Monday, August 21, 2017

True Hearts - Woodlands Hall - Review

True Hearts
Woodlands Hall
19th August 2017

True Hearts is a Cabaret evening of music, dance and comedy featuring the True Heroes singers and dancers, and compared by the inimitable Bella Bluebell.

True Heroes are a group of local performers who raise money for charities by staging shows in community venues. Saturday evening's show was part of the Woodlands Hall 50th Anniversary celebrations and was raising money for two local charities based at the Freeman Hospital - Maggie's (which provides help, information and support to cancer sufferers and their families) and CHUF (Children's Heart Unit Fund).

The show kicked off with a modern medley featuring the Black Eyed Peas' "I Got a Feeling", setting the tone for the evening. The True Heroes then rattled through an astonishing number of medleys including Boybands, Ricky Martin, Spice Girls, Bananarama, Madonna, and Madness, then a 70s disco medley before the first Act drew to a close with a tribute song and slideshow to highlight the work done by Maggie's.

Act Two brought us a  CeeLo Green combo of Beggin/Forget You, and then Blues Brothers, 80s Divas, Phil Collins, Kylie, and a Steps medley. There were two more touching and poignant tribute songs and slideshows - one at the start of act two featuring images of people linked to the show from the show who had in some way been touched by cancer, and the second slideshow highlighting the work of CHUF. 

Highlights of the show for me were the Spice Girls featuring Bella Bluebell as Ginger Spice and Leon Gill as Scary Spice. (Scary had to deal with a major wardrobe malfunction, much to the amusement of the audience.) Bucks Fizz brought a rousing cheer with a rendition of the eurovision favourite "Making Your Mind Up" - including the hand jiving and the skirts! In Act Two the guys came into their own with the Blues Brothers and Phil Collins Medleys, and the Steps Medley and Bridge Over Troubled Water tribute song showed off some great harmonies in the troup.

Bella Bluebell provided comedy ( and a welcome moment for the performers to catch their breath, I should think) with jokes and banter and an array of colourful wigs and sparkly frocks. Am pretty sure she'll be starring in a Panto come December - watch out for her!

All in all it was a good night, lots of fun and enthusiastic performances from all the dancers and singers, and all for a good cause. For me, Act Two was the better half, it felt more relaxed as if the performers were less nervous and enjoying it more. But all in all directors Ali Hassanyeh and Kevin Rhodes pulled together a good mix of crowd pleasing songs, and each performer had an opportunity to shine in both Acts. I was transported back to my legwarmer and fingerless lace mittens days with all those 80s hits. And, of course , no cabaret night would be complete without a Foreigner Finale - don't stop believing!

Woodlands Hall is a great community venue - they have an array of activities throughout the year all organised by volunteers. They've lasted 50 years so far so they must be doing it right. Their next show on 21st Oct is a swinging 60s tribute night featuring The Moonbeats. If you are in, or near Wideopen go along and support this fantastic community resource. Entry is just £8 and the bar is cheap! (drink responsibly, guys!)

Denise Sparrowhawk

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Much Ado About Nothing - Barnes Park - Review

Much Ado About Nothing
Theatre Space NE in Barnes Park
18th Aug 2017

Theatre Space NE's Plays in the Park have become the theatrical highlight of the summer in Sunderland, drawing crowds of intrepid adventurers out into the sunshine - and sometimes the rain - to experience the theatre in a different, more inclusive way. They traditionally stage three plays in three parks across the city - two Shakespeare and a family play, the latter usually written or adapted by a local writer. This year they offered Henry IV in Roker Park, Robin Hood in Mowbray Park and finally this week Much Ado About Nothing in Barnes Park. Sadly I couldn't make it to the first two productions, but survived the A19 trip from Hartlepool to Sunderland in time to catch their second performance of Much Ado.

