JACK AND THE BEANSTALK Director: Geoff Millard Choreographer: Sarah Whitfield APeel Drama Group We have all had our jabs; the missing element to lift the nation after lock down is “A Covid Busting Pantomime” The audience was made most welcome by the front of house members whose “meet and greet” set the mood for the evening. The limitations of the stage were all addressed so that the ebb and flow within the pantomime was never broken. Scenic artist, John Essex, and his team created a set that was pure pantoland. The cast was well dressed with colourful costumes created by Jean Kilburn who oversaw the juniors’ costumes and Mary Millard who was responsible for the adults. That all important extra element, the lighting plot, the execution of which added atmosphere with the sound giving an overall clarity. Pantomime is the cousin of drama, and is as difficult to present, especially if the formula is not adhered to. This has to start with the script. For this Jack, the Giant Killer, an in house script was used (Mary & Geoff Millard). Except for the opening all the scenes were short tight and move on to the next. The “Panto Business” was woven in giving room for the characters to work the audience. The milking of Daisy was very entertaining. Everything about the opening worked, it was just maybe a tad too long. However, the casting could not have been bettered and there were no weak links. It was welcome back to The Whitefield School of Dancing which created the chorus of villagers and other characters. Their members execution of the choreography was very good. Amelia-Rose, Melody, Maizie and Elainie were given the opportunity of playing characters. They all carried this off with enthusiasm and truth. All the musical content enhanced the story. None of the numbers was laboured with just a verse and a chorus to keep the pace of the pantomime. Music supplied by backing tracks by Kola Adetola. Pantomime has well drawn stock characters that are tried and tested; they also give plenty of room for the actor to put his or her own individual stamp on the role. The most important character is the Buttons type, a friend of the audience. In Jack and Beanstalk it is Simple Simon. This role was played by Stacey Dawber, and was her debut to the world of pantomime: and what a natural Stacey is. She worked the audience as though she has had a lot of experience. Never once did the energy levels drop, pushing her scenes; everyone was her friend and the audience shouted and cheered for Simple Simon. His pantomime brother is Jack (I am so pleased that tradition prevailed), played by Naomi Rostron who was every inch a thigh-slapping principal boy. His Jill, the Baroness’s daughter, the principal girl, was given all the niceties by Amy Faulkner. Their handling of their respective
characterisations was in true fairy tale believability. Comedy has to prevail: we were introduced to two duos, the Baroness (Gillian Roberts) and Flunkit, (Harvey Millard), Snot (Shaun Crossley) and Bogie (Norman Beaver). The four of them were integral to the comic heart of this pantomime. They received good response from the audience for their set routines. Into the mix, Dame Trott (Marc Lyth) contributed to the fun of the goings on. And we certainly cannot forget the skin roles of Daisy, the cow, and Hetty, the Hen. The conflict between good and evil, with the villain only entering and exiting stage left, and the fairy entering and exiting stage right, is the most important tradition of Pantomime. Fairy Cup Cake and Slimeball kept to the rules of pantomime. Ann Berningham delivered her rhyming couplets with understanding and got the cheers when evil was conquered. Simon Darlington showed how to wind-up an audience earning his hisses and boos. I travelled home feeling completely Covid Busted.
THE VICAR OF DIBLEY Director: Stephen Woods Assisted by Darren Brierley & Josiah David Bacup RCTG In these dark times an evening of comedy and laughter lifts the soul. This iconic BBC situation comedy has become a stage play featuring all the regular players. In saying that, finding actors to fill those much loved characters shoes has to be quite a challenge. Paul Ashworth’s very detailed split set of the church hall, and the lounge of the vicarage was so important to the identification of the drama. Set dressings and props enriched the concept. The lighting and sound, with visuals (Adam Greenwood) of the television opening of the sitcom, all adding to the presentation of this “most successful British programme of the digital era”. Costumes made the right statements making it easy to identify the infamous parish committee, and that famous wedding dress! Casting could not have been bettered from the vicar herself to the Teletubbies. As an audience first seeing the committee. we looked for Hugo and Owen. and they were easy to recognise. Let me make it clear the actors did not just give an impersonation of the TV actors they put their own individual stamp on the character they were playing. Their performances were an example of teamwork; comedy relies so much on the feed of lines and the timing of the response. Besides all the mayhem there was at committee meetings, there was the running joke of Letitia Cropley and her culinary skills or the lack of them. The deadpan Letita, was played to the full by Janice Purslow. All the other character roles, from the company of the holy little ones to the wedding guests complemented the production. Chairing the meetings was David Horton, the lynchpin of what goes on in the parish. He also lays the ground for the comedy to unfold. Connal O’Reilly metered out Horton’s authority allowing the comedy to have maximum effect. The inept minute secretary, Frank Pickles, with all his foibles, was captured in Nicholas Peat’s portrayal. If I said, “No, No, No, Yes”, you would instantly know I was referring to the character. Jim Trott. Darren Brierley encapsulated Jim, displaying such comic timing. His characterisation delighted the audience. Then there was farmer Owen Newitt, the ladies’ man, or at least he thinks he is, Niel Giola could not have extracted anymore from the role. The proposal to the vicar, and the returning of her tooth filling, showed his comedic talents to the full. Nathaniel McCarney gave a comic tour-de-force performance as the shy, tongue-tied Hugo. His eventual sweetheart and fiancée is the innocent, naïve Alice Tinker. Danelle Radcliffe had all the phrasing of Emma Chambers’ original Alice: the partnership with the Vicar worked so well. Enter Geraldine filling the vacancy of the deceased, long-standing vicar of St Barnabas Dibley. Helena Rose was the new vicar of Dibley. Helena completely nailed the character. She held the stage throughout: all her scenes with each of the characters were playfully carried out. There was nothing lost from TV to stage and, as always, the audience is the marker of a good show and this one they loved.
