Seats at the Mayflower Theatre

As of March 2018, I have been to the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton 20 times. Being the local theatre to my old uni, I made the most of my student loan by seeing many touring productions there! I therefore think I’m in a pretty good position to comment on the pros and cons of different seating areas at this theatre, so here are some of my thoughts on the views I’ve had of various shows.

Stalls

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My view of The Addams Family from seat T32 in the stalls

When I first started visiting the Mayflower, I almost exclusively sat in the stalls. The stalls area of this theatre is enormous – much bigger than at most other theatres I’ve been to. The stalls are great for seeing shows close up – it’s the best place in the theatre for witnessing discreet facial expressions, and for appreciating every little detail. However, I found that sitting in any of the front 5 rows means that you have to crane your neck upwards to see the action onstage, because you are so close to the stage, so I would recommend sitting anywhere from row F backwards. But then again, if you sit too far back then the overhang of the circle can block some of the scenery up high. Another downside is that although the seats are slightly banked upwards, with the seats at the back being higher than the ones at the front, you may still suffer if a tall person sits in front of you! (Disclaimer: I am 5 foot 2, so I don’t have much of a height advantage anyway). There is plenty of leg room in the stalls, and the vast amount of seats in this area means that there are lots of different pricing options.

Circle

I have only sat in this area twice, and don’t have a photo (sorry!). The circle is the middle section of the theatre, and it is split into two sections: the dress circle and the rear circle. It is very much the middle option for seats at the Mayflower, and it feels more cramped than the stalls, with less leg room; and the floor of the balcony above the audience’s heads makes it feel a little claustrophobic. However, the view is pretty good, especially from the front section (the dress circle), and I imagine that the view from the front couple of rows would have all the advantages of the stalls, plus a bit of extra height and no tall people in the way!

Balcony

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My view of Funny Girl from seat H21 in the balcony

You can always find the cheapest seats in the balcony, so this is a really good option if you’re short of cash, or if you’re not totally sure if you’re going to enjoy a show enough to justify spending upwards of £50 on it! The balcony is very steeply banked, so you shouldn’t have too many heads in your way. However, the seats are very far away from the stage, so it can be difficult to see specific details on stage that you can see from the stalls. You also have to climb up over 80 steps to get to the balcony, so that can be a ‘fun’ pre show workout (ew). I would definitely recommend trying to get central seats in the balcony however, as you’ll get a much better view from these than from the sides, despite being miles away from the stage.

Boxes

I’ve never sat in one of the boxes, but it does look pretty fun to have your own little private seating area! The view however probably isn’t the best as you would be side on to the stage, meaning you’d have to look around to watch the show. I would love to sit in one for the experience though!

Band pit

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My view of Billy Elliot from… the band pit!

Unfortunately you can’t buy seats in the band pit, but having had the pleasure of sitting in the pit for a show, here’s the view!!

There are definitely pros and cons for all of the seating areas at the Mayflower Theatre. I would say that the best seats are mid way back in the centre area of the stalls, because you’re far away enough from the stage to take in all the action, but you can also see the close up facial expressions of the performers. However, the balcony seats are often brilliantly cheap, and due to the steep incline of this layer, the view isn’t that bad at all. My advice would be to choose what’s best for you and your price range, and be sure to return at least 20 times like I have to try out all of the seating areas (except maybe the band pit…!).

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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.

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?)

Review – Together: Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 06/11/16

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Two of the most well established male musical theatre performers have joined together to tour the country, entertaining hordes of adoring fans – most of whom have got to know them through their starring roles in mega musicals such as Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera. Michael Ball and Alfie Boe have become household names thanks to their hugely successful careers, as confirmed by the ‘full house’ signs that adorned the outside of the Mayflower Theatre for the pair’s Southampton show.

Performing a mixture of show tunes and other numbers (including some jazz and swing tunes), this is the definition of a crowd pleasing show. The singers’ charisma and charm see them sail through the song to song transitions with ease, as they enjoy poking fun at each other and playing up to the audience (which mostly consisted of elderly women who swooned at their every word!). The on stage band are a joy to watch, and I very much appreciated the constant name checking of featured players, and in particular, the MDs. It’s brilliant to see a band getting so much credit thanks to being so integral to the aural AND visual aesthetic of the whole show.

