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Review of Into The Woods by Stephen Sondheim performed by The Masque Theatre at The Holy Sepulchre, Northampton

For my fifth visit to the Masque Theatre, I headed Into The Woods for their production of Stephen Sondheim's musical. In my fast learning theatre binge this year, I had encountered Sondheim once before with Sweeney Todd (review here) and to say I had been mighty impressed was an understatement. Even to my untrained ear, Sondheim is quite a different writer of music which needs a great deal of concentration. However it is mightly rewarding if you do.

From the book by James Lapine, and cleverly weaving many Brother Grimms' fairy tales into one, it is a suitably macabre little story built around a constant musical track. While not having many totally memorable individual tunes with the exception of Into The Woods itself, the whole works suberbly together to make a hugely enjoyable musical.

In their production, the Masque Theatre were once again showing their pedigree beyond their "amateur" status. None of the performers were a let down, and some were simply superb and m…

The Mystery Of Irma Vep - A Penny Dreadful at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

The Mystery Of Irma Vep was my first encounter with The Playhouse Theatre Northampton amateur group after missing their previous performances this year due to a clash with other happenings. It was also my first encounter with writer Charles Ludlum and I have to say that came as quite a surprise as well. Much like a Carry On film it was all silly antics and double entendres.

As would be expected for an amateur production the set was simple yet effective within budget constraints. There were rickety doors and troublesome gun racks, but it all added to the general frivolity of the play. The story is slight and pretty unimportant from Ludlum but the antics were keenly played by the cast of six (four main stars and two added delights). Further research of the play has led me to understand that the play is traditionally played by two gentlemen via quick changing with the men playing both male and female roles. The Playhouse has dispersed with this, but nothing appeared to be lost in this ex…

Review of Merlin at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

As Joe Pasquale prepares to squeak his way to Neverland in the Derngate next door, the Royal completes its 2014 Made In Northampton season with the more orthodox play Merlin. With no intentions of being seasonal in anyway, this is a more refrained non interactive take on the classic legend. It does however create a very modern version of the ancient tale, with the young characters partaking in a very modern language style and indeed even taking part in twerking during one of the music and dance interludes.

It is perhaps suited for writer Ella Hickson together with composer Jon Nicholls to try to do something different with the very familiar tale. Distancing themselves far enough away from the BBC's hugely successful Saturday night show of the same name, while maintaining a lot of the comedy of that series, they have created a hugely enjoyable two hours of entertainment. While never being able to offer the super special effects of the series on stage, dark figures provide the sugge…

Review of Strictly Northampton 2014 at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Celebrating its fifth year, I found myself at Strictly Northampton for the first time not really knowing what to expect. Turned out it was an entertaining (and very long) evening.

Having sat in a few theatres this year, it took some getting used to the somewhat different crowd for such an event. People were talking, coming and going, and most angst of all, playing with their phones and shock horror actually filming the stage. This was all permitted, but took some getting used to such a different crowd.

The show itself featured 16 couples made up of "locally significant" people paired up with a partner of generally a reasonable dance ability (although there were a few where it was difficult to tell the difference, hello Hayley Cole and Steve Church). Before the grown-ups took to the stage though, there was the small matter of the final of Junior Strictly that had semi-finals during the day. These school groups were better than many of the adults to come really and also provid…

Review of Urinetown The Musical at the Apollo Theatre, London

While I had seen several theatre musicals this year at the local Royal & Derngate, I had yet to experience the full London effect until I settled down in my seat at the Apollo to watch Urinetown. I had grown to like musicals more this year after my first live one Blood Brothers in March and finally decided to make the effort in the big city. Also despite publicity and negative comments regarding the title Urinetown, this made it appeal to me slightly more to my bizarre mind. I am glad I did, what I witnessed was two glorious hours of fun, frolics, dark (very dark) humour, blood, dance and some singing as well. It is a musical.

