Review – Balletboyz, Deluxe, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 17th May 2022

DeluxeSometimes, gentle reader, you come away from an evening of contemporary dance and think wtf was that, and sometimes you come away with a spring in your step and a desperate desire to be forty years younger and four hundred times as sprightly. I’m delighted to say that the Balletboyz’ Deluxe falls into the latter category. An evening of exciting, stimulating, beautiful dance, with some incredibly expressive and gifted dancers, fantastic lighting, brilliant costumes and two riveting musical soundtracks to back it up.

BB BradleyOf course, I should have been writing this review about two years ago, but something happened in the meantime that stopped the original scheduled tour of Deluxe. What was it now? Oh yes, the pandy. But you can’t keep artistic spirit down for long, and Deluxe has bounced back, with an almost completely new cast – the Balletboyz of two years ago were disbanded, sadly – and has been touring the country since March, with just one more date after their Northampton visit.

RippleDeluxe is structured in two parts. The first half comprises of Ripple, choreographed by Xie Xin, and is preceded by a video where she teaches the dance to members of the (original) group and explains the difficulty of creating work for an all-male group. I don’t normally appreciate explanatory media too much, I think a dance ought to stand by its own presentation, without any further explanation. And this video didn’t do much to change that opinion.

BBHowever, once it gets started you’re immediately gripped by it. I loved its depiction of the flow of movement, the ripples that can be gentle or like a giant wave. The dancers connect and separate, and come together without touching, like they are practising reiki on each other. It reflects harmony and disturbance, survival of the individual and in groups, all to Jiang Shaofeng’s superb soundtrack of discordant and disrupted strings and harsh clashing percussion. It’s mesmerising.

BB Bradley 2The second part is Bradley 4:18, choreographed by Maxine Doyle, inspired by the poetry and song of Kae Tempest. The title doesn’t refer to a missing book of the Bible, rather it’s what happens to a certain chap named Bradley at 4:18 in the morning. This is also preceded by a video – a slightly more helpful one (although, personally, I’d prefer this information to be in the programme, rather than a video which has the potential to alienate a viewer who just wants to see dance.) Six dancers take on different aspects of Bradley, at first separately, later weaving in and out of each other to show the various contradictions and behavioural patterns that go to make up one man. Bradley is a party animal, a schoolboy bully, a vulnerable team member, a drunken sloth; aggressive, big-headed, pained and lost. It’s a very clever idea and the dance pretty much nails all these individual characteristics.

BradleyIf you’re looking for any particular story-telling that links the two pieces, I think you’ll be disappointed. They are simply both examples of the BBoyz’ amazing ability to convey varying emotions and all styles of dance. The dancers themselves are a hugely talented bunch, extraordinarily gifted and immensely likeable and watchable. I was especially impressed with their brilliantly synchronised sequences – every dancer performing the same move at precisely the same time, no one was a nanosecond off; incredible.

RipplerIt was over ten years ago that I first spotted the young Liam Riddick at the Royal and Derngate in a programme by the Richard Alston Dance Company and I predicted he would become the Next Big Thing – and I was right. Tonight I saw another dancer who caught my eye with his extraordinarily versatility, sense of fun and expressiveness, and unbelievable agility – Seirian Griffiths. Mark my words, he will be huge in the dance world over the next few years. Balletboyz DeluxeI was also really impressed with Kai Tomioka, whose interpretation of Bradley ranged from the aggressive to the wheedling – I shall look forward to seeing him in new work in the future. But, of course, all the Boyz are amazingly talented and turn in a great show.

Sadly, Deluxe has only one more night on its tour, in Yeovil on 19th May. But the Balletboyz are back with a bounce, and with this current cast of dancers, the future looks very bright.

Production photos by George Piper (who, if you know your Balletboyz history, doesn’t actually exist)

Five Alive, Let Dance Thrive! (Almost removed a star for the unnecessary videos, but that felt petty)

Review – Aisha and Abhaya, Rambert Dance Company, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 18th January 2022

Aisha and AbhayaIt’s been a very long time since we’ve seen some dance and we always jump at the chance to watch Rambert, one of the best Contemporary Dance companies around, with a massive reputation for excellence and innovation – always a pleasure, often a challenge.

