Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Agatha Christie's Black Coffee - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham - 7th-12th July 2014

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
The Agatha Christie Theatre Company
7th - 12th July 2014

Agatha Christie’s first and only play featuring the well-loved famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot comes this week to the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. 

First performed in 1930 this classic ‘who-dunnit?’ sees Hercule  Poirot (Jason Durr) called to the country residence of famous inventor, Sir Claud Amory (Ric Recate) to investigate the theft of his new explosives formula. As Sir Claud calls his family and guests together, following dinner,  to announce Poirot’s arrival to solve this theft  he is poisoned by the after dinner coffee! Here enters Poirot with his ever faithful but somewhat hapless sidekick, Captain Hastings (Robin McCallum), to solve the murder!

As soon as we entered the auditorium the sound of classic music from the period transported the audience directly to that fabulous, flamboyant time in history; a brilliant touch that got everyone in the mood for a night of glamour murder and mystery. Immediately, the audience knew they were in for a wonderful timeless Christie mystery. 

The revealing of the set did not disappoint either; a elegant art-deco inspired library with  geometric shapes in the artwork, carpets, ornaments and lighting,   just the thing to welcome our detective for the evening– congratulations must go to Simon Scullion on this design. 

As with every classic ‘who-dunnit’ there are several suspects all with credible reasons to be held under suspicion as to whether they killed Sir Claud or not: Richard Amory his son (Ben Nealon), Lucia Amory (Olivia Mace) with her secret past, Barbara Amory his niece (Felicity Houlbrooke) who’s character was splendidly acted as the ‘bright young thing’ of the age, Dr Carelli (Gary Mavers) Edward Raynor his secretary (Mark Jackson). Also a special mention to the delightfully played suspect of Miss Caroline Amory (Liza Goddard) who lit up the stage as she entered as the dotty dowager beautifully,  giving the audience some fantastic lighter moments with her amusing one liners.

The plot as with all great mysteries was littered with twists and turns, clues and red-herrings, all keeping the audience guessing throughout the performance. 

It is a brave actor that takes on such a famous role as that of Poirot, as for the last 25 years we have all come to associate the role with David Suchet. However hats must be removed to Jason Durr, who takes on this role splendidly bringing out all the quirky mannerisms of this well- loved detective and Durr did well to keep up that lilting Flemish accent although sometimes a little hard to keep up with. 

The relationship between Poirot and Hastings on stage was wonderful and acted just as it should have been with Poirot being somewhat exasperated by him but Hastings always there as his faithful companion; Robin McCallum did an excellent job of being Durr’s sidekick.

It was fabulously refreshing to see all actors using their natural projection during the whole performance of Black Coffee rather than being ‘miked- up’, which is becoming much more the norm these days. 

The two short intervals, not normally seen these days in theatre, worked well on reflection, giving the audience the time to ponder their own theories and deductions of who the murder could be?

In summary a delightful night out at the theatre if you like a good, classic, stylish who-dunnit which stays ever faithful to Agatha Christie’s intended characterisation – just remember to keep an eye on your coffee cup!
Lucky Arrows Jayne Lunn and Faye Arrowsmith-Hatch get into the Poirot mood on the night

Review by Faye Arrowsmith-Hatch

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham - 1st-5th July 2014

Irving Berlin's 
Annie Get Your Gun
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
Tuesday 1st - Saturday 5th July 2014

Annie Get Your Gun was first performed at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway in 1946 and was created for actress Ethel Merman who was good friends with Dorothy Fields who wrote it with her brother Herbert.

It is the wonderful tale of Annie Oakley (Emma Williams), the local girl from Ohio who spends her time shooting game to sell to the locals and try to make a living for herself and her siblings. She stumbles across Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and ends up getting herself involved in a shootout with the World Champion shooter Frank Butler (Jason Donovan) to see who is the best shooter in the county. Right from the start she falls in love with Frank and spends her time trying to impress him and become the lady of his dreams - does she succeed?!