The musical theatre numbers are definite highlights in the set list. The opening song (Somewhere from West Side Story) features gorgeous harmonies and an extremely clever orchestral arrangement, and is a brilliant way to kick the show off, setting the mood for what’s to come. Another favourite is Tell Me It’s Not True – although given that Blood Brothers is one of my favourite musicals, I’m probably biased! Alfie and Michael give a beautiful rendition of this emotional song, although it did feel as though the sound balance wasn’t quite right at times, especially during moments where the song pulled back a bit.

Although most of the songs performed are duets, the second half features some solos. While Alfie plumps for swing numbers and moves away from show tunes, Michael gives a stunning performance of Gethsemane, to the amazement and appreciation of the musicals loving audience. It must be refreshing for the artists to shake things up a bit and sing songs from genres that they’re not primarily known for, but there is no denying that the vast majority of the audience came hoping for an evening of show tunes – so understandably, these were the songs that got the best reactions!

This leads me onto the Les Miserables medley, which is outstanding. Apart from the fact that I was majorly fangirling and constantly in disbelief that I was hearing the original Marius and one of the ultimate Valjeans singing such iconic songs from one of the best musicals of all time, it is impeccably arranged, and each song seamlessly leads into the next. The harmonies are sublime, and it is the perfect way to end the show (apart from the encore of course!). Given that the audience consisted of so many Les Miserables fans, this was always bound to be a hit.

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe’s ‘Together’ tour will definitely continue to sell out to enthusiastic audiences for the rest of its run – and rightly so, given the incredible talent of these two performers and the brilliant show that they have put on. It’s a show for quite a select audience, but a very present audience in the current theatrical climate nonetheless. And speaking as someone outside of the key demographic (i.e. a third of the age of the majority of audience members!), I think they’ve made the show pretty much the best it can be.

Review – Mamma Mia! UK Tour, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 29/09/16

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Mamma Mia is the type of show that can almost guarantee packed audiences all over the country months in advance of it opening in each city. The success of the 2008 film (and of course, the popularity of ABBA’s music) has created ready made audiences everywhere who are super keen to experience the show live – and this touring production does not disappoint.

The show tells the story of a young woman and her three potential dads on the eve of her wedding day, on an idyllic Greek island. Despite my initial reservations about how the designers would recreate this setting on stage, the whitewashed set, colourful costumes and smooth scene changes ensure that the audience is consistently wrapped up in the world the show creates.

Although the show feels a little slow to get going, it soon picks up once the exposition is over and we are introduced to the main characters and their predicaments. Lucy May Barker holds the show together as Sophie, showcasing some great vocals and lovely charm and charisma throughout, as well as brilliant interactions with the rest of the characters, including Sara Poyzer as Donna. Poyzer portrays a lovely mothering figure, and the relationship between the two of them is totally believable and heart-warming, if a little sickly sweet at times.

However, the stand out performances come from the three dads. As soon as they are introduced the whole story line picks up, and their totally contrasting characters and motives are brilliantly conveyed without being over the top and pantomime-ish, making their segments the best parts of the show as their humour bounces off each other. Matthew Ronchetti (first cover Sam) gives a great performance, especially in the later numbers such as SOS, and Tim Walton is a hilariously posh Harry. All of these characters come together for the impressive act 1 finale, Voulez Vous, featuring some stunning choreography which really manages to represent Sophie’s confusion.

Jacqueline Braun and Emma Clifford play Rosie and Tanya respectively, and perform well throughout. I think a good proportion of the audience could relate to one or the other! At times the roles seemed a little overplayed and silly, but their humour was mostly lapped up, especially in Dancing Queen and Does Your Mother Know. Braun, Clifford and Sara Poyzer as Donna also give a great rendition of Super Trouper at Sophie’s hen party, featuring some striking harmonies.

