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PINOCCHIO at the National Theatre

I absolutely loved PINOCCHIO at the National Theatre and this love grows the more I think about this play. I love puppets and I had my own puppet theatre that my Grampa made, and a set of marionettes when I was a boy. Bob Crowley, set and costume desgner and puppet co-designer together with Tobe Olie, puppetry director and co-designer have produced an original and exceptional version of this story. The puppets in this play are masterful and the interaction between the puppets and the human cast is magical. Theatre is absolutely the best medium for this story.

The characters are naturally larger than life. David Langham as the Fox is really creepy. David Kirkbride as the Coachman is disturbing. Gershwyn Eustache Jnr as Stromboli is terrifying. Mark Hadfield as Geppetto is simply adorable. Joe Idris-Roberts is the perfect casting and his performance will forever be Pinnochio for me. My only real disappointment was Jiminy Cricket who had none of the gravitas I associate with that character. I think a much older actor needed to play this part to make him real.

This is more of a play with musical numbers than a musical to make it feel like a puppet show which it did. “I’ve got no strings” was great. However I would have preferred that the director had made a lot more of the final, with “When you wish upon a Star” both in terms of production and performance. The show seemed to almost peter out, after the incredible emotional final scene, rather than as I would have preferred, rise to a grand crescendo.

What is most wonderful about this play is the message about life that you realise in the final scene. Great theatre with great writing, great design, great direction and great performances can deliver message so powerfully. This was one of the most powerful simple honest messages that I have ever experienced. Real learning comes from understanding not what is in the light but what is hidden in the dark. That moment of insight when it all is suddenly so obvious that you cannot believe you did not know this simple truth. Wonderful feeling created by this wonderful show.

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JERSEY BOYS at the Alexandra Theatre

I finally saw JERSEY BOYS at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham on the latest UK tour. What a great show. Exceeded my expectations. The story of Franki Vallie and the Four Seasons. Dayle Hodge provided the amazing voice of Franki Vallie at our performance with Lewis Griffiths as Nick Massi his writing partner. Simon Bailey and Declan Egan play Tommy Devito and Bob gaudio that complete the foursome.

The bands story is cleverly weaved into the musical numbers and we have just the right balance of exposition and performance. There is the structure and formula which I saw in “Cilla” and the Carol King musical “Beautiful”, which originated with this show on Broadway in 2005. The show is built around the musical numbers and builds to a concert atmosphere. Great night out.

 

IMPERIUM parts I and II at the Swan RSC

IMPERIUM Parts 1 and 2 at the Swan Theatre in Stratford On Avon are based on the Cicero Trilogy by Robert Harris adapted by Mike Poulton. Most of us know the tale of Julius Ceasar because of Shakespeare. Julius Caesar is just one of the supporting cast in this tale. The story is told about Cicero, told by his servant in a contemporary language that brings the characters to life, and makes this ancient world very accessible. This play has the potential to become the standard historical prism through which we experience a really important and interesting part of Roman history.

This production is a master class in acting. Richard McCabe as Cicero and Joseph Kloska as Tiro his secretary are the perfect odd couple to guide us through the story. Siobhan Redmond as Cicero’s wife Terentia has a small but significant role and gives a memorable performance. Peter De Jersey as Julius Caeser and Joe Dixon as Mark Antony have tremendous impact with powerful gritty realistic performances. John Dougall and Nicholas Boulton as Brutus and Cassius are worthy of mention. My favourite performance was Oliver Johnson who played the young Octavian. It is his ascent through part 2 which really defines the skills and attributes to manage the transition from democracy to autocracy in Rome.

I had the feeling of experiencing a play in a small Roman Ampitheatre. Simple but effective design and excellent direction have created this extra layer of realism to the story. This is particularly effective in support of the orations from the characters which enage us in the story. The power of speech is at the heart of these plays.

 

BEAUTIFUL THE CAROL KING MUSICAL at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Carol King is a musical phenomena and BEAUTIFUL THE CAROL KING MUSICAL at the Birmingham Hippodrome captures this wonderfully. What an incredible woman she is.This musical has just the right balance of story and song with the emphasis on the songs. So many incredible songs. This show looks good and it feels great. Every show is only as strong as the weakest link and there simply isn’t one in this ensemble.

Bronte Barbe has exceptional empathy and could hold a concert audience for an entire evening. I was also impressed with Kane Oliver Parry who plays her husband. Amy Ellen Richardson and Mathew Gonsalves complete the foursome

THE LADY FROM THE SEA at the Donmar

I had not seen a Henrik Ibsen play that I have not completely loved, so naturally I was really looking forward to THE LADY FROM THE SEA at the Donmar. This was a new version by Elinor Cook and therein probably lies the explanation, as to why this was not only the worst Ibsen play that I have ever seen, but possibly the worst production I have had to endure in London ever!

I have never held back so many yawns and tears in the space of a few hours. The boredom of watching these characters and what seemed like almost nonchalant performances made the minutes tick painfully slow. What made matters worst was the stark blinding lighting, which not only washed the stage, but was shining painfully most of the time directly into the audiences eyes. I was in the middle of a bench row Рthere was no way out.

The thrust stage and the bright white lights meant the play was never separated from the audience, and the wishy washy action on stage was not distinct from the fidgeting of audience members. There were two particularly annoying blokes, who were lolling about with their legs projecting on to the stage. I could see all of the disgusted audience faces at this uncouth behaviour, unless they were simply transfixed in horror by the boredom.

Not worth mentioning any names as I don’t want to blame anybody for this atrocious experience, other than perhaps Elinor Cook, who somehow must have completely lost at sea, all of the deep psychological complexity of this Ibsen play.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN at the Garrick Theatre

Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN at the Garrick Theatre is going to be a hit in London. It is a well crafted Broadway musical comedy in the vaudeville tradition that has transferred really well from screen to Broadway and now to the West End. Great sets which bring this monochrome movie into glorious technicolor on the stage.There are great musical theatre performances and I was chuckling from start to finish particularly at Frau Blucher. If you know the movie you know what I mean.

A good Broadway show always showcases talent and this show is full of talent. For starters the ensemble who provide the chorus and numerous characters are superb and Andrew Gordon-Watkins stands out as exceptional.

Hadley Fraser playing the lead Frederick Frankenstein is simply breathtaking. He manages to inject so much professionalism and enthusiasm into this role that it just permeates into the auditorium. Lesley Joseph as Frau Blucher is just so funny. She really is incredible and plays this iconic character so well, that it feels as if she has just popped out of the black and white movie into full technicolor on to the stage. These are such iconic characters if you know the movie and Ross Noble is perfect as Igor. Summer Strallen goes one step further and with her musical theatre talent makes her character, the iconic Inga something very special on stage.

Great fun.

ALBION at the Almeida Theatre

Mike Bartlett’s new play ALBION at the Almeida Theatre was really interesting. The thrust stage is an English country garden where all of the play takes place. The garden is one of the characters in the story. Victoria Hamilton as Audrey Walters is on a mission to transform the garden and the garden transforms her. It is a beautiful story and she is wonderful. All of the other characters are a part of her story and they are a perfect ensemble. They were all wonderful and I particularly liked Helen Schlesinger who played the antithesis to Audrey. Lots of surprises in a convoluted and rewarding tale.