So, here we are again. Following a curtailed year of theatre going in 2021 I was full of enthusiasm to take in some super new shows and some returning old ones maybe. But we would have to see.
2022 has thrown up a whole variety of issues which means it won’t have been my most prolific year of reviewing plays and shows , but hopefully quality will win out over quantity.
The main reason for cutting down has been the sheer costs involved. My shortest round trip to a theatre where I have reviewed from where I live is about 50 miles and 100 miles or 130 miles is not out of the question. One theatre has decided that Press Nights are not really of any use to them and they haven’t done much to welcome reviewers and a couple of other theatres seem to have had a change in personnel and I have dropped off the radar. However, that is fine with me for now.
Notable was that it was the only year I have not seen an amateur theatre production since starting to review.
Anyway, let’s see what the first six months of 2022 had to offer. I include all shows I have seen, whether I reviewed them or not (though only reviewed shows qualify for any awards!). Detailed reviews can be found at – https://theatreplays.uk/theatre-reviews/
Remember my reviews of the year lead on to the Cormac Richards Theatre Awards – a virtual and much sought after accolade.
Unusually just the one show this month. No, not a pantomime – I only saw one of those this season and it was last month, before Christmas.
The year kicked off at THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH; MAMMA MIA has been playing in London and around the country for many years – yet, it has passed me by. A perfectly enjoyable show and a decent juke box musical, but it didn’t really set me alight. Entertaining if a little too lightweight.
I had been looking forward to seeing THE DA VINCI CODE before Covid struck and was pleased to see it back on the schedule in Plymouth. I had enjoyed the book and the film and couldn’t imagine how it would come across on stage. With the use of good projections and clever staging it worked. I have always admired Nigel Harman as a performer and he did a good job here, though his female counterpart was less impressive and the use of a Greek chorus was a little odd. But overall very enjoyable.
As with the previous show, THE LION THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE would need to be cleverly staged to work – it did. Magical, inventive, affecting, funny and enthralling. Great lighting, special effects and costumes and some splendid performances – not least from Jez Unwin as Mr Tumnus. A bit of a balance issue in terms of the content of both halves, but a small niggle aside from a superb production.
Thence to a new theatre for me, the OSO Arts Centre in Barnes, West London. A little out of my usual patch, but if the invitation works, then I want to be there. GOD OF CARNAGE by Yasmina Reza is a blistering comedy of bad manners; full of outrageous moments and moments when the audience gasps – an excellent cast under first-rate direction by Jason Moore, make the most of the cracking script. Designed well by Ian Nicholas, the show contained one specific device to create a pivotal moment which will live long in the memory.
NEDERLANDS DANS THEATER is a contemporary dance company of the highest order and their trio of pieces, NDT2, produced as part of the Dance Consortium was innovative, riveting, beautiful and thought provoking. A joy to behold this art form at its best.
100% CUBAN from ACOSTA DANZA is another dance company with extraordinary talent and this show was a good advert for them. Five contrasting pieces bound together with some great music – some more easy to interpret than others, but never less than engrossing. Both these dance shows were presented at the THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH.
Plymouth again; BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS on stage was something I was looking forward to; the Disney film isn’t great, but it’s fun……. Sadly I was very disappointed. It was slow-going, not very magical and there was some dubious casting. A real let down and something of a damp squib.
BIRMINGHAM ROYAL BALLET are regular visitors to THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH here with their vibrant production of DON QUIXOTE – a ballet I have not seen before. As ever with BRB it was a wonderful production with exquisite dancing and fabulous production values. Thoroughly entertaining and some new music to enjoy and admire. Can’t wait to see BRB again.
Also at Plymouth; WAITRESS has been a sure-fire hit with audiences since it first hit the stage. Sadly this sugary confection left me pretty cold. It just seemed too formulaic coupled with a music score which I couldn’t remember a note of on leaving the theatre, maybe this is an example of the type of show for which I am not the target audience. That said, I will appreciate those not aimed in my direction, but this just didn’t seem anything special!
THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE by Jim Cartwright was brought to life at the EXETER NORTHCOTT THEATRE. A good production of a play which leaves questions. Strong work from Shobna Gulati, Ian Kelsey and Christina Bianco. This production also provided one of the best set designs of the year.
GANGSTA GRANDMA at EXETER NORTHCOTT THEATRE also provided an excellent set – a really, really inventive one. What a fabulous production overall of the David Walliams story – with a tremendous performance from young actor Justin Davies and equally so from Isabel Ford. As a comic performance of the year you could do worse than look at the work of Jason Furnival – his ‘Mr Parker’ was an extraordinary creation. A wonderful family show.
JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOUR DREAMCOAT was the first show I saw in London’s West End – it’s first production there. Over the years it has been tinkered with – sometimes for the good and sometimes not. I found too many changes didn’t work here (in Plymouth) and Jac Yarrow was a bland and disappointing Joseph; thankfully some great choreography, the music and Bobby Windebank as Pharoah saved the day!
BALLETBOYZ are one of my favourite contemporary dance companies and their show DELUXE offered two contrasting pieces showcasing their immense talent. With intricate choreography and dancers of supreme fitness there was a lot to admire in this show – delayed from 2020. It is so good that EXETER NORTHCOTT THEATRE bring this Company regularly to the South West.
I have followed HA-HUM-AH THEATRE COMPANY for several years now and they are always inventive and just that bit different. Carl Grose’s SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN is an ideal vehicle for them and they toured this – calling at ST AUSTELL ARTS CENTRE. A brilliantly funny black comedy with feet firmly planted by Cornwall, this was a complete treat! Excellent performances and direction meant I had to see it again when it came back to THE DRUM at PLYMOUTH later in the year.
Having never seen a professional production of CHICAGO it was a thrill to be able to catch the current tour when it came to PLYMOUTH. I wasn’t disappointed. It has power and great music and the staging of this much revived production works so well. Djalenga Scott really stood out as Velma Kelly – vocally ideal and with so much stage presence. I was slightly less taken with Sinitta Malone’s Mama Morton and Lee Mead as Billy Flynn – just a little more showmanship needed I thought. But it is a great show and production.
Although I didn’t review the production JANE EYRE at THE MINACK THEATRE produced by ANOTHER WAY THEATRE COMPANY was very well done. It is a very tricksy adaptation by Polly Teale which I am not overly fond of, but it was inspiringly and inventively directed by Chris Chambers. Performances were universally good and the play neatly staged in this amazing theatre.
And so the SIDMOUTH SUMMER PLAY FESTIVAL – produced by Paul Taylor-Mills – returned in its full 12 week format for the first time since 2019. Opening with a modern thriller, THE PERFECT MURDER by Peter James. Tautly directed by Anton Tweedale it was best not to study the plot too deeply as it wasn’t watertight, but it was well performed, particularly by Dafydd Gwyn Howells. Though the audience numbers at the MANOR PAVILION THEATRE were a little disappointing to kick off the season, they would soon pick up. The regular punters love a good murder mystery and this contemporary one was a good way to kick off the season.
Another new play to me was LUCKY NUMBERS by Mike Yeaman, a cracking comedy concerning a family, a wise grandmother and a lottery ticket. Directed at pace by Claire Evans, it had super performances, not least from Anita Graham as the aforementioned grandma – a real masterclass in comic timing. Also, mention for Reece Yarnold whose wonderfully natural and spontaneous performance as the ever-eating son of the family was a real delight. The second production at the THE MANOR PAVILION Summer Season, it didn’t disappoint.
So! That was the first six months of the year. Slightly interrupted by illness on my part on May and June, but with some very good productions to look forward to. Are any of the award winners to be found in these productions already covered? You will have to keep your eyes open for the next part of this Review and the Awards themselves soon!