Barnstorming Premiere At The SJT

The Red Barn Murder, as the popular press would call it in 1827, was one of those capital crimes that gripped the public of Jane Austen’s time and became part of a culture that lived on for generations. The village, Polstead, Suffolk, where the murder took place quickly became a tourist attraction and the barn, where Mary Marten’s body was discovered, was haunted by souvenir hunters. The particularly gruesome nature of the killing and the manhunt for the murderer shocked…

Newbies Give Joseph Fresh Impetus

Considering that Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat has successfully been pedalling its wares since 1968, I think it is fair to say that reviews can no longer be about the musical, more about those nervous actors who are charged with stepping into the main roles! How do you judge a libretto, score and production in its own right when audiences, the ultimate critics, have been returning time and again for more than half a century, to watch this light-hearted, feelgood look…

Overblown But Enjoyable - Spirit Of The Dance

David King, producer of Spirit of the Dance, has a nice line in modesty, referring to himself as ‘the working man’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’ on the company website. In fact, there are more flattering adjectives about the show in each paragraph of the site’s digital copy than Dr Johnson probably has on each page of his daily diary: breath-taking, runaway express train, powerful and so the list goes on. But then, Mr King probably had a hand in penning the copy! My…

A Dignity That Outwitted The Holocaust

Dr Janusz Korczak lived his life in a state of permanent dignity despite having to suffer the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto and transportation to Hitler’s death camps. But, by following an unwritten code of humanity based on a philosophy of ‘right and wrong’, this noble writer, doctor, storyteller and persecuted Polish Jew, left a legacy that continues today, despite perishing at the hands of the Fuhrer’s Nazi henchmen. He was the man who ran an orphanage in the Polish capital, said…

Triumph Of Priestley’s Timeless Drama of Conscience

If youth is wasted on the young then let us hope that Priestley’s classic thriller, An Inspector Calls, is not, for this brilliant piece of drama – a permanent fixture on many school syllabuses - can be seen at its finest in Bradford’s Alhambra this week. Set in 1912 Edwardian England but, interestingly, first staged in Moscow because Bradford’s famous son could not find an appropriate venue in Britain, this crushing indictment of unaccountable greed, power and social division, leaves you…

Zombie Attack In Leeds (Playhouse!)

Nowadays it may seem like a movie that is best left in 1968, but dismiss George Romero’s iconic horror flick – Night of the Living Dead - too quickly, and you ignore a ground-breaking film that was key to shifting the public psyche away from Hammer horror, where something terrifying had to have two bolts through its neck or a pair of blood-sucking fangs! So, I was intrigued, and a little excited, at the prospect of seeing Imitating the Dog’s ‘Remix’…

The Teletubby Magic of Opera North!

Getting lost in Leeds is one of the unique pleasures of Christmas…..especially if your wanderings take you to the confines of your imagination! Father Christmas no longer has world domination over childhood dreams for there is a new contender on the block…………Opera North! This premier classical orchestra, so often locked in the confines of challenging operatic scores, every now and then steps into a lighter world, and how good they are at it! This year Prokofiev’s charming tale of courage and compassion –…

Snow White – Big Bucks But Tiring Format

Bradford Alhambra’s pantomime has become a love affair between its main protagonist, Billy Pearce, and his adoring public, but how long this marital bliss can last is questionable. The UK’s premier panto producers, Qdos, re-book Pearce year after year for one reason and one reason only: he continues to pack ‘em in and the audience love him so I have little doubt that it will sell out, for now at least. However, this singular personality-led approach, adopted by so many theatres, is,…

No Sleeping Through This Beauty!

The accents were thicker than Yorkshire pudding doused in gravy which only served to make the Lawrence Batley Theatre’s pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, even funnier, as Hester The Jester waded into the baddie with more force than a Barnsley miner on the picket line! The evening was a competition to see who could get more gags in about Hebden Bridge, Saddleworth Moor and the perils of taking a bus ride to Mirfield alone! And that’s what made this a great ‘local’ pantomime, full…

No Prohibition For The Bootleg Beatles 40 Years On

If durability is any way to measure the success of a band then surely The Bootleg Beatles must now be standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of The Rolling Stones? Formed in 1980 this lookalike four-piece, along with nine classical musicians, stage crew, lighting and sound men – a veritable tour bus – is now in its third line up since it was formed almost four decades ago. And what a slick tour de force the ‘Bootlegs’ are. Surely the original ‘tribute…

