19.2.2018 The Case of the Frightened Lady

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“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

 

 

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Blood Brothers 13.2.2018

I have just returned from a truly exquisite evening at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, reviewing Bill Kenwright’s Blood Brothers. In the interest of salvaging my bloodshot eyes (I’m afraid there was some crying involved) I will keep it brief, but not so brief that I undersell one of the best shows I’ve seen in a very, very long time.

The set was imaginative and great quality, with the twinkling lights of the town guiding a haunting opening scene. The captivating yet modest narrator sang us into the picture, his stance from the sidelines elevating to a bold “voice of conscience” as the performance reached its climax.  I am not usually a fan of adults playing children as it can be somewhat cheesy and overdone, but Mickey’s character progression was utterly astonishing – the energetic 7 year old, the hormonal 14 year old, the carefree 18 year old and the broken man in his 20s were so perfectly portrayed I can barely believe the same actor created them all. Every scene was painstakingly executed, with attention to detail abundantly evidenced by each and every performer. I could honestly write pages about my experience this evening, but I’m emotionally drained and a little overwhelmed by the heartache suffered by the two families and the gloriously confused Linda so I will try to be succinct!

One particular moment that stood out to me was the dole queue in the second half, as there was something so depressing and art-like about the formation, I found “The Full Monty” film popping into my mind as they stood in line singing. The props were just enough to add depth to the scenes without becoming a distraction from the quality of the acting – clearly the result of many hours rehearsal, consideration and revision. The relationships were incredibly believable and gritty,  yet uplifting enough to not spoil the humorous musical overtones. It was refreshing to belly laugh, and have some audience interaction interspersed with the inevitable tragedy unfolding.

The vocals were powerful and moving, leaving me with goosebumps throughout the evening, and although there were no weak links in the chain it was the pleading tones of Mrs Johnstone that got the tears flowing for me! There were so many positives during this breathtaking emotional roller-coaster of a show, with a cast that defies adequate description from me. It was probably summed up best by the extremely well deserved standing ovation at the end of the evening – it appears the audience of many generations thoroughly enjoyed it. I would hand on heart watch this again tomorrow night if I could, and urge you to see Blood Brothers this week at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.  Everyone loves a love story, even if it can’t be forever…

Tickets

The Play That Goes Wrong 5.2.2018

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2015 Olivier Award Winner for Best New Comedy

2015 BroadwayWorld UK Winner for Best New Play

2014 WhatsOnStage Award Winner for Best New Comedy

The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are putting on a 1920s murder mystery, but as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong… does!  The accident-prone thespians battle against all odds to make it through to their final curtain call, with hilarious consequences!

Given 5 stars from The Daily Mail, called a ‘Gut-busting hit’ by the New York Times and with celebrity endorsements from the likes of Ant and Dec ‘funniest show we’ve seen! If you can get a ticket go.’ 

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG is guaranteed to leave you aching with laughter!

The aptly named “Mischief Theatre” Company have a lot to answer for when it comes to their latest touring production “The Play That Goes Wrong“. I am honestly not entirely sure what I can say to sum up the experience adequately (which is unlike me!) but I shall attempt to share with you the remaining crumbs of the nutty pie unapologetically spilt down my lap as I sat so innocently in my seat last night.

Kenny Wax Ltd and Stage Presence Ltd present an absolutely seamless (and slightly ridiculous) show, the likes of which I can truthfully say I have never seen before. The play is a play within a play, cleverly introduced by a “behind the scenes” warm up skit involving “Trevor” (Gabriel Paul) and “Annie” (Catherine Dryden) as the insanely disorganised, unlucky and accident prone crew. I loved the audience participation – the unwitting chap they dragged onto the stage couldn’t have looked more uncomfortable if he had been asked to tap dance in the nude while playing Frere Jacques on the panpipes. The scene is then set for the “actual” show itself (“Murder At Haversham Manor“) introduced by the hapless (and somewhat hopeless) optimist “Chris Bean” who promises an evening of theatrical entertainment unlike any other…He definitely got that bit right.

The cast were outstandingly powerful as a whole, with exquisite comedic timing – I genuinely winced in pain at every “bang”, “crash” and “wallop”. Having had my moments on stage and behind the scenes over the years it was utter car crash entertainment watching the stage malfunctions and understudy cock ups. Perkins (Dennis Tyde) had me howling at his pronunciation issues, and I still cannot understand how Sandra Wilkinson has any unbruised skin left on her body after her window scene! There was abundant slapstick precision throughout, and just as gags reached their ridiculous climax the cast somehow managed to push them that one step further into the abyss. It was also quite a first for me to find a corpse (Jonathan Harris as Charles Haversham) quite so comically endearing – who knew being dead could be so hilarious!

The evening was a big old glug of everything that’s right with decent theatre, and I tip my proverbial hat to the amount of hard work it must have taken to prepare to get it quite so entirely wrong. I love that so many risks were taken with physicality and pushing the set to its absolute limit, especially in light of the amount of prep and clearing up each show must require on tour!

