Endless featuring N:Dless at The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

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On Tuesday evening I was kindly invited to the press night of Endless featuring N:Dless, a brand new, documentary style piece of gig theatre about a fictional band who nearly rose to epic stardom, produced by Trifle Gathering Productions (a local Cornish company). I love supporting new writing in the South West, and it was great to visit The Drum for the first time in years – it definitely made me feel as though I was back at the Edinburgh Fringe!

The cast was comprised of four performers, each of whom contributed something unique to the overall performance, yet they also worked together brilliantly as a dysfunctional unit. Sally Crooks (manager and co-producer of Trifle Gathering Productions) portrayed Eggy, a youthful yet wise member of the group. I adored her enthusiasm and of course, those dungarees!! Mary Woodvine played the role of Sarey, a stunning Irish-woman with an incredible voice… and that accent was flawless. Dean Rehman was the angry and potentially misunderstood Malcom – the leader of the group (by his own description!). Dave was portrayed by the talented Joe Carey – potentially the most understated of the four band members, but in the most brilliant way. I very much enjoyed his forays into actor musicianship through his playing of both the saxophone and the didgeridoo! Not many shows can boast a didgeridoo, that’s for sure.

The show was split into two halves: the highs and the lows. Advertised as a music documentary for the stage, it begins with the four band members of N:Dless talking about themselves, their lives and the ups and downs of band life. I really liked the way that the audience learned about how the band came to life, and the time jumps between the past and present day were done very cleverly indeed, gradually piecing together a timeline of the band’s existence.

One element that I thought worked really well was the use of video on the back wall. The videos were often used to distract the audience during scene or costume changes, and it really did work! This further contributed to the documentary feel of the production, as we got to see interviews with the band’s supposed contemporaries such as Basement Jaxx and Chumbawamba (yes I did just have to Google that name – at times I felt a little too young to understand some of the 90s references!). The screen also worked well in informing the audience of time and location shifts, and the fact that a lot of the locations were local to the South West was a nice personal touch.

There were plenty of funny moments in the script (by Kyla Goodey and Sally Crooks), but it touched on several more serious themes too, including strained family relationships, mental health issues and terminal illness. I felt that Dave’s storyline towards the end was particularly moving, as the most easygoing and jokey band member suddenly had something terrible to deal with. The heated argument scenes between Eggy and Malcolm were brilliantly written too, and I’m sure that every audience member could relate to at least one of the complex storylines included in the script.

As I mentioned earlier, the small venue felt so ‘fringey’ to me. There was a strong connection between the on stage characters and the audience, constantly breaking the fourth wall, particularly during the gig scenes. The performers ran up and down the aisle, high fived people in the audience, and even directed certain lyrics at individual people! I also enjoyed the exchange between Malcom and the sound guy at the back of the theatre, yet again making the whole experience seem a lot friendlier than larger scale theatre productions. It was a shame that the audience weren’t a bit more hyped up though – this particular Plymouth audience was rather quiet and tame! (Especially during the ‘I say ‘N’, you say ‘Dless” sequence which I found very funny and definitely joined in with!).

I really enjoyed watching this production which felt half way between a theatre show and a gig. As a musician myself it was fascinating watching the scenes where the band were working out new songs and chord progressions, and I definitely believed that they were a real band at times! I would certainly recommend this production to anyone with an interest in what goes on behind the scenes in a band’s life, but also to anyone who enjoys theatre (especially new writing!).

 

Endless featuring N:Dless runs at The Drum at Theatre Royal Plymouth until 4th May, before embarking on a tour of several South West venues. View tour dates here.

Disclaimer: I was invited to the press night of Endless featuring N:Dless but all views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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My favourite new shows of 2017

Well it’s that time of year again when I come out of blogging hibernation to write about my favourite shows of the year! Although I saw overall fewer professional productions this year than in 2016, I did manage to fit in 12 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and another trip to West End Live. So here are my favourite new shows of the year:

Dreamgirls – Savoy Theatre, London

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This was one of my first shows of the year, and what a spectacle it was! Amber Riley was fantastic in the leading role, and the whole company worked together brilliantly to put on a stunning theatrical experience, featuring some highly impressive vocals from both the soloists and the ensemble.

