Ellen Kent’s La Traviata 4.5.2018

A-La-Traviata-Violetta-played-by-Maria-Tonina-Act-1

 

“La Traviata” was composed by Verdi and first performed in 1853, and to this day remains a well known and loved production. As expected, it adheres to ‘the rules’ of classic opera – love, lust, heaving bosoms and tragedy that can only these days be rivalled by prime time soaps. Alyona Kistenyova plays an exquisite leading lady, consumed by her courtesan lifestyle and need for constant fleeting pleasures of the flesh (and large quantities of wine!)

In my younger years I tended to avoid opera as I didn’t understand it’s appeal, but “La Traviata” is a perfect example of why the genre really isn’t just for the ‘oldies’ – if you’ll pardon the expression. Illicit affairs, love triangles, partying all night and moral dilemmas are main themes throughout the performance, and other than the glitzy attire (and the singing in Italian..) the couples wouldn’t seem particularly out of place on The Jeremy Kyle Show!

I was a little confused during Act one as to where in the story we had begun, due to the subtitles giving an overview of the entire plot – had Violetta met Alfredo before? Google now tells me she had. I would liked to have seen more movement during each of the 3 acts as there were several static periods of standing still and singing, but the party scene with the gypsy fortune tellers and matador brought some much needed comic relief. The interactions were a little wooden in places, with a rather hammy slap being dealt to Alfredo by Giorgio, who ironically was the star of the show for me. His acting was consistently solid, his reactions engaging and his presence calming. The orchestra was breath-taking – I felt goose bumps rising on my arms as the strings carried Violetta’s sorrow out into the night. I also felt a particular infinity with the lyrics of “Brindisi” – the most famous drinking song in the operatic world.

A little motionless in places, and not very believable chemistry between the leading actors, but the songs were captivating and the combination of dramatic tension and humour worked extremely well. Overall an enjoyable, relaxed evening of easy watch traditional entertainment. If you’ve never been to the opera, this is a great first show to see.

Advertisements

La Voix – The Show! 30.3.2018

La Voix. Not La Void, La Vocks, or anything else for that matter (it means “The Voice”, by the way) This rather glorious individual was treating The Aylesbury Waterside to a one night only exclusive show, and I was thrilled to be in the audience (close enough to see the diamonds sparkle, far enough back to avoid being picked on, which was a relief!)

We went on a journey celebrating not only the career of La Voix herself, but also the lives of the big time divas who have inspired her rise to fame. Boasting a glittering array of live performances, TV appearances and film debuts, La Voix is truly the ultimate show girl, with just a hint of girl next door peeping out from under her sparkly dress. As she sashayed and winked her way through the hits of Pink, Cher and Liza Minelli, she was accompanied by a rather youthful live band and two dancers shaking their tatas in black netted tops. Her combination of scripted jokes and audience ad-libbing was refreshing and perfectly timed, although I had expected the humour to reach greater levels of indecency!

The highlights of the evening for me were definitely her impression of Cher, and the Liza Minelli dance… Observational comedy at its finest.

The finale was a perfect finish to a fun, light-hearted evening, and I found myself chuckling away to the complete stranger next to me as we bumped shoulders to a classic from Bonnie Tyler. Not many women can pull off sky scraper heels, control tipsy audience members and boss a 20 seconds costume change, but La Voix is the stylish, sassy superstar we all aspire to be… I love her! For me, the secret to La Voix’s success is her combination of powerful vocals, lightning quick wit and her ability to take the mickey out of herself and others without a hint of malice. The after show meet and greet was also a lovely touch, she was mobbed! I wish her lots of success on the rest of her tour and will be keeping an eye out for opportunities to see her again.

Strangers on a Train 19.3.2018

“Christopher Harper (Coronation Street), John Middleton (Emmerdale), Jack Ashton (Call The Midwife) and Hannah Tointon (Mr Selfridge) lead the cast in a brand-new production of the spellbinding thriller.

Strangers On A Train is based on the world renowned 1950 novel by Patricia Highsmith made universally famous by the classic Oscar-Winning Alfred Hitchcock film. In the great tradition of Hitchcock, this spine-chilling tale will delight you with its dark wit whilst having you on the edge of your seat from the start.

A fateful encounter takes place between two men in the dining carriage of a train crossing America. Guy is the successful businessman with a nagging jealousy; Charles is the cold, calculating chancer with a dark secret. A daring and dangerous plan develops from this casual conversation setting in motion a chain of events that will change the two men’s lives forever.”

As my opening gambit, I have to say Strangers on a Train is to be commended for its incredibly imaginative set. Not only was each scene utterly surprising, but the imagination and detail puts every other murder thriller I’ve ever seen to shame. Every scene was perfectly planned, and gave a high quality feel to the entire production. The cast were all equally convincing, but the increasing insanity of Christopher Harper playing Charles Bruno was completely addictive. His mania mixed with exquisitely timed jokes and facial expressions had me chuckling nervously on the edge of my seat from start to finish. There were a few moments I felt could have been condensed, as they lost momentum in places, but overall an exciting and unpredictable performance start to finish.