On arrival in the theatre the set from Soutra Gilmour cuts an imposing, perfect dystopian figure. Tough steel work, dull and grim, perfect. Before the show begins the creepy Officer Lockstock (Jonathan Slinger) starts to prowl the stage and is soon joined by Little Sal (understudy Katie Bernstein on my evening). As the show begins these two break the fourth …

Review of Speed The Plow at The Playhouse Theatre, London

Ever since the announcement of Speed The Plow and its stage débutante star and wild child Lindsay Lohan, the internet and press were as wild as her with comments about the likely disaster than the production was to become. I saw comments ranging from her not knowing lines, to her walking away from the show and the comment that her understudy was likely to perform more than her. I have no interest in naysayers generally and would rather form an opinion myself really and have not kept tabs on her commenter's much since the début.

However a whole paragraph on Miss Lohan from me is ironic really as I didn't attend Speed The Plow to see her as I was here for the opportunity to see Richard Schiff on stage. The West Wing is probably my favourite TV series and I was never going to miss a chance to see Toby Ziegler in action live. He is not a disappointment for me and issues forth David Mamet's wordy script in all the fast paced manner I am familiar with from the aforementioned tel…

Review of The Woman In Black at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

I was struck by two surprising things at the start of the production of The Woman In Black, the first before the play had begun. This was the staggering slope on display on the set. I was aware of the raking (technical term!) of the Royal stage, but gosh surely this was in a different league. No pieces with wheels on most certainly! The second was in the very early stages of the play. I had never seen the play before and had the belief that this was a deadly serious, creepy ghost story. How wrong I was, with the initial setting of the story via a clever planned stage production, this was actually also a very funny play.

Telling the story of Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James) and his wish to relay his shocking and disturbing tale for an assembled crowd, he seeks the help of a theatre actor (played by Matt Connor) and who remains only known as "The Actor". Much humour early in the play is garnered from Kipps' inability to perform his story for the, as yet, absent audience, and l…

Review of Eric And Little Ern at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Eric And Little Ern is one of those shows that you leave with glorious nostalgic feeling, especially for anyone who grew up sitting down to watch those annual Christmas shows (which is potentially everyone as their star is always with us). I am technically not quite old enough to really remember seeing a live first screening of the show, but for me growing up in the eighties and nineties, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were always there, although  I think I enjoyed The Two Ronnies better at the time. Eric and Ernie's shows maybe have dated better though and maintain that BBC2 slot on regular occasions.

Ian Ashpitel (Ernie Wise) and Jonty Stephens (Eric Morecambe) bring those two stars back to vivid life with their superb performances in Eric And Little Ern. What they have created (as indeed these two are both creators and performers) is a sweet little play of two halves. The first, a loving and incredibly moving at times act of part biography and part endless joke factory from More…

Review of Pete Firman - Trickster at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

I have been a fan of magic since growing up with it on my telly in the eighties. During that decade of my youth, the now much maligned king was Paul Daniels, and he was a Saturday night fix attracting between 12-15 million viewers in its heydays. It is now considered rubbish, old fashioned, and not worth your time by an audience that now watches The X-Factor on a weekly basis. Go figure.

However, magic has always appealed to me from my television armchair and when the BBC revived magic for the Saturday night audience in the form of the series The Magicians a few years back, I watched. Although it sadly struggled to gain much foothold on the viewing figures, I enjoyed it and it introduced a brand new generation of modern day magicians. Youthful, edgy, and occasionally totally bizarre, they breathed new life into the genre as they plied their skills in some often spectacular and downright scary tricks.

One of them was the young (well younger than me anyway) Pete Firman from and last nig…

Review of South Pacific by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

I didn't really get musicals until this year. I had watched a few film versions and did enjoy them, but before Blood Brothers on 26th March this year, I had never seen one live. Since then I have seen five more, one of which was Blitz! (review here) by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company, a group formed of amateur performers very much on a level with a professional production. Blitz! was, rather obviously due to my lack of musical knowledge, completely new to me. However these people acting, singing, dancing and in the talented orchestra pit, playing, introduced me to a lovely musical, with catchy tunes.

