Thursday, 14 November 2019

Review: The Glyndebourne Tour - L’Elisir D’Amore and Rigoletto at Milton Keynes Theatre



Glydebourne are back on tour and performing at Milton Keynes Theatre this week. We had the pleasure to attend the performance of L’Elisir D’Amore on Tuesday evening and Rigoletto last night. The Glyndebourne Tour is always a big hit and a highlight of the year at Milton Keynes Theatre, amongst their many dazzling shows.

L’Elisir D’Amore, a comic opera, is a light, playful affair set in a sunny 19th century Italian village. Peasant Nemorino is hopelessly in love with beautiful land-owner Adina. He is not taken seriously by Adina or the provincials and is the butt of their jokes and teasing. Akin to the story of Tristan and Isolde, enchanted by a magical love potion; Nemorino is fooled by quack Dr Dulcamara into buying a potion to win Adina’s heart. Like all good opera tales, there’s a fair bit of drama, sneakiness, backstabbing and jealousy going on but overall this tale has a happy ending unlike some that are much more tragic – we’ll get to that next. L’Elisir D’Armore is a nice change from the traditional style of opera, performed skilfully, with impressive soloists and an incredibly talented chorus and orchestra as one would expect from the Glydebourne Tour.

Rigoletto was a refreshing take on an old classic, one of the most popular and frequently performed operas. Director Christiane Lutz took inspiration from 1920’s Hollywood movie studios and brought us a revamped Rigoletto in the form of ‘Charlie Chaplin’ instead of the original hunchbacked joker. It’s an opera of male power and sexual violence so considerably darker than the previous night’s performance. There are moments (certainly towards the end) when you really just want to give Gilda (Rigoletto’s lovesick daughter) a good shake and say snap out of it! She gives her life to save the man that does not love her, lied to her, is unfaithful and was even involved with her kidnapping. But that is what makes such an astounding and absurd opera with exceptionally talented music and singing working seamlessly with these farcical storylines. 

Masterful performances with a thoroughly engaged audience, I can highly recommend a trip to Milton Keynes Theatre this week. 



L’Elisir D’Amore will be performed this evening, Rinaldo will be performed on Friday 15th and Rigoletto will be performed again on Saturday 16th November. For tickets, go to: www.atgtickets.com/venues/milton-keynes-theatre

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Review: Kinky Boots the Musical


Kinky Boots the Musical at MK Theatre – 29/10/19




Having seen the film Kinky Boots, I was very excited to go and see the musical that has arrived in Milton Keynes for the next couple of weeks.

Based on the true story of WJ Brookes, the musical follows the trials and tribulations of Charlie Price, a Northampton shoemaker, who has inherited a failing shoe factory from his father. To turn things around and stop the building being sold to property developers, Charlie decides that his company needs a niche market. Enter Lola! If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know the casting of the character Lola is quite pivotal to the story, and the casting of Kayi Ushe as Lola in this stage version is perfect!

Lola is a drag queen that always has problems with the heel snapping on her (his) boots. Charlie sees this need and decides to do something about it. The audience is taken through the journey of Charlie’s up and downs as he produces ‘ladies footwear for men’.

Sometimes when a film is adapted for the stage it can cut out a lot of the detail and songs can be inserted for the sake of it – not necessarily adding anything. I don’t feel this was the case with Kinky Boots. The songs added to the story and engaged the audience with the mood of the scene, whether that be happy, sad or comical.

Giving the audience the complete immersive experience was the set. A backdrop of a shoe factory but with a central rotating ‘room’ that with a quick spin, transformed the stage to a bar, storeroom, a boxing ring or Lola’s stage. All very clever and allowed the action to flow effortlessly from one scene to the next.

On page 15 of the November Phonebox we spoke to Joel-Harper Jackson who plays Charlie. He said his favourite part is the big finale. Whilst watching it, you can really understand why he would say that as it was such a feel-good moment – and as he mentions, the audience really did go wild.

Kinky Boots is on at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 9th November.
Tickets available from https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/kinky-boots/milton-keynes-theatre. I’d be quick though, as this is going to be a popular one.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Review: Saturday Night Fever



This week, seventies disco in all its hip-popping, strutting, grooving glory is in town at Milton Keynes Theatre. Based on the 1977 movie starring John Travolta. This story follows Tony Manalo, a 19 year old Italian American from Brooklyn who escapes the harsh reality of his bleak family life by dominating the dance floor at the local disco and dreams of making it big at Studio 54, New York. The show is filled with hits including Night Fever, Stayin’ Alive, More Than A Woman and Disco Inferno.