If you fancy a night on the train click the link below for ticket availability

Tickets

Rambert 15.3.2018

It’s not often I get the opportunity to review a night of contemporary dance, so it was a lovely surprise to get a Rambert ticket at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.

“Rambert is unique. Our history as Britain’s oldest dance company is constantly refreshed by the creation of new dance works. We commission the most exciting choreographers, composers and designers around, and give them the freedom to lead us wherever their vision and imagination takes them.

Current and recently commissioned choreographers include leading UK-based dance-makers Kim Brandstrup, Aletta Collins, Shobana Jeyasingh, Ashley Page and Rambert’s Artistic Director Mark Baldwin. Alongside these new creations, we have revived seminal works from our past repertoire by internationally-celebrated choreographers including Christopher Bruce, Lucinda Childs, Merce Cunningham and Siobhan Davies.”

The evening entertainment was split into 3 performances -” A Linha Curva”, “Ghost Dances” and “Goat”.

The first piece was bursting with energy, a stage full of vibrant dancers in fluorescent hot pants. I enjoyed the use of lighting, cleverly segregating and reuniting lines of bodies as they leapt and shimmied. The choreography was mesmerising and my thoughts wandered to imagery of tribal dances and the addictive movement of carnival. The freedom and abandonment was infectious – upbeat, cheeky, sexy fun.

Section two brought an entirely different feel to the evening. Interestingly the first few minutes were music free, which is a bold move indeed. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to walk across a stage quietly, let alone leap and lift without each landing mimicking thunder, yet the Ghosts were so silent I could hear their breath! Christopher Bruce’s combination of ballet and modern dance worked perfectly, and created a melancholy yet hopeful feeling amongst the characters. The repetition of movement, spliced with the beautiful panpipes and haunting Ghosts was thought provoking, bringing together the vitality of life and love with the unavoidable, cloying touch of death.

The final part of the evening threw me completely. From the upbeat, to the political, we finally landed at the utterly bonkers. Initially I couldn’t work out what the title had to do with the piece, but I clocked on fairly quickly (before it was explained, go me!) After two intense performances I was delighted by the irony of Miguel Altunaga whose perfectly timed, entirely inappropriate questions brought a beaming smile to my lips, his sensual accent welcoming me in. I found myself transported to what seemed like some sort of 70s cult meeting/love in, which wasn’t where I’d imagined I’d be on a Thursday evening, but I sat back and enjoyed the ride. Liam Francis was an intriguing lead, his character’s intense persona a stark contrast to our friend the TV presenter. There were so many themes to absorb and reflect on, it’s the kind of piece you would watch multiple times and continually notice something new, or perceive a different message. The closing section was captivating, Liam and Hannah Rudd left me a little teary eyed with their passionate final dance. What a beautiful pairing.

I hadn’t realised there was a Q&A after which is a real shame, but in a way it was quite cathartic to enjoy my own interpretation of the evening, and take it away to ponder some more. Contemporary dance isn’t for everyone, as it doesn’t always have an exacting conclusion and may not answer the audience questions directly, but in a world of Google and instant gratification, I found an evening of Rambert the perfect therapy.

If you need to escape, click the link below to check ticket availability

Tickets

The Barricade Boys 12.3.2018

The Barricade Boys showcase some of the world’s finest male voices from the West End, Broadway, International Tour and Hollywood movie of the world’s longest-running musical – Les Misèrables.
As seen on ITV’s This Morning and The Paul O’Grady Show, The Barricade Boys are quickly securing their place as theatre land’s newest and most exciting male vocal group!

**Confession – I had thought I was reviewing “Beyond the Barricade” as I have seen them before, these are not the same people!! **

This evening’s show featured the vocal talent of four rather dashing young men, who spoilt us by belting out a catalogue of well loved anthems spanning several decades. I was amazed by their versatility, and pleased that they poked fun at themselves by suggesting we were in for several hours of ballads (we weren’t, although I certainly have nothing against a moody number or two!) Throughout the night we were treated to a multitude of medleys, from mainstream musicals to jazz remixes with a few cheeky pop songs thrown in. What The Barricade Boys did well was build up a sense of apprehension as the evening progressed, teasing the audience with their rather snazzy crushed velvet jackets and funky moves, and splicing classic favourites with unexpected song choices. Watching them on stage together was a bit like watching the first act of a musical, followed by a sneak peak of them letting loose at an after-show party. Each of the gentlemen had their own distinct singing (and dancing!) style, which was a delight to watch, at points I felt almost as though there was an “in joke” running between them as they winked and smiled to one another and the band.

My particular favourite was the extremely bouncy Simon Schofield, who blew me away with his intense vocal range and performance zest. I loved his polished tones, and wish I’d had the chance to see him in Joseph – Simon if you’re reading this please feel free to invite me to review your next production! There were a few minor lighting/sound issues, and unfortunately the theatre wasn’t filled to capacity, but in spite of this the lads received a well deserved standing ovation. Perfectly pitched for tonight’s audience, and much to my delight I was informed by a lady of a certain age (as she queued for an autograph) that she is now a “Barricade Boys groupie”. Bloomin’ marvellous. You go girl.

