A Judgement in Stone 30.5.2017

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“Eunice struggles to fit in. When she joins a wealthy family as their housekeeper the very reason for her awkwardness, long hidden and deeply buried, leads inexorably to a terrible tale of murder in cold blood – on Valentine’s Day. Ruth Rendell’s brilliant plot unravels a lifetime of deceit, despair and cover-ups which, when revealed, brings a shocking revelation almost as grizzly as murder itself.”

Bill Kenwright presents a new production adapted from one of the most celebrated works of the writer often hailed as the successor to Agatha Christie.

The Classic Thriller Theatre Company delivers an evening of mystery, laughter and clever storytelling. Set in 1970’s Britain, the performance brashly addresses the mixing of different classes and social standings. Mark Wynter and Rosie Thomson play the magnificently self-important Coverdales, a pompous couple living in a large country house. Their idiotic commentary and cringe-worthy singing and dancing brings well-timed humour throughout the show, and it is clear Wynter and Thomson have taken great care developing and honing their characters. Leading lady Eunice (Sophie Ward) slowly develops as the play builds – particularly after a few encounters with the rambunctious Joan Smith (Deborah Grant). Watch out for the scene with the sweet tin! It’s a fascinating relationship to watch, veering frantically between compassion and domination – the word “grooming” sprung to mind as I watched. I do feel a little more could have been revealed and explored about Eunice, as revelations are not linked and teased out consistently. I enjoyed the flashback style of performance and felt it was a creative and seamless way to keep the energy high despite the fixed set. Antony Costa (Gardener Meadows) brings some eye candy to proceedings and it was great to see him back at the Waterside Theatre, although I would have liked a bit more bad boy attitude (and some slightly more realistic looking gardening clothes, his were far too clean and neatly ripped!) The Coverdale children brought many questions to my mind, but left the majority unanswered. Both Jennifer Sims and Joshua Price were obnoxiously vile as Melinda and Giles, and in my opinion created a shrewd tactical diversion. As the final scenes revealed the killer and motive I was slightly underwhelmed, as I had anticipated more explanation, more backstory and more conclusion. The final scene fell a little flat, unable to match the intense first half that had so playfully kept the audience guessing whodunnit?

Definitely a worthwhile evening out – even if only to watch Deborah Grant singing and rambling maniacally whilst standing on a table!

Tickets for performances at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre can be purchased using the link below (show running until 3rd June 2017)

TICKETS

Its Just Jokes Comedy Show 26th May 2017

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It’s Just Jokes” Comedy Show is the brain child of dynamic duo Jimmy James Jones and Elroy Welsh. The event has been running in Milton Keynes for the last 8 months and features talented artists such as Judi Love, Sarah Callaghan, Will E and Toju on a monthly basis.

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I had attended part of the April show accidentally (as you do…don’t ask!) and really enjoyed it, so my friend Lara and I got in touch with Jimmy and asked if he’d like us to come along to the next show and write a little review. The May line up consisted of Toju and Aurie Styla, and we were assured it would be a great start to our Bank Holiday weekend.  The venue was a room at the top of the Slug and Lettuce pub, holding a reasonably sized audience (Friday head count was around 100), and Jimmy and Elroy had got all the bases covered for a quality evening – adequate seating, a DJ, bar access, lighting and sound equipment. I would have liked to see a small platform on ‘stage’ to give acts a little bit of precedence over the audience – although, that said, it’s lovely to be up close and personal at an intimate gig.

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The evening began with a warm up from the endearing Elroy, whose relaxing yet commanding tone got everyone in their seats and ready for some belly laughs. He was an extremely likeable words-master who built a buzz around the room, telling anecdotes from his daily life. To me Elroy comes across as very ‘real’, and you can tell his observational humour comes from the heart. Throughout the evening he did a fantastic job of keeping things running smoothly (Jimmy sometimes comperes as well but had stepped back for the evening).

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Act one was Aurie Styla, a stand up from London. I was struck by Aurie’s enormous smile, and relatable stories. He most certainly had me on board talking about the importance of not settling for someone if they don’t meet your requirements – I was like the Churchill nodding dog! It was refreshing to hear serious life topics spliced with some gentle teasing, and I could imagine having amazing banter with him over a large rum and coke. Aurie picked apart the world of female beauty and the pressure to look good – and the tricks men have no clue about that women use to achieve that Coca Cola shape!!! Thank you Aurie for your uplifting and naughty messages, I hope to catch you again on tour (I still won’t be buying a DVD though sorry!)