An explosive production with so much going for it that I would happily watch it all over again. Think: Fawlty Towers meets Acorn Antiques with a splash of first year at Uni Drama and Performance (cringe), and you might begin to understand what on earth I witnessed last night.

Aylesbury Tickets

MK Tickets

 

 

George’s Marvellous Medicine 30.1.2018

It is no exaggeration to say that Roald Dahl has always been a hero of mine. As a child I was an avid reader, hiding under my covers late at night with a torch and a well thumbed paperback. In light of that, seeing one of his absolute classics “George’s Marvellous Medicine” being performed at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre was an opportunity not to be missed.

For anyone who has lived under a rock, the story is a children’s novel by Roald Dahl following the misadventures of George as he attempts to create a potion to make his grandma a better person. Nothing George does seems to ever be quite good enough, so he decides to make the cranky old lady a new medicine that will truly change her for good…

As any serious reader will know, watching a film or production of a much loved book can be a sizeable gamble. One wrong move and it’s game over. That in addition to a generally critical theatre eye can result in a complete make or break situation. No pressure.

I was very excited by the funky looking set, and have to say the production team were admirable in their creativity considering there were no set changes for the duration. The storyline was pretty ambitious for a travelling theatre environment, which left me curious as to how the magic would be convincing for a high definition, special effects generation of children.

The cast consisted of only 5 performers, but they brought constantly high energy to the stage and the humour ranged from the extremely silly through to politically influenced references. My favourite character was George’s dad, played by the hilarious Justin Wilman. I really appreciated his dry humour and comedic timing, and most of all his sufficient supply of gin!

Seeing as this is a review, I would like to address a few minor criticisms.. I would have liked George’s granny to have been older and more disgusting. As a child I envisioned a frail but terrifying ancient hag who looked ready to snuff it at any moment, so I was most surprised to see such a leopard print clad character take to the stage. That said, she was hilarious and added a slightly “gangster granny” feel to the production, and the cheeky fart jokes were of course an absolute hit. I felt that George could have been younger and distinctly more weedy and geeky, given that he was from a poor farming family – Roald Dahl loved to back an underdog and although Preston Nyman offered an excellent performance I found his character a little “Queens English” for my palate. I was somewhat disappointed by the closing scene of the show, which came across as a bit of a “don’t try this at home and don’t sue us!” disclaimer, which although sensible in a society of “where there’s blame there’s a claim”, made me a little sad that red tape has gone quite so bonkers (I never tried to make a medicine for my granny and I read the book several times!!) My only other comment would be that (wow I know I’m getting old to be saying this!!) at times I found the scenes a little ‘manic’, Roald Dahl on acid if you will. This is not entirely a negative, as it clearly appealed to the audience members 20 years my junior who related far more than I to certain scenes (although I absolutely cracked up at granny when George imagined her being nice – watch out for that!)

There were many seriously magical moments that saw me cackling with laughter, and the audience participation sections resulted in a couple of children practically fainting in their desperation to help George recreate his marvellous medicine. I also loved that the actors were highly skilled in a multitude of instruments, and whipped them out at the drop of a hat!

Overall, a perfect show for anyone with a child under 12 or any Roald Dahl fans out there who fancy a classic book adaptation with a modern twist.

Tickets available via this link

TICKETS

Jack and the Beanstalk (Wycombe Swan)

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“Follow Jack, his hapless brother, his mother Dame Trot and climb a beanstalk of gigantic proportions to cloudland in the spectacular family pantomime. Doomed to sell his trusty cow, join Jack as he fights to save the beautiful Princess, outwit the evil giant and win riches beyond his wildest dreams, and the hand of the girl he loves.”

Panto season is well and truly underway, and I was particularly excited by the opportunity to check out the Wycombe Swan’s production of “Jack and the Beanstalk”. It had been years since I’d set foot in this particular theatre, which offers a more intimate setting than many of its rivals. 

The performance boasted an all star cast – Simon Webbe from pop band Blue, Britains Got Talent winner Ashleigh Butler, Cbeebies Star Chris Jarvis, and the glorious Nigel Ellacott as the colourful Dame Trot (in his 43rd panto!!). Unfortunately I did not get a programme and so am not sure of the name of the wonderful “Spirit of the Bean”, but she certainly deserves a mention for being truly graceful and spectacular, with a majorly powerful singing voice. The rather ghastly “Flesh Creep” also gets a shout out from me for being a grubby, grotty, ghoulish baddie from start to finish… but once again I’m afraid I’m not sure who to give credit to 😦

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In my opinion the panto got off to a slow start – I think I was expecting a flashy, loud musical intro rather than the gently simmering first scene. Things soon came to the boil though as we met all the characters -baddies, goodies, sillies and lovelies galore! There were many extremely well thought out sequences, that I imagine must have taken hours of preparation, rehearsal and fine tuning. The Trotters Independent DVD scene was brilliant, and every time the end seemed in sight another titles quip materialised as if by magic. Dame Trot’s bedtime strip scene was also quite something to behold, I’ve never seen so many layers in all my life! She was a true pro, with a dressing and undressing speed that would leave the dancers at The White Horse green with envy.

