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OUR DAY OUT by Willy Russell Directed by Kevin Kay Burnley Garrick Theatre Group This was my first experience of both Willy Russell's “Our Day Out”, and of visiting the Burnley Youth Theatre – I am pleased to know that I will be visiting the Theatre again soon and, based on this production, I certainly hope that I will have the opportunity to watch “Our Day Out” again. Arriving at the theatre, there was a lovely, excited atmosphere among the audience members and everyone I spoke to from the theatre was warm, friendly and welcoming – thank you. I also thought the welcome to the audience by Vice President, Martin Chadwick was a lovely touch. The production opened with an informative projection sequence giving the economic and societal background to the play. From the reactions of the audience poignant parallels could certainly be drawn between then and now, immediately bringing the audience into the perspective of the young people who are central to the story. This play has a large cast, and frequently throughout the production there were many actors on stage together. This was handled skilfully by both the director and the cast themselves. The cast members, without detracting from the main action, were consistently acting and responding at all times even when they were not the focus of the scene. The cast also handled the transitions seamlessly between "straight" dialogue, Russell's poetic rhymes, and the songs. This kept it fresh for the audience and maintained my focus throughout, rather than it feeling jarring which I imagine it could if done less effectively. Rachel Bailey, as Carol, provided the first solo and gave us a taste of the beautiful and moving song she presented at the climax of the show, “Want to Stay”. Rachel won the audience's hearts from that first solo which meant that by the end of the production everyone was moved by
her situation and courage. This was a wonderful performance, Rachel, and it will remain with me. Charis Deighton as Linda was responsible for many of the funniest moments of the production, and we could also feel her longing for "Sir". Charis's rendition of "I'm In Love with Sir" was another highlight for me. It was both sweet and funny and used the rhyming offered by the Liverpool accent to great effect. Charis was ably accompanied by Kayleigh Hindle as Jackie, and although Jackie did not have as many "solo" moments as Linda, Kayleigh fully embodied the character and provided a fantastic presence for Charis to act against. The rest of the cast embodied their roles equally as successfully. Beth Whittaker never failed to make me smile, Rachel Kay was every inch the "know-it-all" in stance as well as words. The "bored girls", Sian Maymond and Jess Whittaker were very relatable and made me laugh out loud every time they gave us one of Russell's rhymes so flawlessly, and Liam Husband, Gary Leonard and Leighton Hunt as "the lads" were fantastic. I especially enjoyed Liam and Gary's manipulation of the elephant puppet: (in fact the animal "reveal" at the end of Act 1 was also a particular highlight of the whole production for me – so funny, unexpected and well portrayed) and also Leighton's scene with Mr Briggs talking about his early introduction to cigarettes which was funny and sad at the same time. The Teachers, David Cross, as Mr Briggs, Marina Butterworth, as Mrs Kay, Liz Wood, as Susan, and Simon Bailey, as Colin, provided a perfect counterpoint to the children. Mrs Kay was desperate to give the children an experience they would always treasure. Colin and Susan were more interested in each other than their charges, and the jaded, long-suffering Mr Briggs, David Cross, had the biggest character development to
portray. He managed the transition from grumpy to caring to funloving back to grumpy very naturally. Dave Pilkington, as the Bus Driver with the heart of gold, Angela Foulds, as the hilariously peering lollipop lady and swindled sweet seller, and Eleanor Jolley as the equally frustrated head teacher and zookeeper each individually provided some wonderfully comedic moments. The direction and overall artistic vision were generally excellent, which is no small feat for such a big cast and production with so many changes of pace. The only points I noticed that might have needed a bit more focus were the embarking and disembarking from the bus – some cast members mimed climbing the steps and others just walked, and there was also one point where it felt like maybe there was too much activity on the stage – this was during the bus driver's song. The accompanying dance was enjoyable (although perhaps dance moves more in keeping with the 70s would have enhanced it even further) but it made it difficult to hear the lyrics of the song which, when they could be heard, were very entertaining. Maybe some additional microphones so the singing was louder during this number would have overcome this problem. Speaking of sound, lights, and projection, I really enjoyed the projection and thought it always set the scene appropriately (especially the "blast from the past" image of a Little Chef !). The lighting was always perfect – at no point could I not see all the action. Sound effects were generally effective, although there was a very odd effect during the castle visit that I just couldn't identify! I loved the set idea: it was very impressive how crates could be used so effectively to create so many different locations, and the cast seamlessly moved them at no point detracting from the scenes. My only suggestion would be to have the prompt's/
stage manager's light (visible stage left between the side curtains) out of the view of the audience, as this was very distracting during Carol and Mr Briggs' cliff top scene, and which slightly detracted from the emotion and poignancy. All the costumes were very appropriate to both the characters and the time period – such a large cast cannot have been easy to dress so the wardrobe team is to be applauded. As the production ended with the beautiful ensemble number, I could feel myself welling up a little, which doesn't happen very often! I know from speaking to other audience members that they were equally moved. This was a very fitting end to a wonderful production given by a brilliant team. Thank you to everyone involved for such an enjoyable evening.
