Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Willy Russell. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Willy Russell. Sort by date Show all posts

Tuesday 14 March 2017

Shirley Valentine (UK Tour), New Victoria Theatre | Review

Shirley Valentine
New Victoria Theatre
Reviewed on Monday 13th March 2017 by Glenys Balchin

I am old enough to have seen the Oscar nominated Shirley Valentine film nearly thirty years ago but never the play. Therefore I was not sure whether or not I would enjoy the one woman show without the famous Costas played by Tom Conti in the film. But I was not disappointed. Jodie Prenger shone as brightly as Pauline Collins had thirty years ago as Shirley Valentine.  

For the duration of two hours Jodie Prenger marched and swaggered to dominate the stage and all the time cleverly engaging and drawing in her the audience.  You totally forgot she was on her own as she brought the other characters to life on stage. I would certainly recommend this show to my friends but with the caveat that they are women of a certain age.

The play itself is about a bored and disillusioned Liverpudlian housewife who is trying to find her identity and get back her “unused life”. Her adventures starts when her best friend invites her to go to Greece on holiday with her. She takes up the offer of a trip as she feels dissatisfied, neglected and ignored by her husband and family, now that her children have flown the nest. She goes to Greece for a two week holiday but decides to stay and as she feels no one would miss her at home.  

Don’t be mistaken into thinking this is a Greek tragedy, it is a heartfelt emotional comedy with Jodie Prenger performing with impeccable comedic timing to make you laugh and cry at the same time. Willy Russell is amazing in understanding the psyche and intellect of women. This comedy may have been written three decades ago, 1986 to be exact, but is still just as relevant today, which in a way is a sad thing for me to have say, as you would have thought that we would have moved on. On saying that the age of the leading lady probably would now be older and there certainly are more opportunities for women these days to follow, as long as they have the right encouragement at home.

As for depicting the era I thought the kitchen set was a throwback of my Mum’s kitchen in the eighties when I was growing up so, for me it was a real nostalgic trip down memory lane. I thought it was a good decision to keep to the original decade of when the play was written rather than updating to the current day. The special effect when Jodie Prenger cooks eggs and chips during the play added an authentic touch plus Jodie really knew how to work the kitchen so fully believable. 

My only criticism on not depicting the 80’s accurately would be Jodie’s hair which was more the fifties style rather than over permed shaggy haircut or that of the late Lady Diana’s hair style. The music could have been more eighties and when she was in Greece a little bit more Zorba but that may have distracted from the performance.

There is no doubt that Prenger owns the stage and mesmerises her audience with her larger than life personality which carries this revival of Shirley Valentine from the opening to the curtain call. To give an amazing performance like Jodie delivered must be attributed to the way she has been directed by the legendary Glen Walford, who has skilfully nurtured Jodie’s talent to enable her to deliver a fast-paced performance which does not falter nor lose energy from the fast paced monologue.

My first thought of seeing Shirley Valentine is that it would feel out-dated, not funny and never equal the performance of Pauline Collins, so I was very happy to say that I have been proven totally wrong.  The Willy Russell script has clearly stood the test of time, and Jodie Prenger was absolutely sensational in the part.  It was a great night at the theatre it made me laugh but at the same time I came home thinking about my own “Unused Life”. 

If you are a woman of a certain age then this show is a must for you, it will make you laugh, give you great pleasure and happiness a real nostalgic trip back to the eighties. 

Shirley Valentine runs at the New Victoria theatre until March 18th 2017 before continuing on its UK Tour

Friday 16 November 2018

The Band (UK Tour), Grand Opera House, Belfast | Review

The Band (UK Tour)
Grand Opera House, Belfast
Reviewed on Tuesday 13th November 2018 by Damien Murray

Take the story of 5 teenage boyband fans from 1993 

Take the women they turn out to be some 25 years later 

Take the boyband they adore 

… oh, and Take That – or at least a selection of their greatest hits – and you are getting close to some of the magical ingredients of this most enjoyable evening of musical theatre. 

Superbly directed by Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder, aided by a strong team of equally imaginative creatives (particularly Jon Bausor’s Design and Patrick Woodroffe’s Lighting Design), there is so much more to the success of this intriguing musical than one would imagine. 

