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Showing posts from November, 2014

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…