DAISY PULLS IT OFF by Denise Deegan Director: Pauline Nevell St Joseph’s Players Denise Deegan’s “Daisy Pulls It Off ” is a spoof on Angela Brazil’s jolly – hockey sticks novels of schoolgirl boarding school adventures and is set in the 1920s. This play had success in the West End in the ‘80s and since then there have been other parodies like Patrick Barlow’s “The 39 Steps”. In comparison “Daisy” is a little too wordy giving a challenge to deliver and hold the audience. The convincing set was the oak panelled assembly hall of Grangewood School with framed portraits of members of the former school’s owners. The many scenes were zoned by lighting, with stage furniture giving location. All the setting, and striking of the scenes, were undertaken by the school girls. Costumes of school uniform gymslips added to the spiffing fun of the piece. Lighting was a little basic at times meaning that some dramatic moments were lost. However it did aid the overall atmosphere. Direction and staging fluidly took the audience through the exploits of goody-two-shoes, Daisy Meredith. The younger members of the cast making up the ensemble have to be praised, and a special mention for Annabelle Whitter, as Winnie Irving. Annabelle’s characterisation and delivery was jolly – utter! The story evolves round two sets of friends and a search for hidden treasure. There are inter-dorm fights, a mountain rescue, and a hockey match: a very silly plot of twenty’s British girlhood but completely charming. Slightly mature principal school girls energised and delivered an entertaining evening’s romp. On the train journey to Grangewood School for the new term we meet most of the characters. There are two male cast members; Mr Scoblowski, the Russian music master, and Mr Thompson, the gardener. Colin Magenty, as Thompson, who was Daisy’s long-lost father, took the
focus as he delivered the convoluted happy ending. Head girl, Gail Beaumont, played by Donna Wood, gave lively support helping Daisy to pull it off. The first of the double acts, Clare Nash, delivered a feisty Sybil Burlington, Daisy’s snobbish tormentor, with whom you would not share your tuck box. Her side kick is bespectacled Monica Smithers. Comedy actress Barbara Mayer’s slightly over-the-top delivery extracted all the comedy with scrummy effect. The central double act is self-confessed madcap, Trixie Martin of the upper fourth and little miss perfect Daisy. Kitti Dixon, as Trixie, was a true chum to Daisy giving a lot of light and shade to the character. Daisy is not an easy part to play; she has to keep the audience on her side. Daisy, the scholarship state school pupil, is brainy and excels in music and sports. Framed as a cheat she helps win the hockey county finals and with Trixie finds the treasure. Seasoned actress Margaret Hall’s portrayal of Daisy captured all the many facets of the character, This production re-established the play group and returned them into their regular venue after the Covid exile. This they did with style and their audience showed its appreciation.
EDUCATING RITA by Willy Russell Director Rachel Perrin Knutsford Little Theatre Willy Russell’s much-loved play opens the season for Knutsford Little Theatre. The audience was presented with a box set, with a door up stage right and window up stage left: Set dressings of hung pictures, bookcases, books: the furniture consisting of chairs, a filing cabinet and desk. This is the world of the old soak of an “Eng Lit” tutor Frank. It was maybe just a little too tidy as it didn’t reflect the heavy drinking and boredom of life of its inhabitant. Costumes have to make such a strong statement and complement the character. Rita’s wardrobe captured the essence of the character. However maybe some hair changes would have added to Rita’s metamorphic transition. Frank looked every inch the corduroyed tutor. I think he needed to be a little more unkempt looking to fit into the lifestyle he has slipped into. Then we could see the change in Frank as Rita changes; his outlook which gives him a new found purpose. Rita is the Scouse hairdresser determined to better herself through enrolling as an Open University student. Cheryl Chamberlain filled the stage as Rita from the comic first explosive entrance to the ‘hair cut, Sir?’ finale. Paul Baston as Frank captured his alcoholic self-pity. The actors built a chemistry that had sharp edges and a gentle charm. The dynamics between them worked well as Rita got educated and Frank got drunk. The comedy began to shine through as the characters begin to peel away their own separate lives. Frank giving up on his ambitions to be a poet, and Rita not wanting to become a stereotypical housewife. Together they inspired each other. Frank’s contempt for academic snobbery, and Rita challenging his prejudices, brought out a burst of affection. Cheryl and Paul gave Rita and Frank a truth that lifted the words giving depth to their characters relationships. This came apparent when Rita
resisted any romance with Frank to become her own liberated woman keeping to her original goal. Paul delivered all of Frank’s negatives; he also found the pathos of the role leaving the audience sympathising with him. Chamberlain and Baston successfully created an entertaining telling of a story of two of the most unlikely people who became friends and of their influences on each other.