Of course, it is not the first time that the music of one of the world’s most popular boybands has been brought to the theatrical stage, but this production demonstrates how it should be done. 

Cleverly written by Our House writer, Tim Firth, who again captures the mood and nuances of a particular community (this time, working class Northerners) in the same way that the great Willy Russell highlighted the highs and lows of a Liverpool family as they grew up in the classic musical, Blood Brothers, this show also uses comedy and tragedy to bring life’s dark and shade to us in an evening of emotional ups and downs. 

Rather than opting for the easier and more commonly used concert-format to give a platform for the popular music, this production is unique in that it is not a traditional jukebox musical, nor is it a tribute act to Take That, but rather an engaging and believable story-based show with many surprises about a group of female fans who grow older and grow apart, before reuniting, like their beloved boyband, many years later. 

Apart from some impressive production numbers of the type Take That are famous for and the perfect vocals and harmonies of ‘The Band’ themselves –AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Jones, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon– in re-workings of the well-loved hits, the key to the success here lies in the fact that the songs are all so cleverly integrated within the story without sounding overtly contrived. 

Musical director, John Donovan, and his, mostly hidden, on-stage 5-piece band of musicians is always sympathetic to the story, while providing solid support to the spot-on vocals of The Band and to its enthusiastic dancing as Kim Gavin’s energetic take on Take That’s choreography is brought to life, complete with iconic positioning and poses. 

As if the boys in The Band don’t work hard enough performing all 18 songs and their associated dance moves, they also have to deal with numerous quick changes and the playing of many extras throughout. 

Having always been known for respecting their fans, it is not surprising that this show is not about Take That (they are not even mentioned in the show), but – like a present to their loyal fans – they opted to make the show about a group of fans and the fun and friendship that ensued through the shared experience of fandom. 

We follow them from their hormone-filled teenage years (when they are played by Faye Christall, Katy Clayton, Rachelle Diedericks, Sarah Kate Howarth and Lauren Jacobs) to an unexpected reunion when they are all forty-something (and played by Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce and Jayne McKenna). 

Providing universally great performances throughout, the members of this precious sisterhood reveal many stories, secrets and surprises … not least the fact that life did not turn out as expected for any of them. 

This is a clever plot as many Take That fans in the audience can readily identify with some of the circumstances, characters, problems and stories being portrayed on stage. 

In contrast to the complicated lives of the ladies, Martin Miller gives a nice understated performance of the simple life led by Jeff, while Andy Williams is outstanding in a series of comic cameos. 

While musical highlights include the moving rendition of A Million Love Songs, the production number, Greatest Day, and the poignant Back For Good, other songs like Could It Be Magic, Patience, Relight My Fire and Rule The World all stand out. 

This fast-paced production also provides some memorable moments like the Roman Chariot scene, the breakable statues in Prague, the aeroplane that becomes a giant glitter ball, the use of a large time-related teletext projection at the start, which progressed to a large digital billboard for the start of Act 2, and the Act 1 finale scene when the aeroplane takes-off over the audience with believable noise and wind effects for those in the front stalls. 

Overall, it is easy to see why this is such a great girlie night out for fans of Take That, but it is so much more for, even if you are neither female nor a fan, you will still enjoy this as it is essentially a great night out for anyone. 

This engaging, endearing and entertaining production may provide a night of harmonies, hormones and hilarity… but, more than anything, it has heart! 

The Band runs at the Grand Opera House until Sat 24 Nov, 2018

Photo credit: Matt Crockett

Thursday 2 March 2023

Shirley Valentine, Duke of York's Theatre | Review

Shirley Valentine
Duke of York's Theatre

From the audience at the Duke of York's Theatre, it's clear that Shirley Valentine is a much loved story and after seeing Sheridan Smith's performance, I think it's only going to receive further love and praise. The one woman show follows disillusioned mother and wife Shirley as she reminisces on her "unused life" and wonders how she can really find herself and her happiness again. The show is a glorious manifesto on being a woman and is so incredibly moving in all the best ways. It celebrates the small things and highlights hardships so many people go through in such a seamless and engaging way. You truly couldn't ask for more.