The Addams Family (UK Tour) – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

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This was the first production of The Addams Family musical in the UK, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Andrew Lippa’s score is simply fantastic, and the cast were true triple threats, with stand out performances from Cameron Blakely and Carrie Hope Fletcher. I wouldn’t be surprised if a West End transfer is on the cards!

Half a Sixpence – Noel Coward Theatre, London

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Many people would associate this show with Charlie Stemp (who portrayed the lead, Arthur Kipps), but having experienced a flawless performance by his first cover, Sam O’Rourke, I can safely say that the show’s success was not totally reliant on one individual (as fantastic as I’m sure Stemp was in the role!). I adored this fun, cheerful show and really hope to see it again some day.

The Play That Goes Wrong (UK Tour) – Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Oh yes, a play has featured on the list!! This show was definitely one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, and the fact that it was a touring production (with a touring set!) made it all the more impressive. I loved the way that the performance started as soon as you entered the auditorium, and it was so (hashtag) relatable for those of us who have put on amateur productions ourselves!

Showstopper the Improvised Musical (UK Tour) – Theatre Royal Winchester

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After seeing this show in Edinburgh I was so keen to revisit it – especially as it would, obviously, be a completely different show! I have so much respect for every member of the company, but particularly the band (led superbly by Duncan Walsh Atkins), who I could not take my eyes off! So. Clever.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (UK Tour) – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton and Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Yes, it’s another play. Yes, I saw it twice. Having read the book several years ago I’ve always been eager to see this show, and it was brilliant. I got to watch two different actors take on the role of Christopher in the two different venues which was so interesting, and I also got the opportunity to go backstage (read about that here). It’s such an enlightening and eye opening show.

School of Rock – New London Theatre, London

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This show is insanely good! I love any show with talented kids in it, and this production took that to another level! The adult cast complemented the child cast brilliantly, and the relations between parents and children were so interesting and often realistic. Oh yeah, and the children formed THEIR OWN BAND. Wow.

The Toxic Avenger – Arts Theatre, London

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So this is another show that I saw in Edinburgh and loved, and had to revisit in London in its full form without any bits cut out! I thought it wasn’t possible for it to get any better, but it absolutely did!! The five cast members were all hilarious, and the ridiculous concept of the show just made it even funnier. Also, the band were on stage which is always a bonus in my eyes.

3. ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ – an inside look at creating costumes at TR2

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As part of the Theatre Royal Plymouth bloggers’ scheme, I was invited to the wardrobe department at TR2, the theatre’s production and learning centre. We were shown around by Delia, the head of wardrobe, and we got to learn all sorts of things about how, where and why costumes are made, how much it costs, and even how to create realistic looking sick on clothes!

We were welcomed into the wardrobe workshop space, which was full of dummies wearing costumes, which I definitely mistook for real people a few times! Delia showed us some costumes from a production of Rebecca, which was at Theatre Royal Plymouth a couple of years ago, and explained that the costume budgets on shows vary hugely – from around £500 for small, local productions, up to £250,000 for high profile tours of well known musicals. On expensive shows just one garment can cost £1000 to make, especially when fabrics have to be made and printed specifically for a particular character in a particular show. Delia also explained that to work in wardrobe you have to be an all rounder – while individuals have their specialisms, they all need to be prepared to do a bit of everything – including doing the laundry, and even acting as a stand in dresser for performances at the theatre.

Next we went to the costume store: an enormous room full of thousands of garments. While the aisles and rails look crammed full and impossible to trawl through, the room is impeccably organised to make it easy to find any particular piece of costume required. Delia told us that they often hire out costumes to other organisations in the wider community, and that some garments are reused many times in different shows. She described them as ‘treasures I can reuse’, which I thought was a lovely way of putting it, because many of the pieces I saw were so versatile, and definitely ‘treasures’.