The risk of touring a theatre show of a well-loved movie is that the public may be disappointed to discover that the musical is in fact rather different to the film (especially given that in this case, the film is based on the stage show). Numerous songs have been moved around, added or cut, and there are many script alterations. But as a fan of the film (well, my 12 year old self certainly was), I found these changes surprisingly refreshing – particularly the act 2 opener: Under Attack. The production achieves just the right balance between familiarity and refreshing changes. The orchestrations also bring something new to ABBA’s music; performed impeccably by the pit band led by Richard Weeden.

Mamma Mia is a fun show which will always have an abundance of people dying to experience it live. It avoids being a blow by blow reimagination of the film (or in this case, vice versa), meaning that there is something new for everyone. This touring production features a brilliant cast who perform ABBA’s music with huge amounts of energy and talent – and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so as the show tours around the UK.

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.

Review – Guys and Dolls UK Tour, Mayflower Theatre, 21/05/16

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Guys and Dolls is one of the classic musicals that all theatre lovers should experience – and thanks to the current UK tour (alongside its recent runs in the West End), this has become possible for a new generation of theatre goers. This production combines impeccable vocals with lively dance and movement routines to effectively convey the stories of two (eventual) couples, with a stellar cast performing many iconic roles.

The vibe and era of the show is immediately made clear in the opening number, which although a little structurally confusing at first, features vibrant costumes and choreography, before introducing some of the main characters. This is partially to blame for the fact that the show feels a little slow to get going at first – but it settles down in the missionary centre scene where Sky (Richard Fleeshman) and Sarah (Anna O’Byrne) perform I’ll Know, which is a definite musical highlight. Both of these performers are perfectly suited to their roles and each other, with Fleeshman providing the epitome of a gorgeous leading male, while remaining manipulative and difficult to read. O’Byrne’s Sarah begins naïve and vulnerable, but her character development is evident by the end.

The focus of the plot jumps between various characters, often falling back to the relationship of Nathan Detroit (Maxwell Caulfield) and Adelaide (Lucy Jane Adcock). Caulfield gives an assured performance as the nonchalant, laid back gambler, and his whole aura, stance, and gravelly New York accent suit the character perfectly. His interactions with the generally intentionally irritating Adelaide are the source of great amusement throughout the story, and Adcock acts her way through this challenging role with ease and conviction.

The ensemble choreography in the show is so impressive. The dance sequence in Havana is definitely one of the highlights of Guys and Dolls, with dance and movement conveying such an intricate portion of the plot. It is often difficult to know where to look on stage because of the sheer amount of things going on! This section is also where O’Byrne’s acting really shines through, as her character of Sarah suddenly becomes wild and uncontrollable, while Sky remains cool and collected throughout. A special mention should go to the littlest male ensemble member, whose acrobatics and lifts were visually spectacular in several dance numbers!

Vocally, the performers are flawless. Despite a few unfortunate microphone issues at this particular performance, their diction is great and the harmonies are well projected and balanced. The most famous number from the musical, Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat, brings life and vigour to the latter half of act 2, with some impressively high vocals from Jack Edwards as Nicely Nicely Johnson, and more clever choreography. Seeing as this song may well be the only one that audience members are familiar with prior to attending the show, the production team have really gone to town with the performance of this show stopping number, and the results are stunning.

A few lengthy scenes seem a little drawn out and unnecessary, such as the long gambling scene towards the end of the second act, although this may be partly down to the subject matter of the show. The brass and reeds based orchestrations are perfect for the show’s era and totally make the music come alive from the depths of the band pit, accompanying the cast brilliantly.

This touring production of Guys and Dolls is nothing short of fantastic. It is absolutely a crowd pleasing show, with some catchy musical numbers and captivating choreography. The casting is perfect, with not a weak link among them, and the ensemble are used very well to convey certain moments through both dance and blocking. It is great that this classic musical is touring and based in London once again so that new audiences can be introduced to it.

