Showing posts sorted by relevance for query emma gradwell. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query emma gradwell. Sort by date Show all posts

Friday, 17 August 2018

Gangsta Granny, Harold Pinter Theatre | Review


Gangsta Granny
Harold Pinter Theatre
Reviewed on Tuesday 16th August 2018 2017 by Emma Gradwell
★★★★

Old people are boring, smell like cabbage and are prone to knitting us unfashionable jumpers for Christmas. Or so we are led to believe at the start of this story. Birmingham Stage Company have brought David Walliams’ modern classic to the stage for a two-hour romp that all ages can enjoy – and they have rightfully been nominated for Best Entertainment and Best Family Olivier Awards. 

Ben (played by Tom Cawte) not only has to live with shallow and celebrity-obsessed parents (played by Jenny Gayner and Jason Furnival), he also has to endure Friday evenings playing scrabble and eating cabbage soup with his Granny (played by Louise Bailey) – who happily acts a free babysitter, while Mum and Dad live out their dreams at a local Ballroom Dancing class. When Granny overhears Ben begging his parents to let him come home because of his boredom, this visibly upset old lady hatches a plan to lead Ben to believe she’s not as dull as he thinks she is. 


When Ben discovers a stash of jewels in Granny’s Queen’s Jubilee biscuit tin, he learns that Granny once led another life as notorious jewel thief, The Black Cat, who liked to steal “for the buzz”. What ensues is a plot to steal The Crown Jewels from the Tower of London via the sewerage network, using Ben’s expert knowledge of plumbing. 

This production is very much a family comedy: it’s a little bit rude, with lots of fart and bum jokes, but also relies on a more subtle and gentle humour at times, with some of the funniest moments involving Granny and Ben flying round the stage on her mobility scooter, complete with buggy board. Dance sequences transition scenes, as the ensemble cast move the large revolving cube boxes of the set to reveal different scenes to good effect. 


Louise Bailey as Granny performs well as the frail old lady who finds her energy through her love for her grandson – and delivers the role with a twinkle. Emma Matthews plays her characters for laughs, with Matron being a clear favourite with the audience. Aosaf Afzal is fantastic as both the ridiculous Flavio – and shop owner Raj, who also engaged the audience during the interval with his special offers. 

Unexpected bear dances, daring escapes, Gangsta raps and naked yoga all helped to engage the younger audience, whilst managing to deliver a poignant message at the heart of the story – a delightful realisation that behind the caravan club magazines, there may be exciting secrets. Excellent acting, slick scene changes and a very charming story of a boy and his Granny managed to captivate all ages, while reminding us to appreciate our older relatives while we still can. 

Wholly enjoyable and a great way to spend some time with our families this summer! 

Gangsta Granny runs at the Harold Pinter theatre until 26th August 2018

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Billionaire Boy (UK Tour), New Theatre Oxford | Review


Billionaire Boy (UK Tour)
New Theatre Oxford
Reviewed on Wednesday 4th December 2019 by Emma Gradwell
★★★★

David Walliams' children’s books translate perfectly from page to stage, with Billionaire Boy being the Birmingham Stage Company’s third adaptation. The stories are naughty, gross and capture British school life to a tee.

Billionaire Boy tells us the tale of Joe Spud. The heir to the Bum Fresh fortune. He has crocodiles, a racing car and a two million pound cheque, but what he doesn’t have is something that money cannot buy.

Matthew Gordon as Joe, confidently leads a fantastic cast through this pleasing story that packs a kind message. The actors move seamlessly between characters who are all fully realised and charming. Highlights of the evening were Aosaf Afzal as the fabulous Raj, a recurring character in Walliams' books. He is the shop keeper that we all knew growing up, with hilarious sayings and antics. Also, Emma Matthews as Ms. Trafe gives a wonderful comedic performance, from her deep fried blue tac to her hip replacement that looks suspiciously like a boob job.

Jaqueline Taylor’s clever set design is made almost entirely out of toilet rolls. The different pieces open and move to reveal all sorts of scenes hidden away. Watch out for the helicopter reveal - it is impressive and an audience favourite!