Sheridan Smith has had many star turns in her career and is a hugely celebrated actress for good reason and this production completely hammers that home. Smith is completely born for this role, giving into it and making the audience feel like she's truly lived the life she talks about; and also making the audience feel like they've lived it with her. There's no way to not sound overly gushy, because Sheridan is just that good; her performance is an absolute dream and truly couldn't be better.

Watching this show, it's quite amazing to realise that, without being condescending, it was written by a man. Willy Russell has completely nailed the female spirit and the entire script feels incredibly natural. For a show written over thirty years ago, it remains as fresh and sadly relevant as ever.

Paul Wills' set is completely fitting for the story and allows the story to shine, almost becoming a character of its own, especially given the personification of the kitchen wall. The simplistic staging works perfectly as does the gorgeous lighting design from Lucy Carter. Understated lighting changes parallel the emotions Shirley is feeling and work well to really emphasise the most emotive moments.

What's so wonderful about this show, and I'm sure why it resonates with so many, is that it's all about a normal person. There's no larger than life drama or swooping romantic relationships, instead there's a genuine character discussing real life issues. In a way it's sad that so many can relate to Shirley's feelings but hopefully this show will help people realise that they are not alone and that your life, however small it may feel, is a glorious, stage worthy one too! 

Under Matthew Dunster's excellent direction, with Sheridan Smith at her absolute best, this is perhaps one of the most grounded and well performed productions in the West End and I just wish everyone could see it. Stunning, stunning work.

Photo Credit: John Wilson
Reviewed on Saturday 25th February 2023 by Olivia Mitchell

{AD PR Invite- tickets gifted in exchange for honest review}

Thursday 10 February 2022

Blood Brothers (Tour), New Wimbledon Theatre | Review

Blood Brothers (Tour)
New Wimbledon Theatre
Reviewed on Wednesday 9th February 2022

Willy Russell's award winning musical Blood Brothers has been wowing audiences around the world for forty years and is also one of the few shows to have run for over 10,000 performances in the West End. It's a regular feature of the theatre touring circuit and 2022 is no exception as it once again hosts Bill Kenwright's brilliant production.

The emotive and dramatic show tells the story of Mrs Johnstone, a single mother in Liverpool who is bringing up a large family alone and has just found out she'll have more mouths to feed as she's expecting twins. She really can't afford this, so in a snap decision she gives away one son to a wealthy lady who cannot have children of her own. They make a deal that the brothers will never know of one another and won't be part of each others lives. But when the two boys meet accidentally aged seven, they form an instant connection becoming 'Blood Brothers'. The story follows them across the years as we see how economic background and nature vs nurture affects the pair; and how it leads to their eventual tragic demise which opens the show.

I think what makes this such an enduring show is a mixture of both its observations on human nature/privilege and the way it swings effortlessly from comedy to tragedy and takes you along on the journey so well. At times it can be melodramatic but it's balanced so well with deep genuine pain that you can see past it.

The show's cast are exceptional, with the core performers showing depth and growth and the rest of the cast nimbly juggling a variety of roles and supporting the action brilliantly. As the son Mrs Johnstone keeps, Sean Jones is outstanding as Mickey. His character development is masterful as he goes from a cheeky seven year old, to a teen learning to love (and dance), all the way to an adult struggling with addiction. Every second is believable and engaging and he's just fantastic. As the other brother, Eddie, Joel Benedict is charming and sweet. His character isn't as multi-layered as Mickey but he does a great job with what he's given and the pair bounce off of one another like real childhood friends. Carly Burns also gives a touching performance as the final addition to the friendship trio. Her portrayal as Linda is nicely nuanced and it's heartbreaking to see her role in the tragedy.

As Mrs Johnstone, the boys' birth mother, Niki Evans is unparalleled. Her portrayal is the definition of honest and the vocals which accompany it are magnificent. Her acting is incredibly natural and you don't doubt for a second that she's really experiencing the highs and extreme lows of her life. Niki's performance of Tell Me It's Not True is astoundingly moving and has the audience raring to give their final standing ovation.

The show is dated in parts but it kind of adds to the charm and history of it all. It's an exhausting journey of a musical but well worth a watch. Pack some tissues and get yourself along to your local theatre to witness the magic and misery that is Blood Brothers.

Blood Brothers plays at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 12th February 2022 and then continues its tour