Author Archives: Dominic

Romeo and Juliet – National Ballet of Canada

Romeo and Juliet National Ballet of Canada

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The National Ballet of Canada pay a welcome visit to London’s Sadler’s Wells with a new production of Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. A classic of most ballet companies, this new production features stunning choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, and was first seen in 2011. The joy of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ comes from the timeless story that so neatly adapts into new mediums without feeling forced. There can be no one coming to the piece who is unfamiliar with the basic story, and adaptation such as Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ and Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story’ both show how successful adaptations can be. Prokoviev’s score is most remembered for the bold ‘Dance of the Knights’ and perfectly blends the action sequences with the suitably romantic passages which accompany the star cross lovers. Ratmansky’s choreography complements the score in every respect, finding bold characterisations in the music that are formed perfectly, from the mischievous sound of Malvolio to the aggressive spikes of Tybalt. Each character is firmly presented and is both unique and engaging in their own way.

What makes this performance stand out is the care and attention made to staging, and not just the choreography. Key dramatic moments are beautifully executed, using the vast Sadler’s Wells stage to draw focus where necessary and provide perspective in the larger scenes. One of the most beautiful passages was a transition that showed a frantic Juliet searching for Romeo after being banished to Mantua, and the pair were close enough to touch for just a second, before their world was physically divided again. This attention to detail in the overall staging showed pure imagination and thorough commitment to storytelling, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a ballet production for some time. This in turn made the final scenes so focused and tense that it was

Romeo and Juliet National Ballet of Canada 2The light and shades of Prokofiev’s score were certainly felt particularly during the larger scenes in the market square. Some impressive work from the corps helped lighten the mood of the tragedy, with much of the energy stemming from Piotr Stanczyk’s incredible Malvolio and Robert Stephen’s Benvolio. Through their teasing of Romeo and his infatuation with Rosalind, through to their moments of aggression again Tybalt, they trivilased the ‘ancient grudge’ making the conclusion all the more tragic.

Design wise Richard Hudson’s costumes could have been more divisive, as it was never clear on which side the masses were on. Unlike some productions, there was no clear attempt to differentiate the Montagues and the Capulets, instead the two houses mirrored each other in style offering no conclusive divide which fuelled the story further. His sets were effective and provided seamless transitions from the external to the internal worlds the characters were living, a theme that was echoed firmly in both the direction and choreography. Juliet remained locked away, adding to her angst and trepidation as she comes off her balcony in the famous scene making the transitions exciting and suitably claustrophobic.

Let It Be London Review

 

Let It Be Musical London reviewWith Backbeat – a musical about the early days of the Beatles – closing earlier this year, it came as a surprise to hear that a new show focusing on the Fab Four was to play at another venue in London, with Let It Be opening this month at the Prince of Wales. I was sceptical that I would enjoy the show that much, as although I am a fan of the Beatles’ music, I thought that seeing a tribute act performing their songs would be a little tacky, and assumed that no one could fill the shoes of the four Liverpudlians who were part of the most successful band of all time. I was wrong, however, as Let It Be was an incredible show that brought the swinging 60s to life inside the theatre with the band performing some of the greatest songs ever written.

Let It Be comprises over 20 of the Beatles greatest hits in chronological order, from the early days with hits such as She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand, to the hippy trippy stage with greats performed like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Strawberry Fields Forever, and through to the last years, ending in, of course, Let It Be. The show doesn’t have a story line and is more like a brilliant tribute act performing an incredible catalogue of Beatles songs as if they were doing a gig, but the oversized TV screens on each side of the stage provided context to the era, showing news reports, funny adverts and crazy Beatlemania footage from the height of their popularity. I loved this idea and it really made me wish it was the 60s again, when so much had never been done before and all seemed exciting!

With each Beatles era came different sets and costumes, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much the band looked like the actual Fab Four, especially Italian Emanuele Angeletti who plays Paul McCartney in the show. His head sways and expressions were spot on, and his actual features were very similar to Macca, as well as his voice! The resemblance to the band was a bonus and as I was sitting halfway back from the Circle of the stage, I think it helped give the illusion of extreme likeness – being on the front row I might not have been saying this!

My favourite performance of the night came during the acoustic section of the show, which featured songs such as Blackbird and Here Comes the Sun. A brilliant interpretation of While My Guitar Gently Weeps which included an incredible guitar performance by ‘George Harrison’ simply blew me away.