Due to start at 6pm, the heavens naturally opened and poured out the contents of a large black cloud at 5.45pm. By the time we gathered at the Coach House CafĂ© for "curtain up" the clouds were departing and the last few drops of rain were giving way to sunshine. Clearly this was entirely due to the Gods taking pity on the actors as they sang a forlornly hopeful rendition of "Rain, rain go away".

The proceedings begin with the usual health and safety announcements - done in the style of a BBC announcer from the "magic black box", and then we are off. Transported to Italy after the end of a campaign of war (Italy was full of warring factions in the day - all the noble lords trying to pinch each others lands). Don Pedro (Steven Blackshaw) plays host to the returning heroes and his own brother Don John (Dale Jewitt) (nasty piece of work he is - full of scheming and sibling envy). Benedick (David McCarthy) wants to talk of war and daring deeds, but much to his disgust his friend Claudio (Luke Maddison) has seen the beautiful Hero (Eilidh Talman) and wants only to talk of love and marriage. Benedick thinks marriage is folly and swears he will die before he is wed. While Hero's cousin Beatrice (Corinne Kilvington) is scathing of men - and in particular Benedick - saying there is no man worth giving up her freedom for. She swears she would rather stay single as she is than marry an unworthy suitor.

Claudio, happy in love, plots with his friends to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love, while Don John plots to undermine his brother Don Pedro by breaking up the marriage of  Claudio and Hero (it's all very devious and complicated!) From this ensues a wealth of comic and tragic misunderstandings. Lives are and happiness are threatened, fools and knaves are revealed, and well, if you want to know how it all turns out you shall have to get along to the park and join the adventurers!

As always it is difficult not to end up listing everyone when it comes to performances of note - but mention has to be made of Dale Jewitt who excels as both the superciliously conniving Don John and the self-important yet asinine Dogberry; David McCarthy is glorious as Benedick, and is surely the audience's favourite. David John Hopper as Leonato is transformed from a foppish sycophant in the first acts to a resolute, determined statesman in the final act, both persona's perfectly believable. Samantha Bell morphs from the tipsy maid, Margaret, to the jobsworth watchman Secole, and finally to an almost Julie Waltersesque performance as the elderly Friar.  She gets full marks for character hopping. Eilidh Talman is a beautiful and graceful heroine.

The best thing about Theatre Space NE's productions is that they don't take their Shakespeare too seriously - they are actively trying to make it accessible to everyone, so there is none of the grandiose pontification that in the past has been the mark of Shakespearean acting. Any pontificating is done very much tongue in cheek. They are not afraid to add in elements to make the play relevant and accessible to a modern audience, but do this without sacrificing the essence of the original. They add music and song. They interact with the audience, asides are generally addressed toward particular audience members. Eye contact is key - this is not an audience watching a play, this is an audience experiencing a play. There is no better way to experience Shakespeare in Sunderland!

Don't miss the last two chances to experience Plays in the Park this summer - Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th August, 6pm at Barnes Park. 

Denise Sparrowhawk

Friday, August 11, 2017

Royalty Theatre - New Season - Preview

2017/18 Season Preview
Royalty Theatre

The Royalty team never shy away from staging plays that challenge their performers and their audiences. Their 93rd season is no exception. There are some dark and chilling tales coming up with a spattering of comedy to lighten the mood.

The season kick starts fairly safely with an Agatha Christie classic. And Then There Were None is widely considered to be Christie's masterpiece and her darkest tale. The tension and suspense builds throughout to the climactic reveal. Who is next on the list of casualties and just who is killing off the guests? And Then There Were None runs from Sept 18th - 23rd.

From Agatha Christie they move to Dennis Potter's Blue Remembered Hills. A chilling drama set in the Forest of Dean in the summer of 1943. Childish games take sinister turn. Not supernatural but definitely something evil here, a good choice for Halloween and Guy Fawkes week it runs from Oct 30th to Nov 4th.

