Metta Theatre are renowned for bringing clever and inventive stage productions to the Malvern stage, having previously displayed their talents with their shows The Jungle Book, Blown Away and Little Mermaid . This time, they have turned their hand to another classic children's novel, Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In The Willows. And anyone who has seen their other productions or read the publicity will know already that this is no cosy adaptation of the friends - and enemies - by the riverbank.
The story has been transported into 21st century urban life with a largely hip-hop soundtrack to match. But don't be put off by this - hip-hip is a remarkable good way of telling a story. And this story of Badger, Mole, Toad, Rattie, Otter and others has been transported to The Willows, a school where newbie Mole has problems fitting in amidst this ragtag mix of other creatures, friendly and otherwise. The ways of the Riverbank need to be learned and under teacher Badger's direction (Clive Rowe in very fine voice), Mole is set up with streetwise Rattie (Zara Macintosh) along with cheeky (and very green) Toad and Otter (Chris Fonseca who is himself a deaf street dancer and therefore uses sign language). But Mole (Victoria Boyce) hides a dark secret, known only to the Chief Weasel (Bradley Charles) who is about to reveal it if his demands are not met…
The large cast of characters are not hidden in costumes representing the animals, instead having small touches to indicate this. Except, of course for Toad (Harry Jardine) - a rapping streetwise minor crook and son of a bigger one and appropriately dressed entirely in green with the obligatory gold chain even when riding his scooter (yes, there are scooters on stage too and a washing machine!). He even spends a considerable part of the show in his underpants which had the audience in hysterics!
The story is all about community, acknowledging one's differences and inclusivity and indeed in addition to the first night being a signed performance, one of the songs was performed with the entire cast signing it as they sung. With its mix of hip-hop and more traditional songs and an energetic set of dance routines (and a dance-off competition too), this firmly brings the story up to date and makes it relevant to a new generation whilst at the very least, parents and grandparents can marvel at the skills of the young cast and appreciate that the age-old story which they grew up with can be redeveloped for another audience. It may not be to everyone's taste from the start, but persevere and everyone will go away with a smile on their face.
From the country which has stood in for, amongst others, the D-Day landing scenes in Saving Private Ryan, the Scottish Highlands in Braveheart and the planet Ahch-To in Star Wars - The Last Jedi comes a play which features a cast of characters making a new film. A cast of characters maybe, but Stones In His Pockets by Marie Jones is amazingly performed by just two actors, Owen Sharpe and Kevin Trainor, and they do it brilliantly in this new production from Theatre Royal Bath.
They each have one main character - extras on the film set, Jake from Kerry and Charlie from Ballycastle - but within the blink of an eye or a change of gait or voice, they become a whole host of other characters, from the film's director and sidekick to the main actress in the film and various other local Irish folk. And as most of the extras come from the same little community, the sudden death of one of them (which gives rise to the title of the play) risks throwing the production company's tight deadlines out of the window and the vital continuity needed when making a film out of sequence is threatened by the changeable weather.
As what happens in the film - heroine meets and weds local lad - does not reflect real life for them, the story lays bare the desire of the two disillusioned extras' desire to leave the poverty of living in the £40 a day extras fee and find a better life.
Even though the move between the characters is fast and seamless, the audience soon gets used to which character is being portrayed such is the skill of the actors and the script which bounces from one to another as if there was a whole compliment of actors to portray them.
The Ireland of today is somewhat different from when the play was first performed some 20 years ago, but the Them-and-Us scenario and Big Hollywood versus small town community is still alive and kicking and the angst felt by the main characters is still heart-felt and convincing. ... See MoreSee Less
Jimmy's Cousin is, well, the cousin of Jimmy but also is Ian Dodson who uses that moniker to represent his songs and music.
Irish-born and American-schooled, Ian has finally, a couple of decades after his first demo, released his first-ever album, a jazz-infused, brass-enhanced treat for the senses. After all, he “wanted to wait till he had something to say”!