With their latest production, Aisha and Abhaya, it was all challenge and not much pleasure. Pre-show marketing explained that this was a combination of dance and multimedia video, which can be a very heady mix when it dovetails beautifully. It can also enthral when the one creates a fascinating tangent from the other. However, in this show, both Mrs Chrisparkle and I failed to see the remotest connection between the live action and Kibwe Tavares’ video story of the two sisters – princesses, maybe? – attacked and refugeed, trying to survive in an alien environment. Mrs C was shocked by the violence in the video; but then again, refugees often have a violent story to tell.

Much more successful was the video backdrop to the live action, which took us through endless mysterious corridors, leading out into an abstract cityscape, and finally a nightmare dance scenario where identical figures fill the screen all dancing to the same movements. That was genuinely spectacular. However, if you were expecting a furiously frenetic, visually and musically exciting finale to the show – you’ll be disappointed, it ends with definitely a whimper rather than a bang. Several long seconds of an audience staring in silence at a blank stage with one thought between them – is that it?

The show, which fractionally exceeds one hour’s length, started at 7.30pm and it was 7.48 by my watch before we saw any live action – which, for a dance show, I have to say did try our patience somewhat. And when the dance started, whilst there’s absolutely no doubting the extraordinary skill and strength of the group of seven dancers, Sharon Eyal’s unattractive choreography had an alienating effect on me, with the dancers’ body spasms and jerks reminding one of one’s worst ever attack of gastroenteritis. To be fair, the second, shorter, dance scene towards the end of the show had more traditional, graceful movement and felt much more rewarding.

This is a joint production between Rambert and The Royal Ballet; and I have read that the first audiences at the Linbury Theatre were offered earplugs to protect them from the loud and relentless techno music by Ori Lichtik and GAIKA. In fact, the music was driving, pulsating and inspiring, to the extent that the show was probably more entertaining on the audio side than the visual. Sadly, for the performance on Tuesday night at the Royal and Derngate, there was no programme; and Rambert’s website unusually gives no information on which dancers were performing. Try as I might, I’ve been unable to identify them, which I think is a disservice to them. They were all excellent, no question.

Occasionally the harsh critic, Mrs C’s observation at the end was that it had all the charm and appeal of a rave at 10 Downing Street. For me, being able to watch top class (if nameless) dancers perform their hearts and souls out means I enjoyed it more than she did. But at £33.50 for top price seats to see, what, 35 minutes of live action maybe, I thought the price was a bit steep. I guess videography is expensive. Rambert are currently announcing their 2023 production of a dance version of Peaky Blinders – fingers crossed that it’s more en pointe.

Production photos are not mine, but taken from the Royal and Derngate website.

And here are the last lot of old theatre and dance memories! September to December 2009

  1. Separate Tables – Festival Theatre, Chichester, 26th September 2009

Rattigan’s masterpiece double bill of Table by the Window and Table Number Seven were brought to life by Philip Franks’ excellent production, starring Iain Glen as John Malcolm/Major Pollock and Gina McKee as Anne Shankland/Sybil Railton-Bell. The superb cast also included Stephanie Cole, Deborah Findlay, Josephine Tewson and John Nettleton. Traditional English theatre doesn’t get much more traditional or English!

  1. Mixed up North – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 1st October 2009

Out of Joint presented Robin Soans’ entertaining play: from the back of the playscript, “Trish leads a youth theatre group designed to bring Asian and white teenagers together. As the harassed and heavily pregnant director Bella struggles to share her artistic vision with a cast who thing acting is “gay”, the compelling stories of the young stars unfold.” I remember this as being an extremely good play and a great production.

 

 

  1. Mark Morris Dance Group – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 21st October 2009

It was always a delight to see the Mark Morris Dance Group, here with a UK tour that comprised of Italian Concerto, Going Away Party, Three Preludes, and Grand Duo; all dances choreographed by Mark Morris. Fantastic entertainment.