AN EVENING WITH GARY LINEKER by Arthur Smith & Chris England Director: Simon Darlington APeel Drama Club For this play we travelled back to 1990 when England verses Germany were in the semifinals of the world-cup. This event happens when Bill and Monica are on holiday in Majorca. a holiday in an attempt to revive their marriage. Set in the hotel room, with insets for balcony and bar, the scenes all worked well. The set dressings completed the visual image. Lighting was a little basic: the monologues needed spotting to separate them from the narrative. Costumes were a little more now than the 90’s but gave the characters clear definitions. Casting was very good and the camaraderie between each member was strong and this spilt over into their performances. This gave all the characterisations that extra lift. This was teamwork at its best! It is pre match time and football fanatic husband, Bill, is getting ready for the game with friends who are calling to participate in the football match frenzy. First to knock at the door is Ian, Bill’s school friend, and Tourist rep, Birgitta. Bill is in publishing and Ian is a former colleague and old school friend. Ian is a geek and gets on the nerves of those around him. Harvey Millard’s on-stage antics as the football hating Ian had many comic moments. Sex on two legs, Birgitta, is not the Barbara Windsor “Carry On” stereotype - she is equal to the men. Stacy Dawber brought Birgitta alive and her German accent never got between the actress and the dialogue. The unexpected guest is Dan, also in publishing and author of the book, “Train Spotter”. He loves flighty young women and is hopeful for romance with Birgitta. One of his conquests is Monica, Bill’s wife. Mark Lyth successfully played Dan displaying a clear understanding of the
character. Host of this televised world–cup party is Bill. His wife sums him up saying,“The only thing men care about is football”. John Essex characterised Bill who is the linchpin of the unfolding, all-important football match, and the various relationships. John is a competent actor: he effortlessly brought out all the comedy of the script. Monica, who wants some excitement in her humdrum life, fantasies about Gary Lineker. She says about her marriage that she has had “eight not unhappy years of marriage”. Played by Lisa Barlow, who is a versatile actress, she found the core of the character. Lisa never disappoints; she puts so much detail into her characters. From the “kick off ” this play still delivers and the cast can be pleased they scored a winning goal.
CALENDAR GIRLS by Gary Barlow & Tim Firth Directed by Michael McCaw The Drama Dept. Stockport Plaza As I reflected on this musical production in the days following, I thought about the definition of the term emotional – “having intense feelings…that are openly displayed”. I further thought about art in its many forms and concluded that that is what anyone strives for when taking part in painting, music, drama or any genre – to make the watcher, listener and audience feel something. This production certainly embraced this meaning; from the opening bars of the National Anthem played by the band and a sombre audience standing in quite reflection and singing the altered version, inserting new pronouns. Seeing projected interviews and reading personal accounts in the programme of the impact that various forms of cancer have had on people known or otherwise and on those close relatives and friends that supported them through the fight. This led into the musical itself when emotions started to surface. I am not ashamed to document that during the evening, tears did indeed well up and I am certain that I was not the only person in the auditorium to experience this as I empathised with those on stage taking us through the story. It has been over 20 years since the story of a Yorkshire branch of the WI produced a nude calendar to raise money. Since then it’s been turned into a popular film, a stage play, and now has a lease of life as a musical. The writing of the script evokes thoughts of seaside postcards and British humour, with tongue in cheek asides to relieve tensions or lighten the mood. Here, I think the writers, production team and actors cleverly achieved giving the subject matter the gravitas that it requires but balancing it with the scripted dialogue, songs and delivery so that it kept the production light, heart-warming and enjoyable.
There are numerous laugh out loud moments, especially those between Sarah Thewlis as Chris, who delivered dialogue with pace and timing, and Ali Foy as Cora. The later, along with the company, had me giggling with the song “Who wants a Silent Night”, maybe I will use this rendition when Christmas arrives. Katie Perkins as Jenny and Deni Griffiths as Danny were a hoot as they portrayed the flirty teenagers with their coming of age banter. Daniel Eccles as Tommo also had humorous dialogue that made many think back to their teenage years. Dawn Leigh was engaging as Annie, who becomes the widow. Her expressions of hurt, lost love were gentle and not overly dramatic. This conveyed the hurt and grief that she felt more effectively and touched many in the audience. This musical uses the themes of friendship, community, support and empathy to tell not only the main story but those of individuals as they battle with their own hang-ups as to why they cannot possibly pose for a nude calendar. The calendar photo shoot was super, with well-placed props (a shout out to Matt Bridle and Susan McClure here) and great facial expressions that were also projected on the back wall for all to see. This really did have the audience laughing. We saw characters such as Jessie (Shirley Harrison) and Ruth (Julie Proffit) tear away their reticence of rejection and backlash from the community they live in. The sight of Denise Carter (Tea) and Eleanor Wales (Coffee) will be an image that will stay with me for a long time! Even Vikki Bullar (Marie) the formidable leader of the WI band finally saw the humour of it all. The supporting cast, especially the male partners; Mike Sammon, Stuart Hall, Paul Allison and Stephen Mallinson helped gel the story line. The set and scenery was quite minimal but this meant that the focus was on the characters’ interaction and storytelling. This musical cannot claim to have the catchiest songs in musical theatre, indeed you leave not really remembering any of them but what it does leave you with is a feeling of comfort and that you have shared a hug with those around you. The production team of Michael McCaw, Paul Lawton, Steve Hilditch
and Tracy Harper, along with every person on and off stage, will and should be proud of this production. During the run there were nightly collections for six charities, many with a connection to cancer, that had been put forward by cast members. A considerable amount was raised for each through raffle and sales of their own Calendar Girls Calendar. I have mine, ready to pin on the wall at the start of 2023, though I might give March and June a miss!