ALADDIN Director: Juliette Shepherd, assisted by Rheanna Thomas. BESTS Bacup Educational Stage Theatre School Aladdin was cast before lockdown, but the director had kept the production alive by rehearsing using Zoom. As time went by there were cast changes, but the effort and enthusiasm of everyone involved kept the production on track. To be able to get back to normal rehearsals must have been a relief for everyone concerned! This educational arm of Bacup RCTG works to develop the stage skills of its members. They are mentored, not only in performance but the young cast was also involved developing the way a drama has to be interpreted. I felt that Kathryn Schultz-Miller’s retelling of this Middle Eastern folk-tale was a little too wordy for such young performers but nonetheless, the Theatre Royal technicians brought the story alive, and costumes added to the Eastern magic. The members of the Greek Chorus were the Storytellers, who also took smaller roles. Summer, Matilda, Tyler, Tobias, Ninah, Feebie, Robyn, Cody and Addison displayed character development. They had a difficult challenge but each of them rose to the demands of the script. In the title role, Isabella Woodcock brought about an understanding of stage space, allowing her character to be developed and not to be anchored or one dimensional. Playing a skin role needs attention to detail. Emily Jagger presented an entertaining cat, Persia, friend to Aladdin. Our hero was sent on his journey for the mystical lamp by the magician Omar, played out with understanding by Olivia Hill. His side kick, Geewiz, has to have an element of comedy which is one of the hardest stage crafts to develop. Rudy Holland worked hard to fulfil the author’s wishes. Charlotte Ferris has established herself by winning an ACT award for her work in the adult groups pantomime “Camelot”. For this production Charlotte displayed much stage presence and presented a colourful character as the Genie. The Princess Jasmine, played by Courtnie Whitworth, and the Sultan, played by Pippa Meadocroft completed this cast of young trainee thespians. There were many levels of ability within the cast but the director had harmonized the drama allowing the story to be told. I would suggest that maybe in their next sessions some time is given to voice projection. Congratulations to all members on your achievements with Aladdin, a much-loved story.
LOOT by Joe Orton. Director: Paddy Darnell-Walsh Blackburn Drama Club (BDC) Loot was the first play of BDC’s ‘Season of Comedy’, an inspired idea after the past eighteen months, as our audience need a good laugh – and that is most definitely what they got! Joe Orton’s Black Comedy ‘Loot’ was written in 1964 and follows the tale of Hal and Dennis – two imperfect criminals who rob a bank. The plot unfolds as Hal and Dennis attempt to hide the stolen loot in Hal’s late mother Mrs McLeavy’s coffin. Her dead body is then moved around and stashed in various positions as the chaos unfolds. The themes in the play would have been considered quite shocking and taboo at the time, religion, corruption, murder, theft but – it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The set was simple, but also quite surrealist in style. It was monochrome with hanging frames ‘floating’ to represent the pictures and the overall result was a stylish and effective set but unrealistic, which mirrored the play itself. It made a nice change from a box set. As the performance begin, I initially felt that it was a little slow to get going – however I was soon to realise it was in fact the audience who were slow to get going! The style of humour is dark and satirical and does take a while to settle into. If this play was done wrong, it could have been awful, but the team of seven comedy actors worked seamlessly together, with tight, slick and engaging performances. It was clear that there had been meticulous rehearsal process, with a hard-working cast and creatively minded director with fantastic attention to detail. The comedy in the play was executed with precision and there was not a weak link in sight. Claire St Pierre played the seductress nurse Fay with energy and sparkle. She also maintained a very tricky Irish accent throughout the performance. Andrew Smith played a straighter part, but he added to the humour, and he played his part with confidence and generosity. Martin Cottam’s cameo as Meadows was also performed with great physical acting and hilarious expressions. Will Gedling and Ryan Coe played the unlucky criminals Hal and Dennis. I thought the two of them worked brilliantly together and really bounced off each other. Will’s childlike naivety was portrayed with expertise and Ryan’s facial expressions had me in stitches. Steven Derbyshire played an animated and memorable part as Truscott and he really carried the energy of his character throughout every part of his body from his toes to his fingertips. What a skilled comedy actor, I was so impressed. Suzanne Nolan deserves an award category of her own for her part as Mrs McLeavy’s dead body! Her performance could be considered as an ‘easy part’ to the unexperienced eye as she has no lines or facial expressions, but this part took unbelievable stamina and focus to play
a comedy part using just her deadweight body. Her physicality and timing were bang on for every single movement – I don’t think she even took a breath! The fact that the character was a real person and not a dummy as the script initially required, really added to the humour of the play. Some stand out moments were when the audience first realised that there was a real ‘body’ in the coffin and the corpse under the bed scene. I also thought the use of the screens was genius and thought Fay’s scene with the ‘body’ and the use of shadows was really effective (and reminiscent of Austin Powers!) I absolutely loved the audiences’ reactions to the performance as the chaos ensued and this really added to the atmosphere in the theatre. The audiences groans of dismay when Hal said ‘Kingdom Come’ and the shouts of “Oh, no!” as he seedily looks at his mother’s knickers before giving them a good sniff, or when he started to play the maracas with her false teeth. Just hilarious! You can’t wish for much more than your audience audibly cringing! There were parts of the play where the audience was struggling to keep its laughter under wraps, with ripples of laughter and snorting throughout! We were not even shocked by the time we started to hear about Hal’s dream of an inclusive brothel with midgets, Catholics and protestants. This is a play that is very tongue in cheek and in turn the actors had the freedom to have fun with the script and this enjoyment really shone through their performances. Ultimately, the audience had a great laugh, with plenty of silly, laugh-out-loud slapstick moments, not to mention a lot of phallic twittering!