Music by Jack Poore is simple and catchy. We were singing the Bum Fresh song all the way home on the train!

The Birmingham Theatre Company have taken a children’s story and made it into a sophisticated production. The audience reaction is testament to a good job done.

photo credit: Mark Douet

Saturday, 14 July 2018

The IDA Girls (Concert), The Other Palace Studio | Review


The IDA Girls (Concert) 
The Other Palace Studio 
Reviewed on Wednesday 11th July 2018 by Emma Gradwell 
★★★★★

While the rest of the country sat down to watch England vs. Croatia on Wednesday night, a small but select group gathered in the intimate studio at The Other Palace. A few rows of chairs and tables with a convenient bar made it a very personal affair.

We were treated to a classy and sleek evening by London classical crossover girl group IDA. Performing as part of The Big Smoke Festival (The Other Palace's week long music, cabaret and variety festival) Wendy Carr, Laura Coutts, Georgi Mottram and Sarah Vaughan make up the quartet. Having trained at some of the worlds leading conservatoires they have been singing together since 2016 when the met during a West End Production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Princess Ida - hence the name.


We were taken through a journey from Bizet to Adele with clever mashups fusing traditional opera with both pop and musical theatre. The result is truly beautiful. The four ladies may hail from worlds apart - Scotland, Jersey, Ireland and Australia - but their chemistry is undeniable. All of the arrangements are self written making this combination genre completely their own.

After the opening verse of Phantom of the Opera a booming bass-baritone voice could be heard from the back of the room. Rodney Earl-Clarke appeared from the darkness to duet with the girls with superb effect.

Also accompanying was Steinway pianist Dominic Ferris - one half of the critically acclaimed double act 'Ferris and Milne'. There was a special performance of his own at the mid way point allowing for a quick costume change and an update of the Football. Dominic is a very expressive pianist and an absolute joy to hear and watch. 

The show was exquisite from start to finish. The IDA Girls are talented, beautiful and funny. I would highly recommend an evening in their company and cannot wait to see what comes next from them.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Madagascar the Musical (UK Tour), New Theatre Oxford | Review


Madagascar the Musical
New Theatre Oxford
Reviewed on Tuesday 30th April 2019 by Emma Gradwell
★★★★

Spotlights spiral around the auditorium, a crate flies open and a monkey threatens to throw poop at us if we use our mobile phones – the tone is immediately set for Madagascar the Musical

Set designer, Tom Rogers does a magnificent job. The stage is surrounded by packing crates that may contain some surprises, and moving pieces that instantly transform the set into a zoo, Grand Central Station and the jungles of Madagascar. The human ‘animals’ are visually engaging, with clever costumes from Robert Alsopp that help to give them an uncanny resemblance to their animated counterparts. 

Matt Terry is a nimble and energetic Alex the lion, who along with Antoine Murray Straughan as Marty the zebra, relentlessly bound about the stage with fun-filled choreography provided by Fabian Aloise. Terry’s vocals are great and he is engaging and likeable. Timmika Ramsay shines as the sassy Hippo, Gloria and her vocals stand out among the leads. 


Jo Parsons shuffles onto the stage after the interval as the ridiculous King Julien, a lemur with a crazy, indeterminate accent. This is when the production really comes alive. Aside from the leads, all of the creatures are represented by puppets and are voiced by a talented team. The penguins waddle out and are hilarious and endearing. Led by Shane McDaid as Skipper they deliver some cherished lines from the film: “Smile and wave boys, smile and wave”. The team switch seamlessly between characters, their voices providing much visual joy to the proceedings. Jessica Niles as Mort the tiny lemur is unbearably cute. 

While the musical numbers are not going to set the world alight, Madagascar the Musical makes up for it with charm and spectacle. There is enough to entertain the adults (rectal thermometers and a couple of drug-fuelled dream sequences), but it remains at heart a children’s show. It’s a ninety minute escape from technology and provides the innocence needed for an uncomplicated and fun evening. The faces of the young audience as they flossed and sang along with King Julien were an absolute joy, and that surely has to be a job well done.