THE RAILWAY CHILDREN Adapted for the stage by Mike Kenny from the novel by E Nesbitt Director Carla Stokes Hyde Little Theatre The audience was greeted to an open stage with a bricked railway tunnel back cut cloth. In front were two station porter trolleys, stage left and right, piled high with suitcases and parcels. They were cleverly used, along with other period props, for each scene. A coal pile and signals on the proscenium arch completed the visual imagery. All this coupled with the company’s excellent presentation of authentic costumes (The Boyz Costume Hire) hair and make-up transported the audience back to Edwardian England. The lighting and sound plots were integral to the story telling to underpin the drama.Themusic from the original York RailwayMuseumproduction, covering every emotion was wonderful, not unlike a film score. My one and only gripe is that the speakers were in front of the stage allowing the music to come between the actor and the dialogue; I have to mention this because the spoken word was so well delivered. For my generation there were certain books you read, one being Edith Nesbit’s “The Railway Children”. This imaginative stage adaptation by Mike Kenny is faithful to the original. It fluidly moved from story to thrilling action giving an emotional and magical theatrical experience for all ages. Directed with precision the production was full of life and energy. The attention to detail was so important to its success. To recreate the adventures of the Mr and Mrs Waterbury and their children a strong cast was assembled. The ensemble and support roles engaged the audience creating the world of Roberta, Peter and Phillis, “The Railway Children”. There was multi playing of roles, Richard Hall played their father wrongly accused of spying, a worker and board member of the railway. Richard played each character notably differently. There were many cameo roles played with equal conviction, Anna Evans, as Mrs Viney, Millie Chatterton, as the
maid, to name but a few. The younger members of the company also made an impression. Two characters that changed the future of those living at Three Chimneys Cottage are Mr Perks and “The Old Gentleman” (Cavan Slate). Matthew Hutchinson was Albert Perks, station porter and friend of the children. He was totally in tune with the character. Mrs Waterbury, “Mother”, is a talented poetess; she has to be played by an actress with truth and integrity. Alison Bowers did just that showing the inner strength of the character coping with her newly enforced life. Her three children, whose world had been turned upside down, now have to live prudently in the rural countryside. Rosie Harkins, as Phillis, played her role with conviction alongside Cameron Kennedy, as Peter, who was bold in his adventures a leader and spokesperson. Cameron and Rosie’s handling of the stopping of the train and the getting of the paper trail runner Jim (Thomas Chatterton) out of the tunnel displayed their acting skills.
The story really belongs to Roberta, nicknamed Bobbie, played by Emily Stannage. This accomplished actress moved easily from dialogue to addressing the narrative to the audience. Emily captured the anxieties, exhilarations and the longing for her absent father. There was one important aspect of the play, the train which made a grand entrance to the delight of the audience. It was inspirational to have the train on stage after the curtain call for the audience to have a photo opportunity.
FUNNY ABOUT LOVE by Terence Frisby Directed by Malcolm Cooper Altrincham Little Theatre I think, as an audience member, we all look forward to, as the director Malcolm Cooper says in his introduction, “a good laugh”, to help us out of difficult times. Terence Frisby also wrote “There’s a Girl in My Soup” which was a successful stage play and then transferred to screen starring Peter Sellers and Goldie Hawn. This play, whilst not side-splittingly funny one, does provide quite a number of laugh-out-loud moments that keep the audience engaged till the end. The premise is that two couples swap partners with poignant and comedic results. Rosie has been dumped for a younger woman by Piers, her middle-aged husband. Rosie is quietly living alone when Darren, (Rob Butler) the abandoned husband of Piers' pregnant mistress, tricks his way into meeting her. Darren's rage at being left ignites Rosie's anger and together they plot revenge. Darren also awakens long-latent feelings in Rosie and, as they embark on their unlikely romance, Piers' world starts to fall apart. Brigid Hemingway, as the environmental warrior, Amnesty International supporter and betrayed wife Rose, gave a good performance. There was expression in her voice and nice timed delivery of dialogue. Her barbed lines referring her husband’s secretary as “open legs Annie” had audience members laughing out loudly. Brian Cresswell, the cheating husband Piers, gave an insight into a man who feels very confident with life at one point but how a series of actions can alter how life pans out in the end. It is always nice to welcome a new player into the AmDram world: Brian Cresswell, as the spurned but fertile husband of Larissa and lover of Rosie, trod the boards for the first time. As the not-exactly-bright and
intellectually challenged wronged party, he did a credible performance. The line delivery had expression and now needs a little more light and shade. As we know these skills of delivery develop as experience is gained, which I look forward to seeing in the future. The part of Larissa, played by Portia Dodds, had the lion’s share of funny dialogue and, coupled with this actress’ delivery and expressions, really did have me and other audience members laughing quite heartily. The first entrance as the “scarlet woman” was quite literally that, dressed in a red dress with matching lipstick, there was no mistaking who the home wrecker was. Without going over the top this character performance was played big with attitude and sass. The single set, designed by Alan Reidsma and built by a team of society regulars, was functional with plenty of doors leading to bedrooms and kitchen to provide entrances for all the characters to use. The furnishings for the apartment were comfortable and yet left space for movement around the stage. The props, organised by Charles Thomas, were homely. The prints of the Turner paintings were a work of art. You could not see the cut lines for when they get damaged. There were five scenes in this production, with one change in Act One and two in Act Two. These were completed swiftly, under the direction of Stephen Gooch. They were subtle changes but tended to be more for wardrobe changes for the cast. The sound and lighting design by Steve Smith and Jan Taylor added to the overall ambiance of the production. While the basic lighting plot lit the stage there were times when the dimming suggested different times of a day. The fading of the lights and colours to demonstrate watching television in the dark was quite engaging and effective. As always, thanks to the society, and especially Meg Cooper, for the hospitality.