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We returned to the wardrobe workshop and Delia showed us some techniques to create special effects on fabric (her own specialism). She emphasised the attention to detail – like when creating fake mud to make clothes look dirty, she has to consider where the production is set, because the colour of mud in Yorkshire, for example, is quite different from the colour of Cornish mud! She used a dirty down spray to customise a pristine white T shirt, and showed us how to create fake blood by using a different spray, and also showed us some fake sick which was… interesting! She told us how different textures can be created using different substances, and stated that ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ due to the sheer amount of things it can be used to make! It was also interesting to find out that experimentation is a key part of creating the correct colour or texture, and that a lot of the wardrobe team’s work is trial and error.

Finally, we got the chance to have a go at creating some fake embroidery. This involved creating a piping bag full of acrylic paint and tracing over a print – it was harder than it sounds! The trick is to create a really small hole for the paint to come out of to maximise the precision when tracing over the lines. Then we filled in the gaps with paint and a brush which was much easier… GCSE art seems a long time ago! It was a really interesting and surprisingly therapeutic task to do and it certainly made us all be quiet for a while!

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Despite knowing very little about the business beforehand, I loved learning so much about the wardrobe department and costume making at TR2. I never realised how much detail goes into the costumes you see on stage, and the size of the costume store was simply immense. I’d like to thank Delia for showing us around and for being so helpful – I have a newfound appreciation for all that the wardrobe team do, as well as a newfound appreciation for PVA glue.

Backstage tour: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

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Credit: Becca Pettit

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is a unique piece of theatre which has been subject to great critical acclaim since it first opened at the Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. Now embarking on its second UK tour, audiences all over the country are being swept up in Christopher Boone’s story. I was invited on a backstage tour of the show at Theatre Royal Plymouth along with five other bloggers to learn more about the play and to get a closer look at the props and set. We were met by Stew, the company manager, who talked us through the different aspects of the show and opened our eyes to how much detail has gone into creating this production.

We started by looking at the towering set, and Stew explained that it takes 6 hours to get it into the theatre, and 12 hours to put it all together and make it function. We saw the versatile white boxes which are used in various ways throughout the show, as suitcases, train seats, and even a toilet! Then we moved on to looking at the props, starting with Wellington, the four legged victim of the story, and I was amazed at the gruesome detail that been applied to the dog, as well as the detail on other set pieces, such as the model of Big Ben and the tiny houses. Stew told us that ‘Curious is all about detail’, and I saw first-hand that this is certainly true.

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Then it was time to go on stage! The floor is covered in tiny squares (892 to be exact), and the floor and three walls are all covered in grids. Although the set may look simple at first, there are eight projectors used in the show which really enhance the visual aspect, and LED lights are used to inject different colours and moods into various scenes. The grid squares are labelled with letters and numbers around the sides, and Stew told us that the directors used these squares during the rehearsal process to help with the precision of the blocking – for example, an actor would be instructed to stand in box A7 for a certain scene. I found it really interesting that a show so based in logic and maths is blocked in such a mathematical way – and this must play a part in enhancing the performance. As Stew told us, ‘it’s all grid work’.

Understandably, there are many people working on Curious to ensure that it runs smoothly for all 8 performances a week. There are 10 cast members in the show, plus an alternate Christopher, and 4 understudies. There are two Christophers because it is such a demanding role – the actor portraying him never leaves the stage except during the interval. There are also 16 crew members, unusually outnumbering the cast number! These numbers prove how technical the show is, and how although it has a small cast size, it requires many people working hard backstage to make the show happen. Stew said that audiences often forget that Curious is a play, because it is so much more than a play – perhaps even a ‘play with the infrastructure of a musical’. Although the scale of the set is so big, the intense detail of the props means that the performance still feels intimate and relatable.