 

 

 

 

  1. Talent – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 1st November 2009

Moving over two evenings of excellent stand-up on the Derngate stage, with Alistair McGowan on 26th and Julian Clary on 28th October, our next play was Victoria Wood’s Talent at the Menier. This was the play that Wood originally wrote for herself and Julie Walters set in the 70s. When I booked it, it hadn’t occurred to me that the production would have actors pretending to be Victoria Wood and Julie Walters playing the roles of Julie and Maureen. The result was a ghastly mix up that I absolutely hated! I’m still surprised that it was directed by Victoria Wood; the characters should have taken on a new life rather than simply being re-enactments of Wood and Walters. Awful!

  1. Spring Storm – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 3rd November 2009

Artistic Director of the Royal and Derngate, Laurie Sansom, launched a Young America season with two early plays by established and revered American dramatists, both performed by the same cast in repertory. First was Spring Storm, an early Tennessee Williams play, and it was magnificent.

 

 

 

  1. Prick Up Your Ears – Comedy Theatre, London, 8th November 2009

Simon Bent’s play about the relationship – fatal as it happens – between playwright Joe Orton and wannabe writer Kenneth Halliwell was based on John Lahr’s excellent biography of Orton (of the same name), and was brought to amazing life by most convincing performances by Chris New as Orton and Con O’Neill as Halliwell. Riveting throughout.

  1. Beyond the Horizon – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 13th November 2009

The second part of Laurie Sansom’s Young America season was Beyond the Horizon, an early play by one of my playwright heroes, Eugene O’Neill. Fascinating to get a chance to see a relatively lost play – I loved it.

 

 

  1. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 30th November 2009

Three more comedy nights followed, with Stephen K Amos on 16th November, Rob Brydon on 28th November and another Screaming Blue Murder on  26th November. After that, our next show was our first time seeing the RPO on one of their regular visits to Northampton, and this is another something that has become a regular feature of our theatre entertainment over the subsequent years. The RPO, under the baton of Nicolae Moldoveanu, and accompanied by the Northampton Bach Choir and the Daventry Choral Society, performed Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1 and Beethoven’s Symphony No 9. Fantastic – and we were hooked.

  1. Rambert Dance Company, Comedy of Change Tour – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 3rd December 2009

Rambert’s 2009 tour comprised Henri Oguike’s Tread Softly, Mark Baldwin’s Comedy of Change and Siobhan Davies’ Carnival of the Animals. A wonderful selection of challenging dance and crowd pleasers.

  1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 26th December 2009

We took our nieces, their parents and the inlaws to see Northampton’s big family panto which starred Linda Lusardi as Queen Lucrietia and Sam Kane as Prince Michael. Pete Hillier was Muddles, and Emily Shaw Snow White. A very enjoyable and glamorous panto. Great fun.

And from 1st January 2010 I started my blog, so if you want to catch up on any more old shows, simply go to the date index on the blog and read at your leisure!

Thought I’d finished with my theatre and dance memories? Think again! November 2008 to April 2009

  1. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Birmingham Hippodrome, 8th November 2008

We saw the Trocks’ 2008/9 UK tour twice – the first time at the Birmingham Hippodrome – with the classic programme of Swan Lake Act II, Le Grand Pas de Quatre and Paquita, as well as the surprise pas de deux and the Dying Swan. For Swan Lake, the wonderful Lariska Dumbchenko was our Odette, Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow our Siegfried, and Yuri Smirnov our von Rothbart. Always a joy! It was at this performance that I bought a poster that still graces my study wall!

  1. Noises Off – Milton Keynes Theatre, 15th November 2008

This touring production of Michael Frayn’s brilliant Noises Off was fantastic as always, with a terrific turn by Jonathan Coy as Lloyd and also featuring Colin Baker as Selsdon and Maggie Steed as Dotty. Never gets old.