Christmas and the Panto Season rescue us from the darkness for a spell, thrusting us into the adventures of Dick Whittington, and a more light-hearted battle of good and evil. Will the streets be paved with gold? Maybe, maybe not, but the stage will be paved with song, dance and jokes from 7th- 17th December. Oh yes, it will...

New year brings more murder and madness with a studio production of Shelagh Stephenson's Five Kinds of Silence.  This dark play explores the damaged relationship between a man and his family. Its claustrophobic atmosphere makes it a perfect choice for staging in the studio. It runs from 24th to 27th Jan.

February brings a Pulitzer Prize winning play - The Rabbit Hole by David Lindsey-Abair. This play deals with the nature of grief and investigates with drama and humour how different family members cope with loss. From Feb 19th-24th.

The second half of the season takes a lighter turn with Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense. This Goodall Brothers adaptation of  this PG Wodehouse tale runs from Mar 19th to 24th.

Their second studio production is a touching and witty fictional account of the Occupy London Protests of 2011. Temple by Steve Waters occupies the stage from 25th-28th April.

From a very British crisis we move to a typically English farce in Move Over Mrs Markham by Ray Cooney and John Chapman. Two couples separately arrange to use a friend's flat to meet up with their lovers...confusion and hilarity ensue between 21st - 26th May.

The final show of the season is Mike Kenney's adaptation of The Wind in the Willows. A great family show with Mole, Badger, Ratty and of course, Toad of Toad Hall. Explore the Wild Wood with them from 25th -30th June.

As well as the main programme, there are a number of one off performances including a concert by soprano Joanna Forest and an Open Clasp production of Rattle Snake from Sunderland Stages in October,  and in July there is the opportunity to see work by Lee Stewart, one of the Royalty's regular actor/directors as they stage his latest play There's Someone Coming Through.

All the details are available on the Royalty website. Tickets are available now and can be booked online or in person at the box office - times and dates are listed on the site. At under a tenner a ticket it's a night at the theatre that won't break the bank.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Westovians - New Season - Preview

Westovians at the Pavilion Theatre
Season Preview
Sept 2017-June 2018

The Westovians' new season starts in October (17th -21st). with David Cooke's "All together like the folks of Shields". A comedy drama about two very different couples living next door to each other in typical Tyneside flats.

Next up is the panto Aladdin in January (19th-27th) - perfectly timed to miss the pre Christmas rush and give everyone something to look forward to in the new year. Join them in Long Poo Village to see whether Abanazar can become Master of the Universe. Expect much booing and hissing and some terrible jokes...

March (6th-10th) brings a musical drama with Be My Baby by Amanda Whittington. A poignant story about teenage pregnancy and keeping up appearances in60s Britain. If you were unmarried and pregnant life was very different back then.  A great play featuring songs from the era.

In May (8th-12th) things turn a little more sinister with Simon Brett's ingenious thriller Silhouette. Who murdered Martin Wallis? Was it the wife or her lover...or someone else?

And finally the Westovians round off the season in July (10th-14th) with another local comedy - "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Durham" - Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood's irreverent take on the story of the Lindisfarne Gospels. 1400 years of history and over 40 characters condensed into 90 hilarious minutes by just 3 actors...

The programme has a good mix of plays with a nice northern feel to it.  Tickets are on sale from Sept 1st from or from the The Word in South Shields.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Rent - Gala Theatre Durham - Review

Gala Theatre Durham
29th July 2017

GTSS Production
My son (the former Reluctant Teenager) reminded me that when he first told me that he wanted to see a performance of this musical, and asked if I had heard of it, I (allegedly) said, "isn't that the rude one?" So you might think it something of a bold move by GTSS Director Kate Sorahan to choose this
as the summer show. It is not just a show with pretty adult themes - AIDS, prostitution, sexuality, anarchy, -  it is also a pretty demanding show musically. The programme lists 25 musical numbers in the first act alone. With a cast ranging in age from just 14 to 20 years would the Gala Stage School have the skill and stamina to do it justice? This is the School Edition, so some of the language has been modified, and a verse or two omitted from one of the songs, but other than that it does not differ from the full version.