I was truly impressed with Let It Be, so much so that I am thinking of going again, and would definitely recommend it to young and old Beatles fans alike – young to get a feel of what Beatlemania really was like, and older so as the reminisce about an age long gone where mainstream music was actually worth listening to! It is a great show packed full of hits, interesting video clips and great performances from a classy and talented tribute band.

A Chorus Line coming to London Palladium

A Chorus Line LondonMulti Tony Award winning musical A Chorus Line will open at the London Palladium on February 19th 2013 following previews from February 2nd. In a shock announcement for the venue, the owner of Really Useful Group Andrew Lloyd Webber who manages the theatre said this would be a ‘fitting tribute’ to composer Marvin Hamlisch who passed away earlier this year. The show’s iconic score has captured the imagination of many since opening in 1975 and includes standards such as ‘What I Did For Love’, ‘One’, and ‘At the Ballet’.

The original Broadway production was conceived, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett and won 9 Tony Awards along with the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. This went on to become the longest running musical on Broadway, clocking up an impressive 6137 performances. The show was revived on Broadway in 2006 for the first time where it was directed and choreographed by Bob Avian, who worked alongside Bennett on the original production. This will be the first London revival since the historic original production at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1976. It will be produced in the West End by Mark Goucher, Adam Kenwright, ACT Productions, Tim Lawson, Daniel Sparrow & Mike Walsh Productions.

A Chorus Line follows the trials and tribulations of a group of dancers auditioning for a new Broadway musical. As they continue to get whittled down to a final line, we hear their personal stories told in a honest and sometimes frank way, as the Director asks them about their dancing aspirations. Their personalities begin to show, and we start to understand exactly what such a part would mean to them along with a mix of touching and amusing personal stories. The show was made into a film which starred Michael Douglass, although the most interesting film about the show is a documentary called ‘Every Little Step’ that charts the story of the show as a whole, including auditions for the Broadway revival.

The original musical came out of a number of taped workshop sessions with Broadway ‘gypsies’, or dancers. Michael Bennett along with Michon Peacock and Tony Stevens encouraged honest stories, and many of the characters in the musical were extensions of these real life characters. Some members of this company ended up in the original production, which also starred Priscilla Lopez, Robert LuPone and Donna McKennie.

The show is famous for its bare stage and lack of set, as just a solid line is painted along which the dancers stand throughout. This will be a break from past London Palladium shows which have tended to be larger scale ‘family’ shows, such as Sister Act, The Sound of Music, and The Wizard of Oz. A Chorus Line will follow the previously announced seasonal production of Leslie Bricusse’s Scrooge.

Check back here for full ticketing information for the new London production, which will play from Feb 2nd – June 29th, with performances Monday – Saturday at 7.45pm including 3pm matinees on Wednesday and Saturday.

 

 

Carousel Opera North Review

 

 

Carousel may be a musical that is not to everyone’s taste. It has every danger to be over sentimental, unrealistic and un-watchable (it clocks in at 3 hours long), and many people have issues with the message it sends about domestic violence. It is however without a doubt the finest score in the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon, and one of the only shows that can routinely bring me to tears. Any new production of this musical classic has to stand in the shadow of Nicholas Hytner’s definitive 1993 National Theatre production, but Opera North’s revival that has finally settled into the Barbican after a UK tour comes so close to perfection on many counts. From the engaging and refreshing take on the Prologue to the final anthemic chorus of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ this production is full of energy, intellect and genuine emotion that peaks in all the right places, sashaying between the intense duologues and the beautifully staged ensemble numbers. In this score (which was reportedly Richard Rodgers’ favourite) raw human emotion is mixed in with pure triva, and you find yourself listening to a chorus about Clambakes next to the simple yet harrowing ‘What’s the Use of Wond’rin’, which affirms Sondheim’s observation of Carousel’s superiority, as “Oklahoma! is about a picnic…Carousel is about life and death”.

Whilst the spectacle has been perfectly pitched between impressive yet simple (a problem with the gawdy 2008 Savoy production) some detail is sadly lost in the book scenes, in particular those early on in the first act that help justify the later choices by the gutsy Julie Jordan and Byronic hero Billy Bigelow. Scenes are often a little too fussy and overcooked, with too much movement and not enough focus on what they are saying, and indeed what they are leaving unsaid. Some work on physicality would have helped these lapses, as all too often posture and movement was distracting from the text and the honesty being sought by Joe Davis’ otherwise genuine direction. The famous porch scene in act two however is played to perfection, and had me fighting back tears, as Billy returns to earth to help guide his daughter Louise and tell Julie for the first time that he loves her. Characters such as Enoch Snow and Carrie Pipperidge are played with just the right level of energy and zest to add to the comic subplot, with their number ‘When the Children Are Asleep’ thoughtfully delivered by Joseph Shovelton and Sarah Tynan, making a memorable moment out of one that is often overlooked.

