Friday, December 3

REVIEWS

Handel’s Messiah – Liverpool Empire
North West

Handel’s Messiah – Liverpool Empire

As the calendar ticks over into December and Christmas looms properly into view, there are certain things that can be guaranteed – that there will be arguments over whether Die Hard is a Christmas film. That you’ll buy yourself a discount advent calendar because you’re never too old. And that somewhere, choirs are dusting off their music for Handel’s Messiah. Tonight, it’s the mighty Glyndebourne opera company who have taken on the mantle, sandwiching it between performances of The Rake’s Progress and Don Pasquale as part of a three-night residency at the Liverpool Empire during their wider UK tour. In contrast to these two shows, their Messiah is set to be a more austere affair, with a simple tier of chairs for the chorus and additional seating for tonight’s four soloists.  An...
A Christmas Carol – Alexandra Palace
London

A Christmas Carol – Alexandra Palace

For many Christmas would not be Christmas without Dicken’s famous ghost tale which in many ways started and embodies the Victorian tradition of Christmas, which is still with us today. The Nottingham Playhouse production presently playing at Alexandra Palace is a new adaptation by Mark Gatiss, who also stars as Jacob Marley. The play script follows the traditional story closely with all the normal ingredients that one would expect, but Gatiss emphasises the spookiness of the original story which in the dilapidated auditorium of the old, but only recently re-opened Alexandra Palace Theatre, works well and is enhanced by numerous very effective supernatural effects created by the illusion designer John Bulleid. The traditional setting, however, is not maintained by the Paul Wills’ set...
Beauty and the Beast – Leeds City Varieties
Yorkshire & Humber

Beauty and the Beast – Leeds City Varieties

I say it every year - oh yes, I do - that the success of any panto depends on how good their Dame is and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto has one of the best purveyors of that quintessentially British mix of laughs and seasonal smut in Simon Nock. This is his fourth year at this historic city centre home of light entertainment and his Dame Bessie Bigbreaths - see what they did there - is a glorious mix of spraying out corny laughs for the children and some very near the knuckle gags for the not so young kids. He gets away with it - oh yes, he does - because he has charm to burn and times a gag well, combined with a wonderfully expressive raise of the eyebrow when the Dame has gone too far. This is the tenth year of the Rock ‘n’ Roll franchise in Leeds who have become the masters of integrati...
Peter Pan – Octagon Theatre
North West

Peter Pan – Octagon Theatre

Peter Pan is a classic – whether you know it as the original children’s book by J.M Barrie, the Disney animation, or any of the other cinematic adaptations that have come since. The problem with a popular story that has been told and retold again is that oftentimes, there is no originality left – you’re so familiar with the story, that there’s nothing new or innovative. However, the audience of The Bolton Octagon’s production of Peter Pan have no such worries – this show has the reassuringly familiar storylines and much-loved characters; yet has been staged so dynamically (and features new musical numbers) that it almost feels like watching it for the very first time. Adapted for stage in 2018 by Sarah Punchon, this production has been brought to life in Bolton by Artistic Director ...
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – The Troubadour Theatre
London

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – The Troubadour Theatre

I was twelve years old when I first entered Christopher Boone’s world in the pages of Mark Haddon’s widely celebrated novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Fifteen years later and a decade after the play first premiered, I sat in the audience of the Troubadour Theatre in a pool of nostalgia as passages from the story vividly made their way back from my memory. Christopher’s detective journey across the United Kingdom was my first introduction to neurodiversity as a young adult. Traveling through his narrative altered my very singular understanding of touch, sound, and emotion in a way that fifteen years later, staged within the deft craft of Simon Steven’s playwriting, held even more value. This play has been taken all around the world. It has excellent reviews and ...
Sleeping Beauty – Edinburgh King’s Theatre
Scotland