We follow her as she becomes a 'star' in her own right and ends up headlining the show. Can her sharp shooting save the show from bankruptcy, win Frank and live happily ever after? Well, you will have to mosey on down and see.

Some other story lines within the musical are of Winnie Tate (Lorna Want), sister of Franks assistant Dolly (Kara Lane) who has fallen in love with knife thrower and half Indian/half Irish Tommy Keeler (Yiftach Mizrahi) and is banned from marrying him by her sister who believes he isn't good enough for her. We also have Buffalo Bill (Norman Pace) and Pawnee Bill (Dermot Canavan), owners of rival Wild West Shows and desperate to outdo each other with their shows and audiences.

The show started with the audience clapping along to the orchestra and yeehaing as 'There's No Business Like Show Business' was played which really gave us a fun, lively start to the performance.

Emma Williams, who people may recognise from BBC's Casualty, has also had a wonderful stage career, winning the Arts Correspondents' Award for Best Newcomer for her performance in the original cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. She really shone in this part and gave fun, joy, and tons of energy to her performance. Her timing and singing were perfect and you found yourself unable to take your eyes off her when she was on the stage. Her diction while singing meant that you could really hear every word she sang which is refreshing nowadays.

Jason Donovan had the hard job of trying to keep up with the vibrant performance of Williams, but he managed it well as the sharp shooting Frank who had his nose put out of joint by losing the shooting competition to Annie. Donovan, as well as having a glittering solo chart career has graced the stage on many occasions with musicals such as Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Rocky Horror Show and Sweeny Todd to name but a few - I have to say though that I am an 80's child, so know him best for Scott in Neighbours (Oh what a great era that was!)

Buffalo Bill was played to perfection by Norman Pace, who you may know as one half of the comedy duo Hale and Pace. What a lot of people don't know is that Pace is not only a comedian but also a very accomplished musical theatre actor and has many shows to his name. His performance as Buffalo Bill was extremely well executed.

The whole cast played their parts well and the timing and positioning of stage was faultless down to the last second.. I really liked the chemistry between Tommy Keeler (Yiftach Mizrahi) and Winnie Tate (Lorna Want). Their duet 'I'll Share It All With You' was fun, lively, well executed and you really felt the love between this young couple.

Winne Tate (Lora Want) and Tommy Keeler (Yiftach Mizrahi)

The scene changes where well rehearsed and were almost like a scene in themselves with the actors changing the set with speed and style. The great use of blocks to create the images of different venues worked well and were used to depict the inside of a train and a boat.

The lighting throughout gave a wonderful atmosphere to the piece with lanterns around the stage to make it look warm and inviting. Jason Taylor really captured the mood of the performance with his lighting design and the subtle use of smoke made them shimmer on stage as the action took place.

The choreography by Lizzi Gee was fantastic. The use of spacing, levels and timing had the audience mesmerised throughout each number. I particularly liked the section when the men danced with the shotguns. I tried very hard, but I could not see any moment where they were out of time with each other :o)

Having the band on stage with the action was a great touch as it make the appearance of the big top seem even more real. They were softly lit as to not take the emphasis off the action in front of them but it was nice to see them taking the limelight just as much as the actors.

The sound throughout the performance (Designed by Gregory Clarke) was just at the right level and didn't overpower the piece. I particularly liked the steam engine as we had a cloth taken across the stage with a steam engine on it to depict that they were sitting in the carriages.

The set design was very effective. We had the Big Top there throughout, with the classic red and white stripes covering the walls and draping twice on the ceiling. To depict other venues, we had back cloths, props or blocks which were quick and worked well.

A note has to put in regarding the character of Little Jake who is played by Oscar Francisco and Theo Gilbert-Birch. Both are Midlands based and rising stars in their own right.

Overall this performance was well put together and is extremely enjoyable. You have stilts, juggling and a great section of shooting by Annie. I suggest that you mosey on down to the Alex before it ends on Saturday 5th July to see a wonderful piece of theatre.

