Posts with the label belfast
Showing posts with label belfast. Show all posts
Showing posts with label belfast. Show all posts

Saturday 9 February 2019

The Bodyguard (UK & Ireland Tour), Grand Opera House, Belfast | Review

The Bodyguard (UK & Ireland Tour)
Grand Opera House
Reviewed on Wednesday 6th February 2019 by Damien Murray

Literally starting with a bang… before Karen Bruce’s super-charged choreography ensured that its fiery opening number set the quality bar high for the remainder of the show, this latest touring production of the ever popular musical is another winner.

This romantic thriller, peppered with some of the best of Whitney Houston’s hits, is back in town for its third sell-out run in recent years … and it is easy to see why.

Offering the right balance of romance, suspense, dance, humour and music, this award-winning musical based on Lawrence Kasdan’s blockbuster film, which starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, gives audiences everything they want wrapped up in a quality-filled ‘night out’ to keep them coming back for more.

For those who are unfamiliar with the successful film, the story centres around singing superstar and budding film star, Rachel Marron, and her changing relationship with personal bodyguard, Frank Farmer, who has been hired by her manager to protect her after a series of threatening notes have been found.

Many people go to this show only to hear the music as the plot has been criticised for being too far-fetched, but, sadly, stars with stalkers of some degree or another are more common than one might think.

As someone who was once involved in protecting a performer from a stalker, I could really identify with the storyline here (although my experience was without the romantic elements of this piece!).

Played out on Tim Hatley’s clever and ever-changing sliding-door set, which not only aided the seamless flow of the show but also reinforced the ever-changing situation of the gripping story-line, this was a well-paced production, which made effective use of projections.

Yet again, the star of this show was former X-Factor winner, Alexandra Burke, in the role of the controlling diva-style star, Rachel Marron, and – having recently performed in such musicals as Sister Act, Chess and Chicago and having been so successful in television’s Strictly Come Dancing – it was an even more confident and experienced performer this time that filled both Marron’s shoes and the auditorium with great vocals in Houston’s many hits. 

Playing opposite Burke as her equally controlling, bodyguard, Frank Farmer, Benoit Marechal was a much calmer and more controlled character who took his job very seriously. So, the karaoke scene was nice in that it showed a different side of his character while providing a degree of humour to lighten the mood of the piece. 

Although I didn’t get any sense of fear from Phil Atkinson’s chilling character in his early appearances (maybe due to his direction), the sinister stares of the stalker became appropriately more threatening and unsettling as the show progressed and Atkinson developed into a truly menacing stalker, especially when he rose from the orchestra pit in his final scene.

Resentful of her life playing second-fiddle in the shadow of her successful sister, Micha Richardson was impressive as the talented, but jealous, sister, Nicki; her vocal talent getting a solo chance to shine in Saving All My Love For You.

Musical director, Michael Riley, and his eight-piece orchestra did wonders in supplying such a big and full sound for the varied score of power ballads and up-tempo dance numbers, while Mark Henderson’s versatile lighting designs complemented all aspects of the production, and both combined – especially Riley’s perfect incidental music and Henderson’s wonderful use of white light effects – to heighten tension and suspense at appropriate moments of the show.

Thea Sharrock’s direction was also spot-on throughout, but particularly in emphasising these elements of what is, after all, a thriller. A good example of this was the use of slow motion and freeze action in the club scene and at the awards ceremony. 

What surprises me is that, despite being one of the few who do not even like the music of Whitney Houston (really!), this is my third time seeing this show … and, thanks to high production values and talented performances, my third time enjoying the productions.

Musical highlights included: I’m Every Woman and How Will I Know?, while the defining moment in the story was captured during One Moment In Time and Burke’s perfectly staged finale song, the emotionally-charged rendition of I Will Always Love You, proved to be the undoubted show-stopper ahead of the full company mega mix encore. 

Overall, power ballads combined with powerhouse performances and strong choreography to make this a truly powerful production. 

The Bodyguard runs at the Grand Opera house until 16th February 2019

photo credit: Paul Coltas

The Bodyguard (UK & Ireland Tour), Grand Opera House, Belfast | Review

Saturday 9 February 2019

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Alice: The Musical, Lyric Theatre, Belfast | Review

Alice: The Musical 
Lyric Theatre, Belfast 
Reviewed on Saturday 15th December 2018 by Damien Murray 

20 years after I first reviewed its premiere production at the venue, Paul Boyd’s is back at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre with a reworked and updated version of his successful and inventive musical adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic about Alice’s dream-like journey into the wild and wacky world of Wonderland. 