It is a fairly simple plot of boy meets girl, girl isn’t interested, boy keeps trying anyway but it is a likable story and has so much good music and dancing. It does cover a lot of serious themes, including religion, women’s rights, abuse, abortion and suicide. Disco dominated the latter half of the seventies and found its place amongst the other strong music genres of the time such as rock, heavy metal and punk. This show is all about the music, having a little dance in your seat and singing along to some banging tunes! The “Bee Gees” are on stage throughout the show, the three brothers are played by Jake Byrom, James Kenneth Haughan and Danny Knott and they were amazing, sounding just like the original music.

Tony is played by Richard Winsor – he’s one of the few actors that completely convinced me with his American accent, in this case Italian-American Brooklyn New York, and is a fabulous dancer. Richard is supported by a talented and energetic cast including Olivia Fines as Stephanie Mangano and Natasha Firth as Annette.

The staging was a good mix of bleak and harsh for the scenes outside and on the bridge and then bright and colourful for the disco scenes complete with disco dancefloor, giant mirror to reflect it back out to the audience and disco balls which really brought the audience to life. Look out for DJ Monty up on the podium dancing, he was strutting his stuff and we couldn’t stop watching him – having so much fun up there!

Saturday Night Fever is well worth a watch and I promise you’ll be singing the music and trying to do the Night Fever dance routine when you get home! Running until 19th October, for tickets, head to www.atgtickets.com

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Review: The Exorcist



Something rather unusual and chilling has arrived at Milton Keynes Theatre this week. Possibly the scariest movie of all time, at least when it was first in cinemas in 1973, has been adapted for the stage. The Exorcist play is actually based on the book by William Peter Blatty, published in 1971, which was very important to the show’s playwright John Pielmeier who said in an interview in the show’s programme, ‘I certainly want to stay true to the story that people know, but I also want to explore elements of the book that they may not be familiar with. I want to fulfil their expectations while at the same time surprising them’. It absolutely gave the audience what they wanted, bringing new life to this famous head-spinning horror.

As a bit of a scary movie buff, I’ve seen my fair share of all things spooky, chilling and downright terrifying and must say this show did not disappoint! From start to finish, the goosebumps just kept coming. One of the best show starts that I’ve experienced (across any genre) that plunged the audience straight into the dark and thick of the story. 

The potty-mouthed demon that possesses poor Regan is as spiteful and disgusting as ever and the actress portrayed both her characters brilliantly. On the one hand she is a sweet, innocent little girl that longs for love and attention from her family and on the other she is the possessed Latin-speaking, aggressive, spitting Devil himself.

The staging was simple yet remarkably clever with a few rooms of the house, the attic, the outdoors and the church scenes all playing out across one set with the use of some screens and clever lighting. They also use a very smart and effective screen as the background to Regan’s bedroom where we see spooky happenings alongside flashes and crashes of thunder throughout the theatre. 

The lead characters were skilfully played by the actors which include theatre veteran Paul Nicholas as Father Merrin, Sophie Ward as Chris MacNeil, Ben Caplan as Father Damien Karras and Tristram Wymark as Uncle Burke. To top it off, the Demon is voiced by Ian McKellen – what more do we need?

The show is indeed chilling, but I can highly recommend it to anyone, not just fans of this genre. It was certainly a different audience experience to plays from other categories or musicals of course and was a night I thoroughly enjoyed. As stage designer Anna Fleischle said in the programme, ‘I am hoping that the audience will leave having been shaken to their core. I would like them to feel a sense of relief in the knowledge that they are going back to their safe and protective homes where there are no demons lurking in the dark – or are there?’