Madagascar runs at the New Theatre Oxford until May 4th before continuing its tour

photo credit: Scott Rylander

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Dirty Dancing (UK Tour), Bristol Hippodrome | Review


Dirty Dancing (UK Tour)
London Palladium 
Reviewed on Monday 1st July 2019 by Emma Gradwell
★★★

It is the summer of 1963. Frances "Baby" Houseman is on holiday with her parents and sister at Kellerman's, a holiday resort in the mountains owned by a family friend. The mundane entertainment leaves Baby disinterested and she is quickly distracted by the underground evening activities enjoyed by the staff. Baby's desire to help leads her to having a crash course in Latin Dancing to cover the tracks for her new friends and to learn some life lessons as she grows from a naive girl into a confident and sensual woman.

Katie Eccles is sweet as Baby and her scenes with Michael O'Reilly as Johnny range from comedic to sultry. As a couple the chemistry builds slowly as the characters become better acquainted. There are times that movement and dialogue seem forced and exaggerated for effect in a way that is unnecessary.

The dancing, choreographed by Gillian Bruce is expertly performed. Dirty Dancing is certainly a dance led production and Simone Covele as Penny gives a stand out performance. The energy hits its highs during the group performances, which is when the show is at its best, peaking with the finale - and that lift!


There are times when the acting seems not as effortless as the movement, but this is not a complicated story and the show is driven by the dance. Lizzie Otley puts her own spin as Lisa Houseman during the Hula number and provides an unforced comic moment that stands out.

Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage is a faithful retelling of the much loved film. Costumes designed by Jennifer Irwin are near enough identical to their on screen counterparts and Federico Bellone's production is almost word for word as it is on screen. This makes for a nostalgic revisiting to a familiar story for many who grew up in the 80's and hold a special place in their hearts for Baby and Johnny. Roberto Comotti's rotating set design is vast and ambitious. Combined with Valerie Tiberi's lighting design which expertly uses projection to bring to life Johnny and Baby's lake lift. 

This is not traditional musical theatre and it is not marketed as such. Very few of the main characters sing and most vocal performances are sung alongside the story with a live band on stage with them, which is a nice touch. Much of the score is pre-recorded classics from the era and I would have preferred live performances.

Dirty Dancing is an enduringly popular brand and the latest touring offering should keep fans satisfied.

photo credit: Alastair Muir

Friday, 13 April 2018

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, Criterion Theatre | Review


The Comedy About a Bank Robbery
Criterion Theatre
Reviewed on Thursday 12th April 2018 by Emma Gradwell
★★★

Written by Mischief Theatre founders Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery gives you a grouping of incompetent thieves as they try to steal a rare diamond from Minneapolis City Bank during the summer of 1958 – very much a homage to American screwball cops and robbers comedies. The play begins with escaping convicts and corrupt Prison Guards plotting the heist. The tone is set from the start that this is very much a modern farce, with “Naked Gun” style misheard and misinterpreted words and phrases. 

The farcical plot concerns a dubious banker by the name of Robin Freeboys (played by Leonard Cook) whose name produces many comic moments when misheard as “robbing three boys”, inexplicably being entrusted with a rare diamond owned by a Hungarian Prince. The mantra from the start is that everyone in this town is a crook of which we are often reminded by Mr. Freeboys underpaid but very smart receptionist, Ruth Monaghan (gloriously played by Jenna Augen). You have to keep watching to the end to find out who finally bags the jewel. 


Aggressive and gruff prison escapee Mitch Ruscitti (played by Matt Hunt) returns home to his beautiful but tricky girlfriend Caprice (played by Holly Sumpton) who happens to be the daughter of Mr. Freeboys. Caprice is entertaining loveable petty criminal Sam (played by Sam Fogell) that she met at the bank, he also happens to be the son of bank employee Ruth. What follows is an impeccably timed scene involving concealing Sam all around a malfunctioning mechanical bed ending with him assuming the identity of Robin Freeboys with a ridiculous disguise made up of household objects. 