While the zany characters of Wonderland with their impressive costumes (thanks to designers, Gillian Lennox and Erin Charteris) combine with Boyd’s predominately pop-orientated and catchy score to please the children, there is plenty here to engage adults too; not least the topicality of the piece with many character and scenario parallels to the on-going, and equally bewildering, Brexit situation. 

Since its premiere, this acclaimed show has performed throughout the UK and in theatres as far away as America and Japan… and it is easy to see why. 

Offering an alternative to pantomime, it is a perfect family treat for the Festive period, but – not having any seasonal restrictions – remains an equally relevant retelling of a classic at any time of the year. 

Played out on Stuart Marshall’s relatively open set, with lots of attractive graphics from the story, and under Paul Keogan’s deceptively simple, but highly effective, lighting plot, this seamless, energetic and fast-paced production allows no respite for the hard-working cast. 

Indeed, it is hard to believe that such a complex show can be staged so effortlessly by such a small cast (only seven in number!) and they deserve full credit for, even on a double show day, there was no cutting of corners or lack of commitment from anyone at the matinee performance I attended. 

In the role of a narrator, Charlotte McCurry’s ever-watching Cheshire Cat guides us through the dream-like adventures with a high degree of vocal clarity, while Christina Nelson’s suitably scatty White Rabbit adds to the wonderful sense of confusion in Wonderland throughout. 

As the soft-spoken and gentle Alice, Ruby Campbell is aptly confused and bewildered and deservedly wins the affections of the younger audience members from an early stage, while Allison Harding’s pompous and impatient Queen of Hearts represents the opposite end of the personality spectrum. 

In multiple roles, the trio of male actors, Mark Dugdale (The Caterpillar and Mad Hatter), Adam Dougal (Tweedledee, The March Hare and The White Knight) and Rea Campbell-Hill (Tweedledum, Dormouse and The King Of Hearts) are all equally talented. 

Dugdale excels both as the flamboyantly dressed Mad Hatter and as the popular Caterpillar who, as a butterfly in waiting, is at a disadvantage because of his fear of heights and his air sickness. 

While Dougal is superb as the eccentric and not so inventive White Knight, a stand-out moment of the show is when he teams up with Campbell-Hill, as the theatrical and entertainment duo, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, to deliver a great two-man routine. 

Other highlights here include the theatricality of the ‘shrinking’ scene and the highly entertaining Tea Party scene. 

With no ensemble or dancers to help them, the seven cast members are not only uniformly good actors but are also, by necessity, all exceptionally strong singers and dancers and they all do justice to Deborah Maguire’s decisive choreography and to Boyd’s knowing direction and musical direction of his varied and pre-recorded score. 

As a perfect alternative to pantomime, this inventive, colourful, entertaining and story-based production will engage the entire family (except, perhaps, those under 3) with its well-known and well-loved characters and dream-like adventures. 

Nothing makes sense in the wacky world of Wonderland, but it would be equally senseless if you were to miss this magical musical … and they will welcome you, even if your name is not Alice! 

Alice: The Musical runs at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast until Saturday 5th January, 2019 

Photo credit: Melissa Gordon 

Alice: The Musical, Lyric Theatre, Belfast | Review

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Sunday 9 December 2018

Jack and the Beanstalk, Grand Opera House, Belfast | Review

Jack And The Beanstalk
Qdos Entertainment 
Grand Opera House, Belfast 
Reviewed on Tuesday 4th December 2018 by Damien Murray 

Jack’s back!… and so is pantomime in all its traditional glory in this truly spectacular show that remains as magical as Jack’s famous beans … for, it really is the BeansTALK OF THE TOWN! 

The key to the success of any Panto is not only having all of the required elements, but achieving the right balance of its ingredients -staging, spectacle, performance, humour, music, choreography, magic, special effects, sound and lighting etc.,- to make it equally appealing and entertaining to all of its cross-generational audience… and this production has it all with balance finely tuned in all departments. 

However, the most challenging thing about this super slick production was how to give this annual treat a new direction in terms of returning to more traditional values without diminishing the hi-tech appeal and special effects that modern audiences have come to expect and appreciate. 

So, while the humour is more traditionally corny and the re-introduction of both a speciality act and some visual magic adds the degree of old time ‘variety’ lacking in so many current pantomimes, the visual impact of the show-stealing effects embraces more than ‘smoke and mirrors’ to keep the theatrical tricks as hi-tech as possible to impress even the most critical of today’s demanding audience. 

The simple trick of having the ever-present twinkling of lights incorporated into the star curtain on the surrounding set proscenium is most effective in ensuring that the magical feel of panto is always there. 

