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Beyond the Barricade

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“Recreating original West End/Broadway musical hit songs with amazing authenticity, this cast of past principal performers from Les Miserables present a blockbusting two hour show and is now established as the nation’s favourite musical theatre concert.”

Beyond the Barricade is a UK show that doesn’t shy away from delivering ballsy and intense musical theatre hits by the bucket load. Each song is carefully chosen to delight the audience and also open its eyes to upcoming shows in the West End – including Hamilton which comes to the Victoria Palace Theatre in November 2017.

I saw BTB on a lazy Sunday, and the combination of theatre classics, lesser known songs and awful jokes were the perfect antidote to a drizzly autumn night. If I’m honest I was a little disappointed by the opening number, which may have been due to my lack of familiarity with Miss Saigon. The show went on to deliver smash hits from Blood Brothers, The Lion King, Chess, Mamma Mia, Phantom of the Opera and many more besides, which were all just phenomenal. Although I have never had the pleasure of seeing Jesus Christ Superstar on stage, one of my favourite sections of the evening was hearing the heart-breaking rendition of “Gethsemane (I only want to say)” which left me shedding a few slightly hung-over tears!

All the performers were utterly breath-taking but I particularly adored the creative energy of the wonderful Andy Reiss. His raucous and slightly awkward “master of the house” landlord character was just spectacular and really brought the evening to life. I also massively enjoyed the vocal talent of Katie Leeming, who spoke to my inner heroine all night long. The set wasn’t much to speak of, but the lighting and live band were extremely complementary in their considered simplicity. It’s rare to be truly entertained by four people pretty much static on stage for 2.5 hours, but Beyond the Barricades managed it beautifully. I had forgotten how much I adore theatre, performance and musicals, and how we are never too old to lose ourselves in fantasy and fairytale… A wonderful evening, although I now have an overwhelming desire to hop on the next train to London and indulge in as many musicals as I can for the remainder of 2017! (Fine by me, but we will see what the bank balance has to say!)

Deathtrap 19.9.2017

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Deathtrap is the longest running thriller in Broadway history. It was described on the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre website as “a truly satisfying spine-chiller that is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat“, and after watching the show last night I’d be inclined to agree.

Myra Bruhl (Jessie Wallace) is the long suffering wife of floundering playwright Sidney Bruhl (Paul Bradley), and together they live in a beautiful colonial property, coasting through the days as Sidney grapples with his creative impotence . One day, Sidney receives a call from a young man who attended one of his writing seminars, and a twisted idea forms in his mind.

“Desperate to set Broadway alight once more, Sidney spies his chance to invite Clifford to his remote country home. Oh, and to bring the only other copy of Deathtrap with him!

If Bruhl can kill the newcomer and pass the play off as his own, he could once again be the toast of Broadway.”

The first ten minutes found me adjusting to the American accents, with a few lines sounding every so slightly Bristolian in my humble opinion, (I really am not a fan of fake accents unless they are flawless) but I soon ceased to notice. Initially the script focused on scene setting and historical facts, but quickly became juicier as plans were made for Clifford Anderson’s (Sam Phillips) visit to the Bruhl residence.

What struck me most about this performance was its continued impeccable timing. I chuckled with glee watching the audience jumping at various intervals, and absolutely loved Helga ten Dorp’s (Beverley Klein) ludicrous performance. She was such fun, and I imagine Beverley must have spent some time piecing together her character’s “interesting” delivery style.

It’s not often that violence is realistic enough on stage, and I was taken aback (in a good way) a few times throughout the evening. The use of weapons was brilliant, and it was such a relief not to cringe at awkward fight scenes – if anything I was cringing in discomfort, particularly during a moment I shan’t spoil by sharing on here! The set was well thought out, complimentary to the performance and utterly believable.

Deathtrap is unpredictable, exciting, and a thrilling evening for a varied audience, which I think sets it apart from a lot of other shows out there. The actors were superb – so well polished and energetic. Myra and Sidney did appear a little mismatched as a couple, but possibly this was the intention when casting. Sam Phillips sparkled as the wonderfully Jekyll and Hyde Clifford, and Beverley Klein’s character Helga was just absolutely bonkers, a total treat.

A great evening, with just the right balance of thriller and comedy. Highly recommended for anyone 12+ who enjoys guessing who will survive until the end of the night….

Click on the link below to buy tickets for Aylesbury Waterside Theatre (show runs until Saturday 23rd September 2017)

TICKETS

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