A primary aim of the show is to introduce the audience to Christopher’s world. Stew told us that this is why the set is effectively a box, because this box represents his mind. We also learned about the music for the show, which is all based around prime numbers – for example, at the start of the show a drum rhythm is heard, and the accents are on beats 2, 3, 5, 7 and 11 (the first prime numbers). This makes the audience subconsciously inhabit Christopher’s world because he adores maths, and prime numbers – so it makes sense that the background music would be based around them too. I find this incredibly clever, and again, it’s something that the audience would not pick up on, making it another example of the show’s attention to detail.

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The backstage tour gave me and the other bloggers an invaluable insight into the world of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. The scale of the set and detail of the props is astounding, and it is clear that so much thought has been put into every tiny aspect of this production to make it unique and authentic. So many individuals work hard to make this show as good as it can possibly be, and I can’t wait for more audiences around the UK to experience this extraordinary piece of theatre.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time runs at Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 1st July. 

The Wrong Side of Prohibition – Thespis Project Theatre Company, 25/02/17

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Photo credit: Luke Stratta

Thespis Project Theatre Company is a relatively new establishment which brings new theatre to the city of Plymouth. A few other bloggers and I were kindly invited to a performance of The Wrong Side of Prohibition which explores the lives of flappers and gangsters in 1920s America, performed in the brilliantly appropriate speakeasy bar, The Tigermilk, at The Duke of Cornwall Hotel. Thanks to the unique, immersive experience the cast provided us with, it was an exciting evening of exploring new writing which was performed by a promising cast.

The play was cleverly staged around the tables and chairs which seated the audience members, creating a totally immersive show and holding everyone’s complete attention throughout. The costumes were lavish and appropriate for the era, and the general décor of the bar created a stunning back drop for this historical piece, making it the perfect venue for this production.

Anastasios Chalas portrayed the authoritative, manipulative club owner Tony very convincingly, displaying some powerful dramatic acting and good interactions with the other characters – while allowing the audience to feel a small amount of sympathy for him at times. He was well supported by the smaller male characters, who collectively managed to convey the extremity of gender inequality within the society at the time.

Some of the most promising scenes came from the young women playing the showgirls – I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Frankie Hill as Jennie and Sarah Lawrence as Maggie, whose forbidden love was beautifully displayed in some tender scenes. They were complemented well by Heather Brown as Rose, the oldest and most experienced show girl who is even able to manipulate Tony, and Bryony Harvey who portrayed a believable mothering figure to the showgirls. These individuals displayed great promise within their roles, with Lawrence’s emotive acting proving particularly successful.

Another stand out performance came from Nicola Tyrer as Anna, the young Greek girl who is brought to the club at the beginning of the play. Her transformation from a timid girl into a confident singer was realised brilliantly, and Tyrer’s beautiful voice was showcased in her acapella solos, which she performed impeccably; remaining perfectly in key throughout and displaying a good level of acting through song. The contrast between her and the other girls was also evident, not only through their appearances, but also through their levels of experience.

This production was completely different to anything I’ve seen before – I loved the way that the actors broke the fourth wall through delivering their scenes in amongst the audience members – and lines which directly applied to us such as ‘what’re you looking at? Get back to your drinks!’ were both funny and believable given the setting we were in. The production felt far more intimate than your average show in which there is a clear divide between the cast and the audience; and getting to chat to members of the company afterwards was an added bonus!

I had a brilliant evening watching The Wrong Side of Prohibition, and it was really exciting to experience new theatre in the South West. The cast delivered the material impeccably, with some promising performers among them, and the location was simply perfect. I’d like to thank Thespis Project Theatre Company for inviting us to their performance, and I can’t wait to see what they go on to do next.

Like their Facebook page here.

Disclaimer: Thespis Project Theatre Company invited me to their performance of The Wrong Side of Prohibition, but all thoughts expressed here are my own.