THE DAY AFTER THE FAIR by Frank Harvey Director: Anne Wint Players Theatre This is the stage adaptation based on Thomas Hardy’s 1891 story. “On the Western Front”. While many of us remember two of his most famous novels from our English Literature classes, “Far from the Madding Crowd” and “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, this play immediately reminded me of the Hardy prose that takes characters to the verge of hope of love only to dash any thoughts of a happy ending later. In this short story a young Barrister, Charles, falls in love with a young, illiterate housemaid, Anna, in Victorian England, while visiting a country fair. Edith, who is Anna’s mistress, is in a sterile marriage to brewery owner, Arthur. When Anna receives a letter from Charles, she is thrilled but as she is unable to read or write she implores her mistress to respond for her and so begins a pseudo affair as they continue to send and receive love letters. Over time the two fall in love and eventually Charles proposes to Anna and the marriage is organised. The deceit is discovered, but too late. This is, as I have eluded to, a typical, wordy, Hardy story. Each member of the cast must be thoroughly comfortable with the dialogue so it flows at a pace that is maintained and will keep the audience focused. Here the cast, under the direction of Anne Wint, excelled. Ian Wilkinson and Mary Ellis brought light and shade to their roles of Arthur and Letty, his sister. They were believable characters: Arthur revels in his ability to succeed in business but finds it frustrating that his marriage does not follow the same trajectory. Letty, increasingly feels that she is a third wheel in his marriage, and that the household would be better if she moves away and lets his wife, Edith, stand on her own two feet and take charge.
There was a good performance from Cat Sharples as Edith. She gave a measured, calm and dignified performance of a woman who is unfulfilled in her marriage and enters into a love affair with an unknown man, albeit through the writing of letters. The naïve, Anna, was well played by Sara Morgan. The character she developed brought excitement, innocence and hope that no matter what all was going to be fine. This was a nice contrast to the formal Victorian behaviours of the other characters, except for Sarah, the maid, played by Myrrh Goodwin. Rob Derry, who, until a week before, was part of the stage crew, gave a super performance of Charles. He was word perfect, off book and blended into the production with ease. An example of the old adage, “the show must go on”. Well done! The players succeeded in capturing the atmosphere of the 19th century through the dialogue and character development, and the set designed by director, Anne Wint, added to this. From the potted plants decorating the front of stage to the highly decorated and furnished set, it all shouted opulence, money and success that one would expect from a successful family home. This was very easy on the eye and gave the actors a good space in which to immerse their characters. The props, sourced by Pat Crosthwaite and Anne Wint, Grandfather clock, highly polished wooden tables and picture frames. helped secure the idea of Victoriana. Added to this was the servant bell pull, and on the desk, ink and stick pens to write the love tokens. The scene changes were slick and conducted by members of the stage team in costume and were nice to watch. It looked like a choreographed Part of the scenery for the play
piece of movement. The costumes were delightful and added to the ambience of the play, as did the lighting and sound design by David Burns, Chris Burnett and David Oliver. There was also a super vista through a window, that only half the audience got to see. The whole piece is based on communication, literally from the writing of letters, character development, to acting, the set and effects that dress it all. I think we can safely say that this production communicated this example of 19th century literature effectively. Set detail
BIG FISH music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and book by John August Director: Louise Colohan Musical Director: Ian Sherwood Choreographer: Liz Cardall Mid Cheshire Musical Theatre Company “Big Fish” was hooked and landed by this talented theatre group. Its course from novel by Daniel Wallace, to the silver screen, then on to Broadway was an interesting one. There was a pared down London production, which, by all accounts, did not fare well. It has taken community theatre to bring its delights to a wider audience. The show is in a league of its own: set in the deep south of America, the music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (Addams Family) would sit easily with “Will Rogers Follies”, “Barnum” and “The Greatest Showman”. The tuneful music makes this show an unabashed colourful entertainment, here played out by a first class band. A simple set of a cut cloth, on stage rostra, and a walkway round the pit, projected images and a touch of technical magic engaged the audience. They were taken on a journey where they meet witches, a giant, a mermaid and a circus showman. To deliver the complex portrait of Edward Bloom and his relationship with his family, and to stage re-enactments of Bloom’s tall tales, direction was inventive creating an enchanting family entertainment. The many different themes of the company numbers in flashback sequences all needed choreographed movement. The visual spice of dance routines, especially in the red and blue number paying homage to the Andrews Sisters, was full of razzle-dazzle. All this enjoyable craziness had to have recognisable characters: the costumes, make-up, hair and wigs gave credence to all on stage. This allowed fluidity in the character development. The ensemble work was full of energy theatrically capturing this folksy fairy-tale. The closing number of Act One, “Daffodils”, was a production highlight. Supporting roles added to Bloom’s fanciful world including
Bryn Austin, as love rival Don Price, Georgina Brooksbank’s raunchy witch, Matt Austin as the friendly giant Karl, Michael Shneck’s howling wolf ringmaster, and not forgetting Bloom’s first love, the teenage Jenny Hill played by Grace Dougall. The show opens at Bloom’s son Will’s wedding to Josephine (Jennifer Haney) where we witness the tensions between father and son. Scott Heath successfully brought out Will’s longing to know the man behind the stories he regaled his son with. As the younger Will Billy Clarke gave his all thus creating a credible character. There is an emotional subtext of love and the pain of Edward’s terminal illness that has to be carried by Sandra Bloom. Aimee Clare touchingly and movingly played Sandra. She gave a heart wrenching rendition of “I Don’t Need a Roof ”. The central love story was gently captured. Absentee husband and father Alabama’s “Billy Liar”, Edward Bloom, was charismatically portrayed by Joe Clarke. This role is usually played by two actors, the younger and the older. Joe took on both roles with plenty of mischief for the teenager, and charm as the much loved story telling travelling salesman. Joe also managed to give a glimpse of the real Edward behind those stories in the duet with Sandra, “Time Stops”. We believe the Southern man when he says, “Be a Hero of Your Own Story”. “Big fish” is a real catch. At the finale the audience stood in recognition of their theatre experience.
