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2016: Review Of The Year

So at the end of my third year of discovering theatre, my world continues to evolve and life itself becomes absorbed more into the theatrical world.

I increased on my 2015 record this year, sitting down in many varied locations over 150 times to watch an array of theatrical experiences. These included plays, musicals, storytelling, music, magic, dance and variety nights. So in my now tradition of (one) previous time, let me present in reverse order, my top 15 trips of 2016.

At Number 15...

The Same Faces at The Black Prince, Northampton

It took me a long time to finally see The Same Faces. It was my lose, as each of the three nights I have so far had the privilege to see have offered an endless feast of brilliant improv. It may crash and burn at moments, however that is improv for you and the flame of brilliance is really never far away and you soon have tears running down your face once again.

At Number 14...

Love Letters performed by White Cobra Productions at The Playhouse Theatre, North…

Review of It's A Wonderful Life by Masque Theatre at the Holy Sepulchre, Northampton

Remarkably I only saw the classic film It's A Wonderful Life last Christmas, this was thanks to spotting it lurking on my subscription of Netflix. A glorious heartwarming film perfect for Christmas? That must be why I was a blubbering mess at the end of it then. There was hope that in public, The Masque Theatre's performance of the radio version of the story didn't leave me in the same situation. As it happened it did a little as that final scene in the Bailey household played out again, but it didn't matter as there were members of the cast in the same broken state as many of us audience members.
This was the first radio play that I had seen performed and on the evidence of this, I sure would like to see some more. While not having the drama of standard plays in their creation of moment and places, they do have a rather striking drive towards character creation. The cast may well be reading from the script, but at no point do any of the characters drop from the facial…

Review of Little Red Riding Hood by the Duston Players at Duston Community Centre, Northampton

At the end of a week where I was slightly disappointed with a production which had been a past Tony Award nominee for best play, I found myself at Duston for the very differently graded Little Red Riding Hood pantomime.

There is no comparison of course, despite my disappointment and reservations, that play not only surpasses Red Riding Hood in performance levels, technicals and well pretty much everything. However it did generate a great deal of thought over a reviewers roles in the so called "entertainment" aspect. Despite Peter And The Starcatcher (for that of course is the play in question) being an exceptional achievement in production and performance, just lacking in the material aspect, I do wonder whether the audience at Red Riding Hood were actually having a better time.
Like last years Sinbad The Sailor, this is written once again by the mysterious Mr Johnathan Freeth, who it seems is quite a dab hand at this pantomime writing lack. He certainly knows what the audie…

Review of She Echoes performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Isham Dark (Avenue Campus), Northampton

The University of Northampton BA Actors devised shows are never, ever, a disappointment. Many of them like the incredibly splendid Orientation from last year, I could happily watch more than once. She Echos easily falls into that category and I shall return tomorrow to watch it once again.

Taking the concept of alternative possibilities made famous in popular by Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors, She Echoes creates a multiple splitting world of Emily and her success in work, family, driving and most importantly love. We awake each morning with Emily either early, late, or with time to read the paper or not, and a meeting with her sister who may be back on the bottle or sipping coffee. Emily may walk to work, she may drive, she may get the tube. She might go to the Red Ruby club or not.

Each of these scenarios is created in two ways, first through repetition of scenes where charges occur on route through alternating incidents; some simple, some startlingly dramatic. The second way is a …

Review of Season's Greetings at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

There is a tradition at the start of some meetings that a member of a committee has to declare an interest in something being discussed. Therefore it is appropriate that at this time, I declare that as the relatively newly installed publicity committee member at The Playhouse Theatre, I am about to review a play that it has been my responsibility to promote. So how is that for conflict of interest?

However to be fair, the amateur world has become an increasingly delicate place for me to work with reviewing as I have got to know more and more of those involved, and they have all learnt who I am. My reviews though are not here for me to make friends, as some recent offerings have shown, so if there was something up, rest assured that I would happily state so.

Fortunately director Jem Clack has on this occasion gave me little of concern, as with his large cast of nine, he has produced a nicely polished production. I had the opportunity on Sunday to see the final dress rehearsal for the s…

Review of Peter And The Starcatcher at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The opportunity to see a European premiere of a Tony award-winning Broadway hit on the Royal stage is a wonderful thing to behold, and to leave more than a little disappointed from the experience does sadden me a little. There is no question that Peter and the Starcatcher it is a remarkable theatre experience, filled with stunning stage craft and a dream cast at the top of their game. However Rick Elice's adaption of the 2006 book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson is frequently more disappointing than stunning. It lurks in the dangerous area of not being sure whether it is a fun and enthusiastic family play or just simply a pantomime.

It all starts dreadfully, with ten to fifteen minutes of the most overwhelming and full-on story-telling. Filling the heads of the audience with so much information at the start really isn't clever and reminded me greatly of the comment that Little Sally says at the start of Urinetown about "too much exposition". It is all brilliantly pr…

Review of Hair at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Life can be easy sometimes as a theatre blogger. When the worlds collide to make something as a complete package so brilliant that you don't have to dwell on anything bad and break things down to analyse. I love being kind, I hate being critical. Hair at the Hope Mill Theatre allows me to have an easy and happy day today.

Indeed it is very easy to be won over by a show at the relatively new Hope Mill Theatre immediately, simply because of how brilliant it is as a venue. After having had my longest ever journey to a theatre, and my first visit to Manchester itself, it offers a quirky, warm and truly welcoming embrace.