TEECHERS by John Godber Directed by Marilyn Crowther Burnley Garrick Theatre Group John Godber’s Teechers is a play written in 1984 and follows the story of three students, Salty, Gail and Hobby recounting their time in the slightly rough-around-the-edges, Whitewall High School. The play centres on the story of their drama teacher, and the play’s protagonist, Mr Nixon, and their dawning realisation of the impact he has had on them before his departure. The original presentation of Teechers was shut down the week of lockdown in March 2020, so it was a joy finally to watch the long-awaited premier of the Garrick’s 2021/2022 season, and also to experience the company in its new venue at Burnley Youth Theatre. The performance certainly did not disappoint the audience with its nostalgic music, language and relatable characters. The production was totally stripped back to basics, with a simplistic set consisting of three flats representing the classroom, the yard, and the office. The cast of three talented actors, Gary Leonard, Rachel Bailey and Luke Crowther, played all twenty parts – aged from 16 to 60. It was clear from the offset that all three actors were extremely experienced and that they had rehearsed meticulously. Although we were told to ‘use our imagination’, the cast made it very easy for us to follow their story as they transitioned from one distinctive character into another with absolute expertise. I really enjoyed the fact that the cast not only switched characters but also genders. For example, Oggy, represented by his red hat, was played by all the actors. This was executed with precision. The actors all held amazing focus, energy, and stamina throughout, remaining on stage almost all the way through. When not involved in a scene, they remained focused, in character and watching from the side-lines. The skill of the cast moved us from one scene effortlessly to the next with a conscientious attention to detail, and comic timing. The use of minimal props and costumes made the scene transitions, and character changes, slick and smooth. The cast’s enjoyment of the material was infectious. The play was supported by a strong technical team. I also enjoyed the thoughtful and relevant music choices, such as Elton John, Queen, David Bowie and Janis Ian. The music gave the play a clear sense of time and place as well as a good helping of nostalgia for those who grew up in the 80s! Well done to the imaginative direction of Marilyn Crowther for bringing this production to life. This was a really fun evening, with the audience carrying the energetic buzz with them out of the auditorium. What else can I say? I loved it. An absolute tonic!
THE RIGHT THING by John Turley directed by John Turley and Helen Christie Burnley Garrick Theatre Group The year is 1945, the war has ended and in a shock result, Labour has won a landslide victory. This isn’t the only shock in this touching, thoughtful and quite beautiful production. The play is written by local playwright John Turley. I have to try and put to one side the buzz I still get of just being in a theatre and put a reviewer’s hat on. I’ll get the minor niggles out of the way as this was a very special night of theatre. There were a few bumps in the dialogue in early scenes, possibly down to first-night nerves and some scene changes took slightly longer than they should have done. Co-directors Helen Christie and John Turley assembled an excellent cast and directed them incredibly well. Each actor brought something unique to his or her role; whether hundreds of lines or ten. The play centres around Alice, a 28 year old woman who has been at home during the war whilst her husband, Frank, was out fighting the enemy. We open to a living room which occupies the left of the stage and the right of the stage is bare, with other scenes taking place in that space. Alice was played by Lauren Stirzaker-Jackson and is put through emotional hoops during the play. Lauren played Alice with such confidence, showing Alice’s bravery and fear simultaneously. I could feel the audience with her throughout; a tremendous achievement from a talented performer. Her scenes with Frank being particularly memorable. Frank was played by Gary Leonard, Gary owned the role, commanding the stage whilst not hogging the limelight. He is large in stature, but clearly a shaken man after the horrors of war. I believed in him and the character as soon as he entered early in the play. One particularly effective scene, Frank returns home from the pub, drunk, and is genuinely frightening, wobbling around the stage and handling his wife. Both Lauren and Gary deserve commendation. Frank’s shoulder to cry on was Jimmy, a wide eyed idealist, a true believer in the socialist cause. Jimmy, played by Dominic Moffitt was almost the moral anchor of the play, constantly trying to steer Frank on the right path and butting heads with the local spiv played with a frightening relish John Cummings. I found Dominic’s portrayal of Jimmy quietly moving. The scene on top of Pendle Hill (suggested to us via effective sound effects and good acting, theatre at its best) was very tender in its sincerity. I hope to see Dominic on stage again. Arthur, Alice’s father, begins as the light relief, until we delve below the character’s grumpy surface. Arthur is brought to life by Alan Hargreaves, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen Alan on stage. He was superb. From one of his first lines, ‘that vicar’s a communist if ever I saw one’, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. He twinkled on stage, bringing
