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29 August 2012


Return to the Forbidden Planet
cut to the chase...
Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch
Wednesday 29th August 2012
Greeted by members of the intergalactic crew as we enter the auditorium, the audience are then taken through the emergency polarity reversal drill (actions essential).  The silliness begins, and never lifts throughout in a fun-packed, fast-paced show.
Full of familiar, toe-tapping rock 'n' roll hits and ingenious Shakespearian word-play, this is a wonderful showcase for the multi-talented cut to the chase... actor-musicians.  A cast of 8 (plus a special recorded cameo) played at least a dozen different instruments between them - two drum kits, guitars, keyboards, saxophones, trumpets, trombones, even the spoons - all expertly handled live on stage.  Of course they all sing too, and despite my constant enjoyment of the array of instruments, a particular highlight was the beautiful acappella Teenager in Love, led by Natasha Moore as Miranda accompanied by the rest of the cast, as well as the exhaustingly impressive She's Not There electric guitar solo by Mark Newnham as Cookie, in an impressive professional debut.  All of the performances were excellent, but Ariel the robot, played by Fredrick "Frido" Ruth in a wonderfully tacky silver costume, stands out if only for his remarkable ability to successfully navigate the multiple steps on stage in his roller skates.
Being styled on 1950s B-movies, the Queen's Theatre set and costume departments have outdone themselves with their spectacularly tacky designs.  The set is covered with silver paint, flashing lights, smoke machines, and a projected backdrop, producing an overall effect worthy of Doctor Who and eliciting grins of delight from the audience as soon as they walked into the auditorium.  Costumes are simple but effective 1950s stereotypes, with the doctor in a long white coat and bow tie, the captain in a navy blue suit and peaked hat - a piece Sean Needham inventively maneuvered while limboing in and out of his guitar straps. 
I couldn't help but wonder at the decision to use handheld microphones throughout.  It certainly adds an extra complexity for the already juggling performers, and for me even distracted from the action in places.  The actors coped really well (a line lost at one point into a pipe prop in the actor's one hand instead of the mic in his other...), and there is of course a seperate issue of sound quality and the need to be able to mic all the various instruments, but surely a headset each for the dialogue as well as the handhelds would make for a smoother staging of an already frantic piece of theatre.
This is picky however, as this is a truly brilliant night out.  cut to the chase... always offer excellent value, top quality rep theatre, in their friendly, comfortable, home at the Queen's.  This show is an ideal demonstration of the heights they can reach, and judging by the appreciative, packed out house at the second preview, they are in for a great run.

18 August 2012


The Doctor's Dilemma
Lyttleton Theatre, London
Saturday 18th August 2012

Shaw's 1906 exploration of the attitude and power of the medical profession is as pertinent today as it would have been on it's debut.  Then, the concept of a National Health Service, where Doctor's were paid by the state no matter who they treat, was a new and revolutionary one.  However, the dilemma that is now commonly known as a "postcode lottery", where certain treatments remain so costly that while some can have them others cannot, is likely to always remain a moral dilemma - who should get to decide which patient can live and which should die?

The plot is thought-provoking; should the newly knighted Sir Colenso Ridgeon's (Aden Gillett) revolutionary cure for consumption be used to save a supremely gifted but unlikeable artist, or an unremarkable but good-hearted doctor friend.  A decision made more complex by the intervention of the artist's loving wife Jennifer Dubedat (Genevieve O'Reilly), with whom Sir Colenso has fallen in love.

Nadia Fall's direction of this new production brings out all of the humour in the handful of eccentric medics, each with their different pet treatment or technique.  Worringly powerful men, with varying levels of respect for the medical treatments they prescribe, but always an unyeilding belief that they are doing the right thing.  Particularly witty performances from Robert Portal as surgeon Walpole, and Malcolm Sinclair as Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington lighten the piece away from a dark morality play into a satirical black comedy. 

Plenty of drama amongst the laughs too however, with an earnest performance from Genevieve O'Reilly as the loyal wife who fights so hard for her husband's cure.  Less easy to warm to is the sincere Sir Colenso - the doctor with the moral decision on his hands, he retains a clinically cool professionalism for a man whose decisions are later so easily swayed by his emotions.