 

Review – Avenue Q, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 12/04/16

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Avenue Q is a show like no other, and yet definitely one that every musical theatre fan should see. The inventive use of puppets, inclusion of risqué and potentially offensive material, and undeniable talent of the cast ensure that this touring production of one of the most unique modern musicals makes for a truly unforgettable experience.

Obviously the most challenging aspect of the show is the fact that the cast not only have to sing and act, they also have to control puppets at the same time. On top of that, several cast members portray two or more main characters, alternating their puppets, voices and personas to ensure that the story line is conveyed effectively. The way in which the performers perfectly sync their own facial expressions with the movements of the puppets is particularly impressive, and increases the realism of the piece – if puppets can ever be believable! However, this is inevitably slightly less effective when there are two actors controlling one puppet, as it must be difficult to act exactly the same as both a puppet and another person.

The two stand out performers in this production are undoubtedly Richard Lowe as Princeton/Rod and Jessica Parker as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut (who is the understudy for this role). They both nail the two characters they’ve each been assigned, and jump between them seamlessly, occasionally even having to have conversations between both of their characters at once, or speaking as one character while controlling the other. Highlights include Lowe’s hilarious reactions as Rod in If You Were Gay, and Parker’s beautiful rendition of It’s a Fine Fine Line, which closes the first act beautifully and poignantly, despite being something of an anomaly within this comedic show.

The small company of characters in the neighbourhood of Avenue Q has the potential to feel a little limited and even claustrophobic, but it manages not to because each character has their own attributes and stereotypical traits. Richard Morse is especially amusing as Brian, and all of the figures come together for a brilliant performance of Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist. The concept of the Bad Idea Bears is hilarious and definitely one that everyone can relate to, although their pushy persistence becomes irritating after a while (this is clearly the point though!).

The set is very basic but used well – especially for the Trekkie Monster’s (Stephen Arden) appearances. The simplicity of the set, songs and stereotypical characters enhance the juxtaposition created by having childish puppets doing, um, adult things. This does mean that the production has the tendency to feel a little cheap and cheery at times, but this is not the fault of the hugely talented cast who perform the material brilliantly. It’s great how the show comes full circle with another young puppet wondering what to do with his seemingly useless degree, showing that the show does have some deeper morals beneath its comical surface.

Avenue Q is one of those shows that has to be seen to be believed, and it has built up a select, almost cult like audience over the last decade. The cast act, sing and control the puppets so well, and there are some great musical numbers scattered throughout the show, creating a highly impressive performance which, despite a tendency to feel cheap and simple, will definitely be successful in entertaining audiences all over the UK.

Review – Chicago, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 10/03/16

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The touring production of Chicago is dark, sexy and sultry, and these moods are maintained by clever lighting, impressively intricate choreography and an entirely black set of costumes. And although the marketing of the show disappointingly relies very much on the casting of a certain X Factor star, it does not revolve around her, instead positively exploiting the unmistakable raw talent of this young company.

Hayley Tamaddon portrays Roxie Hart perfectly. She fits the role so well and is hugely convincing when displaying every side of Roxie’s complex, manipulative character, interacting with the other characters in a highly realistic manner. Sophie Carmen-Jones is also brilliant as confident, sassy Velma Kelly, and the girls’ performances of My Own Best Friend and Hot Honey Rag at the ends of act 1 and 2 respectively are definite highlights of the show.

I was very excited to see John Partridge playing lawyer Billy Flynn, and he did not disappoint – despite the fact that whenever he sang I could only think of Rum Tum Tugger (Partridge played Tugger in the 1998 cast recording of Cats). His voice is a little croaky at times, but he has incredible stage presence and really fits the part. His performance of We Both Reached for the Gun with Tamaddon as Roxie is clever, amusing and effective. 2013 X Factor winner Sam Bailey gives a good performance as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton despite a questionable American accent at times, and the casting seems very apt seeing as she is a former prison officer. However, I’m sure that a considerable amount of audience members were surprised by how small the role is given the amount the producers have focused on Bailey’s name in the advertising of the show. Neil Ditt portrays a nervous and amusing Amos, and his rendition of Mr Cellophane is hilarious and forms another musical highlight.