With an unusual structure, the crux of the show relies on the first scenes and the audience’s engagement with both Julie and Billy from their first meeting. Their destructive relationship needs to have a sense of inevitability yet remain believable and Katherine Manley and Michael Todd Simpson work hard to ensure this comes across. The transition to heaven was played with a knowing nod, which allowed you to suspend your disbelief for the transcendental coda to Act II, and Billy’s humility was allowed to come through as he passes his strength to Louise to ‘walk on through the wind’.

James Holmes’ orchestra are a delight from beginning to end and are never overbearing on the unmiked singers, who are given space to craft each number without danger of overindulging. The chorus at times were slightly overwhelming in size but delivered a fine vocal performance, with perfectly clipped diction and well thought out deliveries of the show’s less significant numbers. Kay Shepherd and Kim Brandstrup’s choreography shone throughout, no more so than in the stunning ballet sequence that made you wonder why this ingredient ever went out of fashion.

With many directors feeling the need to drastically reinvent shows for the ‘modern’ audience, it is refreshing to see an honest and subtle performance of a musical theatre gem. No tricks, no gimics, just utter bliss. Rush to see this show at the Barbican until September 15th, and bring plenty of tissues.

Where I sat: Stalls A 15. Front row centre. Perfect view of the stage. Felt totally absorbed in the whole production, extended leg room in front as the pit started quite far back. Comfortable chairs and overall excellent view.
Recommended for: Any fan of classic musicals, expertly delivered by a talented Opera Company.

DJWOH, 20/8/12

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical

It was today announced that the eagerly awaited production of London’s second Roald Dahl musical in as many years ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – the Musical’ will open at the London Palladium in June 2013, following a month long preview period from May. The theatre’s current tenant ‘The Wizard of Oz’ will end its run in early September, before giving way to a seasonal production of Leslie Bricusse’s ‘Scrooge the Musical’ through to the end of January. Bricusse provided the soundtrack to the original iconic film production ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’, penning songs such as ‘Pure Imagination’, ‘The Candyman Can’ and ‘I Want it Now’, but the new musical will be based on the original source material rather than either of films. The score has been written by the award winning Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, who together have collaborated on the Broadway hits ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Catch Me if You Can’, as well as the NBC series ‘Smash’.

The brand new musical will be produced by Warner Brothers Theatre Venture, Kevin McCormick and Neal Street Productions and will bring together a production team headed by director Sam Mendes and choreographer Peter Darling. The book has been adapted by David Grieg whose previous work includes ‘Midsummer’ in Edinburgh and London as well as ‘Dunsinane’ with the RSC. The team have been working on the project for the past three years and are delighted to finally bring the show to London and the Palladium in particular. Described as a ‘highly visual spectacle’ the show is aimed at families, as well as adults who love the book and enjoy Dahl’s magnificent world. Unlike either film adaptation, the musical will stay true to the book itself, and will offer a fair and accurate representation.

The plot follows the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka as he throws open the doors to his factory to five lucky children who find one of his elusive Golden Tickets. Young Charlie Bucket and his Grandpa Joe travel on a journey beyond their wildest dreams as they get a first hand look at the weird and wonderful ways of the factory, alongside four very difficult children.

Tickets for the musical will be released in October, with group sales (12+) available this week. Please check back here for full information.

Ragtime at the Open Air Regent’s Park

As this was my first trip to the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, I was filled with expectations and pre conceived images of how wonderful and picturesque an outdoor theatre, surrounded by trees and singing birds, would be. These images were shattered the moment I walked into the auditorium.

Smoking rubble; among it a torn down McDonalds signs, a scrap heap Ford car, a small Statue of Liberty and to top it all off, a torn election campaign poster with a 10ft image of Barack Obama’s face looking over the chaos. Welcome to America in ruins, or director Timothy Sheader and scenographer Jon Bausor’s image of it anyway.