Set in the Bohemian artist's community in New York at the end of the twentieth century, RENT follows a year in the lives of a group of friends. Recorded by Mark (Luke Henderson), for his documentary film, they struggle to find money to live, find ways to cope with the knowledge that they are HIV positive or worse, and that they will almost certainly not have a long life. They live day to day on the margins of society, with the knowledge that life is not permanent. So they live for the day taking what comfort they can, wherever they can, however they can, fighting for what they believe, for their way of life and for those who are marginalised by the authorities and whose voices are not heard. It sounds bleak, and at times it is, but it is also joyous and life affirming, as they each find a way to follow their dream.

So, can such a young cast deliver? You bet your sweet ass they can!

From the first note we are swept up into the world of Rent. We watch as they fall in and out of love, struggling to cope with friendships, lovers, ex-lovers, parents. It is an emotional, exhilarating, heart-breaking rollercoaster of a musical and the audience feels every joy and every pain along the way.

For such a young cast they give astounding performances. There is not a single actor or actress who doesn't shine on stage, but special mention has to be made of Stephen Robson, his performance is absolutely brilliant as the cross-dressing Angel. He has dance moves to die for and I swear there is not a dry eye in the house in Act Two.
Georgia Lennon is excellent in the role of Mimi, and Amy George as Maureen, gives a fantastic and funny performance of the avant-garde Over the Moon (based on the nursery rhyme the Cat and the Fiddle). It feels unfair to single out any performer but these are my three favourites from an extremely talented cast.

If you can still get one, buy a ticket for this - it is worth every penny and more. You see will a fabulous show performed most surely by some of the future stars of the West End.

Rent runs until 5th August. Tickets are £14.50 and are available (but be quick!) from the Gala Box Office.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ten Times Two:The Eternal Courtship - Arts Centre Washington - Review

Ten Times Two
Arts Centre Washington
Fri 28th July

Written by Davis Belke
Presented by Washington Theatre Group
Produced by Angela Marshall
Directed by Danny Stones

This play has a strange but interesting premise; an immortal being - Ephraim (John Seymour) - lives only to wreak havoc in the human world, manipulating mankind into wars and conflicts. Ephraim has unexpectedly, and against the plan of the immortals, fallen in love.

He is observed (and manipulated himself in turn) by the other immortals. It is never made clear who or what these beings are, nor what their purpose is. All we know of them is what we can glean from The Host (Sarah Seymour), who orchestrates the events throughout the play. When asked at one point if he is a guardian angel, The Host replies "the very opposite". Perhaps these creatures are the Devil's angels? It is never made clear, only that they are omnipotent, and omnipresent, and malign.

The Host is curious as to how and why this Barmaid, Constance (Catriona Brannigan-Uren) should have affected Ephraim. He denies any attachment either on his side or hers, and so as 'an experiment' they enter into a wager: Ephraim must elicit a genuine declaration of love from Constance when he returns in the spring.

The Host is a dispassionate observer who reports back to unseen "bosses". He introduces Ephraim and sets the seen, apparently addressing the audience though it eventually becomes clear that it is not us, but the other immortal beings that he is conversing with. The audience hear only The Hosts comments, we do not hear their questions or comments in response to The Host. It is clear that there is some kind of plan in process, but none but these unseen immortals know what this is. The Host has some knowledge, but not all, he merely follows instruction. Ephraim himself is clearly unaware that he has been manipulated for centuries, perhaps he was once human, but over the many decades of his life the humanity has been stripped from him until he is reduced to the cold hearted creature who's only pleasure is in the creation of chaos and destruction.