City Varieties – A Hard Act To Follow

There is something joyously pleasurable about a pantomime that is so devoid of political correctness that it is likely to send the great and overly good of Leeds into anaphylactic shock! But, if there is so much as a murmur of protest about Red Riding Hood and the City Varieties’ ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto’, rest assured, I will be supporting every last member of the cast in any banner waving protest that ensues because this production was bl***y hilarious! There are no…

Let Band Of Gold Speak For Itself

In watching Kay Mellor’s Band of Gold I was in the privileged position of not having seen the original award-winning TV series or being a member of the cohort of invited, cheering sycophants, often called on to bolster egos and give the perception that something is greater than it actually is. The so-called ‘World Premier’, which always sounds like a hollow boast unless you are back referencing something like Les Miserables or a production that has already achieved international greatness, was…

Cheeky Banter Gives Sleeping Beauty The Edge

A happy panto cast that has a good line in improvised banter will always shine brightly however mediocre the production. But it would be wrong to unfairly criticise this year’s offering from the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds, Sleeping Beauty, simply because it is staged in one of the so-called ‘Grade B’ theatres and doesn’t have 3d glasses and lots of expensive gizmos, just a hardworking company! This is a cracking cast which, genuinely, had me laughing out loud, not only with its…

Snow White At Harrogate

Sparkling, witty, colourful and great family fun: Harrogate Theatre's 2019 Snow White panto has kicked-off a top-notch performance with 20 year veteran Tim Stedman, playing dim but delightfully well-meaning Happy Harry. Backed by an excellent cast, great sets, singing and dancing, Tim's Harry floats gracefully on top of a lively whole-cast performance that feels better in every department than previous Harrogate Pantos - not that they were bad. This year even the jokes are funnier! Polly Smith, now familiar to Harrogate audiences…

Bland And Brilliantly Staged– The Bodyguard

It is four and a half years since I first, and last, saw The Bodyguard on stage and, dare I say it, I am in danger of becoming a fan! Last night’s musical adaptation of Lawrence Kasdan’s original screenplay – made famous by Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston – still has Alexandra Burke as vocal diva and stalker victime Rachel ‘Whitney’ Marron but, all these months on, the former X Factor contestant has clearly matured as a performer This felt like an…

It's A Kinda Magic - The Wizard Of Oz!

The challenges of bringing an iconic film like The Wizard of Oz to the stage are complex to say the least, but Leeds Playhouse Artistic Director James Brining has, overall, done a great job even though the production has some highs and lows. Just saying the name of one of one of Warner Brothers’ most iconic movies, instantly puts you in the shadow of ‘Judy’ and everything the film has come to represent. Whether it is ‘fair’ to compare is another…

Wacko Jacko's Backo!

In the week that saw Psychic Sally summoning spirits from the afterlife when she appeared at Bradford’s St George’s Hall, I feel sure that Michael Jackson made a somewhat latent appearance last night when one of the world’s top Michael Jackson tribute shows opened to an enthusiastic, capacity crowd at the same venue. And how wonderful it was to see a truly multi-cultural audience in this fair city, something you rarely observe at a Bradford theatre. Asians, whites, Sikhs and every other…

Queen Royalty Makes Grand Entrance

It was as if Freddie was there and that a grand miracle had been performed to bring the father of rock back to life for just one more performance. The Queen musical, We Will Rock You, penned by the iconic band and funny man cum novelist cum writer, Ben Elton, pounded its way into Leeds Grand Theatre last night blowing away the Autumn blues from a capacity crowd, despite one of the dampest nights on record. I have heard all the hype…

Music Hall Memories At The Verts

The stars of yesteryear made a welcome return to the City Varieties in Leeds last night as music hall proved it was no longer just a faded memory from the 1970’s when Barney Colehan’s The Good Old Days ruled supreme. Liz Coggins from On Stage Productions brought her show, Twice Nightly, to the Verts and gave renewed life to the likes of comedienne Hylda Baker and internationally famous male impersonator, Vesta Tilley, as part of her nostalgic look back at the…

New Heir To The King And I Throne!