laughter whilst talking to his veg and tears admitting his far from perfect past. He felt so genuine in his collarless shirt and crumpled cords. The costumers all-round were top notch as were the period props and set. Stephen Dixon played the minister, a socialist to his core, moral and kind. Preaching about Attlee’s government, trying to do god’s work or having a quiet moment with Alice, Stephen made the part his own. John Cummings who played the local spiv doubled up as the mill owner Hargreaves. Hargreaves was a typical boss of the time caught in the changing times and resisting or possibly resenting social change. John differentiated between the two characters with ease, Vinnie was particularly watchable, flitting between oily charm and naked aggression within the blink of an eye. An accomplished performance by an accomplished player. Alice finds herself in deep trouble and confides in her best friend Vi. Vi is of the time she is in. Emma Jane Samworth was a revelation as Vi. From her early celebration of the Labour Victory to her revulsion at Alice’s situation, Emma didn’t miss a beat, her accent never slipped. A good woman, who just couldn’t hide commonly held views of the time, her perceived betrayal brimming to the surface in another brilliant scene so well executed by Emma. Act 2 opens in the local drinking house with a rousing sing song. A few company members are used to up the numbers in crowd scenes and added to the atmosphere greatly, busying themselves gossiping and drinking. Singing with the best of them is Simon Pomfrets Charlie, his nerves shot from the horrors of war, left only with a stutter and his army Number. A brilliant, touching portrayal, Charlie loses his stammer when entertaining the locals with his impressions and old gags, another highlight in a play full of them. Beverly McKiernan no stranger to character parts brings so much to her dual role of Elsie and Babs, exclaiming that Attlee has no clue or sneaking off for a kiss with a local publican: she shines on the stage. Kathleen Riley as Woman in Chapel, only on for a brief time but with a few lines, easily established a character with a look or a gesture. The whole evening was a joy. Sound, lighting, and even the songs chosen, were evocative, as we were treated to Vera Lynn, George Formby and Gracie Fields. I shall not forget The Garrick’s production of “The Right Thing” for a long time. Acting, writing and direction all coming together to create a wonderful experience. As Attlee once said, ‘Lets go forward together’ – well, this company did.
LUCKY SODS by John Godber Directed by Marina Butterworth Colne Dramatic Society John Godber’s “Lucky Sods” is a ‘rags-to-riches’ play written in 1995, and it centres around a couple, Morris and Jean, as they navigate a lottery win. Does money really bring happiness, or does it just amplify problems in an already bumpy relationship? There is still a slight buzz around the non-socially distanced theatre and “Lucky Sods” did not disappoint. With its earthy humour, evocative use of music, and rat-a-tat dialogue, we start with two people in a well-designed front room, with a backdrop of lottery balls, and a window which was changed with ease during the swift scene changes. When I go to ‘first night’ performances, I always expect nerves and a few prompts. I did not see any evidence of first night nerves, and from where I was sitting, I did not hear the prompt once. Riz Riley played Morris with a blunt charm and a slight nervous edge. He was likeable and his worries about his newfound fortune were well brought out, as was his relationship with his mother. Sue Hartley played Jean. Together, Sue and Riz created that couple we all know; bumbling along, bickering about what’s on the telly, and arguing about ex-love interests long gone. Sue was a treat as Jean; her range, depth of character and emotions, just within one scene, was a pleasure to watch. Her ease with her newfound wealth was well-conveyed compared to Morris’ guilt and general discomfort. Jean’s sister, Annie, was played with gusto by Tess James. Tess was confident in the role with a good command of her role from the off. Her bitterness at Jean’s win was evident early on. Tess doubled up as Morris’ mother, and although only on for one scene, she made an impact with her observations about spending the winnings on a fruit and veg stall, and talking about her son, Morris, when he was young. A quietly moving portrayal. Annie’s long-suffering husband, Norman, was played by Darren Williams. His thick spectacles, beige cardigan, tracksuit bottoms, and a centre parting created a funny, silly, yet sympathetic character with a heart of gold. Everyone knows a Norman! A mention must go to the interchangeable, stylish set, designed by John Mills. The piece moved from a front room to a hotel room in the USA, to a garden, a graveyard and to Amsterdam, which, in such a small space, was no mean feat. I found Act 2 slightly less effective than Act 1, but that was the play and not the players. In the second act we meet Connie, Morris’ long-ago ex, in Amsterdam. She is a complete contrast to Jean and is brought to life with verve by Liz Rowell. Whether cooing in Morris’ arms, suggesting smothering him in peanut butter, or having a row with him about his attitude
towards life, Liz didn’t miss a beat. A character that could come across as ‘the other woman’ or possibly, a ‘money grabber’, is given life and zest by Liz. James Stovold was an American hotel attendant, helpful, pleasant and added to the cast well. The piece was supported by strong, competent sound and lighting and authentic costumes. The first night audience, although quiet at first, clearly enjoyed themselves by the end. Marina Butterworth, in her directorial debut, showed skill with a good choice of play, and an excellent company of players. Her first, but I hope not her last. Thank you to the Little Theatre for inviting me.
