And so the summer continued back at the MANOR PAVILION THEATRE SIDMOUTH with GLORIOUS; Peter Quilter’s beautifully realised script about Florence Foster Jenkins. Directed with love and verve by Claire Evans this was a wonderfully entertaining and touching piece. Hilary Harwood excelled as Florence and Dominic McChesney was ideally cast as her husband. Notable too was Brendan Matthew as Cosme McMoon – a performance which left everyone grinning. The first, but not the last 5* review of the Season.
Next on the agenda at SIDMOUTH, an Agatha Christie; not one that is particularly well known. THE UNEXPECTED GUEST triumphed via the direction of Jason Moore who elevated the production above the norm with his Hitchcockian images and feel to the production. The play was universally well performed with specific mentions to Steve Blacker-Barrowman in the titular role, Brendan Matthew oozing something or another as the obsequious butler and the standout being Brandon Eady as the autistic youngster – a performance as good as you will see in a really tricky role. A mention too for Gareth Thomas who made a huge amount from his small role. What a triumph it was.
The classic comedy CHARLEY’S AUNT is a cracker and there was a lot to admire in Jonathan. Ray’s production. Brandon Eady, fresh from the last play, carried the role of Fancourt perfectly and there was lovely work from two other young actors, Jake Seabrook – whose physical comedy skills were there for all to see – Liv Koplick as Ela and the redoubtable Daniele Coomb as Donna Lucia; a performance with as many laughs as you could squeeze out of a role. Almost stealing the show was James Pellow as Spettigue – his channeling of Kenneth Williams created moments on (and off stage) that had me, literally, falling about in my seat – genius.
An incredibly strong month at Sidmouth saw Jason Marc-Williams’ production of EMMA; adapted from the Jane Austen novel by Tim Luscombe. A play of multiple scenes and locations it presents a host of issues to address and here the production worked like a dream. Full of Austen atmosphere with the lines spoken so well, headed up by a wonderful title performance by Emily Louise Connor. Once again Daniele Coombe used her comic genius in her character and Liv Koplick once again offered a delightful performance. Another young actor, Charlie Bryant, made an excellent impression as Frank Churchill. Costumes by Janet Huckle were excellent and the design by Andrew Beckett perfect. The director created so many pictures in the production it was like being in a Regency art gallery.
To end the month, back to Theatre Royal Plymouth for the touring production of DREAMGIRLS. Nothing wrong with this show except it is too superficial. The singing was generally very good as were the production values, but it sadly the whole felt underwhelming. Apparently it has been denied by the writers that this is based on Diana Ross and The Supremes – Mmmmmmm – might have been a better show if it had been.
Back to Sidmouth. Francis Durbridge thrillers have been a staple in the Summer Season for some time. THE GENTLE HOOK was, as ever, plotted ingeniously, but lacked much of a thrill despite the hard work of the actors, not least Emily Outred who barely left the stage.
As a brief interlude from Sidmouth I took a trip to the delightful Boiling Wells Amphitheatre in Bristol to see Folksy Theatre’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. I wasn’t reviewing this, but thoroughly enjoyed this vibrant, fun and inventive version of the Shakespeare comedy. Combining songs and dance with the battle of the sexes, this was a lovely way to spend a summer’s evening. Performed with verve and a twinkling eye.
A rare chance to see PG Wodehouse’s characters on stage; JEEVES AND WOOSTER IN PERFECT NONSENSE is a thorough delight. Joshua Wichard, Dominic McChesney and Jeremy Todd worked their socks off and I barely stopped laughing. Simply staged and all the better for that, it was an utter joy and director, Max Bex Roberts, didn’t miss a trick. Blissfully hilarious throughout.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is a great film and a really good show. Having directed it myself I know how tricky it is, but what fun too. This was a super production which ticked all the boxes without putting that cherry on the top. Jenny Gayner steals the show as Lena Lamont. Good fun.
Another production I have directed is BREAKING THE CODE by Hugh Whitemore, the sublime play about Alan Turing. On a spare set Max Bex Roberts directed his cast with care and precision and produced a wonderful, heart-breaking production which blew the audience away. Steve Blacker-Barrowman excelled as Turing and he was surrounded by others who performed at the top of their game. Mark Laverty never better as Ross, Simon Chappell perfect as Knox, Rachel Fletcher-Hudson as Turing’s Mother, Charlie Bryant as Ron Miller, Rosie Edwards as Pat, Pete Picton as Smith and Samuel Tucker in the dual roles of Christopher and Nikos; a better cast you could not want to have. The simple, enigmatic set design by Andrew Beckett was perfect and complimented by superb lighting design by Jo Underwood. One of the very best productions I have seen at Sidmouth.
HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES is such a complex play and to get it on stage within a week is a true achievement. Alan Ayckbourn likes a challenge and this provided a huge one for director, Rob McWhir and the cast alike. A clever set by Andrew Beckett worked so well and the actors managed to negotiate it really well. Stand out performances from the whole cast; not least Sam Ellis, Mark Laverty and Rachel Fletcher-Hudson. Excellent stuff.
THE GHOST TRAIN is a work of genius. Nearly 100 years old it can surely be categorised as a classic. Arnold Ridley’s artifice was well served by the cast at Sidmouth, playing it completely straight and giving the audience a huge amount to enjoy. Matthew Hartley lead the way with his silly ass characterisation and with a supporting cast including James Pellow, Owen Landon, Daniele Coombe and Rosie Edwards this was strongly cast and directed perfectly by David Janson. Needing just a final finesse on the opening night, it was still a wonderful entry in the Season.
It was unusual for the Summer Season to premiere a new work, but this is what brought the 12 weeks to a close for 2022. THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR is a much adapted and performed piece – full of universal thoughts and ideas, this version included an a capella accompaniment performed by the cast. Spiritedly lead by Joshua Coley, the show didn’t hit the right notes for me and failed to be anything like as amusing or cuttingly satirical as I think it was hoped to be. A brave move and, in this case, one that did not work, though I don’t blame the producers for giving it a go.
The whole Season was a real triumph as far as I was concerned; great production choices, superb direction and top-notch casts along with the cracking sets of Andrew Beckett, the wonderful lighting design of Jo Underwood and the costume skills of Janet Huckle. Roll on 2023.
BEAUTIFUL has become a really popular show to tour and this new production has been doing the rounds. Telling the story of Carole King it is entertaining enough, but I found the instrument-playing cast a distraction and the story just didn’t involve me enough. Entertaining it certainly is with an excellent performance by Molly-Grace Cutler, but left me a little cold.
Birmingham Royal Ballet returned to Plymouth with the most gorgeous production of COPPELIA. Wonderful dancing, sets and costumes as well as Delibes’ stunning music played with utter joy by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia – what more would you want! Beautiful. My colleague that night – someone very well versed in ballet – announced that it was faultless.
BUGSY MALONE has been a staple of schools and the amateur theatre circuit for many years and to get to see its first UK tour was a real treat. Cleverly combining some very young actors and more experienced ones, the show worked on many levels with the youngsters stealing the show throughout with Albie Snelson a standout as Fat Sam – a brilliant performance, but good work too from Gabriel Payne as Bugsy, Jasmine Sakyiama as Tallulah and Aidan Oti as Fizzy. Some excellent choreography from Drew McOnie really made this a special production.
My reviews don’t often take me to London, but for a second time this year, the opportunity presented itself in the form of MY SON’S A QUEER, BUT WHAT CAN YOU DO?, Rob Madge’s solo show recalling their childhood obsession with Disney Princesses and putting on shows at home. It was a show full of hilarity, tenderness, tears and complete joy. A show which touches the heart and the head. One of the best shows I have seen on stage. It’s return to the stage in 2023 is something to be excited about.
As mentioned previously, I had the chance to see SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN again, this time at The Drum at Theatre Royal Plymouth where the play had its first production. I thoroughly enjoyed it again and it was a joy to have a second viewing of it.
Matthew Bourne can do little wrong and in his SLEEPING BEAUTY, starting its run to Christmas at Plymouth, he hits gold again. With the invention of his choreography and the artistry of the sets and costumes one is carried along with this gothic take on the fairy story. Bourne makes us laugh and cry – not least in that moment just before the final curtain. The New Adventures Company are peerless in their storytelling and their dance skills; a complete privilege.
SISTER ACT is a decent enough show – a crowd pleaser for sure, but without that special element really and with a score which is unmemorable. Sandra Marvin is very good as Deloris and Lori Haley Fox an excellent Mother Superior; but stealing the show was the comic trio of Bradley Judge, Tom Hopcroft and Damian Buhagiar. Entertaining but not a classic!
In The Lab at Theatre Royal Plymouth, Themis Theatre Company plundered Greek myths to present a piece about women’s struggle against male dominated society in THE DISSENT. Concept was good but the writing was confused and clumsy – the message was made loud and clear by the end, but could have been more succinctly presented in the play as a whole. Disappointing.
And so to the final show of the year. Pantomime Time! This year at Theatre Royal Plymouth we had Shane Ritchie in SLEEPING BEAUTY. A standard Crossroads Production – you know exactly what you will get. It looks lovely and Ritchie and Peter Piper are excellent together, but the whole is a tad underwhelming. There is a bit of a straightjacket to these productions – but that’s just my opinion – the audiences love it.
So the year comes to an end. My reviews are purely my opinion and I hope I am constructive and encouraging; I try to be fair and offer a balanced view from my seat. I have been struck by the young talent I have seen this year; by the inventiveness of set and costume designers, by the variety of theatre on offer and by the heartening sight of full houses. Next year will bring something different and something fresh I am sure. We will see!