Yul Brynner became so synonymous with the principal role in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I, that it takes a quantum shift – or the passing of enough time – to make the public realise that a new monarch has succeeded to the throne of Siam! Jose Llana – complete with a full head of hair - dominated the stage at Leeds Grand Theatre last night as Bartlett Sher’s Broadway / West End production opened to a packed house. There were…

The Launderette That Will Put You In A Spin

The title of Hanif Kureishi’s screenplay, My Beautiful Launderette, conjures up images of a bygone era when people who couldn’t afford a washing machine – like my mum – trundled off to ‘Bubbles’ to dry off what the old twin tub couldn’t possible make ‘snuff dry’! However, it is also a title that belies the true reality of the original Oscar-nominated film, now adapted for the stage, and, for all its wonderful humour, it is a play that gets to grips…

A Play Of Its Time

Charley Miles’ play, There Are No Beginnings, may not be a ‘…story about the Yorkshire Ripper’, but it is very much a text born out of those ghastly events of the late 70’s and early 80’s when Peter Sutcliffe was on the loose and West Yorkshire women existed in a temporary world of paranoia. However, the country’s most famous serial killer, not mentioned by name, is, in some ways, incidental to the plot, which is more about four women and how…

Hell Hath No Fury Like Dada Masilo!

Dada Masilo’s Giselle takes no prisoners and certainly does not allow the main protagonist to die in a heap, broken-hearted and victim of two-timing Albrecht! In 90 minutes of dynamic, wonderful dancing, which rips the heart out of the traditional ‘classical’ version of this ballet, Masilo’s South African company brings a refreshing twist to this tale of love, loss and retribution. Dancing the title role Dada, now 34, has already carved a reputation for herself as a choreographer who pummels ‘classics’ into…

Review: Everything I See I Swallow at Square Chapel

The truth of French avant-garde artist Orlan’s belief that art should herald resistance, take risks in the name of effecting change at the risk of not being accepted, was borne out in the very act of performance in Friday’s breathtaking rendering of Everything I See I Swallow at Halifax’s Square Chapel. Tamsin Shasha and Maisy Taylor’s visceral two-hander bolstered its own intellectual credentials with the declamation of a series of philosophical vignettes, emboldened in backdrop, and including, at the outset,…

It’s A DEATHTRAP, And You’ve Been Caught!

The word ‘whodunnit’ makes my flesh curl, my heart sigh and should be avoided like a room full of cricket enthusiasts stranded in a Headingly pub, when the lounge door has become jammed on a piece of rogue carpet! However, the word ‘thriller’ may be approached with caution. Even better make sure you hear these eight letters with just an hour’s notice. Which was what happened when I was unexpectedly invited to Harrogate Theatre last night to watch HT Rep perform the…

Harrogate Rep. Is Back And On The Piste

Harrogate Theatre has kicked off its new season with a sparkling production of John Godber's On The Piste. Featuring one of the best sets every to grace Harrogate Theatre's stage - including a ski chalet, a sauna, and a working ski slope! - On The Piste is every bit the fun romp through the disaffected lives of a bunch of 30-somethings that John Godber intended. Not one of our protagonists is contented with their relationships, apart perhaps from an over-sexed…

Dirty Dancing – A Double Decade Success?

Producers are like praying mantis waiting for their victims and, in the case of Dirty Dancing, they have all but bagged and tagged an already intoxicated public, ensuring sell outs of this now iconic musical for at least the next two decades! Eleanor Bergstein’s show is an overwhelming success, that’s a given. However, I am intrigued to witness how it has evolved to deliver exactly what the public wants and, in doing so, suck them in with greater dexterity than an…

The Tempest - Steam Punk? Storm In A Teacup!

Shakespeare’s The Tempest has an intensity that belies its ‘comedy’ tag and, somehow, has the feeling of comic relief bordering on tragedy rather than full-blown funny ha ha! Perhaps one of the Bard’s shortest plays, it is also interesting if only for the fact that it was his last before he retired to Stratford; Will’s final play before drawing down his pension if you like! Opening with a horrific storm and featuring a lobster clawed, albino-eyed villain, Caliban – at least that…

Twelfth Night - Nuanced Joy In York

Shakespeare’s language by definition escapes a huge chunk of the population, so it is often left to great direction – as well as acting – to make every twist, turn and nuance of the Bard’s work come to life. And, last night, I saw one of the most beautifully crafted productions of Twelfth Night at York’s temporary Shakespeare Rose Theatre, that I have seen for many a year; what an absolute joy. So, having made my bold opening statement, I must surely…

The Lady Vanishes - She Probably Needs To!

As Hitchcock was turning in his grave last night, the high point of The Lady Vanishes was the shoot out shortly before final curtain. The low point was that not enough of the players died. This was a challenging production – my adjective is generous – that somehow had me in fits of giggles at the end even though it wasn’t meant to! Bill Kenwright’s latest offering – Antony Lampard’s stage version of Hitchcock’s now iconic film - simply did not work…