The story continues with obvious visual and verbal gags coming thick and fast. The sporadic doo wop musical interludes are cute and beautifully done. One of the highlights is a scene in the bank set at a perilous 90 degree angle to obtain a birds eye view from the banks vents system where the crooks are attempting to get to the vaults. Ageing intern Warren Slax (gamely played by Peter McGovern) is anchored by a safety harness as he tries to manoeuvre his way around the “office” while carrying out menial tasks for the demanding Mr. Freeboys. It is very hard to pour a coffee when gravity is not defied. 


A special mention needs to go to Chris Leask who marvellously plays “Everyone Else” in the play. His facial expressions alone had the audience roaring with laughter. A three way fight between Caprice’s unwitting lovers ensues. The lovers are a hillbilly, a decrepit nursing home resident and an angry German. Playing all three parts and being on the giving and receiving end of the punches is no mean feat. Wonderfully performed and slickly directed. 

The jokes do become repetitive and are not really very clever. If it’s an evening of high-brow culture you are after then this definitely is not the show for you but if you want to just sit back and watch a bit of silliness then this will tick the right boxes.

Photo credit: Robert Workman

Friday, 14 September 2018

Thriller Live! (4000th Show Gala), Lyric Theatre | Review


Thriller Live! (4000th Show Gala)
Lyric Theatre 
Reviewed on Wednesday 12th September 2018 by Emma Gradwell

★★★★

This week Thriller Live! celebrated its record breaking 4000th performance with a glittering Gala Night featuring special guest performer Peter Andre for one night only.

It was also the launch of a year long collaboration with The Prince's Trust with proceeds from tickets sales to be donated, and a commitment from the Thriller Live! team to provide experiences and mentoring over the next year, which will help to support young people to develop the confidence and skills they need to realise their ambitions through workshops, art projects, Q&A sessions and opportunities to experience the show. 

Before the show began, the atmosphere was really electric. There were dedicated fans packing the audience, many of whom had been to see the show many times before. 


Comedians Russell Kane and John Culshaw started off proceedings with an introduction for the evening and delivered with humour and style. 




For anyone not familiar with Thriller Live!, the show is a nostalgic and fond journey through Michael Jacksin's musical career from the early days of Motown and The Jackson Five to beyond his Bad album. 

Bouncing onto the stage came the adorable Xhanti Mbonzongwana as a young Michael. His beautiful voice and sharp dance moves took us back to his early career with songs such as ABC and I Want You Back. Backed by an excellent ensemble it was a great performance and got the audience up and on their feet right from the off. 


Making his way back to Thriller Live! to perform as an adult Michael was Kieran Alleyne who has previously performed as little Michael in the early days of Thriller Live! Well observed mannerisms and slick dancing in Michael's staccato style made his performance mesmerising. The ensemble dancers in this production really have their work cut out. For most part the show is very high tempo and the choreography is both complex and gruelling. They make it look effortless and it really did make the crowd go wild with excitement. They are clearly having a great time on the stage and this is reflected in how well it is received by the audience. 




The vocalists that carry the choreographed routines so beautifully are excellent. With stand out performances noticeably coming from Vivienne Ekwulugo and David Julien. For this special evening we also had the privilege of seeing Peter Andre performing alongside the cast. He first took to the stage to perform the emotionally charged ballad She's Out of My Life, which he did wonderfully. He had the audience gripped from that moment. His performances came across as polished and his duet with Vivienne on I Just Can't Stop Loving You seemed truly heart felt. 

My only criticism of the show is that some of the high energy performances are very clearly lip synced to a backing track and with so many great vocal performances it's hard to understand why that is. However, this really was a THRILLING night. The audience loved it, the partnership with The Princes Trust is to be applauded and I am sure the show will continue to entertain in the future. 