While the stunningly beautiful sets, lighting and costumes all play a big part in the overall success of this great team effort, the story, which is re-imagined and relocated to Belfast in true panto style with lots of popular local references and jibes, throws up great characters for all, especially the show’s four main principals. 

Now in her 29th year as the pantomime dame at this prestigious venue, May McFettridge (aka John Linehan) remains as popular as ever (in the role of Jack’s Mummy, Dame May Trot) as she effortlessly targets fellow cast members and audience alike with her quick-fire put-downs and, with the addition this year of a video camera, is in her element as she embarrasses her audience victims even more by projecting them onto an on-stage screen during her relentless banter. 

Although this idea brings audience participation to a new level, I must admit that the one type of participation I miss this year is May’s excellent encounters with very young children as she ‘interviews’ them on stage with hilarious, if unpredictable, results. 

As usual, her partner in crime is local actor and pantomime regular, Paddy Jenkins (as her long-suffering husband, Farmer Paddy Trot), who has become an expert at comedy timing and delivery over the years. 

Also big in the comedy stakes is former cruise comic, Rikki Jay (as their son and brother of the more ‘clued in’ Jack), who -with his simplistic one-liners and likeable character- proves a big hit with the children in the audience. 

However, following his outstanding performance in last year’s panto, the quick return of the multi award-winning, David Bedella (as the Giant’s villainous and evil henchman, Fleshcreep) is a masterstroke for the venue as there are few actors as good at being bad as Bedella when it comes to being the ultimate ‘baddie’… without being too scary for the little ones. 

This quartet is ably supported throughout by Joanna O’Hare’s Mother Nature, Georgia Lennon’s Princess Apricot, Michael Pickering’s Jack, an adult ensemble and talented young performers from the McMaster Stage School, while an added attraction is the speciality roller-skating act -Italian duo, Armando Ferriandino and Giovanna Manuela Mar- who bring skill and daring to the show as The Belfast Roller Rollers. 

Under Mark Dougherty’s musical direction, the small 5-piece orchestra work hard on the varied score to offer many musical highlights, including Justin Timberlake’s ever-popular Can’t Stop The Feeling, Talk To The Animals from Dr. Dolittle, an almost obligatory offering from The Greatest Showman, Michael Jackson’s Bad and Frank Sinatra’s My Way. 

With a tight hold on both direction and choreography, Andrew Wright ensures a memorable panto experience for all and while other highlights include the choreographed cow and other farmyard animals (with most realistic costuming), the novelty scene when the squashed Simon sings and dances, the tongue twister tales and the slapstick principal line routine, the show stealers are the appearance of the mighty Giant and that of May’s transportation to the top of the beanstalk, which, as the Act 1 finale, even puts Miss Saigon to shame in terms of theatrical special effects. 

Yes, traditional panto is back in Belfast with a bang (and I don’t just mean the pyrotechnics) and I am so glad that, on her first ever visit to a panto, one of my grandchildren could experience a gigantic spectacular of such quality as this really is Northern Ireland’s biggest and best panto. 

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Grand Opera House until Sun 13th January, 2019 

Jack and the Beanstalk, Grand Opera House, Belfast | Review

Sunday 9 December 2018

Sunday 30 September 2018

Under the Hawthorn Tree, The MAC, Belfast | Review

Under the Hawthorn Tree
The MAC, Belfast 
Reviewed on Friday 28th September 2018 by Damien Murray

Providing us with much-needed education of our own history through the accessibility of theatre, Charles Way’s premiere stage adaptation of Under The Hawthorne Tree by award-winning author, Marita Conlon-McKenna, works equally as well for adults as it does for children. 

Due to the darker nature of the story – that of the plight of three brave siblings as they journey alone across Ireland in search of unknown relatives at the height of the country’s devastating Potato Famine of 1845 – this production is aimed at families and children aged 7 and over. 

The 65-minute running time is just perfect for such a drama, with adults and older children getting totally immersed in the gripping storyline, while, being within their attention span, younger ones remain engaged enough to at least raise awareness and curiosity about the piece for future conversation. 

Commissioned by National Museums Northern Ireland, this joint production by The MAC in Belfast and locally-based award-winning international children’s theatre company, Cahoots, is a truly magical piece of theatre on many levels. 

Although magical in terms of theatricality and staging rather than this company’s signature brand of magic (illusions or tricks), Paul Bosco McEneaney’s direction strikes the right balance between story-telling and history-teaching about such a dark and serious topic. 