For some reason, it had completely escaped my attention that one of the stars would be the snuggly, snuffly, shaggy  “Sully”, who became Ashleigh’s dancing partner after Pudsey sadly passed away earlier this year. I’m not wild on dancing dogs, but even my icy little heart melted as the duo jived and pirouetted their way around the stage in perfect harmony. As I peered at the faces around me I could tell that children, parents, and grandparents alike were equally spellbound by the canine cutie.

There were a few blunders during the show, for example when darling Moo Moo missed her stage exit and Dame Trot lost her hair (and boob!!) during the 12 days of Christmas, but these all just added to the authenticity of the experience, and reminded me of my childhood years soaking up the atmosphere in village halls. Flesh Creep and Jack Trot managed to have a little chuckle and work round the Moo Moo error in a way that made me love them both just that little bit more. The jokes were hilarious, just on the right side of blue (see what I did there), and the director had enough sense to get Jack Trot to take his top off for a bit which lifted my spirits no end. I enjoyed the “12 days of Christmas” routine, but having been a regular at the Aylesbury panto for several years it felt a little “old hat”, although I did howl when the toilet rolls disappeared into the depths of the live orchestra. I feel that Princess Apricot should have had some slightly more extravagant outfits, and that a little more audience participation would have been nice – nothing I enjoy more than watching an innocent member of the public plucked from the safety of their seat and squirming on stage!

I was pleased to see an imaginative combination of effects utilised throughout the show – these days children are so used to computer games and television that it must be difficult for something as quaint as panto to keep up, but the Wycombe Swan definitely delivered. The inflatable beanstalk and the 3D giant graphics were spot on, and added an extra element of fun (although I wasn’t sure when the right time was to take the glasses off!) I will just share a quick warning – teeny tiny people may be a little alarmed if they are of a nervous disposition, so be prepared to reassure them that some of the scary bits are just make believe! Panto veteran Dame Trot maintained a cheeky rapport with a particular audience member (James) throughout the show and managed to work his name into her strip routine, which was utterly immense. The cast worked perfectly together and I loved their ability to have a chuckle and ad lib when things went slightly pear shaped.

Overall an action packed, laugh a minute show that will appeal to young and old alike and persuade even the biggest of scrooges to get into the Christmas Spirit. The only thing that could have seen me leaving the theatre with a bigger grin would have been a nice selfie with Simon Webbe as I have always been a fan of his, but I’m a very good girl so maybe I can get a tweet instead!

Signing out until 2018, have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!

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I have a confession to make. I have been to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs TWICE in four days. Yep. I am about to give you the low down on one of the best nights in Aylesbury, so get your specs on and pay attention. Before I get started though, does anyone else agree that the correct plural of dwarf is dwarves?!

Anyway…

This years production at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre is truly a “who’s who” of pantomime royalty. Su Pollard steals the show as the wicked queen, clawing desperately onto her title as “the fairest in all the land”. Her cackle is unrivalled by any baddie I’ve ever heard, and her exceptional singing would lure any unsuspecting prince to their doom. It was an absolute honour to meet her after the show – luckily she is far nicer off stage than as her evil character the Queen. Old Queenie has quite the hots for new boy on the block Jon Moses, and he is the most perfectly cast “Prince Frederick of Fairford Leys” any princess could possibly ever wish for. His cut glass vocals, chiselled jaw and dazzling smile see him sweeping radiantly through the show, a hero to the end. Jon’s voice is utterly beautiful and he wouldn’t be out of place in a Disney movie – big thumbs up from me.

No self respecting cast would be seen dead without a high class panto dame in its ranks, and the lusty La Voix provides more glamour and innuendo than the Eurovision song contest. Her outfits are fabulous, her lipstick is on point and she is a flawless companion for that silly sausage Muddles. Talking of which, Aylesbury panto would be nothing without the absolute maverick we know and love.. the one and only Andy Collins! This year he joins us as the faithful “Muddles”, a colourful character who keeps the energy at an all time high with his kind hearted buffoonery. The audience come to life as soon as they hear his catchphrase“when I say Muddles..”, but can he manage to find all the pots and pans in time to sing the 12 days of Christmas song? You’ll have to wait and see!

The actress playing Snow White fulfils every child’s expectation of what a downtrodden princess should look like. Jenna Innes is gentle, beautiful, and vocally outstanding, without tiptoeing towards becoming too sickly.  She hits the high notes in a way that must have backstage vocal coaches pressing their hands together with unadulterated glee, what a show stopper she is. I hope to see her in some productions next year. 

Last, but certainly by no means least are the incredible DWARVES (!) and the chorus. In a time where political correctness has gone slightly bonkers, I love that some “little people” were involved in the show in a way that poked some light hearted fun but didn’t become a derogatory car crash. My personal favourite was Soppy, his smiles and waves brightened up my day no end. The backing singers and dancers were all of extremely high calibre and add a richness to the show with their polished choreography.

The show is slick, professional and slightly naughty, ticking all the panto boxes with ease. There are plenty of well paced jokes, with a considered mixture to tickle the delight of younger audience members and give the adults a chuckle too. I don’t want to give too much away, so all I am going to say is……BISCUITS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (I can’t get it out of my head!)