I have never seen Ragtime in its original 1902 setting, so I was able to take the ‘radical’ set at face value. Characters were introduced in modern day clothing, however with a nurse in scrubs, a runner in lycra and with kappa’s and headscarves a plenty, this bordered on a stereotypical presentation of the modern cosmopolitan way of life.

Having sat through the play from start to finish, I came to understand Sheader’s present day decision that linked the radical actions of a persecuted ethnic minority and the destruction of racial struggle in general to the supposed harmony of today. However, as the cast took on their 20th century characters and donned their period costumes, I couldn’t help but wish he had stuck to the original Vaudeville setting of the play.

The music was beautiful. There wasn’t a moment that the harmonies and joviality of the rag didn’t feel me with intense joy. The cast were superb in their delivery of the music and choreography (which unlike the set, was true to the original score), with a special mention for Rosalie Craig who delivered Mothers song in the second act with expert zeal and heart rendering emotion.  However, on enjoying the music so wholeheartedly, I couldn’t help but wish it was set against the original era. There were moments when the juxtaposition of modern day clothing and 1900’s melodies felt awkward – such as the opening number.

My irritation with the modern era aside, the staging did have its redeeming qualities; the building site crane became a stylised platform for showcasing characters. For example it provided the perfect theatrical swing for the sultry performer, Evelyn Nesbit as well as adding magic to the clever demonstrations by Harry Houdini.

Due to the energy and superb cast performances, I came away from the show with a smile on my face and the music running through my mind. However I was definitely left wanting more than the small flash of early 20th century Sheader allowed his audience. With 110 years between now and the plays original setting, I felt saddened by the thought that, like Bausor’s set, the period of Ragtime may well be lost in a pile of historical rubble.

Where I sat: D 12 in the lower tier. From this position I had a spectacular view of the stage as I was close to the front and very central to the action. I also had ample leg room. The chairs are plastic as this is an outdoor theatre, so a bit less comfortable than the usual theatre seat, however bringing a cushion could have easily solved this.

Recommended for: True fans of musical theatre will love this show; the musical score and lyrics are excellent, as are the costumes of the early 1900’s era.

Heather Headley stars in The Bodyguard

Broadway icon Heather Headley is set to star in the world premiere of brand new musical The Bodyguard when it opens at the Adelphi Theatre London on December 5th following previews from November 5th 2012. In a press launch this week, Headley spoke of her excitement to take on the role of superstar Rachel Marron who was played in the film by the late Whitney Houston. Headley felt ‘humbled’ to have been asked, saying it really was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Despite practising for the role since the age of 15 (in her bedroom with a hair-brush) it wasn’t until last year that Director Thea Sharrock managed to secure her on board the project, which has come from the masterminds of producers David Ian and Michael Harrison. The musical was announced earlier this year, shortly after the death of music icon Houston, who was found dead in a bathtub in Los Angeles shortly before the 2012 Grammy Award Ceremony. Sceptics have said the project has been rushed in order to cash in on the publicity surrounding her death, which has brought the film version of The Bodyguard back into the public eye, making it popular once again with a new audience. David Ian has been quick to deny that this is the case, saying the project has been in the works for the past six years.

The West End is currently saturated with film-to-stage musicals, including ‘Ghost the Musical’, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and ‘Shrek the Musical’ which have all enjoyed varying degrees of success. Whilst most of these musicals have enjoyed a brand new score for their stage adaptations, The Bodyguard will feature most of the soundtrack from the movie, with songs such as ‘I Have Nothing’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ featuring prominently. Exactly how the score will feature ensemble and other characters is yet to be seen, but most of the vocal weight will remain in 37 year old Headley who will be responsible for bringing such huge numbers to life.

As a Tony and Grammy Award winner Headley comes from Trinidad, before moving to the United States early on in her career. After studying at Northwestern University her Broadway break came as she took on the role of Nala in the original cast of Julie Taymour’s ‘The Lion King’. When Elton John and Tim Rice’s second Disney musical took to the stage in 2000 she was the natural choice to play the lead role of the Nubian princess, which won her a Tony Award for Best Actress as well as the Drama Desk for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. Her vocal power and dramatic acting ability led to much critical praise, and her career as a musical star began to take off.  In 2002 her debut album was released on RCA Records, ‘This Is Who I Am’, earning her Grammy Award nominations for Best Female R&B Performance and Best New Artist. Her first number one hit came in 2006 with ‘In My Mind’ topping the dance charts.