A mixed production that seemed to win the audience over with dark satirical comedy rather than moral philosophy, but some fine performances and a grand set made for a lavish evening's entertainment.


London Road
Olivier Theatre, London
Saturday 18th August 2012

In 2006, the quiet Suffolk town of Ipswich found itself at the centre of an investigation into the murders of five prostitutes whose bodies were discovered in the local area.  The story of the murders and the subsequent trial of the serial killer Steven Wright were headline news. 

The verbatim book and lyrics of this uniquely groundbreaking musical were selected from a series of interviews conducted with the residents of London Road - the street Steven Wright was living on, and his victims were working on - and other Ipswich residents.  Through lots of careful repetition, a strategic inclusion of filler words and laughter and the retention of the soft Suffolk accents, a natural rhythm and musicality has been found in this simple, everyday speech.  The result has a refreshing power that never feels false.  You get an immediate sense of personality from each of the dozens of characters played by the 11 supremely talented and versatile cast members, who include a stand-out Kate Fleetwood.

The story is a powerful one.  The prevailing scene, for me, was the interview with the prostitutes in the number "We've All Stopped", and later the recording of the same words from the real girls themselves.  Also striking however was the feeling of community among the residents, symbolised beautifully by the "London Road in Bloom" competition.  Some of the views expressed were shocking, it would hardly be realistic if they weren't, but a widespread concern for the girls was the shared emotion most impressed upon the audience.

The staging was minimal, but delicately impressive.  Silhouettes of additional people of Ipswich adorned the stage, Police tape wound around and across to create a constricting web hemming in the London Road residents, screens showing staged news reports were shown on TVs.  Throughout the action a collection of bright hanging baskets hung from the ceiling, some dropping down on wires in the final optimistic scene.

An innovative production, which captures the feeling of ordinary people thrust into an extraordinary situation.  Clever, thought-provoking and imaginative - proof that musical theatre can tackle any subject, and achieve a depth of feeling beyond the stereotypical sequins and sparkle.

14 August 2012


Dreamboats and Petticoats
National Tour
Cliffs Pavillion, Southend
Tuesday 14th August 2012

This feel-good 50s musical, inspired by the popular compilation albums, hits Southend for a two week run, and is a perfect antidote to the dreary summer weather.

Packed full of toe-tapping tunes, all accompanied live on stage by a host of talented actor-musicians, it cannot fail to make you smile.  A very simple storyline weaves the long list of song covers together, which keep on coming every couple of minutes in a packed programme.

With bright period costumes, coiffured hairdos and a couple of dodgems, the production standards are very high.  A young cast of talented performers maintain energetic and enthusiastic energy levels throughout, and a reminiscent book ensures some moments of comedy too. 

A sure-fire Summer hit, perfect in it's seaside location at the Cliffs - you'll be dancing in the aisles!

11 August 2012


Michael McIntyre
Work in Progress
Cliffs Pavillion, Southend
Saturday 11th August 2012

One of the country's most popular current comedians, Michael McIntyre has shot to stardom with his enthusiastic, floppy haired brand of observational comedy.  After taking over from Jack Dee with the BBC's "Live at the Apollo", he then began touring the country with a similar format live show, "Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow", and has been regularly on our screens ever since.

Building on the success of his three nights at Wembley in 2009, he is about to embark on a large-scale arena tour of the UK, and visits the Cliffs for three sell-out "warm-up" gigs to try out his new material. 

With not long to go before his tour begins, the evening was slick and fast paced - which can not always be said of these "Work in Progress" gigs - and the audience were enthusiastically receptive of this popular comedian. 

Without wishing to spoil anything for future viewers, we laughed until we ached at the winding narrative that weaves together a list of observations into a hilarious climax.  Michael's sons have featured heavily in his material since they were born, and this show is no exception, with the section about his children being among the sharpest and wittiest of the night.

A treat for anyone who will be seeing this show on tour, and the inevitable post-show DVD, but even more so for those of us lucky enough to catch him in the comparatively intimate setting of a regional theatre.