TABLE MANNERS by Alan Ayckbourn Directed by Hazel Phillips Droylsden Little Theatre Droylsden Little Theatre, like many societies, had to cancel its season mid-2020. Following ‘The 39 Steps’ and ‘The Kitchen Sink,’ their next production was set to be Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Table Manners’ – part of his 1973 ‘Norman Conquest’ trilogy. It is only fitting, therefore, that the show to bring them out of the pandemic was to be this one – and one which heads up their 90th season. Set over a single weekend, Annie’s brother-in-law, Norman, frustrated by a wife with “no love or feeling” for him, has persuaded Annie to go away with him secretly for a weekend in East Grinstead. Their plans are ruined by the arrival of Annie’s brother, Reg, and his prudish wife, Sarah, who, when she finds out about the “dirty weekend,” calls Norman’s wife, Ruth, to come and put a stop to her husband’s philandering. The situation is made even more complicated and hilarious by the presence of Annie’s slow-witted friend and suitor, Tom. Stella Hutchinson, a D.L.T. favourite, played Sarah with the right amount of haughtiness and snootiness needed to cause disdain. With sharply cutting acidity and snappy comic punchlines, Stella gave a first-rate performance as the stressed wife with ideas of grandeur – and hopes of a weekend away. Chris Sturmey played her hen-pecked husband Reg with the right amount of bubbling anger for the situation he found himself and offered some great comic moments – especially seated around the dinner table and when his anger bubbled over. Amy Evans played Annie, arguably the heroine of the piece, with the right amount of dowdiness and indecision of a girl caught in the middle of an unexpected love triangle. Initially, the visual age difference between the siblings was jarring but by Act 2 I had settled into the performances. Matt Berry played one of her love interests – country yokel vet, Tom, well. Again, some nice business throughout the play, especially with his confusion of feelings and also little bits of business with props – such as the knife to check his teeth were clean. Jayne Skudder appeared as Norman’s scorned wife, Ruth. With some good angry moments around the dinner table, there were however some unusual choices in direction as to the character’s visual impairment – which were not effectively blocked at all. In Act 1, Scene 2, the character struggled to see items on the breakfast table but could easily work her way to her seat but by Act 2, without her glasses (a scripted point), she could navigate with ease around – and off stage through patio doors, and find her utensils unaided on the dinner table. Tristran Hall played the seedy love-rat, Norman, arrogantly and with humour. An effective and frantic performance – I’m not sure how either Sarah or Annie could fall for his constant interruptions, arrogance, and seediness! There were some times when use of comedy vocal
inflections were unnecessary and times of ‘adding action for the sake of it’ whilst others were talking, but overall, a solid and effective performance from Tristran. The costumes, supervised by Marion Hurst, all suited the characters well and showed a progression of time – and certain character traits (yokel, vet wearing the same shirt 2 days on the run; ideas of grandeur in Sarah’s dressing gown etc). Accents were used by most characters, although these were not always sustained or used effectively by all characters. Lighting by Tony Birch and Ben Fox was simple and complemented the attractive set by Tony Birch and Tracy Island. This offered glimpses into the garden – with crazy paving and real leaves on the floor (a nice touch) and into the kitchen area – perhaps hinting at the other two plays in the Ayckbourn suite. Eddie Bradbury and Teresa Ogden did a first-rate job of the props – including the amount (or rather lack of !) food presented in the various scenes – including 2 breakfasts and 2 dinners and tea. I am unsure though why the biscuit tin in Act 1, Scene 1, which was regularly referenced, seemingly contained table crackers? A few missed lines were helped off stage by the prompt – unnamed in the programme. Direction from Hazel Phillips used the space effectively and characterisation had clearly been worked on well. However, there were too many moments where characters got up and moved from their seat to offer speeches from a large rug area downstage right – almost as if they were performing to their fellow house guests, which felt unnatural. Blocking dinner-table scenes is always difficult on stage but I do think the table needed to have been angled differently, as throughout A2:S1 we just saw the backs of Annie and Ruth and the ending ‘reveal’ of the affair at the end of Act 1 also felt unnatural due to rushed movements in blocking. Overall, however, I thank D.L.T. for a very pleasant evening and I’m thrilled the theatre is now back in full swing with an interesting season lined up!
SLEEPING BEAUTY (The Pantomime Movie) written by Barry Crossley Directed by Daniel Oliver-Grant Hyde Little Theatre A Panto in June! “Oh not it wasn’t!” “Oh yes it was!” After a wait of over 18 months it was my pleasure to step back inside a Theatre again to watch a show but one with a difference, a filmed version of the pantomime with a hybrid of engaging with characters, all done with Corvid restrictions of course. No-one would have thought back in March 2019 that theatres would have to close to performances beyond the summer of that year and so Hyde Little Theatre, along with many others, would have expected to put on their annual offering to entertain the public during dreary December. To that aim, auditions via electronic means were held for dancers and principals with the view that come the autumn face to face rehearsals would ensue but as we know, this was not to be the case. So, what is the answer? Do you decide not to go ahead with the project and disappoint a lot of people who would understand or look to continue in some other way? The committee of this theatre group chose the latter option. Using the skills that members possessed they decided to create a film version. The effort must have been immense and all the back stage and technical people involved should take a bow, especially Daniel and Steven Oliver-Grant, who I am reliably told spent over 700 hours editing and adding sparkly effects to the finished product. This filmed version did remind me of The Slipper and the Rose film. Capesthorne Hall added the backdrop for scenes both inside and outside. While there were 15 scenes, each of these had been story boarded to add detail to character movement, dance routines and interaction. At times Daniel’s direction was reminiscent of music videos that one would see on Top of the Pops. The song choices were well chosen and relatively modern and showed off some impressive vocal skills. The added dimension of aerial shots from the use of drone technology really added another dimension for the outside dance routines which clearly showed the required spacing to comply with government guidelines. The evening showing, a buzz of panto filled the auditorium as adults and children