NOTE - Saturday 5th sees Stoke on Trents very own Jonathan Wilkes take on the roll of Frank Butler. Jonathan is a brilliant musical theatre actor who has starred on screen and stage and also has 3 performing arts schools for children aged 3-16 in Stoke, Swindon and MIlton Keynes. For more information on these you can go to: www.wilkesacademy.co.uk.

Review by Jayne Lunn

Monday, 23 June 2014

Immortal Chi - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham - 22nd June 2014

The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
Immortal Chi
A Warrior's Quest for Harmony
Sunday 22nd June 2014

Immortal Chi has come direct from China and incorporates a mixture of Chinese Martial Arts that will have you wondering how they are possible.

It is directed by Erick Villeneuve and the Cirque du Ciel creative team so be prepared for some breath taking moves.

The projections, lighting and sound are magnificent and really sets the mood of the show. The ticking clock throughout brings the whole piece together and shows the story of Tia Chi Master who is trying to regain his inner energy (his Immortal Chi). With rain, thunder and wind, we really feel the intensity of the piece.

We had mesmerising balance, fighting with sticks, battles with many different weapons and great precision and timing.

There was some audience participation with audience members being taken onto the stage and made to do some martial arts moves while the performers broke metal and wood in front of them with their heads and hands.

The drums were played by the ladies in the group and their timing and speed was outstanding - they really seemed to lose themselves in the music.

This show had a bit of everything - music, lighting effects, control, dedication and tons of tradition and even bits of comedy.

If you are a lover of martial arts or love a good spectical then this is definitely a show for you.

You can catch this show at other venues around the UK.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

South Pacific - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham - 10th - 14th June 2014


New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
BMOS Presents: 

 Tuesday 10th - Saturday 14th June 2014
(Matinee & Evening on 14th)
South Pacific is a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein which originally premiered on Broadway in 1949 and was a major hit, running for 1,925 performances.

It originally premiered on Broadway in 1949 and was a manor hit running for 1,925 performances. The story is based on a book called ‘Tales of the South Pacific’ by James A. Michener and delves into some strong issues of the time.

South Pacific is a tale of war, love and racism prejudice which was a big thing when the musical first came out.

The show follows Nellie, a Nurse from Little Rock, America who has come to the Island during World War II. She falls in love with a much older man called Emile de Becque, an expatriate plantation owner from France who she has known only for a short time. The two are happy until she discovers that he has 2 mixed-race children. The values that she had had installed in her from a child come into play and she cannot imagine the thought of bringing up Polynesian children. She ends the relationship and tearfully goes back to the nurses quarters.

Alongside this we have U.S. Lt Cable who falls in love with Liat, the daughter of Tonkinese woman Bloody Mary. He refuses to marry her as he is worried about how it would be seen for him to marry out of his race.

The Lieutenant and Emile, both heartbroken take on an extremely dangerous mission to land on a Japanese-held island and report on their ship movements. There is the possibility that these 2 men will not return!

This production was put on by BMOS Musical Theatre Society which has been going for 128 years. They carry out a lot of charity work for Muscular Dystrophy, local schools arts foundation and this year’s chosen charity, The British Legion. They have also trained some great talent that have gone on to professional work within the industry.

This show was a delight. We had some wonderful staging and exceptional singing from the whole cast. It was obvious that this is a friendly society as their performances on stage really showed this with relaxed interaction with each other.

Abigail Wells played Nurse Nellie Forbuth. Her performance was one of high energy and spirit and she lit up the stage whenever she walked on it.

John Spencer’s Emile was warm and powerful. The subtle mood changes in his voice gave real emotion to his character and the audience seemed to really follow his journey with interest.

Lt Cable was played by Nathan Dippie. He showed, with great success the torture and struggle of being in love with someone you know would not be accepted within your social circle. It was a great insight into how people must have given up on things that they wanted for the sake of society.

Lisa Smith gave a fantastic performance as Bloody Mary. Her eyes were full of emotion and at several points I thought they were going to pop out of their sockets – it was great to see the wild, eccentricity of the character shown and her movements were just right for the type of lady she was.