My top ten shows of 2016

After yet another accidental blogging hiatus (because I’ve apparently been too busy putting on shows to write about shows), I thought I’d (try to) get back into the swing of things with a list of my favourite 10 shows I’ve seen in the last year. So here we go:

  1. Mamma Mia, UK Tour (Mayflower Theatre)

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I enjoyed this a surprising amount, and that might have something to do with 12 year old Megan’s intense obsession with the film. The UK touring production is a lot of fun and features a really talented cast, so this energetic show was amazing to experience.

  1. Murder Ballad (Arts Theatre, London)
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Photo: Marc Brenner

Apart from the fact that it featured Ramin Karimloo (*screams*), this was a cleverly captivating four person show. I loved the intimate feel of it, and the rock style music was performed impeccably by this tight set of performers and musicians.

  1. Avenue Q, UK Tour (Mayflower Theatre, Southampton)

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Avenue Q is an absolutely hilarious show that I would recommend to anyone (except perhaps the easily offended…). Despite being initially dubious of the use of puppets, I soon came round to the idea when I realised the charm and hilarity they bring. Add in some catchy musical numbers and it became one of my favourites this year.

  1. Mrs Henderson Presents (Noel Coward Theatre, London)
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Photo: Paul Cottas

I think one of the main reasons I adored this show was due to the fact that the audience got to experience it in the city in which it is set – the feeling of watching the Blitz take place on stage was like no other! Additionally, the story is fascinating and the music is sublime too.

  1. The Wind in the Willows, UK Tour (Mayflower Theatre, Southampton)
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Photo: Marc Brenner

This is a heart-warming little show which, for one just starting out, is totally brilliant. It’s visually stunning, and the original score features some lovely songs that I just can’t wait to hear again.

  1. Billy Elliot, UK Tour (Theatre Royal Plymouth and Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff)
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Photo: Alastair Muir

Okay, so this is the only show on my list that I had seen before 2016 – but this was the new touring production (which I saw 4 times in various capacities… obsessed?). Billy Elliot has been updated for new audiences all over the UK, and I can’t praise this production highly enough.

  1. Jesus Christ Superstar (Regents Park Open Air Theatre, London)
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This was an outstanding theatrical experience, and I’m so glad I managed to see this show over the summer. The cast delivered the show’s stunning material brilliantly both visually and aurally, and the on stage band were incredible too.

  1. In the Heights (Kings Cross Theatre, London)

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This was another unique show to experience, and hearing Lin Manuel Miranda’s music live still managed to blow me away even after listening to the soundtrack to death. In the Heights is amazing, and London is really going to miss it when it closes in the new year.

  1. The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales Theatre, London)

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And the award for the funniest show I’ve ever seen goes to… The Book of Mormon, hands down. The music is amazing and the cast have such great comic timing, creating an absolutely hilarious show. I’m desperate to return!

  1. Groundhog Day (Old Vic Theatre, London)
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Photo: Manuel Harlan

I mean, it’s a musical and it’s by Tim Minchin – is it really a surprise that this was my favourite show of the year?! Groundhog Day managed to completely overwhelm me with its stunning music and brilliantly told story. I can’t wait to see where the show goes next (hopefully somewhere near me after Broadway… please?)

My top ten theatre wish list

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Photo: Matt Crockett

I may have seen many, many shows both on tour and in the West End, but I’ve realised that there will always be more shows that I have a burning desire to see! So here is my current list of ten shows I would like to catch soon (some of which are yet to open, I know, I’m keen), and not including any that I already have booked:

Side Show

Having just opened at the Southwark Playhouse for its UK premiere, Side Show is a cult classic. I fell in love with the song Who Will Love Me As I Am after hearing it performed at a concert earlier this year, and I find the story line so gripping and fascinating. The fact that it has a stellar cast featuring Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford also makes it a definite must see this season.

Kinky Boots

This show has been running in the West End since last year to much critical acclaim. Having witnessed an excerpt from the show at West End Live back in June, it seems like such a fun musical which both Broadway and West End audiences have thoroughly enjoyed so far – and I’d love to join them!