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After the first short break Elroy upped the ante with some audience games. We were treated to a “guess the song” game followed by a lip sync battle, which turned into a slightly bizarre dance off. It was clear to see how much Elroy enjoyed hosting this section, at times just standing back and laughing at the absolute carnage unravelling before him! There were some serious (optional) dance moves underway, and it was great to see people letting loose even though one guy’s wife was giving him abuse from the back of the room…

Act two was Toju, also known as “The Militant Black Guy” from Balls of Steel. His entrance was an amazingly camp tribute to Beyoncé – not what I had expected at all. Just as I regained control of my hanging jaw the mood totally switched with a far more intense energy taking precedence, and Toju leaning right into the audience as he spoke. His humour was not only toeing the edge of the line, it was playing hop scotch and sticking two fingers up at it. Toju had the energy of Danny Dyer after a few cheeky lines mixed with the bite of a young pre-fight Tyson. He heckled the audience, but in a way that didn’t become offensive, although he still got down to some pretty blunt facts about keeping ladies happy in the bedroom (apparently my face was a picture!) I found Toju absolutely fascinating to watch and would love to know more about what he’s like offstage.

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“Its Just Jokes” is a young, fresh, vibrant and exciting night out, perfect for anyone who likes to laugh. Some of the acts are quite cheeky, so I add a word of caution to anyone thinking of bringing an easily offended companion! Although there is quite a heavy black community overtone, I didn’t feel out of place at all and think Jimmy and Elroy work hard to strike a balance so that there’s something for everyone. I loved that people turned up in their best Friday night outfits or trainers and trackies yet there was no judgement or attitude to be found. I don’t often go to comedy events, but “It’s Just Jokes” evenings emanate warmth, community spirit and pride in local, national and international comedy talent. On a serious note, in a society that has such a negative stereotype around young black men it was fantastic to see so much effort being put into something so inclusive and entertaining.

This show is my new diamond in the rough and I really look forward to seeing what the boys have in store during the remainder of 2017. Please do support Jimmy and Elroy by spreading the word and coming along to shows in coming months – they’re a perfect start to a night on the town or even a date night 😉

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Gangsta Granny 17.5.2017 (Birmingham Stage Company)

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“Ben is bored beyond belief after he is made to stay at his grandma’s house. She’s the boringest grandma ever: all she wants to do is play Scrabble and eat cabbage soup. But there are two things Ben doesn’t know about his grandma.

1) She was once an international jewel thief.
2) All her life, she has been plotting to steal the Crown Jewels, and now she needs Ben’s help…

A hilarious and heartfelt story of old age, adventure, stolen jewels and swimming the Thames, and another Number One bestseller.”

From the off “Gangsta Granny” draws the audience in, with silly dance moves and multiple wafts of cabbagey fart. The set is fantastic in its versatility, reminiscent of a Rubik’s cube. Although I am a little old for this kind of show (and was possibly the only adult at the theatre not accompanied by a child..awkward!) I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it clearly went down well with the many giggling small people scattered around the theatre.

I have to point out Benedict Martin, who plays “Dad” and “Mr Parker”. He, quite simply put, is the cringiest, creepiest man I have seen in a long time! I found myself wincing at his Dad dance moves, and howling at his nosey neighbour antics. Sublimely weird and embarrassing. My other star this evening was Davesh Kishore, who plays “Raj” and “Flavio”. Two totally different characters, but both massively likeable in their own way. He brought a true comedy flavour and upbeat energy to the show, involving the audience and upping the tempo during the dance show section.

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Gangsta Granny keeps the audience engaged throughout its 2 hour run, and manages to remain dynamic without losing momentum. The leading lady Gilly Tompkins (Granny) and leading gent Ashley Cousins (Ben) are a believable double act (despite their differences in opinion around cabbage) and remind the audience that people aren’t “born old”. I found the show feel good without becoming sickly, and enjoyed the constant multi-sensory stimulation. Although there was some of the obvious Walliams silliness, the show relayed an important message about our behaviour towards elderly loved ones. Be prepared for laughter, farting, poo jokes and even an appearance from the Queen!

As usual, thanks so much Aylesbury Waterside Theatre for the tickets.

Gangsta Granny is on for the next few days, check out this link to get your tickets:

Gangsta Granny

King of Pop (The legend continues) 10.5.2017

“​This incredible production stars the world’s leading MJ tribute artist Navi who is joined by Michael Jackson’s iconic guitarist – Jennifer Batten. 

… Jennifer has teamed up with Navi for an unforgettable experience – taking fans closer than ever dreamed to an original MJ concert.”

Whenever I watch a show that has the word ‘tribute’ in its advert, I get a little nervous. Although it is 

“an act, statement, or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration”

rather than a carbon copy of the original, there’s enormous pressure in delivering a production associated with the name Michael Jackson. Love him, hate him, or whatever in between, you have to admit the guy was a phenomenal showman, and a true legend during his 50 years on earth. 