Thriller Live! is booking at the Lyric Theatre until 7th April as well as a UK Tour

photo credit: Betty Zapata


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

A Monster Calls, Old Vic | Review


A Monster Calls
Old Vic
Reviewed on Tuesday 17th July 2018 by Emma Gradwell
★★★★★

I was familiar with the storyline of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls prior to yesterday’s performance at The Old Vic, after watching the 2016 film adaptation. Despite this, I was not prepared for the emotional journey the story would once again take me on – and the copious amounts of tissues that would be required to mop up the resulting mess. Although a book written primarily for children, A Monster Calls contains some very complex themes– and they are all embraced in director, Sally Cookson’s take on this incredible story. 

Conor is 13 and his mother has incurable terminal cancer. His nightmares always come at 12.07am: a monster comes walking to deliver three stories – and then finally to hear Conor’s. 


The nightmares are visualised as blood-like projections upon a blank white wall, a system being pumped with chemo, accompanied by strobe lighting, loud dissonant noise and physical discomfort. Benji and Will Bower’s ethereal score helps take us on Conor’s journey from denial, through anger and fear, to acceptance. 

The set, designed by Michael Vale, is stark, white and uncluttered. A stripped back stage, with virtually only ropes and chairs, is used to inventive effect by the ensemble cast of twelve. The fluidity of the production relies on sharp timings. It seems almost implausible that trees, classrooms, crowns and cars can be created with only these props, but it is done with great effect. The simplicity of the set lends itself to the solitude of Conor, played by Matthew Tennyson. Tennyson manages to capture a very raw, real and believable 13-year old boy. He often doesn’t engage with other characters, in the way a child in denial would not. The performance is unsweetened and plausible. 


Selina Cadell delivers as a bitter and awkward Grandma, dealing with her own grief and not entirely sure how to help Conor. In the scene following Conor’s destruction of her living room, she gives us perhaps the most human moments in the production. 

Stuart Goodwin plays the Monster, alongside a complex tangle of ropes – and although we are left in no doubt that the monster is a metaphor for the cancer, Goodwin offers us a complete arc to its importance in the story. At the outset the monster scares us with his booming voice as he shouts from high above in his form as a yew tree. As the story continues, he becomes closer to human as he walks on stilts, until eventually he is alongside Conor as he embraces him in a way we never see his distant father do. 

This story contains no real heroes or villains. It is a brutal tale that focuses on the harsh realities of mortality, and our helplessness in grief and the emotional complexities of its process. This production tells it very well, especially in the quietest of scenes. A Monster Calls is not to be missed. 

A Monster Calls runs at the Old Vic until 25th August

photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Thursday, 31 May 2018

9 to 5 The Musical (Oxford Operatic Society), New Theatre Oxford | Review


9 to 5 The Musical (Oxford Operatic Society)
New Theatre Oxford
Reviewed on Tuesday 29th May 2018 by Emma Gradwell
★★★

Based on the 1980 film of the same name, 9 to 5 The Musical is set in the late seventies in the Offices of Consolidated Industries. It takes us back to a time of telephones with dials, electric type writers, very big hair and some odious male predatory behaviour. 

The story, which is not a very stretching narrative, centres around three female employees all of whom have their own personal problems. Long term employee and single parent Violet (played by Frankie Alexandra) has been passed up for a deserving promotion by sleazy CEO Franklin Hart Jr. (played by Dave Crewe) as he likes to keep his management team strictly a boy’s club. Shapely and kind hearted Doralee (played by Saffi Needham) discovers that her office unpopularity is down to unfounded rumours from Mr. Hart that they have been having an affair. It is Judy’s (played by Nicola Blake) first time employment having been financially reliant on her now absent husband. 

The trio come together and find a mutual loathing of how they are being treated by Mr. Hart and they carry out their revenge. 

The three leads all carry out their roles with finesse. Frankie Alexandra’s Violet is confident and her relationship with junior accountant Joe (played by Guy Grinsley) is very sweet. This is certainly one of the nicest dynamics in this production and their rendition of Let Love Grow was beautifully executed. Nicola Blake as Judy was truly the mouse who roared and her performance of Get Out and Stay Out was moving as she transitioned from the put upon victim to the ruler of her own destiny. Saffi Needham as Doralee was every bit as bubbly and buxom as Dolly herself and is a fine performer. 


