Les Miserables 17th May 2019 – Milton Keynes Theatre

Since watching Les Miserables at Milton Keynes Theatre on Friday night I have been mulling over how best to capture the show’s essence in writing. When a production is good, I believe in being straight to the point, so in the interest of consistency I’m going to tell you the truth.

It isn’t good.

It’s exquisite.

From the eery prisoner opening scene through to Valjean’s passing, I was utterly blown away. Killian Donnelly (Jean Valjean) tugged hard on my heart strings as he commanded the stage, and the tears finally fell when he sang “Bring Him Home” (seriously, take your tissues.) I believe my comment to my friend was “I’m so confused, I can’t tell if I want him to be my boyfriend or my Dad!”

I was particularly touched by the moments between Jean Valjean and The Bishop of Digne (Brian James Leys), which captured perfectly the juxtaposition between one man’s desperation and the unwavering eternal kindness of the other – certainly one of the most emotionally impacting scenes the show has to offer, despite its simplicity.

By stark contrast there were plenty of upbeat moments to enjoy, “Lovely Ladies” and “Master of the House” had me dancing in my seat and laughing out loud – rotten debauchery at its finest! Madame Thenardier’s voice (Sophie-Louise Dann) and mannerisms were hilarious, I could have watched the awful woman and her disease riddled husband all night.

I did, of course, have very high hopes for the vocals and music but I honestly don’t think I was prepared for the quality of Les Miserables on tour. Throughout the show I was continually caught off guard by the overwhelming range of talent. The lighting and sound was amazing – for me it was the attention to detail that made it so special (for example little touches like the shafts of light breaking through the barred windows) and transported me effortlessly to 19th century France (hi Sam by the way!)

If I were to sift through every moment of the show I would find very little to critique, which is almost unheard of for picky old me! The flawless cast were all stars in their own right – from the whores, to the students, to lovers Marius and Cosette. If you offered me a ticket to watch Les Miserables again tonight my answer would be a resounding “Oui Madame, Merci!”

Best Availability Monday to Thursday performances. Call the theatre’s dedicated Les Misérables booking line on 01908 547669 (open Monday to Saturday, 12 – 6pm) or visit: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/les-miserables/milton-keynes-theatre/. Check daily for returns and last minute ticket releases.

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Thriller Live 22.4.2019

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“Now in its record breaking 10th year, THRILLER LIVE is a spectacular concert created to celebrate the career of the world’s greatest entertainer!”

There is no denying that Michael Jackson was one of the most incredible song writers, singers and performers of all time. To take his life’s work on tour is an ambitious move – and one that die hard fans would be quick to criticize if it fell short of the King of Pop’s high standards. I’m always a little dubious about anyone covering hits as part of a show or tribute, so it was with some trepidation that I parked my bum to watch Thriller Live.

Well.

They won me over instantly with one of my favourite Motown classics, before leaping full pelt into a disco medley! It was so refreshing to see such a vibrant, enthusiastic cast bouncing around the stage – a far cry from the tired routines I had envisaged (you know the kind, 4 mikes at the front of the stage, dodgy outfits, lots of waffle about irrelevant facts, etc)

I found that I couldn’t help but smile – especially when the whole audience was encouraged to fling their hands in the air and shake their bodies down to the ground! Although I couldn’t possibly choose favourites, there were a few individuals who really shone out…I’m going to have to google names and see if I can recognise some faces!

The lead singers were all fantastic, but Trace Kennedy’s silky smooth vocals and mega watt smile had me melting from start to finish. Kieran Alleyne was, I think the main MJ dancer during the show, and kudos where it’s due, he was utterly spectacular. I wasn’t quite sure what was mimed and what was live, but he was breathtakingly sharp and fresh…nailing the classic hip thrusts and moon walk. Ina Seidou was just in a class of her own – totally owning every single track. She had a commanding, sassy and endearing stage presence that ran a spectrum from cute through to totally fierce. Britt Quentin’s humour was infectious, and his soft but powerful vocals gave that truly authentic Michael element – I’ve also just read he is also the resident director! What a legend!

My google spying tells me that one of my absolute fave dancers was in fact dance captain Daniel Bradford – this guy can MOVE. There’s little I enjoy more than a man who makes dancing look utterly effortless – he would fit right in with the Magic Mike troupe!! I THINK my other fave might have been Danyul Fullard but I’m not sure…crazy break dancing guy with a ‘fro?! Loved him and couldn’t tear my eyes away, even when he was flossing!

Anyway..

The final songs were uplifting and heartfelt – hearing The Earth Song performed flawlessly gave me chills down my spine. Thank you so much to Aylesbury Waterside Theatre for letting me review this little gem (well, more like enormous sparking diamond!) it was the perfect end to a sunny Easter Bank Holiday – I will 100% make sure I’m in the audience when Thriller Live comes back to town next time.

