Music Hall era, the late Victoria twenties/thirties vibe and audiences have always enjoyed songs and acts. Panto has slapstick acts, songs and music. Theatres rely so much on panto as a crowd pleaser. Some people’s only experience at the theatre is watching pantomime. So if there’s a combination of comedy, music and romance then there’s nothing more British.

Who are your pantomime idols?

I don’t really have pantomime idols, I suppose I’m doing what I’m doing because of musical theatre – I played Oliver at the age of seven and it went from there.

Finally, sell the show – why should everybody buy a ticket to see Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood? 

It’s got men in tights! It’s got songs, rock n roll songs from across the decades and genres, it’s got arrows, sword fights, greenery, puppets, an amazing set, amazing music and you’ll be up on your feet to dance. There’s jokes, a good story and everything, there’s nothing not to like!

Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood ~ Stafford Gatehouse Theatre

Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood stays at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre until 7 January 2018, to book tickets follow the link: Stafford Gatehouse Theatre Pantomime

Star rating: ******

It’s been a long time since I last saw Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood performed, and it was a very different incarnation to the Rock ‘N’ Roll version currently being staged at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre. This particular version has become one of my favourite pantomimes of the season! It’s got it all, from a multi-talented who play numerous instruments and characterise their roles perfectly whilst also each having incredible singing voices – to a simple yet stunningly effective and innovatively practical set. You won’t be disappointed if you make it your priority to buy a ticket to this glorious production.

Taking the title role of Robin Hood is Sandy Grigelis and he’s the epitome of a pantomime hero, with a trademark cheesy smile which he flashes at the audience and doesn’t go amiss! His vocal ability lends itself to the various hits that he belted out, from ‘I Fought The Law’ to ‘Born To Run’. Laura Sillett was the perfect match for him as a feisty Maid Marion, an exceptional talent, Sillett brought out the strengths of the character rather than offering her as a meek ‘Princess’ and she’s another strong vocalist too. In fact ‘A Natural Woman’ was one of many highlights for me. Anthony Hunt was terrific as Sheriff of Nottingham, he was dastardly and yet a likeable villain. Samuel Townsend also gave a stand-out performance as Numbskull and Friar Tuck, he’s clearly adept at comedy and his comic timing provided the roles with additional impetus. Dominic Gee-Burch was a fantastic side-kick for Townsend as Portullis the ‘goon’ and was also notable as Little John. Mike Slader and Robert Wade played a number of characters between them, both gave strong performances and it took time for me to realise they were playing multiple roles – they were each so believable in the characters they took on. I was delighted to see the Babes portrayed as two older female ‘babes’ and Rachel Nottingham together with Celia Cruwys-Finnigan were outstanding as Whitney and Britney (insert clicking fingers and growls here!). ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ was another highlight for me which was performed by the Babes and Marion. Finally, Steve Simmonds as Nanny Nelly Nightmare, he was everything a Dame should be – quick witted with an abundance of energy and gave a fearless portrayal.

In short, miss this show at your peril – Stafford have got one tremendous pantomime this year and the Rock ‘N’ Roll genre is innovative and fast becoming my favourite style of panto.

Spotlight On… Star of Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – Sandy Grigelis

Sandy Grigelis plays Robin Hood in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s pantomime, Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood – here, he tells Break A Leg all about it… oh yes he does!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell us about your character.

I play Robin Hood, he’s the leader of the Merry Men, he’s very confident and finds it easy to outwit the Sheriff and his friends. His weakness is Marian, his weakness is also being too confident. That’s what might throw him off in this production and he needs to find the difference and the fine medium between his love for Marian and his confidence.

Why do you think audiences love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantomime format so much? 

Because they’re awesome! There’s nothing else like them, I think it’s incredible that all the musicians are on stage. You get an amazing, well written story – but then there’s so much going on you don’t know where to look. We’re lucky to have a cast of so many talented people.

What’s your favourite thing about pantomime season? 

I just love the festive season anyway, it’s something which doesn’t take itself too seriously – you know what you’re going to get with a pantomime. There’s a romance story, audience participation , rock music too which is my favourite thing, popular tunes from various decades.

Why do you think that pantomime is still an important part of Great British culture?

It’s such a British thing, as Brits we’re very traditional and proud of it so pantomime’s never going to stop, you won’t find it anywhere else in the world.

Who are your pantomime idols?

I always went to see the pantomime in Bradford and there’s a comedian called Billy Pearce who does their pantomime every year. My girlfriend is doing the pantomime there with him this year which is really exciting.

Finally, sell the show – why should everybody buy a ticket to see Robin Hood And The Babes In The Wood? 

It’s the best Rock ‘n’ Roll pantomime that’s out there in my opinion, there’s so much to it. There’s amazing comedy, amazing actors and actresses, the best songs. Come and see it!

 

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