The play pans spans six centuries, and has just three cast members. Ironically Constance is reborn each Century as a different person while the immortal Host and Ephraim remain constant throughout. Catriona Brannigan-Uran metamorphoses into each new character like a chameleon changing colour, from bubbly barmaid to pious nun to flirtatious flapper. She is a stark contrast to the androgynous, dispassionate Host played by Sarah Seymour. Casting a female in the role of The Host certainly adds something to this sinistrous character. She is a disturbing, but not entirely unsympathetic character. John Seymour comes into his own in the final scenes where his humanity has overtaken him. He is much more convincing as the immortal Being racked by human emotions than the cold-hearted Ephraim of the first scenes.

This is a play about fate, predestination, the nature of humanity, and deity, good and evil, and the potential to change one's nature, and one's destiny. This is illustrated by the symbolic chess set which sits on the table throughout the play. Occasionally The Host moves a piece, and at one point the table is knocked and several pieces are scattered. Billed as a romantic comedy, there is humour in it, but it is mostly overshadowed by the sinister nature of the otherworldly immortals and the sense that we are not masters of our own destiny. It is a strange mix of the historical and modern and it has an almost science fiction feel to it.

Ten Times Two is an interesting, thought-provoking and at times bemusing play (I am not convinced by the romantic comedy tag). This was my first time at a Washington Theatre Group production, I am impressed by the standard of acting, the slick sound and lighting and the friendly welcome. I will be back to see more by them.

Denise Sparrowhawk

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wizard of Oz - NMTC at the Theatre Royal - Review

Wizard of Oz
Newcastle Musical Theatre Company
Wednesday 26th July 2017

So I went to see the wizard the wonderful wizard of Oz today and if you haven't read my preview then you may want to take a read of that before you read this.
(So what are you waiting for?)

I was in the Gods tonight but had a fantastic view from above.
In the first half Lucy Conroy played Dorothy who was stuck in Kansas when she sang Somewhere over the Rainbow my hairs stood up on my back she sang it amazingly and did a great job in the first half.
Second half Dorothy changed a bit with Victoria Monaghan taking over the role again making my hairs stand up on end with her amazing tone of voice
Jonny Hill I have to say was fantastic as Hunk/Scarecrow one of Dorothy's friends, he made the part his own and made the audience laugh at his punchlines.
Dan Greener once again did a great job in another main role for the company in the role of Hickory/Tinman and yeah his acting was a bit stiff sometimes!!
Jonathan Cash, What to say? Where to start? I will say that he had massive shoes to fill but I have to say he performed amazingly as Zeke/Lion, his portrayal of part was amazing and he got me from the start. And he has a great roar !!
So Aunt Em played by Linda Short gave a great performance alongside Dan Fisher who played Uncle Henry.
The Evil Wicked Witch was played by Claire Blake exceptionally well giving an evil performance which made the crowd boo and hiss at her.
Glinda, The Good Witch of the West was played by Nikki Cunningham who for me was perfect for the role!!
She helps introduce to the audience to The Munchkins.
The Munchkins were fantastic tonight and I'm sure they will only get better as the week goes on.
We followed the yellow brick road to get to the Wizards castle and the Wizard was played by the very wise Ken Allen and he bought this to the play.
Toto was played by Sunny and I have to say he was very well behaved and very cute.
Chris Jones was great and brought the comedy factor with his performance on the guard.
The performance was fantastic but I unfortunately missed a few major bits because of where I was sitting, which was disappointing but it didn't affect the performance too much.
The sound was a bit patchy for me with microphones not working properly (Sod's law) and a few times there was feedback which was coming from the orchestra pit I believe, but I'm sure it will be better as it was technically opening night.
Well on that subject I would like to say that the orchestra were absolutely amazing and full credit to them after what happened last night and I wish a speedy recovery for the member of the orchestra that was injured.
This show doesn't disappoint and is one for all the family! It will make you laugh cry and clap along to all the songs, so why not bring the whole family?
But hurry Tickets are nearly sold out.
Reuben Hiles