Sleeping Beauty – Edinburgh King’s Theatre

Allan Stewart and Grant Stott star in the King's Theatre Panto as Queen May and Carabosse. with Jordan Young as Muddles; Sia Dauda as Princess Beauty, Nicola Meehan as The Good Fairy and Clare Gray as Narcissa. It was written by Alan McHugh and directed by Ed Curtis. The programme says that production company Crossroads Pantomimes has spent £1.5 million on sets and costumes (which necessitated 20 makers) for this year's London Palladium pantomime, which will be seen in cities such as Birmingham, Wimbledon and Bristol in the years to follow. In the King's Theatre's Sleeping Beauty the budget is definitely on show through its multicoloured costumes (by Mike Coltman), lavish sets (designed by Ian Westbrook) and the odd Giant Flying Vampire Bat, motorcycle and pyrotechnics (special effects...
Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress –Liverpool Empire
North West

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress –Liverpool Empire

The art historian in me jumped at the chance to see William Hogarth’s most-celebrated caricature brought to life in Stravinsky’s opera with a libretto by none other than celebrated poets WH Auden and Chester Kallman, and a classic cross-hatched set design from David Hockney providing a very fitting tribute to the original satire. Under the direction of John Cox, we open to our hero Tom Rakewell (Frederick Jones) with his very literal Anne Trulove (Soraya Mafi) in the garden of her father (Stephen Richardson). The devil makes work for idle hands and it’s the appearance of Nick Shadow (Sam Carl) who delivers a Faustian-like pact, but one very much of the devil’s making, that sees our rake’s progress well and truly begin as we move from the brothel education of Mother Goose (Fiona Kimm) t...
Grease – Leeds Grand Theatre
Yorkshire & Humber

Grease – Leeds Grand Theatre

It’s great that this production carries on the classic movie’s proud tradition of having twentysomethings playing teenagers about to leave Rydell High School for the real world. It’s a bit odd the thick American accents the relatively inexperienced cast deploy seem to be from Brooklyn rather than the tough working-class area of Chicago the original theatre production was set in. The voice coach should have dialled it down a bit which would have helped with the sometimes wayward diction. It’s probably fair to say most of the audience were looking for a scene by scene recreation of the beloved movie, and to that extent they do get well staged versions of all songs they had grown up loving.  But the producers claim to have retained the darker elements of the rawer early 1970s scri...
The Drifters Girl – Garrick Theatre
London

The Drifters Girl – Garrick Theatre

Jonathan’s Church’s brand-new musical The Drifters Girl focuses on Faye Treadwell, the female manager of The Drifters, one of the biggest R&B groups of all time. Through some of their greatest hits, the jukebox musical follows Treadwell’s journey from a Southern-born teacher to the world’s first African American female music manager as she recounts her story to her daughter. Singing sensation and Queen of British Soul Beverley Knight, stars as Faye Treadwell alongside four extremely talented singers – Adam J Bernard (Dreamgirls), Tarinn Callender (Hamilton), Matt Henry (Kinky Boots) and Tosh Wanogho-Maud (Showboat). Packing in plenty of high-energy and fun, the cast performed classics such as ‘Kissin’ in the Back Row of the Movies’, ‘Rat Race’ and ‘You're More than a Number In m...
The Railway Children – Hull Truck Theatre
Yorkshire & Humber

The Railway Children – Hull Truck Theatre

Once in a while, a theatre event comes along that, in the words of Mary Poppins, is “truly scrumptious”. Those two words perfectly sum up the festive concoction served up by the Hull Truck Theatre, with its production of The Railway Children. This magical experience tells the story of three quite posh children from London, who find themselves living in poverty in Yorkshire. The children - Roberta, aka Bobby (Gina Jamieson), Phyllis (Robyn McIntyre) and Peter (David Fallon) - included us in the audience from the off, as they were the storytellers describing their own young lives. This inclusive concept was a stroke of genius. I usually hate audience participation but, in this case, these crafty little monkeys reeled us in so cleverly, I found myself quite happily waving at an i...