Motown the Musical

Like Kinky Boots, I also got to watch a segment of this show at West End Live, and was very pleasantly surprised! Although it may not conform to being ‘typical’ musical theatre, it seems like a fun show with some great, well known tunes. The cast were so captivating to watch and it would be so interesting to explore this musical era through a show.

Aladdin

Although I was initially sceptical of this show, batting it off as a glorified pantomime at first (as many did!), the reviews I’ve read suggest otherwise. Having visited the Prince Edward Theatre to see Miss Saigon, this venue is the perfect one for a show such as this, and the casting is sublime.

School of Rock

Having been obsessed with this film during my childhood, this is definitely a show I’d love to see. The fact that it is effectively an actor musician production featuring children is absolutely incredible, and I can’t wait to hear what Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new score is like.

Dreamgirls

This production may be yet to open, but the hype has already started in anticipation of performances starting next month. Having smashed its run on Broadway it will surely do the same in the West End – also, the casting is brilliant and the show features some great songs.

The Wind in the Willows

Ooh, a show that isn’t actually in the West End… yet. It’s touring and then headed for town, so hear me out. This production had its greatly successful world premiere a few weeks ago at my second home, Theatre Royal Plymouth, and is now touring around the country. It’s such a unique concept and I’d love to see what the creatives have come up with.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

Yes, a play. I’ve wanted to see this show for ages, almost ever since the roof fell in at the Apollo Theatre. I’ve loved the book for years and find the story and characters fascinating, so I’d love to experience it as a piece of live theatre.

The Woman in Black

Another play, and possibly an odd choice for someone as easily scared as I am. However, I’ve heard really great things about this show and would love to experience it – because it definitely sounds like an experience!

Hamilton

I mean, this was always going to make it on there, wasn’t it?! We may have to wait over a year for it to arrive in London, but my wish list wouldn’t be complete without including the most talked about show of the year: Hamilton. I simply can’t wait for December 2017, and the excitement will only grow. So yes, if I could wish to see one show now, this would be it!

 

This blog post was kindly sponsored by Box Office UK (although all thoughts and opinions are my own), which is a great website on which you can buy tickets to loads of West End shows. Visit their site here to fulfil your own theatre wish list.

Review – Mary Poppins, UK Tour, Theatre Royal Plymouth, 10/08/16

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Photo: Johan Persson

Mary Poppins is the ultimate definition of a family musical. The timeless story, well known, catchy score and lovable characters make it a great experience for people of all ages, and the current touring production exceeds all expectations which may have been set by the 1964 film. The (unusually) un-star studded cast give brilliant performances throughout, producing an amazing interpretation of the story of the magical nanny.

Having seen another touring production of Mary Poppins in 2008, it is evident that the show has now been updated for modern audiences, through new musical arrangements and orchestrations, more exciting scenery, and enhanced characterisation. For example, the hint at a romantic attraction between Mary and Bert is enhanced in several places, making for a mysterious subplot. Additionally, the roles of Jane and Michael Banks (played very impressively by the talented Felicity Biggs and Diego Sanna) now have far more attitude and sass than before, probably allowing many parents in the audience to relate to their parents’ exasperation!

Zizi Strallen plays Mary Poppins as an unusual, mysterious and assertive figure, developing a brilliant relationship with the children as the show progresses. Her beautiful voice is showcased in A Spoonful of Sugar, as well as in the breath taking finale song: Anything Can Happen. Matt Lee delivers a good performance as Bert, despite a questionable accent at times. His cheeky charm and charisma shine through during Jolly Holiday and all of his exchanges with Strallen as Mary, allowing the audience to really form a connection with the characters.

Mr and Mrs Banks are difficult roles to pull off without becoming unlikeable, but Neil Roberts and Rebecca Lock give highly impressive performances. Lock’s incredible soprano voice is displayed in her beautiful rendition of Being Mrs Banks, and a great deal of sympathy is produced for her character throughout the piece. Roberts totally inhabits the role of George Banks, and absolutely succeeds in portraying the character’s many emotions and mind sets.

