Tuesday 10 March 2020

Review: Band of Gold

Set in the 90’s and loosely based on the TV series Band of Gold, this play offers something more challenging than MK theatre’s normal but excellent fayre.
The play follows the story of one girl Gina’s (Sacha Parkinson) journey into the realms of prostitution and then the group of girls ‘down the lane’ that she teams up with. Various themes popped up from single motherhood to domestic violence and exploitation by men. Pretty gritty stuff but somehow not too overwhelming as a stage play. It certainly suited its times and would not have worked in today’s internet and smart phone era. 
Casting was tight with some well-known names from mostly the soaps. Some of the best names have got together to tread the boards. They were faultless, I must say. Look out for Shayne Ward, Gaynor Faye, Laurie Brett, Andrew Dunn, Emma Osman, Olwen May and new boy on stage Kieron Richardson.
It takes some doing to condense the series into a 2.5 hour play. Well done to the writer Kay Mellor for her adaptation. There was a lot to get in so the story was told in short sharp scenes. We just about get a basic understanding of the raison d’etre of each character before being quickly moved on to the next scene. I really liked the pace and didn’t feel I needed to know the full backstory of every character in any great depth which is just as well as there wasn’t time!
If you’re wondering, then yes there was some hope for these girls and there was some humour among the gritty storyline. I was engrossed by the story, it was fast paced and quite intense at times.
There is still time to see it: Band of Gold is on at MK Theatre until Saturday 14th March 2020
For tickets: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes or Box Office: 0844 871 7652

Thursday 27 February 2020

Review: The King and I

Absolutely enchanting! No expense has been spared on the stage musical The King and I. 

Set in the 1800s, the story tells of a widowed teacher who comes to teach the King of Siam’s children - of which there are many. She arrives to find a dogmatic king whose treatment of his wives and women in general is highly questionable. As a story, it could have seemed rather dated but somehow it still works. Revisiting classics can be fraught with problems re political correctness, but this performance just about gets away with it.

The music of Rodgers and Hammerstein is timeless, and the songs are buried in our consciousness for ever. We all know Shall we dance; I Whistle a Happy Tune and Hello Young Lovers. Annalene  Beechey who plays Anna the teacher sang beautifully. Her voice is like an angel with the most exquisite performance you’ll ever see on stage. Daren Lee who played the King of Siam had just the right sense of humour to endear himself to the audience despite his dubious treatment of women! Of course there were many other great performances from the cast.

Within the story is a small ballet called The Small House of Uncle Thomas. This small troupe put on an excellent ballet performance. This was most definitely a highlight of the show. The children were absolutely endearing and gained the biggest applause. Some of them will be the stage stars of the future. Look out for sumptuous costumes and the palatial stage set which creates an effective  backdrop to the story.

The King and I is on at MK theatre until 7th March. Tickets from the Box Office 0844 871 7652 or online here www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Wednesday 5 February 2020

Review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong

This hilarious show is on at MK Theatre this week – brought to you by Mischief Theatre, the same team behind The Play That Goes Wrong and A Comedy About A Bank Robbery.

It’s a fun, feel-good show suitable for the whole family. It’s not a children’s production, so don’t be fooled into thinking this show is childish or a panto…..unless you like that sort of thing, then that’s exactly what it is. 

The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are a haphazard bunch but they sure do their best to put on a jolly good show for the audience that dares or bothers to go and see them. Superb acting from the guys that play the Drama Society cast and crew and consequently the Peter Pan characters. We had the pleasure of interviewing Oliver Senton – who plays Assistant(co) Director Robert Grove and also the characters Nana the Dog, Peter Pan’s Shadow and Starkey - ahead of this show (featured in the January Phonebox Magazine). He set our expectations high with just how brilliant this show was going to be and we were most certainly not disappointed. Oliver along with the entire cast, was a joy to watch. Mischief Theatre have this really interesting way of making traditional silly British slapstick humour funny all over again – it’s like old-fashioned comedy reborn. 

In this particular show, you have the Cornley whatsit society, putting on a production of Peter Pan that goes rather wrong. Filled with all sorts of humour – some anticipated and some the audience doesn’t expect and possibly even some unplanned by the actors themselves. Broken props, dodgy flying, costume changes, forgotten lines, accidents and lots of silliness. You will laugh the whole way through. We heard some amazing cackling last night and lots of kids laughing their pants off. 