waited in anticipation to see the final product of all their efforts. In the pre-screening various characters from the celluloid appeared behind castle wall facades at the side of stage to whip the audience to a frenzy and encouraged participation. While, on the main stage a screen was ready to show the main feature. The cinematography was clear and sound by Adrian and Martin Webber was well synchronised. The choreography by Clare Pascoe and Sue Bradbury was energetic and well thought out, I’m sure there had to be tweaks to the original versions due to restrictions. Some very special effects were used in post-production to enhance the staging. For panto, the key aspect is the connection with the audience that is key. The actors, who I believe were divided into teams for the nightly performances, certainly worked hard behind their walled windows and projected as loud as they could to be heard. Both on film and on stage they strived tirelessly to give the production energy. At times the acting came across very like the old silent movies where the actors made movements and certainly facial expressions twice as big as they normally would. Jake Ridgway (Muddles) really did give this production his all. He was very expressive and had good timing in dialogue delivery, giving an opportunity for the audience to react. This must have been very difficult to
judge when filming but he made it look effortless. Throughout he looked to be having a ball and made every effort to include prat falls in his comedy. His vocal delivery in song was also strong. Similarly, Simon Sullivan (Nurse Nelly) engaged well with the audience in his live segments. In this particular panto this character didn’t have a lot of screen time but when he did there was good, expressive, slow and deliberate vocal delivery. Normally I like a swift pace in dialogue but this approach worked well. Some of the other character’s dialogue got lost in speedier delivery. We always need a baddie to boo and Gavin Chadwick’s Carabosse worked a treat. The costume and makeup (as with all the characters) was great. He oozed evilness and horrid intent. He worked the audience with menace. If ever anyone needs an evil Miss Hanigan, go no further. Sofia Butterworth was the counterpoint to this. She looked and sounded the part of the good Fairy Stardust. For me, the Prince Valiant character stands on the delivery of a good Dorothy Ward thigh slap and Jem Marshall-Ayre did not disappoint. She worked well opposite Kat Rawling, the Princess Aurora. There was great singing from both of them in a duet and solo songs. Kimberley Ross and Karen Schofield (Spit and Polish) worked hard to convey the slap stick humour that a comedy duo can convey. Paul Wood (King Putupon), Daniel Cope Aimey Saxon (Lord and Lady Chamber pot) all added to the mayhem and fun that is pantomime though these characters would find it easier to build a rapport with a live audience. Some of the song choices really did make one listen. You will be found was delightfully sang by Kat Rawling but was made all the more poignant when Paul Wood contributed a harmonising vocal. Similarly, one of the youth chorus – Oliver delivered a super cameo and song. This was a hybrid, immersive experience of projected film and in person character and everyone must be so pleased that there was a good, finished performance at the end of a very long wait. Though, like me, I bet everyone cannot wait to get front and centre in front of a live audience and have fun both for those in the audience and onstage, after all that is Pantomime!
SUNSHINE ON LEITH Director: Louise Colohan Musical Director: Marilyn Blank Choreographer: Liz Cardall Mid Cheshire Musical Theatre Company Sunshine on Leith follows the highs and lows of Ally and his friend Davy as they search for normality after returning from a tour in Afghanistan. Families, friendships, and life are not all plain sailing in this funny and moving story about love and life. Ally's marriage proposal is rejected by his childhood sweetheart, a nurse disillusioned with the part-privatised NHS, moves to the US to seek career fulfilment instead. Meanwhile, Davy gets a job in a call centre while his parents war over the discovery, years on, of father's infidelity. This musical, built round the music of The Proclaimers, is a laughter and tears story. The book is a little contrived at times and somewhat predictable, but this does not spoil the enjoyment of the musical. It is the music and performances that carry the show. Friend’s Ally and Davy recently discharged from the army, head home to their beloved Scotland and their families. An emotional journey unfolds (three different love stories) leading to a crisis that threatens their lives as they know it. To take the action unhindered from scene to scene, projected images took the audience from location to location. The opening images of the boys in Afghanistan were dramatic sending a clear message. Set dressings were added, neatly executed by the stage crew, the members of which were never late for a lighting cue, or getting in the way of the performers. The lighting plot created atmosphere giving depth to the piece. The sound didn’t just underpin the vocals, it added to the colour and overall mood. Fitting character presentation was that final jigsaw piece that completed the overall look. The creative team obviously had a passion for the show. The direction was fast-moving bringing out the best of each dramatic moment. Musically everyone was so strong bringing the music to life, making it the heart of the evening. The choreography, although not as gritty as one might have expected, was delivered with accuracy and feeling. There can be problem when actors have to deliver an accent. Will it get between the character and the narrative? In this presentation, every word came across engaging the audience throughout the show. The casting was splendid: the ensemble, and smaller roles, delivered individual characters giving credence to their respective scenes. The subplot of the love-child, Eilidh (Jenna Finnigan) of Dave’s Dad, Rab, with all its consequences, was poignantly delivered. Adrian Grace gave a memorable portrayal as good natured, likeable Rab. Rab’s wife, Jean, the family matriarch, was played by Catherine Baddeley. Catherine was in total control of her characterisation and extracted all the drama from the role. The dilemma of finding out, and accepting, Eilidh was very well handled. The love interest of Ally, Davy, his sister Liz, and her friend, Yvonne, turned matters into an emotional rollercoaster. Verity McKay, as Liz, ticked all the boxes and Melanie Rayner had her moments as Yvonne. The central set of performances Davy and Ally have to carry the show. Myles Ryan and Connor Ryan skilfully portrayed the two comrades in arms in civvie-street. They had great on-stage chemistry and vocal ability. Using the number, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” for the finale was like a stirring anthem. It certainly got the audience to its feet as the piper played. This uplifting enjoyable production allowed the audience to forget all about covid and lockdown. Oh. the magic of theatre!