Abigail’s Party 18.3.2019

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Abigail’s party is so 1970’s it hurts. Terrible dancing, dodgy furniture, and blindingly bad outfits are all the rage during this cringe-worthy comedy.

Jodie Prenger takes the lead as outrageous Beverly, throwing a party so alcoholic it should come with its own health warning. In her bid to “Keep up with the Joneses” Beverly’s brow beaten husband Laurence certainly has his work cut out, trying to juggle work and keeping the home bar stocked to her tastes!

The whole cast were superb from start to finish. From the mono-syllabic Tony, to people pleaser Angela and hilarious space cadet Susan, there wasn’t weak character in sight. The show was a really easy watch, perfectly combining cringe-worthy ego with a slightly darker twist as the disharmony between the couples seeps out (as the booze seeps in!) It’s not easy to entertain an audience with one set for the entire performance, but it was achieved with an abundance of enthusiasm and continual perfect timing. For me it was classic comfort throughout, embracing all that was great in the 70’s (allegedly – a little before my time I must add!) and will certainly appeal to anyone old enough to have seen “The Good Life” or “Dad’s Army” on TV.

A night of good old fashioned night of fun, outdated social commentary and far too much gin!

**Abigail’s Party is on at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre now, get tickets here**

TICKETS

Finding Joy 19.11.2018

This evening was the first time I have ever attended a “relaxed” theatre performance, primarily aimed at promoting inclusion for those with dementia. Prior to the show we were given the opportunity to get to know the cast (James Greaves, Louise Mellor, Bidi Iredale and Sarah Nelson) and told to watch and interact in whichever way served us best.

Having known, and cared for people in various stages of dementia, it struck me how even a simple activity such as going to the theatre could become more of an ordeal than a pleasure. In order to counteract this Vamos Theatre dim the house lights but not fully, don’t mind talking, don’t allocate specific seats, and encourage the audience to respond however the mood takes them.

“Finding Joy” is the story of an everyday family living with the inevitable passing of time, and the tribulations of growing old. Despite the lack of words and masks with only one expression, the show shares unlimited truths with its audience. A gentle start was quickly succeeded by a hilarious scene depicting life for two young men who could be our neighbours, our sons, or merely unknown faces on the bus. I particularly appreciated the use of Super Sharp Shooter.. Ironically a song probably unknown by anyone under 30 these days!

Every scene was intricately designed to stir the senses.. Fear, frustration, amusement, empathy, and many more. Having spent time in hospitals as an employee and a patient I was in absolute stitches when the HCA and then consultant appeared.. Observational humour at its finest.

For me, Finding Joy hits the nail on the head because of its attention to detail without straying into the patronising, preachy realms that so often overshadow otherwise winning performances. Its sincerity and authenticity shines through in every step, every head tilt, every hand hold. I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears as I watched the relationship between Joy and her grandson develop – raw compassion and love eminating from the stage in continual waves.

Vamos Theatre are certainly ones to watch, and I’m really excited to see they have a new show “A Brave Face” touring in 2019 – as someone who has friends suffering from PTSD following military service I can’t wait to see how the show will be put together.

An inspiring, humbling and enjoyable evening all round, what an absolute pleasure.

Dracula – The Bloody Truth 18.10.2018

I’m going to jump straight in and say that “Dracula – The Bloody Truth” was one of the most bonkers and energetic shows I’ve ever seen. The best description I can muster is.. The League of Gentlemen meets Acorn Antiques at Fawlty Towers whilst pottering around somewhere in Little Britain, possibly at a University AmDram production!!

I was a little dubious for the first 30 minutes and found myself disconnected due to the start/stop nature of the script. The opening scene was completely bizarre and I wasn’t sure I “got” it. I remember whispering to my companion that the whole thing seemed a bit random, but decided to sit back and see where the show was going. It took a while for a rhythm to be established, but once I got in the right headspace I found myself absorbed in the plot and characters.

Credit where its due to the cast, between them they played a multitude of characters, male and female and with quite an astounding variety of accents! I loved the informal feel of the entire production, and the “I’m a laaadddyyyyyy” demeanour of the female leads.

There were continual gaffs and set malfunctions throughout the performance, which very much reminded me of “The Play That Goes Wrong”, one of my favourite shows from earlier this year. The second half substantially picked up pace in comparison to the first, and the combination of audience involvement, nudity and singing was perfect. The cast and production team had obviously put a HUGE amount of time and investment into the script, set, props and comedic timing, and it paid off.

It was such a shame that ticket sales weren’t better, as the performers had to work extra hard to create a jovial and spooky atmosphere, but they deserved every laugh, clap and heckle. I hope I have an opportunity to see them in future productions, as it really was an utterly unique evening! Great fun.