So I was back for more at Royal & Derngate this weekend for their production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific. It goes without saying that I have never seen it (not even the film), so once again all was mostly new to me. This time however, unlike Blitz!, some of the tunes were known (in the case of one, thanks to Captain Sensible).

The glorious scene was se…

Review of The Odyssey by Northampton University Actors (3rd Year) at University Of Northampton (Avenue Campus)

I arrived at the avenue campus on a dull, rainy afternoon having left a pile of washing up behind me, how these pesky students knew of such things I have no idea. However, having received my ticket (a piece of string), I and the assembled crowd were invited into the Isham Studios (dark edition no less).

Inside was a set consisting mainly of string, either hanging from the ceiling or pooling upon the floor. Also present was one of the actors wafting incense around which was leaving a pleasant aroma. Also music, a soothing, soulful song was playing, perfect to fall asleep to. Taking our seats (please take them, oh the agony), we waited for proceedings to begin.

Our introduction came from Lydia Rose Blagg, one of those that I was able to identify in the show (thanking you Twitter), and I say now from the outset that I am yet to be able to know all of the stars in the show, but this detracts from not one of you, because, you were all mighty fine. However Lydia spirited us away from the du…

Review of The St Giles Quarter Ghost Walk and The Haunted Theatre Experience from Looking Glass Theatre, Northampton

I am, I need to make immediately clear, a ghost-sceptic. While I may occasionally watch a spooky movie and have watched an episode (just the absolute one) of Most Haunted, I have never truly bought into the whole spectre phenomenon.

Therefore Looking Glass were in for a challenge from the outset, and for the most part they didn't swing my opinion of ghosts and ghoulies during the hour tour/show. Having said that, I did enjoy it in a much different way. Much like the Behind The Curtain tour at Royal & Derngate (review here) earlier in the year, it was fascinating to see behind the scenes at the Northampton Guildhall. Although I have been in the old court hall before, I have never had the chance to see the old cells and the tunnels beneath (now kitted out with the pipes for the heating system as well making them actually rather warm). It was a rare opportunity to see beneath the bowels of the historic and splendid building and learn a few things that I wasn't aware of (inclu…

Review of This Is My Family by Tim Firth at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

It is very safe to say that I nearly didn't see This Is My Family. At first glance it wasn't something that appealed to me, a story of a family which sounded like a sitcom made into a musical. Well I wasn't sure. Yes I watched the early years of My Family and for those slightly older 2point4 Children and I wasn't entirely sure whether I desired watching something similar where, heaven forbid, they then broke into song. However my endless need to watch something because its there, coupled with the fact that it was in the wonderful Royal drove me there last evening. I am so, so glad that I did as it turned out to be one of my favourite plays I have seen this year (this was my 56th to give that some context!).

Telling the story of 13 year old Nicky (Evelyn Hoskins) and her tales/woes of her family and her winning of a family holiday for describing said family is the simple grounding for the play. As a chain reaction to that slight story the play weaves a stunning happy/sa…

Review of Sell-By-Date by Marbleglass Theatre at Looking Glass Theatre, Northampton

Having successfully avoided death in the preceding 159 days since I last had the pleasure of seeing Marbleglass Theatre's Sell-By-Date. I settled once again with my plastic cup, straw and sweet (you had to be there), to watch this dark, funny and emotional little show.

Watching again it was easy to see why this was the pick of the 2014 Flash Festival, in my top three with The Show Must Go On and Taciturn. A careful balance between humour and emotional impact, this is a fine piece of original work with winning performances.

The star is and was originally Joseph Derrington and had the biggest impact on first viewing. However on second sight, it became more the sum of its parts. Derrington had the best remembered scenes, be it from the classic and still tremendously rude stand-up routine through to the title song (which I enjoyed much more the second time), all of which on one view could send you home thinking that he was the star. However second time around is the charm for the othe…

Review of Becket performed by The Masque Theatre at the Guildhall (Great Hall), Northampton

Becket was the fourth play by the Masque Theatre that I have seen and sadly it left me the most disappointed. However not because of anything that the excellent company and organisers did. All the disappointment came from the venue.