Pete Phillips chatted to Ian about his music and the long time in bringing his excellent first album to fruition
After what seems an age, Nick Hancock, probably most famous for "They think it's all over" on TV which ended in 2005, is back on stage in a comedy curiously called Octopus Soup! (the reason for this thankfully revealed during the show). Alongside Hancock are Paul Bradley from Eastenders, Gillian Bevan and Carolyn Backhouse (who have both had parts in Holby City) and a stalwart from The Bill, Eric Richard who for 17 years played Sergeant Bob Cryer and you who might think had been suddenly left out of this production as he doesn't appear until well into the second half!). Oh, and an octopus…
There are a couple of themes running through the show. Backhouse's character Gloria Bignall attempting to get the main lead in a TV detective series set in Northumbria and husband Seymour (Hancock) attempting to set up a big deal with global insurance firm G.I.T. headed by Bevan's Virginia Whale which risks coming a cropper when inept burglar Marvin Haynes (Bradley) appears on the scene and takes over the proceedings, ultimately bringing his big boss Alan to the party (Eric Richard, who has clearly moved to the dark side since leaving The Bill!)
Billed as a "new British farce", it did have some elements the audience would expect, including Hancock's trousers - and more - being removed within the first couple of minutes and some old-fashioned wordplay from Bradley, for example confusing "navy" and "naive" and thinking Moby Dick was about Cardiff (a joke which could do easily have gone in a completely different direction...). But there was not enough to keep up the laughs throughout the whole show. Indeed, the last section of the plot was completely devoid of humour which was quite jarring considering this was meant to be a comedy. The elements of the final scenes could so easily have been utterly hilarious and truly farcical but the audience was left watching what was more like the conclusion of a tense dramatic play.
Mostly mildly amusing with a couple of good laugh out loud bits, it's perhaps unfortunate that in the programme it states that it is "cast in the mould of instant modern classics like The Play That Goes Wrong and One Man, Two Guv'nors" as in drawing direct comparisons to these two major success stories, Octopus Soup! is clearly in a different league. ... See MoreSee Less
Green Day's musical opus, American Idiot, makes a visit to The Alexandra this week starring Tom Milner (Paul Langley in Waterloo Road), plus 2 X-Factor finalists Luke Friend and Sam Lavery.
Taking place in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 (images of that are showing as you enter the auditorium), the story revolves around 3 guys whose lives are basically spent hanging out drinking beer in the parking lot of a 7-11 store, dreaming of a better life in the city and is based on the band's 7th album from 2004. Clearly the individuals see very little in terms of their prospects in what becomes a very divided United States of America.
However, the three take decidedly different paths with Will (played by Samuel Pope) deciding to stay at home to sort things out with his pregnant girlfriend whilst Tunny (Joshua Dowen) joins the military and returns an amputee with Milner's character Johnny descending rapidly into a drug-fuelled existence, very graphically depicted on stage as his heroin dependency takes hold.
But remember this is a musical interpretation of the eponymous album so there a suitably loud and hard, guitar-led pounding set of songs throughout from the album delivered by the live 4 piece band.
At times, it's certainly not an easy play to watch, especially the extended section of Johnny preparing to inject himself, but it is always played with enormous energy and conviction and even if you suspect Johnny's drug addiction has not been resolved by the end, you do hope that the three of them will get themselves the better life they crave as, after a year apart, they get back together again...
As if to reinforce this, the show ends on a lighter, happier note as the finale is the song most people will recognise, Good Riddance (Time of your life) where all the cast are involved in a singalong along with the audience.
And although you might well expect a "younger" audience to go along to see the show, the mix was pretty much across all age groups which, considering the band's typical following, is a pretty impressive achievement.
From a parallel universe where a zebra is a lion's best friend comes Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria (lion, zebra, giraffe and hippo) and an assortment of other creatures in the crowd-pleasing Madagascar The Musical. The first creature to appear is a monkey who threatens to throw poo at anyone in the audience using a mobile phone - you have been warned!