However, while the nature of the subject matter dictates that this is not a show for enjoyment, as such, there are moments to be enjoyed with a subtle sprinkling of gently humorous one-liners delivered with the innocence of a child. 

Ably supported with solid performances in numerous roles by Maggie Cronin, Julia Dearden, Adam Dougal, Colette Lennon Dougal and Frankie McCafferty, it is three younger performers - Maeve Smyth, Terence Keeley and Philippa O’Hara (although not as thin and scrawny as one would expect) – who have to carry the weight of this production as the ever present trio of siblings fighting for survival amid severe hardship throughout their perilous cross-country trek in search of an aunt they have never met. 

Bereft of parents and following the death of their baby sister, the raggedly-dressed and dirty-faced trio are soon forced to grow up fast on this hazardous journey with eldest daughter, Smyth’s Eily, having no choice but to care for her younger brother and sister and adopt the role of both mother and nurse. 

As the ‘man’ of the family, Keeley’s young Michael has to constantly balance his feelings between bravado and fear, while youngest daughter, O’Hara’s Peggy, is allowed to retain her childish innocence and continues to be both surprised and appalled by others having to tell lies for the greater good. 

Together, they encounter death, home eviction, starvation, weakness, tiredness, injury, the threat of overcrowded workhouses, soup kitchens, disease, fever, infant death and the unforgivable attitude of neighbouring countries to the Irish nation during its time of greatest need; the mood only lightened at times by Carlos Pons Guerra’s gentle and playful choreography. 

Sabine Dargent’s set and costume designs were also successful as was James McFetridge’s lighting, which combined with the sparse set and effective sound effects to provide an atmospheric sense of darkness and bleakness. 

Surrounding the circular wooden performance platform throughout, musical director, Shane McVicker, and his small band - Darragh Murphy, James Nash, Rod Patterson and Matt Weir – did great justice to Garth McConaghie’s sometimes haunting, eerie and Celtic-based score, with beautiful vocals and harmonies from the three ‘children’. 

Killing over one million Irish people and forcing another million to emigrate, the author of the book states that ‘the tragedy of the Great Irish Famine is the story of Ireland and her people’ and she originally wrote the piece to help her own children to understand the human side of the tragedy. 

Sadly, with famine, hunger, disease and displacement throughout the world still part of our daily news, this piece is as relevant today as ever, and, for me, this story remains as much about the resilience of children as it is about the plight of the Irish nation. 

This magical production reflects the resilience and team work that the children in the story must have had to survive such an ordeal. 

Under the Hawthorn Tree runs at the MAC, Belfast until 7th October 2018

Photo credit: Carrie Davenport 

Under the Hawthorn Tree, The MAC, Belfast | Review

Sunday 30 September 2018

Thursday 24 August 2017

Jane Eyre (Tour), Grand Opera House | Review

Jane Eyre (Tour)
Grand Opera House, Belfast 
Reviewed by Damien Murray on Tuesday 22 August 2017 

The National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic’s joint production of Jane Eyre is astonishingly good … and it is far from being what one would expect! 

It may be based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, but this work – devised by the original company – is modern in its approach, in its styling and in its staging and manages to retain Jane Eyre’s core characterisation of being a free spirit and a strong-willed individual who strives for equality and for the right to be herself. 

I am not a Brontë fan, yet I was blown away by this riveting production and gladly sat through over three hours of it without any loss of interest. Everything about this visually-stunning production is praise worthy, from its innovative direction and inventive staging to its exceptional and intense ensemble playing (complete with strong elements of physical theatre), and from its faultless lighting and sound plots to its magnificent movement, which ranged from the delicate and the balletic to the furious and the frenzied throughout. 

The trio of on-stage actor/musicians brought a lot to the table, with music that varied from appropriately ‘English’ style folk to gospel to what could best be described as atmospheric soundscapes, when required.  Musically, I loved Melanie Marshall’s apt interpretation and arrangement of the Gnarls Barkley (CeeLo Green) hit, 'Crazy' – so unexpected, yet totally fitting. 

Although performances were all faultless, I must congratulate Paul Mundell in particular for bringing the dog, Pilot, to life so well and with so much humour. 

Years ago, the Belfast Festival at Queen’s used to bring some spectacular pieces of world theatre to Belfast and these were ‘special’… This production is of such a high calibre that it seems a shame that it is just another touring production, for it, too, is very ‘special’ and provides a fantastic night of theatre – Don’t miss it! 

Jane Eyre continues at Belfast’s Grand Opera House until Sat 26 Aug, 2017

Jane Eyre (Tour), Grand Opera House | Review

Thursday 24 August 2017