Son of a Preacher Man 6.3.2018

SOAPM-1587

“Three broken hearts, one Soho hang-out, and the only man who could ever help them…
Welcome to the Preacher Man, the swinging Soho joint where the kids used to dance the night away and dared to dream of love, while the legendary owner, The Preacher Man himself, dispensed advice to cure the loneliest of hearts… until now.”

Listening to the soulful hits of Dusty Springfield seemed like the perfect way to shake off my bad mood on a grey Tuesday evening, and I was looking forward to a toe tapping Motown experience down at the Aylesbury Waterside. The opening scene was a little random, with 3 strangers talking about a forgotten bar run by a “preacher man”. I was slightly confused, as neither of the women were old enough to have been around in the 60’s, but it became clear they were on quests to find the “preacher man” in memory of older family members. The lady they initially spoke to who was running the coffee shop for “Simon” was hilarious – such a shame she didn’t have a bigger part to play as she added some real comedic energy (and I can’t find a credit either, sorry!)

Unfortunately the preacher man the trio sought had long since passed away and so the love sick strangers (Michael Howe, Michelle Gayle and Alice Barlow) tried to find the answers to all their problems by turning to his son Simon (Nigel Richards), who played the socially awkward part perfectly.

I must admit, the show wasn’t quite what I had in mind, and there was a rather Marmite clash between 60’s culture and modern day. I enjoyed the choreography a great deal – the movement was varied, thoughtful and unpredictable throughout (check out the dance number between the two young men – beautiful physical theatre). I found the vocals a bit of a mixed bag, with the powerful singing of one particular male (tall blonde chap) during the “I just don’t know what to do with myself” skit showing up some of the weaker cast vocals. The storyline interspersed plenty of ‘glory days’ shenanigans with modern themes, and the “Cappucino Sisters” kept momentum going throughout. I did find the main trio a little irritating at times, their lack of gratitude towards the “son of the preacher man” seemed a little unrealistic, as did their instant friendship and inexplicably never-ending time in London (where were they sleeping?? how long were they up there??) Fortunately the male lead (Michael Howe) pulled me back from the brink by being the most interesting character of the three, and not a bad guitarist!

As a modern day online dater, I had to chuckle at the somewhat tongue in cheek look at 21st century love and the brilliant “selfie dance” in the first half, although I was admittedly distracted by the splendid form of Mike (Liam Vincent – Kilbride). At the risk of sounding like a bit of a perve, I can spot a good pair of thighs from a mile off, so to witness this cello playing, dancing singing marvel IN A KILT during the second half was certainly a highlight for me. Why does someone like him never appear in my inbox?!

If gentlemen in kilts aren’t your main reason for an evening at the theatre, I can assure you that “Son of a Preacher Man” offers jam packed, all singing, all dancing light hearted entertainment that will have kids (10+), parents and grandparents boogying the night away. Some of the acting left a little to be desired in my humble opinion (it was slightly wooden, and bits of script just didn’t flow properly), but it isn’t often that you get the opportunity to watch a production with 60’s jams, a modern twist and a cast playing instruments live on stage. I must also just mention Lewis Kidd, as his energetic, genuine and totally believable performance had me gently smiling to myself on the way home.

For a totally groooooovvvyyyy experience of your own, click the link!

TICKETS

19.2.2018 The Case of the Frightened Lady

the case of

“When Inspector Tanner is called in to investigate a ruthless murder at Mark’s Priory, the grand ancestral home of the Lebanon family, he quickly discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. The household is controlled by the family physician, the footmen behave more like guests than servants and the secretary Isla is afraid for her life. As Tanner moves closer to the heart of the mystery he uncovers a shocking and closely guarded secret…”

Murder mysteries always promise plenty of head scratching over the age-old question “whodunit?” and an evening watching “The Case of the Frightened Lady” was no exception. The show boasted a cast of well known TV actors, from Gray O’Brien (The Loch, Peak Practice, Casualty) to Philip Lowrie (Coronation Street), and even an appearance from Charlie Clements (Bradley in Eastenders). During the opening scene we were invited to the annual fancy dress party of the Lebanon family and met the rather sombre Lady of the house and her guests as they danced the night away, oblivious to the tragedy about to unfold. From the start I was somewhat suspicious of the staff always loitering just outside the room when people were talking, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why they were constantly eavesdropping in darkened corners. There were plenty of characters with motive to kill, and by the end of the first half I heard several audience members questioning their companions about who had committed the murder! The second half brought more clues, and further questions about what was being hidden under our noses by the somewhat strange Lebanon family and their shifty servants.  As a performance I found it a little “old school” for my taste, but for anyone with a passion for murder mysteries “The Case of the Frightened Lady” is an absolute classic. Shameful secrets, love affairs and shifty butlers galore! If that sounds like your cup of tea (or tumbler of strange tasting whisky..) you can experience the drama for yourself by clicking this link….

TICKETS