TIME OF MY LIFE by Alan Ayckbourne Director: Anne Wint Players Theatre This was my first visit, sitting within a theatre, since March 2020 and I must say that the thought of making a return to any venue was a little daunting to say the least, and I am sure others have felt the same. However, as I greeted fellow thespians, one remarked that as you enter a theatre, any theatre that is, there is a smell, an aura, that puts you at ease immediately and you are back! That was so true, and I really enjoyed watching my first play of the 2021/2022 season. This Alan Ayckbourn play centres around Gerry Stratton who has organized a family dinner with his sons, Glyn and Adam, at his favourite restaurant to celebrate his wife Laura’s birthday. Glyn is with his long-suffering wife Stephanie; there have been marital issues, but things look to be on firmer ground. Adam has brought along his new girlfriend, an outrageous hairdresser, and they are both eager to impress. Gradually, family skeletons intrude on the happy domestic scene: Glyn continues to be unfaithful, the family business is in financial trouble, and Laura has been unfaithful. Glyn’s story is set more recently, and Adam’s further back in time, while at the centre Gerry and Laura contemplate their marriage and recall first love. This is a ‘time’ play, and all this happens on the same set. The simplicity of the set, designed and constructed by Ian Wilkinson and team, worked well: large central space acted as the restaurant, while two side areas, lit by spotlights, (operated by Sophie Billington) isolated separate tables for the two brothers to conduct their relationship discussions. The inclusion of some mood music added to the ambience. I heard a member of the public behind me say that it made her feel like being away on a Mediterranean holiday. Ian Wilkinson, (Gerry) is convincing as the proud, amiable, and smug father who is too wrapped up in his business to notice his marriage slipping away. Sue Hind is also impressive as Laura, the stubborn, unsympathetic, and self-centred mother, who can't help but spoil the evening by opening her big mouth and meddling in her children's lives. Sue’s tone of voice and delivery conveyed meaning in every line delivered. Both these actors showed great restraint, discipline, and professionalism, during the scenes set forward, where they had to sit stock still in near darkness so as not to draw the eyes from the couples playing the sons and partners. Eldest son, Glyn (Chris Billington), who is on the board of the family firm, would do anything for his mother’s love, she can scarcely stand to be in the same room as him – nor his accepting, wallflower wife Stephanie (Charlotte Durham). The change in character was well done from both of these actors. Chris began the play as a confident and assertive man but due to his own actions lost everything and became a shadow of his former self. Whilst Charlotte made us believe that the meek wife gained in confidence once she accepted the marriage was over and she began her life again as an independent woman. Lovely symbolism of sending the fizzy water back to convey this.
Adam (Sam Hindmarch), meanwhile, is the apple of his mother’s eye. She mistakes his lack of purpose for sensitivity, but he too desperately seeks her approval. Sam brought a nervousness to the character, wringing of the hands and stuttering conversation, which he kept throughout, which was quite charming. The relationship that developed between him and Sarah Morgan’s straight talking, out to shock, Maureen brought some humour and comedy to the piece. There was a good injection of comedy from Mark Bennett, as the five Euro Waiters, each different with a change of waistcoat to identify the character. This role could very easily steal every scene; this actor had to have discipline and careful judgement, when to make the characters larger than life and when to be gentle and quiet. Well done! Director Anne Wint got a lot of movement into a play that mostly requires people sitting at restaurant tables.
Legally Blonde the Musical Director: Jess Bray Musical Director: Chris Addington Choreography Nikki Wilkinson Rochdale Musical Theatre Company Zoom rehearsals for “Legally Blonde” started whilst we were in lockdown. The fact the show might not go on did not dampen spirits amongst the enthusiastic cast and then when restrictions were lifted, rehearsals began in earnest. To add to the anxiety of the society, a new venue had to be found. This turned out to be the iconic Champness Hall in Rochdale which was was booked to present the musical. This hall was originally a Methodist church built in 1925. With its eye catching art-deco interior intact it is now a multipurpose functional space. There is no stage as such but there is a high platform with choir stalls and a pipe organ; what a challenge presented itself, However, the creative and technical teams turned this space into a stage and performing area. All that was achieved by the clever use of flats and video screens. The slick scene changes executed by the stage crew, and sometimes the cast, were choreographed by stage manager, Chris Amis. The energy in which this was undertaken matched the jam-packed energy of the production. Jamie Jackson’s lighting design, and Mash Audiovisual sound, gave an arena feel to the overall effect with lively visuals and show-stopping vocals. The costumes were important to the overall imagery and character presentation certainly ticked that box, especially all that crazy amount of pink. The director, with her cast, transported the ecstatic audience through an evening that dazzled and charmed. All the music of the bouncy score was in safe hands and was delivered with such gusto. The choreography lifted the show and enhanced the story. The ensemble, other characters and Greek Chorus were hard hitting keeping the set pace, never allowing it to drop. They sang and danced with inexhaustible enthusiasm. Fun performances all round. Challenging the “Dumb Blonde” stereotype this musical knocks the cliché firmly on the head with girl power. It tells the story of the rocky road when looking for love. Among the leading males, we met Elle’s boyfriend, Warner Huntington 3rd. Steven Cheeseman, as Warner, made much of the role displaying equal quantities of charm and smarminess. The intimidating professor Callaghan was played ruthlessly by Terry Banham. It was Zac Grenier, however, who made the biggest impact as the shy, friendly law teacher assistant, Emmett Forrest. The subplot of the lovelorn manicurist, Paulette, added to the enjoyment of the show. Cesca Astley gave a sassy portrayal as Paulette. The scene with the easy-on-the-eye UPS delivery guy was a hoot. It was time for the girls to show their power. Elle’s ex finds a new girlfriend, Vivienne.
