The Last Five Years is the story of the breakdown of a marriage. Nothing extraordinary there perhaps. But in the hands of composer, lyricist, and playwright Jason Robert Brown, the story follows a somewhat unusual trajectory.
It is told solely through the eyes of the two partners.
It is told almost exclusively through song, 14 of them, 7 each.
It is told like two parallel trains hurtling in opposite directions.
So the initial scene is one where Jamie (Dean Bayliss) is removing his wedding ring and his side of the story runs from the beginning of the relationship to that endpoint whereas Cathy (Harriet Amos) relates her story heading towards the start and the good times.
Like trains changing track, it is the midpoint where the situations merge in a moment of happiness, with the couple walking through Central Park and getting married. Because the narrative is done through song, they are quite long and involving but also quite beautiful too, the lyrics replacing spoken text. Rarely do the lovers interact in song - each has their own story and, in the case of Jamie’s, it is heading towards its inevitable sad conclusion. The contrast between the two at any point is obvious. The ending itself is very poignant with Cathy saying Goodbye after their first date and Jamie saying Goodbye to his marriage.
The songs are beautifully performed by experienced local artistes, Harriet teaching at, amongst others, the Elgar School of Music and involved in groups such as WODYS whilst Dean has his own theatre company and is Head of Performing Arts at HWC. Accompanying them on keyboards is Mat Dawson-Jones who also has extensive musical experience.
Whilst the play did also have film version in 2014, it seems particularly suited to the intimate surroundings of the Vesta Tilley Studio with the audience virtually on stage and the telling of the story is helped by a large multi-screen display with images playing throughout the performance. And the voices, especially Dean’s, filled the space admirably.
A show which is well worth seeing but be quick as it ends its run on Saturday. ... See MoreSee Less
The first thing you notice as the show starts is the array of musical instruments which begin to be played as the actors come on stage, heralding an unusual start to the Conan Doyle classic The Sign Of Four, his second novel. For music is used throughout the play to clever effect, tying in very neatly with the script in the same way as you expect In a TV programme.
At the beginning, Holmes is his usual self: bored, lethargic and taking to “the needle” to keep him going until his interest is aroused by a female visitor with a case which she hopes he will take on. It involves the apparent disappearance of her father who gave her away at birth and who she hasn’t seen since. Moreover, she has been contacted anonymously via a newspaper ad indicating that there is a wrong which much must be righted. Meanwhile, his trusty partner in crime-solving, Dr Watson, is on hand to assist whilst at the same narrating the plot by talking directly to the audience
Blackeyed Theatre’s cast of six have, with the exception of Holmes and Wason, to take on numerous characters each as the search for those involved in some missing treasure unfolds. The scenery itself has to serve different purposes too and the transformation into a boat, and the boat chase itself, are particularly well done. Also in the second half, the setting even changes continent as it moves to India where the initial plot was hatched.
Very well adapted and acted, the play even includes some comic moments, usually involving the official police constable Athelney Jones who only reluctantly accepts Holmes’ theories as also includes some love interest for Watson so all's well that ends well!
You might think that watching a play about estate agents would be just above watching paint dry in the enjoyment stakes. But certainly in the case of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, you could hardly be more wrong.
This American drama is all about realtors, the US equivalent of our estate agents and a different breed entirely, or at least they were back in the 80’s, and this touring version is in the more than capable hands of Martin Benton and Nigel Harman as Shelley and Ricky (parts played by Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino in the Oscar-nominated 1992 film version). The Glengarry and Glen Ross of the title refer to two developments under scrutiny by the salesmen - the Glengarry Highlands and the Glen Ross Farms.
The play’s first half is basically 3 ten-minute conversations between different pairs of employees of the Chicago-based company, discussing their interests in the setting of a Chinese restaurant. Talk is all about leads and deals, how to get the best ones and the extent to which the salesmen will go to get their names on the board when they close them, vying for the top prize of a Cadillac. Bribery and a staged robbery are considered as a means to an end, so desperate are they in a tough economic climate.
Once the second half starts, there has been a complete and quite dramatic change of scene as the calm of the restaurant has given way to the chaotic office itself, post break-in and the characters now have a policeman and a worried client to deal with.
Be warned, this is not for everyone. It is billed as a "smash hit comedy" but, as in the film, the language used throughout the play is ripe to say the least - "strong language, some of which may be offensive"’ - and some of the tirades are long and foul-mouthed (and that is where the comedy comes from as they are ultimately funny because of it) as the futures of the salesman in the cut-throat business of real estate is in the balance. There are also racial references which include Chinks and Wogs and there is a dislike for Indians as clients as they "just like to chat".
The play itself is relatively short - the second act is just under an hour - but it certainly packs a punch and even though it is firmly set in America, the cast all get to grips with the required accent, especially the leads.
After watching the play, you feel grateful that, for all their faults, our estate agents do not apply quite the same standards to their work! ... See MoreSee Less
Just drop one letter from the original band's name and what do you get? An instantly-recognisable tribute band which can clearly replicate the sounds of the original.