HANGMEN by Martin McDonagh Directed by Martin Cottam Blackburn Drama Club This was my first trip to Blackburn Empire Theatre in several years, so I was very much looking forward to coming back. On arrival, I was made very welcome by the Front of House team, and it was lovely to hear this production described as “a play that everyone could get involved with” in these post-lockdown and restriction times. Certainly, the atmosphere among guests and volunteers alike was one of joy at being able to enjoy theatre together again. The play itself is not one with which I was familiar, so I did not know what to expect other than a “dark comedy”. Looking at the cast list I was impressed that a debuting director would choose something with such a large cast – 14 in total. The scene was (quite literally) set as the audience entered the auditorium, with Stephen Claxon (playing the cameo role of Hennessey) already on stage. The music was tense as we witnessed Hennessey preparing for his last moments of life, the despair fully apparent in his face and body language, noose hanging above his head. Stephen is to be commended for maintaining his character throughout – it must have been no easy feat to be on stage with no fellow actors to interact with and maintain the tension so effectively. The ensuing scene was a definite highlight of the whole production – tightly directed and choreographed so as to effectively maintain the tension while Hennessey delivered some of the funniest lines and actions of the play (the table grip for example managed to be both truly terrifying as the audience could fully empathise with Hennessey’s fear of his encroaching death, and yet bitingly funny in its comedic delivery), the tech team gave us perfectly timed sound (tolling bell, footsteps and the release of the trapdoor) and lighting effects causing the audience to jump and feel truly present at this historic moment and the cast all demonstrated
perfectly timed and delivered performances. Everyone involved is to be commended on a fully effective and truly memorable piece of theatre, including Benjamin Ashworth as the doctor and Graham Haworth as the Governor. The one area I wondered about was why the decision was made to leave the stage curtains open behind the scene, showing the audience the pub set throughout – this made it slightly confusing at first as it looked as though Hennessey was in the pub rather than the prison. Perhaps this was symbolic of how the event would continue to haunt Harry Wade throughout his future career? The second scene was set two years later in said pub, where Harry (played to perfection by Steven Derbyshire) is centre of attention on the day hanging is abolished. The pacing and delivery of this scene was a marked contrast to the opening scene, everything was much slower, and I thought perhaps at times that characterisation was prioritised over pace (for example, the cast members very effectively played men who had been drinking for some time and were certainly feeling the effects, but this meant that their line delivery was slower and less distinct). There were also some issues with blocking and upstaging in this scene – from where I was sitting the front right table next to which reporter Clegg (played by Will Gedling) was stood partially blocked the table at the back where Charlie (Dominic Dwyer) and Arthur (Gary Waugh) were sat. This was a shame as I really enjoyed their exchanges (Charlie explaining to Arthur what has been said) and would have liked to have seen more of their actions rather than predominantly just hearing the lines. The majority of Clegg’s lines were delivered to Harry as he is trying to interview him, who was at the back of the stage behind the bar; again, this was a shame as we were unable to see Will’s face or expressions, although to Will’s credit his lines were all clear despite them being directed towards the back. This seemed like an unfortunate staging choice, especially when we were witness to
the brilliant use of acting and reacting by both Steven and Will in the interview scene – both actors stood at the front of the stage being given a full opportunity to demonstrate their acting abilities, with perfect facial expressions and body language throughout and brilliant pacing. This scene was, for me the second highlight of the production and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing these two very talented actors really showing us what they could do. Harry’s other patrons, played by Nicholas Ainsworth and Trevor Robins, had less opportunity to showcase but were fully believable as amiable inebriate Bill and the slightly dodgy and ineffective (drinking on duty) Inspector Fry. We were next introduced to Harry’s wife, Alice, and daughter, Shirley, played by Anita Shaw and Jennifer Whiteside respectively. Jennifer gave us some lovely moments as teenager Shirley, demonstrating shyness veering to coyness, frustration, and sadness. Shirley and Anita had some moving moments together where, as an audience, you could really start to understand how Shirley’s confusion and low self-esteem that led to her being vulnerable to “menacing/ creepy” Mooney (played by Paddy Darnell-Walsh) developed – particularly the scene where Anita told Shirley she was not attractive on the inside or the outside, where the whole audience’s heart went out to her. Paddy played Mooney almost as a caricature, and clearly relished the opportunity to make the character as OTT as possible with exaggerated expressions and many a nod to the audience. Paddy certainly kept us guessing as to the true nature of Mooney – was he the real Lowestoft murderer or did he merely want Harry (and us as the audience) to think so and if so, why? Mooney’s scene with Shirley (“Do you sit on
the sand?”) was so creepy and made me feel very uncomfortable – it was delivered so effectively. In stark contrast to Paddy’s portrayal of Mooney was Clive Stack’s Syd, which worked well in their scene together. Clive gave us a wonderfully broad Yorkshire accent with a slight speech impediment (both of which sounded completely natural) which fitted the character perfectly and played the character as very “straight” – it was a surprise (to me anyway!) when we found out that he was in cahoots with Mooney. Richard Hubbard as Pierrepoint also deserves a mention – he was only in the play very briefly, but his presence raised the stakes for Harry and his patrons and Richard rose to the role perfectly, commanding the attention of the other characters and audience alike. Moving now to costumes and props – all were effective and in-keeping with the time period. The near-constant supply of beer deserves a special mention to the props team and the set designers – creating the space to store so many pints and sourcing all those mugs must have been a challenge! The set itself was very effective, making good use of the stage depth as well as the width – we were presented with a fully believable Oldham pub. Overall, I really enjoyed this production – there were some truly inspired moments that demonstrated team working at its very best and everyone involved should be congratulated. Thank you to everyone involved for a very enjoyable evening – I am looking forward very much to coming back for Goodnight Mr Tom.