One of my favourite characters in South Pacific is American Seabees, Ballis. This character should be sarcastic, flirtatious, mischievous but with a heart of gold. Patrick Pryce played this part with gusto. His little asides and spirited banter made for some real humour and enjoyment.

It is only when you see South Pacific that you remember all of the wonderful songs such as Bali Ha’I, Happy Talk, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair and Some Enchanted Evening and you spend your journey home humming or singing along to them in your car.

On opening night there were one or 2 technical difficulties but it did not hinder the performances on stage and is an extremely enjoyable evening out.

South Pacific runs at The New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 14th June 2014.

If you would like to know more about BMOS, please follow them on their Facebook Page:  https://www.facebook.com/bmosmusicals

Review by Jayne Lunn

Friday, 16 May 2014

Haunting Julia - The Grange Playhouse, Walsall - 14th - 24th May 2014

Haunting Julia
By Alan Ayckbourne
The Grange Playhouse, Walsall
Wednesday 14th - Saturday 24th May 2014

Written in 1994, this was Alan Ayckbourne’s first supernatural, all male play.

We have the story of Julia Lukin, a child genius ‘Little Miss Mozart’, who spent her life engrossed in writing music before her suicide at the tender age of 19.

12 years on from this tragic event, her father Joe (David Stone) is still trying to come to terms with her death and has acquired the house in which she died and turned it into a museum and Centre for the Arts. He invites her old flame Andy Rollinson (Dexter Whitehead) to visit. He informs Andy that he believes the attic room in which she died to be haunted by her ghost as it is considerably colder than any other room and strange things had occurred. In pops Ken (Ian Eaton) who initially pretends to be a psychic interested in the story, but it turns out that he was actually the caretaker, or as he likes to describe it, ‘janitor’ for the building when Julia lived there and was also friends with her.

We hear about Julia from 3 different perspectives and as the play unfolds we get a clear understanding of what led this young girl to suicide. Even though this is an all male cast, you do feel as though Julia is there as well ‘in spirit’.

The set was extremely detailed and wonderfully constructed. We had the attic room, complete with skylights on one side and the other was the Arts Centre,  displaying gold disks, newspaper cuttings in frames and posters for Julia’s work. The 2 sides were split with guide rope and the distinction between the 2 was well thought out.

David Stone played the heart broken father Joe and you really found yourself being drawn into his heartache. Dexter Whitehead was a convincing Andy. His disbelief of the afterlife and touching account of Julia’s death came across well. Ian Eaton as Ken was a delight. His timing of lines was perfect and had the audience occasionally laughing, which is always needed in a tense, touching production.

All 3 men gave a heart felt performance and were all extremely comfortable on stage. It was really nice to see that the director, Martin Groves did not have his actors looking out at the audience and delivering lines to the 4th wall which so often happens on stage. This engrossed us all even more as you really did feel as if you were the fly on the wall listening in to an intimate meeting between 3 men.

The lighting, sound and special effects were carried out seamlessly and really had you jumping in your seat and getting a chill down your spine. I can’t mention these as I don’t want to spoil it for you but I can honestly say that it was fantastically operated by the back stage crew.

This production runs at the Grange until Saturday 24th May and I would recommend it to anyone as it is truly one not to be missed.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Rock of Ages - The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Rock of Ages
Fun, Lively, Sexy - 3 words that sum up this feel good, toe tapping production.

Here we have another musical built around classic rock hits. This time we have Rock of Ages which revolves around hits from the 1980's. We have songs from giants such as Bon Jovi, Styx, Twisted Sister and Poison to name a few.

It premiered on July 27th 2005 in LA at King King, a club on Hollywood Boulevard and was also made into a film in 2012, staring Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta Jones and Russell Brand.

Even before the production started the audience were entertained by The Alex staff, dressed in 80’s gear, with Yvonne Lawlor singing in the foyer - they really were getting into the spirit of the show.