Vivienne is another unpleasant obstacle in Elle’s love journey. This supporting role was convincingly fleshed out by Jess Bray. “Legally Blonde” takes on the case of fitness guru Brooke Wiindham . Maria Markland gave everything to the role: the skipping rope routine was a highlight of the production. Miss “All America” Elle Woods was played by Leonie Picariello. It was hard to take your eyes of her. Leonie sails through the show with her sharp vocals, dancing and comedy timing. Great casting! This feel good show left the audience on an adrenaline high
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES Adapted for the stage by Steven Canny and John Nicholson Directed by Clive Stack Blackburn Drama Club I received a lovely warm welcome again from the team at Blackburn Drama Club for the second play of their season of comedy, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ presented at their gorgeous venue, Blackburn Empire Theatre. ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ is an unusual version of Conan Doyle’s classic tale. Adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson and directed for Blackburn Drama Club by Clive Stack, the story takes us on the rollercoaster journey of Sir Charles Baskerville; allegedly killed on Dartmoor by a phantom hound who roams the Baskerville estate, to create a slapstick ‘whodunnit’. In a nutshell, that covers the bones of the story, and the flesh itself becomes a little lost in the style of the play, as it is played for exaggerated comedy gags rather than focusing on the story. We were warned in the programme, though, that we would be confused, and this was definitely the case! To set the tone of the play, it opened with the actors providing their own sound effects. These were repeated throughout and I found this element really effective and comical. For example, extreme creaking doors, ghost sounds, and animal noises. The actors then battered down the “fourth wall” and introduced themselves. At this point I knew this was not going to be your average play! The cast was a fantastic one, and they worked together as an strong and well-rehearsed team. There were just four in the cast playing the various eccentric roles. They needed a strong cast to carry this off as the production covered just about every comedic performance style you can think of, melodrama, farce, pantomime and even hints of commedia. Luckily the actors were of a professional standard, and they did indeed pull it off. Steven Derbyshire gave an excellent performance in his various roles creating strong distinctions between all the characters he played and he really showed off his skill as a diverse and accomplished physical comedy performer. I loved the surprise rendition of ‘Baker Street’ on his saxophone, and his performance as the ridiculous ‘Stapleton’ and his silly walk had me in stitches. Every character he portrayed brought a different energy and he owned the stage. Paul McGowan brought us an energetic and animated performance as Dr. John Watson. His role was the constant of the play and the only character of which we could be certain. Paul skilfully showed both the humour, naïvety, and the tongue in cheek nature of Dr. Watson with an accomplished stage presence. I thought it was brilliant when he dropped out of character to tell us that Cecile was “absolutely ravishing”. Dominic Dwyer took the role of Sir Henry and Sir Charles Baskerville. His rubbery facial
expressions were just brilliant, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes where he was playing all the characters in the pictures, and when he got trapped in the window frame – fantastic and skilfully delivered physical comedy which was really appreciated by the audience. Jaqueline Green played multiple roles, both male and female, and fully committed to each role with a dazzling confidence. Jacqueline’s range of accents was fantastic, particularly her European accent, and her hound howls were also particularly impressive. I enjoyed her passionate performance as Cecile, when she really drew us in and kept us in the moment with her. This was a playful character and her enjoyment really sparkled throughout. There were some hilarious moments, such as the characters sinking in the quicksand behind the suitcases: it was synchronised and timed to perfection. The re-run of act one was also very entertaining, with silly gags, people forgetting props and the stage manager getting shot. I did enjoy the re-run but felt more could have been made of missed comedy opportunities. The cast was supported by a strong technical and backstage team. The lighting and smoke were atmospheric and well utilised. The costumes were authentic (well perhaps not the sideburns and moustaches!) and all the changes were fast and slick, and the backstage team should be commended for this. The set was simplistic, with various reversible screens representing the locations, the moor, Baker Street, the train, the bedroom, etc. These worked well and allowed for some slick scene changes. I thought it was really clever the way that the sauna bench became the horse and carriage with the actors moving the set. I would have liked to have seen more of these transitions as some of the blackouts, and the repetitive Sherlock music really jarred, and slowed the flow of the performance. (Although I wouldn’t say quite as bad as dragging the pace like an asthmatic donkey). The comedy style was quite dated and typical British stiff upper lip, and tongue in cheek – it reminded me of a TV sitcom style such as ‘Blackadder’. With it’s silly insults such as ‘Moose boy’ and ‘beef cheeks’, and eye-roll worthy gags like “don’t beat about the bush” and “walk this way”. That said, I did feel that some of the jokes seemed to fall on deaf ears leaving the audience somewhat bemused and slow to catch up on the style of the play, particularly in the first half which meant that, unfortunately, some of the comedy was lost. Although there was a lot of “smoke and mirrors” and some “total twaddle”, credit goes to the skill of the actors for helping us to relax into the style of the play and not take it too seriously. It was, in the end, a chaotic but enjoyable evening of entertainment.