The production is visually stunning, with a fairly simple set which practically revolves around the placement of the on stage band. The dim lighting successfully creates a dark vibe, and the fact that ensemble members sit at the sides of the stage during most of the scenes contributes to the idea that everyone is watching Roxie’s story. The ensemble is made up of absolutely amazing dancers, and there is not a weak link among them. The female ensemble work well together in Cell Block Tango, explaining the fates of each of their lovers, and the background acting and dancing is very clever and impeccably executed.

One of my personal favourite things about this production is that the 11 piece band are on stage – and not only that, but the entire set is focused on them. It is incredible to see a (pit) band so integrated into the show instead of hidden under the stage as they usually are. Ben Atkinson leads the band impeccably and is definitely the most charismatic musical director I’ve ever seen! The entr’acte and exit music become performances in themselves, and the MD even gets to interact with the cast members and has lines to say. The huge involvement of the band really makes the audience notice and appreciate the musicians on stage.

This is a great interpretation of Chicago which is hugely strengthened by the astounding talent of the two leading ladies. The set, costumes, staging and lighting all contribute to the dark, sexy vibe, and the heavy involvement of the band ensure that the musicians are well integrated into the production (which is always a good thing!). The cast are all incredible triple threat performers, and their slick, sensual dance routines ensure that this is show is one to remember.

Billy Elliot – My encounters with the show

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To celebrate the recent opening of the first ever UK and Ireland tour of Billy Elliot the Musical at Theatre Royal Plymouth (read about my experience of watching a dress rehearsal here), I’ve decided to have a nostalgic look back at my various encounters with this show, which is definitely one of my favourite musicals of all time!

It’s difficult to say when I was first introduced to Billy Elliot. I think I watched the film (which isn’t the musical version) when I was around 10 or 11 as I was very into dancing then, and I no doubt heard the famous song Electricity during my childhood. However, it wasn’t until a holiday in London in 2013 that I decided to go and see the show in the West End – knowing very little about it at the time. I absolutely loved the show instantly, and requested the CD and piano score for my birthday. I remember playing and singing The Letter from my new piano score on the morning of my 17th birthday, because I’d been longing to play it for so long… I think that was the first thing I did that day!

The Billy Elliot songs became my soundtrack of summer 2013, and I became obsessed with the lesser known songs from the show such as The Stars Look Down, Expressing Yourself, and Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher, although The Letter remained my favourite. This was one of the first songs that I ever sang harmonies to (which is a pretty big deal, considering the fact that I harmonise to practically every song I hear now!). I remember listening to the song on repeat on long car journeys and feeling so proud of myself once I finally nailed both Mrs Wilkinson’s and Billy’s Mum’s harmony parts.

Although my Billy Elliot obsession gradually faded after summer 2013, I still regularly played and sang the music with my friends at school during our free blocks, and then when another London trip was organised for early 2015, I decided it was time for a second viewing of the musical – especially seeing as rumours of its closure were already circulating due to the Victoria Palace Theatre’s impending refurbishments. So I saw the show for a second time in April 2015 and it was just as brilliant as the first time! The songs were so familiar, and watching The Letter Reprise probably made me the most emotional I’ve ever been while watching a musical!

It must have been mid 2015 that the UK and Ireland tour was announced, which I was immediately incredibly excited about – especially as it was going to start in Plymouth! I followed the casting announcements very closely, as well as the other venues the show would be visiting. I was so excited when Theatre Royal Plymouth invited me to the very first dress rehearsal of the brand new production, and it was such a fantastic experience. I’ve got tickets booked to see the show in Plymouth at the end of March, and then I intend on catching it at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton in early 2017 towards the end of its tour.

Billy Elliot is definitely one of my favourite musicals, and soon it will be the one that I’ve seen the most times! It’s such a brilliant story with comical and emotional moments, and I’ll always have a special link to the new touring production having seen it at such an early stage of its development. I can’t wait to see it again in a few weeks, and I encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to catch it on tour, or at the Victoria Palace before it closes next month.