As with any show that is aimed at children to some extent, there are some sections which seem a little overdone with the sole motivation being to make people laugh. For example, the scenes featuring Mrs Brill (Beth Davies) and Robertson Ay (Blair Anderson). Despite being talented performers, these scenes feel as though the show has evolved into a pantomime. While the younger members of the audience may find them amusing, a large proportion does not, and consequently these parts seem a little out of place.

The big ensemble numbers are some of the highlights of this production. The monochrome colour scheme and clever choreography in Precision and Order are stunning, and make one of the lesser known songs one of the most visually pleasing sections of the show. Step in Time features a whole gang of chimney sweeps and some more brilliant dancing, and of course the crowd pleasing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is another stand out musical number. This production is both visually and aurally pleasing throughout, and the band (under the direction of Ian Townsend) give an impeccable performance of the exciting new orchestrations.

This production of Mary Poppins is an example of an outstanding touring production, and seems to prove that such shows can be done well on the road. The numerous updates have transformed the show to a certain extent, modernising it in the process. It proves to be a spectacle throughout, from the first sight of the Banks’ house to the final view of Mary Poppins flying to the back of the auditorium. This really is a show for people of all ages, which will undoubtedly continue to amaze audiences all over the country over the coming months.

Billy Elliot UK tour at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff: Theatre bloggers on tour!

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It’s safe to say that Billy Elliot has become one of my favourite musicals. Having seen it twice in the West End (in 2013 and 2015), and then experiencing the premiere of the UK tour in Plymouth earlier this year, I seem to have developed an emotional connection to the show! I was lucky enough to witness the first dress rehearsal, a show half way through the Plymouth run, and to sit in the pit band for the final show in Plymouth. So, once post show blues kicked in and I realised that I wouldn’t be able to see this incredible show for a little while, my friend and fellow theatre blogger Ellie and I decided to rectify the situation by taking a trip to Cardiff!

We got the train from Plymouth and the journey was filled with stagey conversation. After making friends with the ladies next to us and changing trains at Bristol, we got on a train that was Cardiff bound. We speculated over when the Severn Tunnel might be, and got mildly excited (can you tell we’ve lived sheltered lives in Plymouth?!) but it was actually fairly uneventful… It was just a really long tunnel. Anyway, we arrived in Cardiff and walked to Cardiff Bay, where we sat in the sun looking out at the boats. It was idyllic!

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Wales Millennium Centre is the nicest and poshest theatre I have ever been to. The exterior of the building is strikingly stunning, and once we entered we were amazed by the spacious, shiny foyer area and the way that the whole theatre is like some kind of posh art gallery! The auditorium is gorgeous too, and even from our seats in the upper circle, we had a brilliant view of the stage and the band pit!

Matthew Lyons portrayed Billy at this show, and he has really come on as a performer in the last three months. His vocals are beautiful, his dancing is as impressive as ever, and I still adore his little acting choices which make his performance more personal. Bradley Mayfield played Michael, having only just joined the touring cast, and he was outstanding, and possibly the best Michael I’ve ever seen! Italia Ross was hilarious as Debbie once again. The adult cast never fail to blow me away, particularly Annette McLaughlin as Mrs Wilkinson, Martin Walsh as Dad, and Scott Garnham as Tony. Garnham is simply perfect for the role, and his performance impresses me more every time I see it.

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Sitting in the upper circle made me appreciate the ensemble sections more, particularly the formations made in the dance routines. The sound was also so loud and clear, but I’m not sure if this was due to where we were sitting or the amplification of the theatre auditorium. Either way, it was amazing to be able to fully appreciate the work of the pit band, led by Patrick Hurley. Musical highlights include Solidarity – one of my absolute favourite theatre dance routines because it is just so clever – Grandma’s Song, Electricity, The Letter and The Letter Reprise, and the whole finale sequence. As soon as the song Once We Were Kings began, Ellie and I became very emotional – and this peaked during the ‘see ya Michael’ and ‘yeah, see ya Billy’ lines. It’s such a poignant final moment in the show and it was executed so perfectly at this performance.