THE FULL MONTY Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek; Book by Terrence McNally Director: Nathaniel McCartney Musical Director: Alasdair Gordon Choreographer: Danielle Radcliffe Bacup RCTG It is 25 years since the much-loved film, and 22 years since the American musical version which moved the location from Sheffield to Buffalo. This tale of a group of amateurs trying to be “Chippendales” is relevant today. The musical, as in the original film version, retains the grittiness of the lads from Sheffield and their situations. The score is a rocking blend of pop, jazz and a touch of salsa, successfully played out by experienced musicians. Not all the musical numbers were equal in interpretation but this did not spoil the enjoyment. Direction captured the hopelessness and pathos of the lives of the men. Choreography suited the concept giving the climatic final scene a touch of realism as they go for the “Full Monty”. A simple set of trucked inserts and projected imagery was more than enough to allow the drama to unfold. Lighting and sound were equal partners giving atmosphere to the world of the unemployed steelworkers. This story of brotherhood, much needed cash, low esteem, self-respect and their relationships with their partners and families was honestly told. The action opens on a ladies’ night, and we meet male stripper “Keno”. Patrick Duffy played the cameo role of camp, Buddy Walsh (Keno) with great conviction. His strip scene included pole dancing which left the audience shouting for more, Patrick knew just how far to take the character. After hearing the off-stage audience of ladies reaction to the stripper, Jerry, one of our ex steelworkers, gets the idea that what Keno can do he could. He then recruits his buddies and the fun begins. Stage presentation was colourless and drab like their lives. What they
find out about themselves through the process of preparing for that big night brings brightness into their world. From the Buffalo community we meet families and animated characters. Leader of the motley crew is Jerry Lukowski: he is fighting custody with his ex, Pam (Gill Richardson) and in the middle is their son, Nathan. Rob Toner and Rory Downes, as father and son, displayed an honest bond with a cheeky charm from Rory. First to come on board to bare all is Dave Bukatinsky (Jordan Barnes) who is married to Georgie (Gina Cole). Gina delivers the goods and Jordan, as overweight, unfit, Dave, captured the comedy and tragedy of the character. A dance teacher is needed and at the strictly local dance academy their former manager, Harold Nichols (Jim Rowe) is convinced to come on board. He too has been laid off unbeknown to his wife Vicki (Janice Purslow). Auditions are needed to complete the line-up; this is where we meet rehearsal pianist Jeanette Burmeister, given all the eccentricities of Phyllis Diller by Dawn Rowe. Josiah Thorp
played Malcolm MacGregor who lives a sheltered life until he meets Ethan (Leon Walker (who had to take over the role at short notice) another would be stripper. Malcolm was the joker in the pack. His hip-thrusts that had to be seen! There was just one more needed; enter Noah Simmons, better known as Horse. David Williams fleshed out the character giving Horse a heart. This bunch of lovable losers did take their hats off and reveal naked truths about themselves.