Go see this show! Running until 8th February 2020 at Milton Keynes Theatre.

For tickets, head to www.atgtickets.com

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Review: The Red Shoes

This week, Matthew Bourne’s production of The Red Shoes is at Milton Keynes Theatre. It was a sell-out at the world premier in London in 2016 and won two Olivier Awards. Audiences have been dazzled across the world including right here in MK and now you’re in for a second chance to catch this superb ballet which is unlike any other you have seen or will see! The Red Shoes last arrived in MK three years ago back in February 2017.
Hans Christian Andersen wrote the original fairy tale, The Red Shoes in 1845 which inspired the 1948 Powell and Pressburger film. The fairy tale is much darker (as is to be expected!) with a plot that includes chopping off feet and bursting hearts! This ballet however is a brilliant contemporary reimagining of the film that starred Moira Shearer. The seemingly magical red shoes have a mind of their own and will not stop dancing, however the overall story follows a ballet company, their shows and tours and this particular performance with their rising star, Victoria Page (performed exquisitely by Cordelia Braithwaite) and is essentially a ballet within a ballet!
The Red Shoes is a tale of obsession, possession and one girl's dream to be the greatest dancer in the world - whatever the cost. Victoria Page meets Boris Lermontov, the director of an innovative ballet company who has a knack for talent spotting. Victoria lives to dance but her ambitions become a battleground between two very different men who inspire her passion. The impresario brings her to stardom, but she risks losing her career when she marries composer, Julian Craster. 
Set to the achingly romantic music of golden-age Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann, you’ll be transported behind the scenes of the eccentric world of a ballet company and then into utterly surreal scenes as you’re introduced to the red shoes. The stage sets are so clever, as you’ll see in the images (I couldn’t choose just one!), from the dusty backstage rehearsals to glamourous parties and trips abroad when they’re on tour to the surreal set for the actual ballet of The Red Shoes. So with dazzling costumes and stage sets combined with some of the most wonderful dancing you will ever see, the show is completely hypnotic. 
Matthew Bourne is a magician in his own right bringing such beautiful and contemporary versions of classic stories to the modern stage and the modern audience. He has achieved something completely unique with the Red Shoes that would appeal to anybody. He said in an interview for the show’s brochure, “I have loved the film since I was a teenager with its depiction of a group of people all passionate about creating something magical and beautiful. It seemed to be saying that art was something worth fighting for, even dying for, if the rather melodramatic conclusion is to be believed? It was a world full of glamour, romance and creativity populated by larger-than-life personalities. In short, it was a world that I wanted to be a part of!”

For tickets, please head to www.atgtickets.com

Thursday 16 January 2020

Review: The Snowman at Milton Keynes Theatre

The cherished tale of The Snowman arrived at Milton Keynes Theatre this week, bringing with it a wonderful sense of nostalgia for all of us that have loved watching this classic on TV throughout our childhoods – and still do every year when it airs at Christmas time!

This stage adaptation is a ballet, there is no talking or singing, only dance and clever acting/movements to take you through each scene and set to the classic music we all know and love including ‘Walking in the Air’. It’s a wonderful introduction to ballet for those that haven’t been to one before, particularly for children. All children in the audience at last night’s performance were enthralled by the magic of the show; with many on the edge of their seats and dancing along with Father Christmas’ solo in Act 2.

It does feel an odd time of year for such a festive show, if only it could have been on in November instead, ahead of the Panto season. It did however provide a wonderful and magical evening to an otherwise dull, grey day in January! 

Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s production of The Snowman has been delighting audiences in the UK and abroad since 1993 when artistic director Bill Alexander approached Howard Blake to ask how he would feel about creating a full length stage version; and the show opened for Christmas that same year with immediate success. The story follows very closely to the original book by Raymond Briggs and the 1982 TV short with music composed by Howard Blake.

The full cast and orchestra were brilliant and I can highly recommend a trip to see this one, especially families with small children. The flying scene (set of course to Walking in the Air) was skilfully executed and performed as they flew across the skies, through the clouds, over the oceans and towards the moon before reaching their destination at the North Pole.

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.