The Exorcist is on until 12th October, for tickets, go to www.atgtickets.com

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Having never seen this show but interviewing Jason Donovan twice about it (once back when he was Mitzi and more recently as a producer of the show), it was time to go see what all the fuss was about – boy (or ladies!) were we in for a treat! I had very high expectations for this musical to be up there as one of the best, though a small part of me was worried it was going to be a bit cheesy with a story that loosely wove together some of our favourite classics from the eighties. Well, that worry was a complete waste of time, the story is brilliant, the music is superb and the staging and costumes are dazzlingly classy. These queens are in for the ride of their lives – and so is the audience.
Priscilla is the queen of the dessert, she’s their temperamental tour bus and together Mitzi, Bernadette and Felicia travel across the Australian outback to put on the show of a lifetime. This show is about how they get there with lots of little stories woven in about their backgrounds, some surprises and some quirky or bigoted characters along the way. It’s about love, friendship, fatherhood, identity and acceptance with some fabulous musical numbers and raucously funny moments.
The three lead characters are played by Joe McFadden, Miles Western and Nick Hayes. Each of them stole the show in their own way, Miles plays the transgender character of Bernadette, whilst Nick plays the super flamboyant Adam (Drag name Felicia) and Joe is Tick (Drag name Felicia) finding his own way in this world. The main message of this show is about the acceptance of everyone for who they are without judgement or violence and to celebrate the diversity and kindness of people no matter who they are (or what they choose to wear). Priscilla takes on many stigmas that the LGBTQ+ community deal with on a daily basis, even in today’s modern world, and sticks it's finger up at them.
You also really cannot go wrong with so much colour, glitter, sequins, feathers, outrageous headpieces and smash hits such as It’s Raining Men, What’s Love Got to Do With It, I Will Survive and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, each with perfectly choreographed dance routines. The stage set was really exciting too with lots of different scenes, the tour bus and one of my favourites was how they showed one of their performances from backstage – clever and funny.
Kings and Queens – go see this show!
Running until 5th October at Milton Keynes Theatre. For tickets, head to www.atgtickets.com

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Review: 9 to 5 The Musical



9 to 5 is based on the film of the same name from 1978 and is about how three secretaries get their own back on their male chauvinistic boss. The story has been toned down a bit as they no longer want to kill him but more to punish and rehabilitate him.
The musical has Dolly Parton written all over it which is not surprising really as she has not just given her name to the show but had a massive input into it from the music to the story and the characters.
In some ways the story is dated and very much a story of its time being set in the 1980s. Its quirky, corny and daft at times but it seems to work as one forgets political correctness and the equality of men and women in the workplace that we take for granted (mostly) today. 
Apart from the song 9 to 5 the tunes and lyrics are unmemorable. No great hits here. Thankfully we had at least 2 renditions of 9 to 5 to get the audience up dancing and singing in their seats. 
The star of the show was Brian Conley who played Mr Hart the male chauvinistic boss from hell. It was amazing how he held the audience in the palm of his hand with perfect comedy timing. Let’s face it Brian can’t really sing or dance to any high level, but it didn’t really matter. Even with those limitations I can’t imagine anyone else could have done the part of Mr Hart so well.  What casting! The double act scene with Roz (Lucinda Lawrence) as she fantasised about her unrequited love for her boss was probably the best scene of all. 
It took a while to get used to the Dolly Parton character but Georgina Castle who played the role of Doralee soon began to bring the audience with her on this journey. Well done also to Laura Tyrer who ably stepped in to play Violet in this performance.  Also, a mention for Amber Davies who ably played Judy. What a great line up of actors.
The stage setting, the music and the lights were West End theatre at its best and all brought to MK Theatre.
This will be a sell out show so do try and see it. It’s on until Saturday 28th September.  
Tickets from www.atgtickets.com/Miltonkeynes or telephone 0844 871 7652 (booking fee applies)

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Review: Avenue Q at Milton Keynes Theatre



Review: Avenue Q at Milton Keynes Theatre – Tuesday 10th September




Back for a second run at Milton Keynes Theatre this puppet show could initially be mistaken for the muppets. But this is certainly not the Sesame Street that you’d want your children to watch any time soon.

The story follows Princeton who is a fresh-faced English graduate growing up and trying to find his purpose in life – a life of humans, puppets and some rather offensive songs which you can’t help but start singing along with. Who knew there would be a five minute song about what the internet is actually used for?

Intermixing puppet characters and human characters together on stage as if they co-exist in the real world worked really well. Initially I thought I would pay more attention to the puppeteers instead of the puppets but as the show went on the puppets stole the show with their great facial expressions that portrayed their feelings and intricate movements progressing the story (although some of these movements are a bit more risqué than others).

The set remains pretty much the same throughout – the only changes coming from different ‘doors’ opening to indicate a different setting and changes in lighting to portray a change of mood or pace. I feel this had mixed success as when some of the doors opened, they were quite small and it was quite hard to see what was behind each door.

The small cast were fantastic – many of them operating more than one puppet and seamlessly switched between each character making it appear there were more cast members than there actually were. Stand out character for me had to be Trekkie Monster with his crude songs and matching actions.

Avenue Q is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 14th September.