Since then, Headley has become a successful concert performer performing all over America and the world. The Bodyguard will be her first musical since ‘Aida’ and will see her stepping into one of the biggest roles imaginable. She will be joined onstage by actor Lloyd Owen who will play bodyguard Frank Farmer. When asked which songs he will be delivering in the show, Owen laughed off the question, although he assured the crowd that he could sing.

No further casting has been announced as rehearsals are unlikely to start until after the summer break. Check out our videos of Heather Headley singing the song ‘So Emotional’ from the show below.

Les Miserables January 2012

Long-running musical Les Misérables gets the high production treatment in a show that fires on all cylinders with Ramin Karimloo leading the charge. 

As the longest running musical in the history of London’s West End, some may have quite rightly wondered what more could possibly have been done with the stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s seemingly immortal story, Les Misérables. It first hit London in October of 1985 and has since undergone a number of relocations and amassed over 10,000 performances, so pressure was on to give returning audiences something they hadn’t already seen.

The narrative follows protagonist and ex-convict Jean Valjean as he struggles to repent from a former life of necessitated crime, constantly stalked and hunted by his arch nemesis and resident villain, Javert. In an act of guilt-ridden kindness he takes into his care the orphaned child Cosette and, as she grows older, she falls in love with Marius with whom Jean Valjean has an uneasy relationship. It’s a story of repentance and forgiveness with an astute social commentary set to the colourful backdrop of the French revolution, which lives and rages within the personal lives of the characters.

The subject matter is a dense one for many a 21st Century audience, but relief comes in the form of Thénardier and Madame Thénardier (wonderfully played by Cameron Blakely and Katy Secombe respectively) who gleefully succeed in injecting a shot of nefarious comedy into the proceedings. For all of its transparency this succeeds in creating a delightfully entertaining alleviation from the emotionally heavy plot, perfectly balancing comedic entertainment with morality and a tickling of the heartstrings.

Of course, if you’ve seen the musical before, you already know this. The latest incarnation adopts Hollywood sized production with multi-functioning revolving set pieces that could quite possibly have been engineered by NASA. The costumes are appropriately brilliant and the make-up could fool even the most seasoned theatre-goer. But as astounding as they are, all of the visual effects will always be secondary to the musical element of the show.

The orchestra is completely flawless and the songs soar and dip in a manner that never fails to lodge a hook in your ear. The lyrics are impeccably delivered by every member of the cast, none more so than those voiced by show-stealer Ramin Karimloo, who has graduated from his supporting role as Enjolras in the 25th anniversary production. Karimloo is the possessor of an astonishing vocal range which has been steadily rising through the theatre ranks and, if this performance is anything to go by, he is surely destined for big things in the near future.

Les Misérables is a sophisticated and near on perfect rendition of visual and musical entertainment with compassion at its heart and the every day lives of those who lived the French revolution in its genes. Fantastically funny, marvellously moving and enchantingly entertaining.

Where I sat: M15. Roughly in the centre of the stalls, just off to the left. The Queen’s Theatre is an intimate venue with all of the seats directly in front of the stage. I had an unobstructed view throughout.

 Recommended: Yes, for newcomers and returning audiences. Probably not one for the kids!

 Ryan Neal

Absent Friends, Harold Pinter Theatre


Ayckbourn’s dark comedy is Absent of energy or emotional drive in this new production at the Harold Pinter Theatre

The West End is currently awash with comedy. It seems that audiences are beating off the Winter Blues and the looming double dip recession by going to the theatre to be entertained rather than challenged, and above all, to laugh. Two of the most successful shows currently in London are the hilarious Noises Off at the Old Vic, which acts as a perfect example of British face as well as the hugely successful One Man, Two Guvnors. Alan Ayckbourn has long been a key name in British comedy, having written over 75 plays, most of which have been performed in the West End, Scarborough and your local village hall. This latest revival of his 1974 play Absent Friends which is currently playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre offers a darker type of comedy that is at times equally effective. Rather than slamming doors and slapstick scenes, this play finds humour in a tragic situation, resulting in a comedy of manners and social embarrassment.

 

As with many Ayckbourn plays the humour takes a while to be set up. Close friends meet for an afternoon tea party to help a distant friend overcome the loss of his fiancé who has recently drowned. Whilst the three couples (one half of which is also absent due to recurring bad health) aim to keep positive and upbeat it turns out that their problems are just as bad, if not worse, than their visitor’s. Exactly how close these friends are is debatable, thanks to the numerous pauses and awkward silences that imitate real life, and by the time Colin arrives both the audience and cast breathe a sigh of relief.