The set was on show from the second you sat down and it was an all purpose set that didn’t need to be changed throughout, with only a few props bought on which allowed the production to run smoothly.

As the band came on, The Alex staff stood at the front getting the audience to clap, mexican wave and yelp which got us all excited for what was coming and boy - we were not disappointed.

The show is set in 1987 LA and is not meant to be hard hitting, have an in depth story or make you leave tearful (well, unless tears of laughter are allowed!) The story line is predictable - boy meets girl, they fall in love, neither tell each other, things go wrong, they then come together again at the end. In with this we have the Sunset strip in jeopardy of destruction by German businessman Hertz Klinemann (Jack Lord) and his son Franz (Cameron Sharp)

The ‘boy’ in question is Drew, played by Noel Sullivan. This is a boy with a dream of becoming a Rock star but at present works in the The Bourbon Room owned by Dennis Dupree (Daniel Fletcher) and assisted by Lonny (Stephen Rahman-Hughes). Lonny is also the narrator of the performance and does a great job of breaking down that 4th wall and interacting with the audience. You really feel as if he is talking to you personally. His comedy timing and sly looks to the audience are so funny that I found myself laughing out load. Drew meets Sherrie (Cordelia Farnworth) who has arrived from Kansas with the dream of becoming an actress. The two become ‘friends’, a word that comes back to haunt Drew when Sherrie, taking this word he said to her as a sign that he does not love her, ends up sleeping with famous rocker of the band Arsenel, Stacee Jax (Ben Richards). Things then spiral out of control for Sherrie who is sacked from her job at The Bourbon Room due to Stacee, Drew being so upset with her that he snubs her in her moment of need and ending up as a stripper at Justice Charlier’s (Rachel McFarlane) place, the Venus Club. Thankfully, as we all know, we have a happy ending for all with Drew and Sherrie getting together.

Two of my favourite characters have to be Franz (Cameron Sharp) and Regina (Jessie May). Regina is an activist who campaigns to save the strip from demolition. Her facial expressions and movements, even in her still images are extremely entertaining, stylized and well presented. Franz, with his downtrodden exterior has a great transformation from caterpiller to blue, sparkly lycra butterfly who stands up to his father and helps save the strip.

The whole performance was well presented and a special mention has to go to the band who were on stage throughout and gave a seamless performance and enabling us to rock the night away. The band consisted of:
Pierce Tee - Musical Director / Keys
Andy Gammon - Guitar 2
Gary Liedeman - Bass
Alex Marchinson - Drums
Ashley Williams - Guitar 1

The whole performance was an evening of entertainment and the lighting (Designed by Jason Lyons), sound (Designed by Peter Hylenski), set (Designed by Bedwulf Boritt) and choreography (Kelly Devine) all helped to make this a stunningly fun show.

If you have a spare evening and feel like a trip back to the 80’s then this is not one to be missed.

The show runs at the Alexandra Theatre from Monday 12th till Saturday 17th May 2014
For details of the tour, please go to the official Rock of Ages Website: www.rockofagesmusical.co.uk

Full Cast List:

Stacee Jaxx - Ben Richards
Drew - Noel Sullivan
Sherrie Christian - Corelia Farnworth
Dennis Dupree - Daniel Fletcher
Lonny - Stephen Rahman-Hughes
Hertz Klinemann - Jack Lord
Justice Charlier - Rachel McFarlane
Regina / Candi - Jessie May
Franz - Cameron Sharp
Major / Paul Gill / DJ - Rakesh Boury
Joey Primo - Tom Andrew Hargreaves
Constance - Imogen Brooke
Waitress 1 - Abigail Climer
Alternative Drew / Swing - Stephen Rolley
Young Groupie / Heaven Dancer - Kylie Michelle Smith
Dance Captain / Swing - Russell Smith
Swing - Chris Southgate
Swing - Charlotte Anne Steen
Swing / Assistant Dance Captain - Tara Verloop

Review by Jayne Lunn