Dave Crewe as Franklin Hart was not as powerful or seedy as he needed to be and his performance was outshone by the three leading ladies. A notable mention must go to Nicola Jones as Roz, the delusional and smitten assistant of Mr. Hart whose version of Heart to Hart was comedic and well executed. 

At times it felt as if there were way too many people on the stage and at times they were noticeably out of synch with one another during the big dance numbers. At other times it was seamless and impressive. Some of the set changes were evidently clumsy. 

With music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton there is not much to complain about with the musical score. The songs have a strong country pop feel as you would expect and move the story along well. The orchestra were fantastic. 

The atmosphere of the show created by the nasty and sexist antics that were tolerated to a point back in the 70’s/80’s did leave an unpleasant taste. Although the well-meaning message of female empowerment was evident, in a time of the #METOO campaign I was uncomfortable with some of the humour that carried it. 

Oxford Operatic Society (OXOPS) have an excellent reputation as one of Oxford’s best non-professional companies and they put on a great show.

9 to 5 The Musical is at the New Theatre Oxford until June 2nd



Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Benidorm Live (UK Tour), Bristol Hippodrome | Review


Benidorm (UK Tour)
Bristol Hippodrome 

Reviewed on Monday 19th November 2018 by Emma Gradwell
★★★★


After ten years on our television screens, the long running sitcom Benidorm has found a new home on stage as a national touring production. Written by Derren Litten, the result is a mix of familiar storylines and musical interludes which give us two hours of uncomplicated silliness. The show is largely driven by double entendres and the saucy seaside humour you will have come to expect. 

The show is led by six familiar actors from the television cast and the audience were very pleased to see them, with huge cheers to be heard as they appeared on stage for the first time. The storyline works for both fans of the original show and new audiences. 

Two middle class holidaymakers, Sophie and Ben (played by Tricia Adele-Turner and Bradley Clarkson), find themselves at the 3½ star all-inclusive hotel, The Solana, when their original hotel is overbooked – and they are not impressed. Bribery and seduction are the obvious answer when Hotel Manager Joyce Temple-Savage (Sherrie Hewson) decides they must be undercover hotel inspectors tasked with shutting them down. 



Jacqueline (Janine Duvitski), a member of the Swingers Association, and her very open-minded friend, ‘Gay Derek’ (Damian Williams), baffle the newcomers with their friendly charms. Duvitski is a master comedienne – and Jacqueline’s rendition of “Rubber Ball” at Karaoke Night is one of the shows highlights. There were even a few nods to Jacqueline’s late husband, Donald, and his penchant for their alternative lifestyle, which fortunately for us, Jacqueline is still thoroughly enjoying as a singleton. 

Adam Gillen’s Liam is as quirky and na├»ve as he is on screen, and his continued devotion to his absent father, Leslie, and his Solana family are charming. Tony Maudsley as Kenneth, owner of the on-site hair and beauty salon, ‘Blow and Go’, gives a slick comedic performance. His naughty slogan t-shirts are in full force, my favourite being ‘Mince, Wince, Repeat’. 

Stellar dance moves are provided by Jake Canuso (a former dancer) as barman and lothario, Mateo, and new staff member, Ricky (Will Jennings). Shelley Longworth as Travel Rep, Sam provides cabaret at Neptune’s Nightclub alongside Neptune’s own crooner, Asa Elliott, belting out some favourite holiday tunes. What was lacking was a live band, which for a production of this size was disappointing. 



The clever set design by Mark Walters took us from reception to poolside via the Salon and eventually to Neptune’s Nightclub for the second half. Director Ed Curtis pulls it all together seamlessly and at two hours, five minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome. 

Benidorm Live is cheesy, camp and refreshingly unpolitical, and I came away still chuckling about Jacqueline’s pink pussy and the sausage in cider.


Benidorm Live runs at the Bristol Hippodrome until  24th November, before continuing its tour.

photo credit: Paul Coltas