Tom Scutt’s design immediately roots the play in the mid 1970s, providing a clear and realistic environment for the action, complete with period cakes, flans and sandwiches which are readily passed around to fill the many gaps. The characters are developed slowly throughout the first act, giving time to breed before falling into their ‘stock’ roles. Kara Tointon broods silently throughout most of the play uttering grim responses without making eye contact despite being the cause of one couple’s misery. Elizabeth Berrington is given most of the comic potential as Marge, whose invalid husband interrupts the action via a series of ridiculous phone calls accentuating her social mistakes and frequent blunders. Most of the energy comes from Reece Shearsmith as Colin who defies expectation and is the most upbeat character despite the tragic circumstances that have instigated the forced occasion. In trying to appear the most positive character he does verge on the edge of overacting, but within this ensemble the audience find it a welcome addition to the stage.

Katherine Parkinson, star of ‘The IT Crowd’ proves the biggest disappointment mainly due to her laborious vocal tone which makes everything she says an effort to listen to. Her breakdown in the second act is unconvincing and comes from nowhere, resulting in a lack of sympathy for her situation and character. She is left to deliver the dramatic climax which somehow falls short of the preceding awkwardness that Ayckbourn has skilfully developed. Perhaps if the play had been presented without an interval then the drama would have been more convincing, but the break unravels the stasis and atmosphere which has been created throughout the long opening section and it is difficult to fall back into it at the beginning of the second act.

It is refreshing to see a different style of comedy in the West End, and one which makes you feel guilty for laughing along with. This production however does feel too safe and self conscious to do justice to Ayckbourn’s carefully constructed dialogue, but hopefully after previews will pick up and find an energy.

Noises Off at the Old Vic

Having seen this play twice over the past three months, on both occasions I have never experienced such a fantastic response from an audience. Noises Off is one of those plays that many people have seen and revisit it over and over again, meaning that the laughs begin as soon as Celie Imrie enters the stage clutching one of the many plates of sardines. The laughter comes after every line in Lindsay Posner’s fantastic new production at the Old Vic, building throughout the hilariously slapstick second act to a riotous crescendo in the third. Farce as a genre is often left to the church hall ‘am-drams’, but thankfully the Old Vic presents a star studded production that offers a perfect seasonal respite from the changing weather and dark economic forecast.

Michael Fryn’s premise appears quite simple: let’s show a group of actors rehearsing a ridiculous farce over the course of a tour of the provinces in which their own personal lives become as ridiculous as those of the characters they portray. The beauty of the piece is in its presentation. Whilst Act One focuses on a rather disastrous dress rehearsal, Act Two literally turns the stage around, showing the audience the same scene some months later but from behind the scenes. The ‘play-within-a-play’ begins to unfold as the frustrated company fight to hold the show together, letting their personal dramas get in the way of their performances. The final act shows the play from the audience’s perspective once again, at the end of the tour which descends into mayhem very early on.

The play is a delight for anyone who has dipped their toe into the theatre industry. Fryn parodies everyone from the ‘director with has a better job elsewhere’, to the gossiping actor who knows everyone’s business and the socially awkward stage crew who are left to literally hold the pieces together. The cast display outstanding comic timing throughout, especially during the heavily mimed second act as the backstage antics slowly begin to creep onto the stage itself. Many of the characters conform to ‘stock’ performances, but these are delivered expertly, sharing the comedy between the whole ensemble rather than any one person stealing all the laughs. Amy Nuttall appeals to the younger audience members after her recent role in Downton Abbey, spending most of the evening in lingerie searching on the ground for her contact lenses. Janie Dee attempts to hold the company together as the overly sympathetic actor Belinda acting as a self appointed Company Manager to ensure everyone is on top form. The whole performance is fast paced and perfectly pitched as to hover on the edge of lunacy, just teetering from descent into absolute mayhem.

Any major criticism of the production can only be levelled at the play itself, as its ending and final ten minutes appear somewhat un-focused and ill connected. By this stage of the evening however it doesn’t matter, as the audience are fully absorbed in the madness although a conclusion never seems ready to arrive. The energy is maintained until the final curtain and the applause literally brings the house down. Leave your thinking hat at home and enjoy this classic British comedy at its best.

 

DOH 7/12/11