Saturday Night Fever 9.10.2018

Saturday Night Fever tells the story of Tony Manero, who escapes the harsh realities of working-class Brooklyn life when he embarks on a reckless, yet thrilling road to dancing success.

The movie soundtrack remains one of the bestselling of all time, featuring the Bee Gees greatest hits including Stayin’ Alive, How Deep Is Your Love, Night Fever, Tragedy and More Than a Woman as well as 70’s favourites Boogie Shoes, Disco Inferno and many more.”

Well well well. Tuesday night at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre. With the autumn evenings slowly setting in I was looking forward to a cheesy night of pop hits, and SNF most definitely delivered!

Richard Windsor played a fantastic Tony, balancing just the right amount of cockiness and vulnerability. He drew me in from the start with his energy and humour, and was clearly a big hit with the ladies in the audience! His leading lady Kate Parr (Stephanie) was equally magnetic, and together their dance moves sparked very believable chemistry.

I really loved the Bee Gees, who were not directly involved in the performance but provided the sound track from the top of the stage – their vocals were spot on throughout and a fitting tribute act. It was a treat to also catch the odd glimpse of the band, who accompanied the singers on a variety of instruments.. you just can’t beat good live music.

I enjoyed the sets, which were thoughtful without becoming overly fussy. All of the space was used effectively, and I’d like to give a shout out to the club MC who, despite being tucked on a top podium was one of the most energetic dancers I’ve ever seen! The choreography was great throughout, fun and slick but not polished to the point it lost the street feel that was so integral to the story line. I did notice a bit of contemporary dance in the second half (Tony’s solo) which I enjoyed but found a little displaced amongst the upbeat 70s vibe. I loved the dance off in the second half, the couples were totally mesmerising and I just wish it had gone on longer!
My only real criticism of the show is that there was an awful lot going on, and I feel certain scenes could have been simplified or omitted. There were so many themes – love , racism, family values, poverty, violence, child abuse, religion etc; that I found myself distracted by issues that were never explored (and I do like full conclusions to all my queries!) but that’s the social worker in me I’m afraid!

The standing ovation and boogying on down during the finale was all the proof I needed that Saturday Night Fever was an absolute hit on its opening night, and I’m sure it will delight audiences during the remainder of its run in Aylesbury.

A great night out – singalong hits, sexy encounters, and shakin’ hips aplenty!!

War Horse at MK Theatre 19.9.2018

“War Horse” introduces us to Joey, who develops an unbreakable bond with his owner Albert as he grows from a leggy foal into a spirited and lovable riding horse. Joey is then sold to the Cavalry by Albert’s greedy father, who can only see the financial gains and is unable to see the heartbreak he has caused. Albert has little joy in his life and struggles to contend with his father’s gambling and alcoholism which constantly jeopardises the family farm, and despite not being old enough to enlist for the war Albert embarks on a treacherous mission to track down Joey and bring him home – because they were meant to have each other forever.

I am an avid horse lover, and lucky enough to know one of the original film Joeys, who lives in Mursley, Buckinghamshire. Friends of mine from The Devil’s Horsemen were involved in the making of the film, so it has always held my interest. I was curious as to how these magnificent beasts could be realistically replicated on stage, and whether the show could live up to its momentous reputation.

The puppets were unlike anything I’ve ever seen before – if anything it feels a bit crude to describe them as puppets, given how far removed they are from the days of Sooty and Sweep! I was amazed by how lifelike Joey and the other horses were, and yet there was also a completely acceptable element of abstract within their appearance and mannerisms. I was truly stunned by the ease with which the horses were ridden and how they manoeuvred the stage, and for the most part I completely forgot about the puppeteers who were often in plain sight.

My favourite thing about the horses were their ears.. I was transported back to summer afternoons riding my little mare, and watching her ears twitch as they caught sounds carried by the breeze. Some of the noises made by the puppeteers were absolutely spot on too, particularly the “huffing” of Joey and Topthorn.)

My least favourite bits, by contrast, were some of the “screechy” noises made by the puppeteers – I felt they were a little overdone and took away from how realistic the puppets were (another moment like this was when Joey gripped Topthorn by the neck to pull him up – a little too “cartoony” for my tastes.

I’ve got to be honest, it was a harrowing watch, and at times I felt quite overwhelmed by the performance. It dug down into the hidden truths of the war, and the cruelty shown to both humans and animals as lives became increasingly expendable behind the trenches. The grey horses pulling the cart in the second half made me particularly sad! Buzz word – traumatic!

“War Horse” is such a unique show that has nuzzled its way into hearts the world over. It is an international phenomenon with no sign of slowing down or being superseded any time soon. It may not be for everyone (I’d certainly say an interest in horses, farming or the war would increase the likelihood of enjoyment) but you’d need a heart of stone to not invest even a little bit of yourself in the plight of Albert and his magnificent best friend. An unrivalled art piece that I hope continues to draw large audiences for years to come.