It was amazing to get to see the incredible touring production of Billy Elliot once again, even if I did have to travel all the way to Wales to see it! It is so interesting to see how far the cast have come and how much the show has developed since the very first dress rehearsal in Plymouth back in February, and I can’t wait to see it again in Southampton early next year. Ellie and I had a great day exploring Cardiff, getting stupidly excited about the gorgeous theatre, and of course seeing one of our favourite shows, and the trip was so totally worth it! Theatre bloggers on tour, OUT.

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang UK Tour in Plymouth – and thoughts on performances being stopped mid show

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Having already attended a performance of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang UK tour at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton in February, I expected the experience of watching it at Theatre Royal Plymouth to be rather similar. However, the drastic cast changes and unavoidable suspension of the performance in act 1 made for an extremely interesting experience, and made me think about audience reactions to live theatre – especially when things go wrong.

Lee Mead and Carrie Hope Fletcher have taken over in the roles of Caractacus Potts and Truly Scrumptious respectively. Fletcher is absolutely incredible, and brings a new flair and lease of life to the part of Truly, particularly in the song Truly Scrumptious. I particularly like her use of humour while playing with the children, as it makes the scene believable and adorable to watch. Mead gives a fairly good performance which feels a little lacklustre at times, but having seen the hilarious Jason Manford in the role previously, it feels as though Mead is still settling into the character as a whole.

It definitely seems as though the remainder of the cast have really got to grips with their parts over the last 4 months. Southampton was only the second stop on the UK tour, so the actors who have remained in their parts have now settled into them and developed new, innovative ways of performing. For example, Sam Harrison and Scott Paige give brilliant performances as the spies Boris and Goran, and I enjoyed their scenes far more this time around, as they have found the right level of humour to inject into their performances. It is interesting to see the same production (with a lot of the same cast) a little later in their run, as no two performances are ever the same, and the interpretations alter over time.

Jeremy and Jemima Potts were initially played by Aaron Gelkoff and Daisy Riddett, who are both impressively charismatic performers. However, around 50 minutes into act 1 the show was stopped and there was an amusing announcement joking that one of Potts’ inventions had gone wrong and that the show would be paused for 5-10 minutes. The house lights came up, and the audience looked at each other in surprise. A couple of people behind me initially thought that this was the production’s clever way of announcing the interval! I expected everyone to patiently sit in their seats until the show resumed, but this was absolutely not the case. Most people looked very grumpy, and many were muttering about how this was spoiling the mood, and how this shouldn’t happen in a professional theatre show. After around 5 minutes, an announcement was made informing us that ‘due to the indisposition of Daisy Riddett, the role of Jemima will now be played by Alex Louize Bird’. Cue many ‘ahhs’ of sympathy from the audience – a far cry from their previous grumblings!

For the rest of the show, an adult portrayed Jemima, which, while not ideal, was the best thing to do in the situation. In the actual interval, I heard people complaining that this swap was ‘doing nothing for continuity’… well yes, but what else could they do?! Obviously it was irritating that the show had to be stopped, but surely the performers’ health and safety should come first. These things happen, it is live theatre after all, and the show changes every night. If you want a guaranteed show that is the same for every performance without any chance of technical difficulties or of actors getting ill/injured, sit at home and watch a film! People seem to think that just because they shell out a certain amount of money on going to the theatre, they deserve to see a flawless show… but sadly that’s not how live theatre works. Rant over.

Watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang again was a brilliantly insightful experience for a variety of reasons. It was so interesting to watch two new actors in the leading roles, and to see how the rest of the cast’s performances have developed since February. The fact that the show had to be paused in the middle of act 1 revealed how the audience, as a collective, feel when live theatre goes wrong, making me rethink how we should respond to events such as this.