 

The show opens with the band taking their positions, as a video of Navi and Michael runs in the background. I found it a bit strange as it seemed to be trying to convince the viewer that this Navi guy is absolutely amazing and the closest link to the world of MJ.. Surely we would tell that from his performance and the show itself?!

 

I’m a bit of a cynical reviewer, and the first few songs didn’t see me swinging from the rafters. As usual with anything ‘tribute’ I was struggling to get into the groove – it’s a challenge for me to transcend beyond the literal! Just when I started thinking about my choice of interval beverage, a change in energy occurred. The delectable Jennifer Batten made her way on stage, reminding me that I too could have hung out with rock stars and travelled the globe. .. If only I had taken grade 4 violin and oboe more seriously!

The atmosphere switched, the audience got a little wild, and the riffs were spine tingling. I began to find my ‘tribute vibe’ , and although I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as the MJ superfan to my left I began singing along, and indulging in some rhythmic clapping. My attention was piqued by one of the male dancers during the show, as he offered tightly choreographed moves alongside a killer smile! He gets my vote as a new member of the Dreamboys in 2017 that’s for sure.

 

Overall a great night for audiences of any age, but I was extremely disappointed that the earth song didn’t make the final cut!! Navi is amazing as an MJ lookalike, and has a crotch thrust to rival the late master himself. My only confusion was around the singing… Was he miming? I had anticipated live singing, but it seemed more like the band playing to a backing cd with Navi miming/singing alongside? (Again, here enters my ‘tribute’ *confusion..) Definitely a fantastic evening out for Michael Jackson fans, and despite my reservations I ended up warbling along shamelessly by the end. Thank you Aylesbury Waterside for a fantastic evening out!

 

Check out upcoming shows at the theatre using this link :

Aylesbury Waterside Theatre 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time 7.2.2017

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (TCIOTDITNT) follows the investigative adventures of a teenager “Christopher” who describes himself as having ‘behavioural problems’. The play is an adaption of Mark Haddon’s 2003 book by the same name, and has won multiple Olivier and Tony Awards.

My first experience of TCIOTDITNT was back in 2003, when my college chose to read the book as part of our English Literature class. Although i have been made aware now that Christopher’s condition is not specified, when i read the book a staggering 14 years ago it was considered a ground breaking fictional insight into the challenges of living with autism/asperger’s. 

The play introduces Christopher Boone (Scott Reid), and the revelation that Mrs Shears’ (Eliza Collings)  dog has been murdered (he was called Wellington by the way). The opening scene uncovers Christopher’s struggles with ‘fitting in’ and understanding unspoken societal rules, highlighting how intolerant our world is of anyone ‘different’. The police officer made me cringe – a shining example of someone not knowing how to approach or converse with someone displaying unusual behaviours or learning needs. 

I absolutely adored the relationship between Christopher and his father, Ed Boone (David Michaels). I was blown away by the emotionally charged scenes, and the depiction of a relationship ripped apart by love, frustration, guilt, lies and a wish to ‘make everything better’. One of my favorite scenes was insignificant terms of special effects, but had a lasting impact on me.  In this scene Christopher and his father were talking about the rain, and Christopher explains how all the water in the world is connected. Christopher’s words were so incredibly poignant, and his father’s face spoke a thousand words… irritation, mild amusement, pride, wonder, peace, acceptance…

The play builds an intricate picture of Christopher’s ecosystem and his black and white view of the world. The National Theatre exceeded all my expectations in giving the audience a comprehensive insight into the workings of Christopher’s mind, and the chalk/blackboard set was a decadent sensory experience. 

I was truly amazed at how inventive a performance could be, and the lighting/sound team must be commended for their perfect timing throughout. On occasion both the visual and audio could be overwhelming – a clearly deliberate manoeuvre to give the audience a taste of life through Christopher’s eyes. The scenes in the train station and underground were amazing, truly captivating and slightly terrifying. Observing the sadness, distress, anxiety and communication failures left me uncomfortable, but for all the right reasons.  The script was cleverly devised to inject humour throughout and i liked the occasional reference to the fact that what i was watching was infact a play rather than the here and now!


I was thrilled to see so much physical theatre throughout the entire performance, Christopher imagining life as an astronaut had me grinning from ear to ear. What an incredibly well thought out, synchronised and fun way to get inside the brain of a 15 year old. The entire cast worked in perfect harmony and unison to mimic the movements of train journeys and many other daily actions were made so special and unique during the show.  I had read a disclaimer about no animals being harmed, which i took to be a joke! There is a good reason for this statement (which i won’t share so the surprise isn’t spoilt!) but i will say i was relieved to realise that Christopher’s pet may not have actually been in its carrier the entire time he was travelling through London!