BLOOD BROTHERS by Willy Russell Directed by James Schofield PADOS Theatre Group “Have you heard the story of the Johnstone twins, as like each other as two new pins…” are the opening lines stated by Simon Fletcher, with hardly any emotion in voice or face. This was the tone that carried on throughout the narration of the play, both this and the dark, bleak, nearly all black set created the backdrop for the tragic scenes that would unfold. ‘Blood Brothers’ was written by Willy Russell, firstly as a school play that went on to become a very successful musical. Set in Liverpool and then moving out to the suburbs of the new town, Skelmersdale. It centres around Mrs Johnson, a young mother who has been deserted by her husband for a new “Marilyn Monroe”, leaving her to care for seven children. To make ends meet she takes a job as housekeeper for a middle class family, the Lyons. While working there she finds herself pregnant again but this time she is expecting twins! In a moment of desperation, she enters into a pact with her childless employer, Mrs Lyons, and swears on the bible that when they are born the couple could raise one of the twins. As their lives run in tandem we see how social class and opportunities affect the twin boys lives, which leads to a shattering and tragic climax. The PADOS Studio Theatre was a very intimate setting for this play, with the audience so close to the action, the scenes had the audience hooked on the story as it progressed and developed before them. There were a number of people that sat around me that knew little about this play and became totally engrossed in the characters, one could hear their audible gasps throughout. The matriarchal role of Mrs Johnson was played superbly by Sara Brockway. You could see the expressions of joy, pain and love that the
character had for her children. There was also the torment and anguish that the character felt, of a mother watching one of her children being raised by another woman. This was all achieved by Sara immersing herself in the persona she had created. There were nice touches of ageing, to the hair especially, that reminded the audience that years had passed by. Playing opposite Sara, as Mrs Lyons, was Angela Mayall who started the play as a confident housewife but as the play evolves the character slips into a state of deep anxiety that makes her irrational. While this was played well and the character did evolve, for me, the anxiousness needed to start earlier and become more pronounced, not only in presentation but also in bearing and voice. This play is a story of development, both in ageing and character, especially as the three children change from the innocents they are, when life is one big game, to awkward adolescence featuring first experiences and ultimately into adulthood with the pressures and responsibilities that it brings. The beauty of this play is that every member of the audience can relate to what is happening in front of them. Kevin Whelan was excellent and showed all of the above as twin Mickey who transitions from the age of 7 (though nearly 8) through to 14, 18 and then adult life. His childish behaviours, full of energy and humour as well as energetic acting were a joy to watch. His decent into a depressed and angry young man were a credit to his acting skills. Jack Martin as the other twin, Eddie Lyons, was equally captivating in his character development, from the childish, carefree, hobbyhorse riding boy, into a university graduate and ultimately successful businessman and councillor. Completing the trinity was Charlie Lewis who, as the tom boy Linda, became the object of both Mickey and Eddie’s affections. This was a strong performance with excellent comic timing and playfulness of the
younger person into the care worn and worried adult who yearns for some fun and to be a version of her younger self again. Mark Rosenthal also had a trinity of his own as milkman, gynaecologist and policeman, each dialogue delivery was excellent. These three characters are on in the first half only but each have great lines to be delivered that really reinforce the humour of Act 1. It was clear that the director, James Schofield, had a clear idea of how the play was to run, the staging, set design, choice of music that began and ended each act and the development of each character. There was light and shade throughout (not just the lighting itself) with humour, laugh out loud moments to darker tones that bring this play to an emotional and tragic end. On leaving the theatre it made me reflect on how much nature and/or nurture can impact on our lives and those close to us. The overall production made for a very enjoyable evening of theatre.
WAITING FOR GODOT By Samuel Becket Director: Gordon Ingleby Colne Dramatic Society It was a pleasure to visit Colne Dramatic Society for their season opener “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Becket. This was my first visit to the Little Theatre, which is a very charming venue that reminded a bit of the Bijou from the Peter Sellers film “The Smallest Show on Earth”, minus the noisy trains passing by. I most certainly will be back and will look forward to seeing future productions. It was also my first foray into the worlds of Becket as I’ve never seen “Godot” before but had heard of it, especially knowing of the professional production with Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart. When it was first presented, it was a delight to as many audience members as it did shock audience members. I would envisage that it is like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. After what the whole world has gone through recently, and the effects it has had on us, especially within the amateur theatre world, it was a very daring and ambitious choice with which to open the season and this was evident with the house being approx. 50% full on the last night and think there was even fewer on the opening night. Nevertheless, it was chosen and was presented very well. It was just a shame not many more came to see the production as I’m sure that they would have enjoyed it, I certainly did. in my mind, every now and again a Society should experiment and show what it can do. This play certainly did hit the mark with the company’s presentation. I was welcomed very well by the front of house team and the stage manager, John Mills who gave me a short tour of the stage and backstage. The set was a ruined mill, which was expertly designed and
built considering the limitations they have. I liked the shape to the set and different entrances/levels to provide the action on stage including the tree centre stage. However, with the limitations it does mean you could often see a character ready to make their entrance by seeing an arm or a prop. I can appreciate that the wing space is limited, but maybe a little bit more attention to this could be applied. The only thing about the tree is that I would have had it not so much centre stage as it was a bit of an obstruction to Gogo’s (Estragon) entrance which was played very well to music and set the scene perfectly. However, that was from my point of view and could well have not been as much in the way for other members of the audience. Mike McKeown, who played Estragon, acted the role with passion. You could feel for him and sympathise with Gogo’s troubles he has encountered from being beaten up, lack of sleep, feeling very down and low, along with the lack of nourishment having only a measly carrot to eat, or a radish, or a turnip, so when offered the radish and the turnip duly refused as he preferred the carrots. Gordon Ingleby, the Director, had to step in at the last minute due to the original Vladimir having to drop out. So, script in hand he handled the role very well and, in my opinion, he had a look of Jon Pertwee. It’s not easy to perform with a script and it didn’t distract from the overall performance at all. When Vladimir and Estragon are trying to hold up Pozzo in Act 2, Gordon managed with ease to hold on to his script and at the same help support Pozzo.