The Great Hall in Northampton Guildhall is a most glorious room, stunning height, wonderful decoration. An absolute delight. Well until you sit down and watch a play in it that is. The absolute worst acoustics that I have yet witnessed with so much of the dialogue unheard. And that is with just standard level speech, you can absolute forget it when the characters raise their voices, as that first word reverberates seemingly forever.

I write all of the above with great sadness as what I did follow from this play was excellent and the two leads are both excellent. Tristan Smith especially as King Henry II brings an alarmingly playful approach to the monarch, a twinkle in the eye. Knowing nothing of the play other than the history it portrays (a lot of it ver…

Review of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE PUBLIC REVIEWS
First performed in 1955, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and prestigious winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is widely regarded as Tennessee Williams’ finest play. Indeed by many one of the best of the twentieth century.
Telling the story of the strife of a Mississippi family including husband Brick (Charles Aitken) and  his wife Maggie (Mariah Gale). Set during a party (in a bedroom!) to celebrate Big Daddy’s 65thbirthday, family riffs, sickness and hidden desires bring the dynasty to a head on one alcohol fuelled evening where all emotions are laid bare.
The play clearly fails to try to win its audience over with the first fifteen minutes or so, as introduced to the characters of Brick and Maggie in their stifling (not just for them) bedroom we are treated to, what is in effect a one person conversation. The maudlin Maggie rarely provides any humour during her one way conversation with her unloving husband Brick ‘Did you say something…

Review of Fun Palaces at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the best part of eight hours floating suspiciously and observing around the Royal & Derngate experiencing the very first Fun Palaces event. Born from a sadly failed thought of Joan Littlewood in 1961, Fun Palaces is a dynamic, pop up extravaganza of theatre, dance, music, face painting, singing, dressing up and the erecting of tents (12 at Royal & Derngate). Through this inventive collection the theatre was filled with the absolute total of demographics. Bustling with activity, everyone who attended was able to find something to amuse themselves.

I myself rather boringly refrained from climbing into tents, putting on silly hats and having his face painted. Mores the pity. I was generally there for the theatre performances and a little added dance one for good measure. Five of which I saw during my stay.

The first was appropriately entitled One, a short half hour or so of five little plays that had been written by members of the public t…

Review of Sell-By-Date by Marbleglass Theatre. Returning to Northampton soon.

The excellent Sell-By-Date by Marbleglass Theatre returns to Northampton this Saturday and its original home of the Looking Glass Theatre. If you get the chance to see this, do so!


Below is my original review of the show as performed at the 2014 Flash Festival, Northampton:
"... the very dark, very funny and very powerful Sell By Date. From Marbleglass and featuring the talents of Marcus Churchill, Ashley Cook, Joseph Derrington and Sophie Murray, this was a gem. Setting the bar even higher for the week ahead.
Mixing music, dance, comedy, strong drama and in one particularly outstanding part, some very clever puppetry.
The performers in this group were particularly strong and I remember them well from their parts in Animal Farm (Animal Farm review). Whether playing the clown or deadly serious moments, they were at the top of their game. Even this early in their hopefully very successful careers.
The play itself was broke up into many parts, cleverly interchanging the aforementioned cl…

Review of One Man, Two Guvnors' at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

This year I have seen the chaotic feast that is The Play That Goes Wrong three times and its safe to say that I haven't seen anything funnier at the theatre this year (hence three times), however last night I saw the National Theatre's One Man, Two Guvnors' currently on tour. I shall say now that The Play That Goes Wrong is still the funniest play I have seen this year. However One Man, Two Guvnors' gave it quite a close call at times during the blistering two hours plus of high octane entertainment.

It is at first a curious mix of music, mirth and outright slapstick that unlike TPTGW, I didn't initially get. I was also having to deal sitting in the circle (a reasonable distance from the stage), with someone who was eating things that rustled and managing to drown quite a few words out. My annoyance level was quite high so I needed some light relief. Thankfully the rustles didn't last forever and once my hearing had been tuned out of them rustle sounds and I co…