That is certainly the case with Fleetwood Bac who made a return journey to a filled-to-capacity Huntingdon Hall
This is a tribute band which has a loyal following and no wonder. It is not just a case of reproducing the sounds of Fleetwood Mac but also their on-stage personas and they have managed to do this very effectively. The jostling and mutual criticisms which fly between Stevie & Lindsey are fun to watch without in any way distracting from the music, with Christine remaining suitably aloof on keyboards, John holding the fort on guitar and Mick, behind his drumkit, performing brilliantly even if, as the evening goes on, he resembles an increasingly more manic Animal from the Muppets!
The only problem for the band is to have to choose what to play from Fleetwood Mac's vast catalogue of hits and different styles and, from the audience's point of view, which favourite songs cannot be included (unless the concert lasts 5 or 6 hours!).
The band covers the earlier blues-infused days of Peter Green, including a great rendition of Albatross, plus Man Of The World and Green Manalishi, plus some of the solo work of Stevie and then the main feature which is the music from the mega stadium band which most people know. So enjoy Dreams, Don’t Stop, Go Your Own Way, You Make Loving Fun, Tusk, Gypsy, Everywhere, Rhiannon, Little Lies, Seven Wonders, Say You Love Me, Big Love, the list goes on…
Personal missing favourite? Family Man. Maybe next time! As there surely will be… ... See MoreSee Less
Peter James has a well-earned reputation for producing high quality thrillers, many of which have a clue in their titles: Not Dead Enough, The Perfect Murder, Dead Simple…
The latest of his theatre adaptations is The House on Cold Hill, where again implicit in the title is the promise of rum goings-on in a not too welcoming setting. Here, the setting is a somewhat crumbling pile near Brighton recently purchased by web designer Ollie (Joe McFadden) for his wife Caro (Rita Simons) and daughter Jade (Persephone Swales-Dawson) and which sees its first fatality within the first couple of minutes.
As the story unfolds, the audience is never quite sure who to trust - is Chris (Charlie Clements), taken on to install wi-fi in the house, a trusty worker or does he have other motives to feed his interest in the supernatural and does Annie (Tricia Deighton) really hear voices from beyond the grave? Does the fact that the house used to be an old monastery hold the key to the mysterious apparitions and activities?
All is revealed by the end, of course but how many more deaths will there be on this, the eve of Ollie’s 40th birthday, a significant one in more ways than one? Whilst it contains the usual thriller elements of doors mysteriously slamming, lights going on and off, items hurtling across the stage - the scenes are cleverly mixed with humour to burst the building tension.
And in this play, the scenario is brought bang up to date with the introduction of one uncredited yet crucial cast member...
Welcome, then, Alexa to your stage debut!
The story was actually inspired by Peter James’ own experience after buying an isolated historic Georgian mansion and the apparent existence of a certain grey lady... And oddly enough, Malvern theatre itself is reputed to have the spectre of a charming old lady in black who claims that she is waiting for her carriage. No doubt she also is relishing this well-written and well-acted thriller, which bodes well for the forthcoming The Secret of Cold Hill and the 15th book in the Roy Grace series, Dead at First Sight. Thriller lovers are in for a great year.
At the age of just 14, Lucy Thomas has managed to appear on a tv talent show - The Voice Kids - and, as a result, has produced her first album appropriately entitled Premiere, full of songs from the musicals she loves, like The Greatest Showman, Dream Girls, Wicked and Jekyll and Hyde plus some from a yet-to-be-staged musical, Rosie by Chris Broom who has also co-produced the album, as she explained to Pete Phillips
Green Day's musical opus, American Idiot, makes a visit to Malvern this week starring Tom Milner (Paul Langley in Waterloo Road).
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. ... See MoreSee Less
If you can’t get to see Steely Dan (who, now sadly without founder member Walter Becker, are still touring and visiting the Genting Arena in Birmingham with special guest Steve Winwood later this month), what's the next best thing? Clearly that would be Nearly Dan who were at the Hall last Saturday.
No cheap tribute band this - a professional-sounding 9-piece outfit whose aim is to replicate the superb jazz-infused pop/rock/R&B sounds of the original band whilst adding - as they can do in a live set - a little of their own magic.
Formed back in 1995 as the covers band Baldwin's Casuals (a nod there to Coronation Street), the band realised that the covers which they performed of Steely Dan's songs were getting the best response from the audience and they decided to become a fully-fledged Dan tribute band.
And there is, of course, no shortage of tracks to cover, taken from the original band's 30-odd years of producing quality and popular music. So all the hits were there - Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Haitian Divorce (a timely one just prior to Valentine's Day!), Do It Again, Deacon Blues, Peg, Bodishatva, Kid Charlemaine, etc, etc. Luckily for them, the choice is almost endless, covering both the band and solo work. And all flawlessly performed with frontman Steve Hayes on guitar and very-Steely-Dan-sounding lead vocals
There are two elements in particular which make the band sound so good and so authentic - firstly having Kate Robertson and Sarah Miller on backing vocals (or indeed main vocals for one song) and then there is the brilliant inclusion of the saxophone/trumpet section with Tim France and Phil Nicholas expertly lifting the songs to another level.