Based on the popular film from 2005, Matt Terry (winner of X-Factor in 2016) is scheduled to play the reluctantly-located lion as the animals from the Central Park Zoo (first half of the show) find themselves "going wild" on the island of Madagascar (second half) where they meet a pack of lemurs, led by King Julien XIII along with his adviser, Maurice the aye-aye. Add a bunch of pesky penguins into the mix and you have a cast of creatures guaranteed to amuse and entertain both kids and adults alike.
Starting in the zoo to the theme of Born Free (something for the older members of the audience there!), these are animals who do not want to be where they are and it is Marty's 10th birthday wish to be freed. He gets his wish and the whole troupe find themselves boxed in on a boat going who knows where. San Diego Zoo is one suggested destination, but when Alex the meat-eater finds to his disgust that the food on offer consists of seaweed, things are not what he was hoping for…
Using a combination of full-suited characters and puppetry, the audience soon warmed to the characters on stage, clapping along to the music and forgetting the humans which are working the characters. One song in particular had them up and dancing - I Like To Move It, initiated by King Julien (brilliantly played by Jo Parsons) who himself had the audience in stitches when he spoke to the other animals and especially the lemurs, and a song which was equally as popular in the rousing finale.
The film (along with its sequels) is recent enough to still be in the memory of most people and this lively and colourful production brings it alive on stage.
Unfortunately anyone wanting to see Matt Terry as Alex the lion or indeed Antoine Murray-Straughan as Marty the zebra was going to be disappointed on this first night as both were ably replaced - no reason given - by Brendon Gale and Darren John (both of whom are usually "off-stage swing" so well done to them)
Two well-loved actors appear in Malvern this week with Simon Callow and Jane Asher taking the main roles in Theatre Royal Bath’s production of Noel Coward’s A Song At Twilight. The pair, along with Jessica Turner and Ash Rizi, form the entire cast of the show, which is set in a hotel on the banks of a lake with a quite glorious panorama over the water and mountains and especially so at twilight.
Callow plays successful writer Hugo who has been with his wife Hilda for 20 years, a curious relationship given that he detests hearing his German wife speaking German! Suddenly, into his life comes an old flame, "competent" actress Carlotta, who wishes to see him for reasons as yet unclear. Whilst Hilda goes off out with a friend for the evening, the scene is set for a predominantly two-hander between Callow and Asher with occasional appearances from Rizi – the Italian/Austrian waiter Felix (and eye candy according to the lady in the seat behind!) who also serves up a delicious-smelling meal to the pair on stage.
After Hugo has attempted to demolish Carlotta's career as a none-too-successful actress following their break up, the end of Act One unveils the real reason for her visit, a bombshell which risks jeopardising his career and married life...
Callow is absolutely perfect in the role of the bumptious and opinionated fool of a man who suddenly finds his past life has come back to haunt him, over which he has little or no control. Appearing both in charge and vulnerable at various times, he has certainly his match as Asher slowly and convincingly teases him about her real intentions and yet, even then, all is not as it appears.
There are comedic moments in the show, particularly in the first half, with plenty of Coward's wit and wordplay but it also deftly handles issues surrounding the personal lives of famous people and clearly the pairing of Callow and Asher is a dream combination bringing a full house to the show whose themes are just as relevant today more than 50 years since the play was first staged and in which Coward himself played the role of Hugo in his last-ever stage performance. ... See MoreSee Less
Miel De Botton, who hails from Zurich but has lived extensively in France and the UK, has a new album out shortly entitled Surrender To The Feeling, which includes her last single I Was Given Nature as well her new one, Take Me Away. It also includes one song (White Feather) done in conjunction with the Jerusalem Youth Chorus and one sung in French!
Miel will shortly be on tour as guest of Wet Wet Wet and will be at the Birmiongham Town Hall on May 5th
She chatted to Pete Phillips about the new album and the tour