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.

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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.

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

jersey boys

“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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