A truly wonderful and evocative evening of Steely Dan which is guaranteed to please both existing fans as well as those just coming into appreciating the quality of their music.
And if tribute acts are your thing (and they are indeed very faithful to the bands they replicate), there is more to come at the Hall with Fleetwood Bac on Saturday Feb 16th, G2 Definitive Genesis on March 2nd, Dire Straits UK on March 9th and Logical Tramp on March 23rd.
If nothing else, you certainly have to admire the inventiveness of their names! ... See MoreSee Less
Something just a little bit naughty is back in Birmingham this week with Avenue Q making a very welcome return to the Alexandra Theatre. And what a show it is.
A very clever and beautifully performed mix of puppetry, comedy and music, this started life as a book after the writers failed to get Jim Henson on board for a version of Hamlet (!) starring Kermit the frog (!!) and which resulted in the creation of their own muppet-like characters which the producers of Rent suggested would be best when performed on stage. The clever difference here is that the puppeteers are visible and do an amazing job of replicating the persona of the puppet so both man/woman and puppet are in perfect sync. And so well is this done that you begin to feel for the predicament of the characters (they are only felt puppets, for goodness sake!).
With some very funny true-to-life songs such as The Internet Is For Porn and Everyone's A Little Bit Racist and a scene where Princeton and Kate Monster "get it on" (where the puppeteers have great fun getting themselves into appropriate positions and expressing the emotions of their puppets), it is very hard to be genuinely offended (they are only felt puppets, for goodness sake!!).
What may be forgotten amidst all the hilarity on stage is that is actually a musical and all the cast have got damn fine voices (in whichever character they are portraying) but worthy of special mention is the talented Tom Steedon who has the best combination of characters and voices as his include one of the lovely but mischievous Bad Idea Bears, the wonderful hairy creation that is the Trekkie Monster (for whom life is all about porn but which does also let him amass a fortune which is put to good use...) as well as Nicky.
Cecily Redman has the character of Kate Monster off to a T but it is her portrayal of the vamp Lily The Slut where she really shines. Nicholas Mclean plays the role of Gary Coleman (why Gary? Who knows!) with a real life reference to his past when he mentions that it is the best thing since suing his parents (which he did…!). Lawrence Smith, Megan Armstrong, Saori Oda and Oliver Stanley complete the main cast, all talented performers too.
This is a hugely enjoyable show that mocks plenty of stereotypes (blacks, Asians, Jews, frat guys, gays, Indian cab drivers, Scientologists, Republicans…), deals with adults themes such as racism, porn, anxiety, drunkenness and gay love yet can really offend no-one. They are, after all, cute, cuddly puppets!
Just sit back and enjoy a huge dollop of irreverent fun (with a mention of Trump, of course!) performed by a cast who are not only multi-talented but who clearly enjoy what they are doing. This "fun, dirty little show" (the words of co-creator Jeff Marks) will run and run and so it should.
Rain Man was, in many ways, a ground-breaking film - one which portrayed on the big screen and with a major cast (Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise) the subject of autism or "savants" (meaning those who know) and the incredible "alternative" abilities of those who do not fit neatly into society but who nonetheless have played a pivotal role in human evolution and culture. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein are both thought to have shown signs of being autistic.
It is not that long ago however that the word used to describe such people was "retarded" (there was even a horribly-named "National Association for Retarded Citizens" in the USA as late as 1984) but the film and other literature such as the brilliant "The curious incident of the dog in the night-time" have fortunately led to a more open understanding and appreciation of their differences. Screenwriter Barry Morrow based his story on Kim Peek who had an encyclopaedic knowledge in all kinds of subjects due to an encephalode on the back of his head and similar traits are present in Rain Man's Raymond who can memorise, amongst other things, the telephone directory.
The stage version is now on tour but there has been a bit of musical chairs with the cast due to illness. Raymond is now played by Adam Lilley who was already cast as Mr Mooney/Dr Marston instead of Paul Nicholls and Joshua Diffley steps up from Understudy to take Adam Lilley's role. Brother Charlie is played by Chris Fountain, Dominic Taylor plays Dr Bruener, who wants to keep Raymond at his establishment and Charlie's girlfriend Susan is played by Elizabeth Carter.
It is only the death of the rather un-liked yet very successful father (the very cause of the boys' separation) which brings the two brothers together - before that neither knew the other even existed. But for Charlie, it is the thought of the $3 million legacy which is initially his main focus. Until he realises that his brother can help him to get what he has been denied. But as the story progresses, a true bond develops between the two and the cast present some genuinely touching moments, such as when Raymond is taught how to dance and kiss.
Raymond gets all the best lines, frustrating and infuriating his brother in equal measure by repeating the same phrases again and again, saying Yes to anything he is asked and revealing the phone number and address of a startled waitress based purely on his reading of the phone book. The many scene changes are achieved by using some great songs too.
Adam Lilley is quite brilliant and totally believable as Raymond, especially considering he has switched roles for a while at least, producing a flawless performance of realistic mannerisms which helps the audience understand that "you don't have to be handicapped to be different. Everyone is different".
If you are planning to go on Friday, there is a bonus with a pre-show talk at 6.30pm ... See MoreSee Less