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.

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Cirque Berserk 23.7.2018

Roll up roll up, the circus is in town!

Cirque Berserk offers a sophisticated version of the big top experience, boasting plenty of traditional acts with a modern twist. My friend Gemma and I attended last nights breathtaking show, and it’s safe to say our jaws hit the floor more than once!

With dancing troupes, acrobats, death defying stunts and a generous dollop of slapstick, the show offers a little bit of something for everyone. There were a few rather random moments, and if there was a storyline I struggled to follow it, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the performance. I would have liked some acts to perform longer, for example the “chair guy” who was only on the stage for a couple of minutes, but overall the perfectly coordinated and choreographed show flowed without a hitch.

The comedy routines made for some light-hearted relief, with the dopey handymen duo getting up to all sorts of antics – I particularly loved the bin scene and the gymnastics near the end. A moment with one set of hands and another set of feet immediately made me think of the old classic “Singing in the Rain”…Those of you who’ve watched the original film may know what I mean!

The only other thing I would have liked is a ringmaster to hype up the crowd before the show began and to introduce the acts – I always relish the theatrical declarations of “the greatest show on earth!” and the completely overinflated promises of a moustachioed top hat wearer. I found the opening a little flat as there was no introduction or build up, which may have also been remedied by the drumming act taking the lead to get people clapping and cheering.

Cirque Berserk is fun, silly and thrilling without becoming overwhelming for little ones, and could be just the treat you need to kick off the summer holidays.

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Jersey Boys 4.7.2018

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“Jersey Boys” is the toe-tapping, spine-tingling story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons -young men from the wrong side of the New Jersey tracks mixing a life of crime with singing under the streetlights.

Wow, what a show. I was struck by the fast paced, energetic scene changes (or would scene blends be a more accurate description??) and loved watching the group develop through to the glory days on tour. The first ten minutes left me a little overwhelmed as I tried to unpick the American drawl, but I soon caught up and settled into the rhythmic storyline.

Michael Watson takes lead spot as the naïve youngster Frankie, who finds himself under the tutorage of local bad boy Tommy DeVito (played by Simon Bailey). With Nick Massi by their side (Lewis Griffiths) the trio attempt to forge a name in the music industry, but with many “coloured” groups and fashionable foursomes hitting the top spots they need something pretty spectacular to put them on the map. Luckily for them, that “something” eventually turns up in the form of Bob Gaudio (Declan Egan) and The Four Seasons hit the big time.

I am pretty hard to please when it comes to press night at the theatre, having been spoilt by so many 5* evenings out, but Jersey Boys was truly a hit. There were no dull moments, and the balance between singing and story telling was spot on. There were too many high points to name just one, but I absolutely loved Joel Elferink who played the delectable, innuendo laden Bob Crewe. He was just a delight from start to finish and brought a light and fluffy music biz element to the night – wonderful darling! The relationships between the members of The Four Seasons were hilariously believable, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know each character as they took a turn at narrating. It gave the opportunity for conflicting opinions and ideas to be addressed…Nick’s outburst towards the end had me laughing for ages – we’ve all shared a hotel room with a Tommy!

I may be an 80’s baby, but I found myself constantly thinking “why don’t they make music like this anymore?!” as I hummed along to Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, Beggin’, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Working My Way Back To You, and SO many more incredible hits! All the vocals were spectacular, from the highs of Frankie to the booming bass of Nick, with harmonies that raised bumps on my arms. The show was slick from start to finish, offering a speedy format that clearly represented the whirlwind the band found themselves swept into over the years. There was a tangible progression in the talent and sophistication of the group, from the early days breaking into churches through to moments on the big stages in front of thousands of adoring fans. I would have liked the darker side of Frankie, Tommy, Bob and Nick’s personal lives to be brought more to the fore, as I am particularly fascinated by gangsters and mob mentality, but that’s more of an afterthought than a criticism. The lighting, effects, and costumes were imaginative and utterly unique – I felt as though I had travelled to a thousand places in one night.

Fantastic show, perfectly picked cast and spell-binding music. You’d be a fool to miss it. Luckily for you the Jersey Boys are shaking their thang at The Aylesbury Waterside Theatre until 14th July 2018, so click the link and book your ticket now!

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Mamma Mia! 26.6.2018

Greek Islands and ABBA hits galore – what a perfect Tuesday evening at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.

Mamma Mia is the story of Sophie, and her preparations for a Greek wedding to young lover Sky. Mum Donna has sacrificed her party days to bring Sophie up singlehandedly, and shares reservations about her daughter settling down at the tender age of 20.

Sophie sets the cat amongst the pigeons when she invites 3 blasts from Donna’s past to the wedding – but who’s the daddy?!

The cast for the evening featured the unique talents of Shona White (Donna), Nicky Swift (Rosie) and Helen Anker (Tanya) as the aptly named Dynamos. I really enjoyed their believable relationship and playful harmonies, particularly during “Chiquitita” and “Super Trouper”. Tanya tickled me absolutely pink with her posh bird antics, and childish innuendos. When I grow up I’m aiming to be like Tanya, especially if I look that glorious in a sequinned jumpsuit!

Lucy May Barker (Sophie) was a brilliantly sugary leading lady, with just a hint of gritty determination underneath that stopped any audience toothache. I’m not 100% sure I was convinced about her relationship with Phillip Ryan (Sky) although their song before the stag party was catchy and fun. Ladies – you may also enjoy the sight of Sky in his undercrackers, just sayin’.

The 3 daddies were perfectly cast with Tamlyn Henderson as Sam, Daniel Crowder as Harry and Matthew Rutherford playing Bill. Their awkward meeting set the tone for the evening, and the slow chemistry between Sam and Donna was palpable, with “The Winner Takes It All” tugging at my heartstrings. The wedding scene between Harry and Rosie was just hilarious too, a perfect pick me up with amazing comedic timing.

One of my favourites during the show has to be the rather lovely Matt Jordan-Pidgeon in the role of cheeky chappy Pepper. From start to finish he stood out on stage, his lively dance moves injecting constant energy which rippled out around him. His colleagues in the ensemble were also fantastic, with vocals and choreography that carried the story through each smash hit effortlessly.

The cast received a raucous standing ovation and rightly so.. An uplifting and enjoyable couple of hours.

You need to hurry up and say I do I do I do I do I do – get your tickets now using the link below!

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Ellen Kent’s La Traviata 4.5.2018

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“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.

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

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