One of my favorite shows in a long time. What a treat.  A heart wrenching, grin inducing, beautiful, reflective piece of spectacular modern theatre. A must see!!!

This show is on until 11th Feb 2017 at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre. Click link below for ticket info 

https://new-www.atgtickets.com/venues/aylesbury-waterside-theatre/shows/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-nighttime

Saint Petersburg Ballet: Swan Lake 2.2.2017

“Combining classical training and technique, and accompanied by a full orchestra, the company’s magical performances of the best loved Russian ballets have won them international acclaim.

Swan Lake is Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, a tragic tale of love and betrayal with an instantly recognisable score.  This is the epic story of Prince Siegfried and his love for Odette who, tricked by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart and his daughter Odile, would rather die together then live apart.”

Music: P. I. Tchaikovsky
Libretto: Vladimir Begichev, Vasily Geltzer
Choreography: Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov

Ballet may be an acquired taste, but it was great to see kids, couples and pensioners taking their seats at the Waterside this evening. I was looking forward to an evening of live music and twirly arms, luckily i was not disappointed! Saint Petersburg Ballet Theatre was founded in 1994, and is the only classical ballet company in the world completely independent of government financial aid or sponsors funding. I must admit my last brush with Swan Lake had been watching “Black Swan” on dvd some time ago, so i had to shake Mila Kunis from my mind to get me in the zone for tonight’s production.

One of my favourite performers was the jester, who brought plenty of personality to the opening scenes with his quirky movements. He managed to link characters together and lighten the story without becoming overbearing and tacky. There was also one particular chorus member playing several parts who caught my eye with not only her incredible dancing but her stunning good looks too – not that any of the ladies dancing were unattractive by any means! The leading lady playing Odette (who’s name I’m afraid i won’t be typing as my phone seems to take offence to the spelling of most of the cast surnames!) was breathtaking, a true mistress of her art. Her fragility and grace mesmerised me throughout the entire show, and was offset well by her colossal leading man. Although on a technical level (not that i actually know what I’m talking about) Prince Siegfried was bang on the money, i couldn’t help but wonder why he had been chosen for the role. He was a good foot taller than anyone else on the stage, and it made for a peculiar aesthetic against the delicate splendor of his peers. Generally i don’t believe in bashing people for the way they look, but in this instance his height distracted me. 

The entire performance was fluid, engaging and effortless, although I’m sure anyone who has ever danced on pointe will verify the hours of gruelling training and bleeding feet that will have taken place beforehand. If i have to criticise i would say there were occasions when i thought the dry ice may have been overused slightly judging by the full on fogging of some front row audience members! It was worth it though, as the curtain lifting on virginal white swans in the mist was breathtaking. 

In conclusion a fantastic evening, which left me feeling relaxed and glad i swapped TV for a few hours of culture. 

Swan Lake is at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre 2nd – 4th February 2017. General Tickets: £15.00 – £32.00 + Booking Fees: £1.90 – £2.90

The Twits 24.1.2017

Mr. and Mrs. Twit are the smelliest, nastiest, ugliest people in the world. They hate everything – except playing mean jokes on each other, catching unsuspecting birds to put in their bird pies, and making their caged monkeys, the Muggle-Wumps, stand on their heads all day. But the Muggle-Wumps have had enough.

I have been an avid Roald Dahl fan for as long as i can remember, so to see The Twits on the 2017 Aylesbury Waterside Theatre list was a dream come true! After an arduous week (oh hang on…is it only Tuesday?!) a few hours of revolting fun was just what the doctor ordered.  I was a little nervous, as any book fan understands, that the original would be poorly represented in its updated form. 

The story begins outside the Twit residence, with an introduction to get the audience warmed up and involved in the action. The ensemble/chorus/music makers/story tellers/dancers/acrobats are an incredibly talented bunch, sticking on the right side of happy clappy. They play instruments, sing, and introduce the grubby, grotty, truly foul stars of the show… Mr and Mrs Twit. The set works perfectly, with the little details of the caravan (and Mr Twit’s pants…) extracting gasps of delighted horror from the young and old alike. I was struck by the combination of simplicity and thought that went into make this production so slick and pleasurable – showing that true theatre is so much more than big budgets and special effects. Mr and Mrs Twit are wonderfully cringingly disgusting, just as Roald Dahl intended.  The show is perfect for all ages, with enough audience participation to keep smallies entertained without driving biggies bonkers. In my opinion The Twits is what children’s theatre is all about – funny, engaging, unpredictable and a credit to its talented, hard working cast. Although there is no skimping on props, i am pleased to see an element of audience imagination is required, forcing the xbox generation to buy into the story. A toe tapping, nose crinkling, grimace inducing, laugh-out-loud 8/10 from me.

Tickets are available for the rest of the week at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre…go and pay The Twits a visit if you dare!