Hair is a 1967 anti-war kaleidoscopic feast with a relatively light plot line, held together by a really unique collection of songs and dance sequences. This being the very first time seeing the show, I have to admit that there were parts where I wasn't entirely clear what was going on, however like the weed smoking Tribe, I was without question enjoying the trip.…

Review of That'll Be The Day Christmas Show at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

I am not entirely sure why I was a little reticent initially to the offer by a friend to accompany a group to see That'll Be The Day. It wasn't that I would have a problem with the music, as be it 50s, 60s, 70s or whatever decade, good music for me goes beyond the generations (although obviously the 80s are best). Perhaps it was that this show had a reputation for being popular with the grey brigade (although I have plenty of my own grey now)? This made no sense either, as some of our number were quite a bit younger than my 39 years. I think actually the problem in my head was going to a Christmas show on the 26th November. I have absolutely nothing against Christmas, but a whole evening of its music was not my ideal evening. Or so I thought.

It was actually a superb evening of music and comedy, which although very possibly is a little long at three hours with the interval, rarely disappoints. While this is a Christmas show, there is enough non seasonal music to keep it being …

Review of The Shakespeare Revue (White Cobra) at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

I had heard great things of The Shakespeare Revue, presented here by White Cobra Productions. So much so, that even the fact that "Shakespeare" was in the title, had not activated that involuntary twitch that that name sometimes generates. I am generally one of those Shakespeare viewers that prefers my Bard spruced (brushed?) up a tad, giving the contents a stir after 400 plus years of simmering.

Thankfully The Shakespeare Revue, originally compiled by Christopher Luscombe and Malcolm McKee in 1993 (but added to since) for the Bard's birthday celebrations, is very much on the lighthearted side of Mr Shakespeare. Over an incredibly varied 37 sketches and musical routines, he is revered, poked fun at, honoured and slightly modified, to create a quite brilliant evening of entertainment, for the Bard or not to Bard fan alike.

Standout sketches include a quite brilliant take on The Importance of Being Earnest titled Othello in Earnest. Written by Perry Pontac it sees Othello …

Review of Love Letters (White Cobra) at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

A. R. Gurney's Love Letters is a very unorthodox play. First, as the title alludes to, it is an epistolary play. Secondly it involves virtually no movement from the actors, seated simply as a table and desk. Finally, it is performed as read from the script, so needs less rehearsal and history tells that it has therefore been performed by many famous actors since its debut in 1988. The likes of Kathleen Turner, William Hurt, Christopher Reeve, George Segal, Christopher Walken, Stockard Channing, Robert Vaughn, Elizabeth McGovern, Elizabeth Montgomery, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Charlton Heston to name a few of the dozens of names over the years to have taken the roles.
White Cobra Productions have also taken an approach of multiple actors in the roles, with four in total for each role across its run. The performance I saw, had Paul Fowler take on the role of Alan Ladd, while Lynne O'Sullivan was Melissa Gardner. Both are great in their roles, sparking off, but never directly…

Review of Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

If you are even vaguely aware of the story of Buddy Holly, there is no shying away from the fact that be it almost sixty years ago, this musical of his life seems sure to end generally on a very sad note. However of course, it doesn't, it leaves us for two reasons wanting more; we want the show to continue with its final scenes collapsing into a high spirited concert feel, and we just wanted more from Buddy, full stop.
Over a period of just eighteen months between 1957 and 1959, Buddy along with The Crickets, went from jobbing local performers on a country themed radio show, to world recognition, and a collection of perhaps the very best of songs of that breakthrough period for music. At a time when Elvis was creating brilliance accompanied to his gyrating hips, Buddy was perhaps even more of an innovator, casting off the shackles of country, and even heaven forbid, performing with his glasses on. He wanted to be constantly different and inventive. It truly make you wonder where h…

Review of The Boy With Tape On His Face at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Sometimes the very simplest of things can be the very best and perhaps in these complicated days, there is nothing better than to experience something, minus a very small addition of modern culture and tech, what could have been done a hundred plus years ago. The Boy With Tape On His Face is the most variety act a variety act could be and coupled with the most ridiculous amount of audience interaction you could imagine, makes it perhaps one of the very best theatre experiences.


Over a two hour show The Boy of the title, hence known as Tape Face, utters not a single word, strip of black tape across his mouth and with dark eyeliner, he is quite a sight. It is truly a clever and well defined character in itself, kited out with satchel and stripy top, before he gets into his elaborate and hilarious set-pieces. Pacing the stage from long before the show begins and finally settling on staring out the audience via his wall mirror. Our location is his dressing room, the audience perhaps his d…

Review of Ten at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

It would frankly be strange to mention the curtain call for a show at the very beginning of a review, however for Ten, a celebration of ten years of work from the Youth Theatre, Young Company and The Actors, is epitomises perhaps everything to say of the show. A near work of art in itself to shepherd 188 performers onto the stage as quickly, but as respectfully as possible to each individual, is a mind boggling proposition. A curtain call should never be underappreciated, as it is how you leave your audience, and Ten got it perfect.

Those 188 performers created during this 90 minute show a collection of original pieces and selected extracts from plays performed in the past. From the original pieces, Gathering Dust by Georgia Tillery was my favourite, offering a fabulous response from the audience as well as the really young youth theatre group portrayed a collection of old folk attempting to make a break for freedom. It was a really funny piece, which the youngsters clearly had great …