  1. Hamlet – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Novello Theatre, London, 15th December 2008

The hugely successful and hot ticket production of Hamlet starring David Tennant as the Dane – and in which the majority of the audiences saw Edward Bennett in the role (as we did) because David Tennant injured his back. Always worth pointing out that you should never book a show purely on the strength of a star performer (but of course we always do.) The main thing that arose from this Gregory Doran production was what a star Mr Bennett is, taking over the role at very short notice and making a massive career move out it. A great show, certainly helped by Patrick Stewart playing Claudius, Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius, and John Woodvine as the Player King.

  1. Cinderella – Derngate Auditorium, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 26th December 2008

By now we had moved to Northampton, and our first taste of our local theatre was a big family Boxing Day trip to see its panto, Cinderella, starring Jimmy Osmond as Buttons. Not sure what expectations I had, but Jimmy Osmond is pure heart on stage – a true Mr Entertainer and he made the show go with an absolute swing. Superbly enjoyable.

  1. A Little Night Music – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 28th December 2008

Trevor Nunn directed this beautifully intimate production of A Little Night Music, with so many star turns among the cast that it was hard to keep up. Hannah Waddingham was terrific as Desiree, but it also had Alexander Hanson as Fredrik, Maureen Lipman as Madame Armfeld, Jessie Buckley as Anne, Kaisa Hammarlund as Petra and Gabriel Vick as Henrik. The perfect post-Christmas treat. Superb.

  1. Sleeping Beauty – The Theatre, Chipping Norton, 8th January 2009

To date our only trip to the charming little theatre at Chippy, this version of Sleeping Beauty was written by Graeme Garden. But the main reason for going was so that we could see our friend, Eurovision’s Dame Nicki French, appearing as Queen Jenny. An intimate theatre that produces a great vibe and the panto was enormous fun.

 

 

 

  1. King Lear – Young Vic, London, 28th February 2009

We bought tickets to see this on hearing about Pete Postlethwaite’s amazing performance as Lear; it’s still thought of as one of the best Lears in modern memory. To be honest, I wasn’t that keen. Rather a sparse production that I felt lacked gravitas. But I was in the minority!

  1. The New Yorkers – Lost Musicals at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, London, 5th April 2009

Passing over our second visit to the Trocks this season, this time at the Milton Keynes Theatre, with exactly the same programme, our next show was another of Ian Marshall Fisher’s wonderful resurrections of an old lost musical – Cole Porter and Herbert Fields’ The New Yorkers, a 1930 musical with one memorable song, Love for Sale. The super cast included Craige Els, Anna Francolini, Sandra Marvin, Ursula Smith and Jon Robyns. I miss those Lost Musicals shows!

 

 

  1. Boeing Boeing – Milton Keynes Theatre, 10th April 2009

Breaking my usual rule about not repeating productions here that I’d already seen, I have to include this touring version of Boeing Boeing that we had seen in London two years earlier, simply because it was just so fantastically good. Interestingly it starred the real life Marquez brothers, Martin as Bernard and John as Robert, and also included Victoria Wood As Seen On TV’s Susie Blake as the hard-nosed maid Bertha. Sheer joy.

  1. Rookery Nook – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 26th April 2009

Moving past the touring production of Cabaret at the Milton Keynes Theatre which we really loved until the end when Wayne Sleep dissed the entire audience by abruptly ending the curtain call (I ended up having words with Bill Kenwright himself about the matter!) our next show was the Menier’s revival of Ben Travers’ 1926 play Rookery Nook, one of the famous Aldwych Farces. It did feel dated, but then again, it was still funny, with a particularly excellent performance from Mark Hadfield as Harold Twine, the original Robertson Hare role. By now we were firmly in love with the Menier and rarely missed a show!

You can’t have too many old theatre and dance memories – August to October 2008

  1. Under the Blue Sky – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 9th August 2008

David Eldridge’s three-act play, performed without an interval, comprises of three conversations between six people over a period of two and a half years, and had very good reviews. We chose to see it because we were huge fans of Catherine Tate at the time and wanted to see how she’d be on stage (brilliant.) Very funny and very thought provoking.

  1. Rambert Dance Company Eternal Light Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 11th August 2008

Eternal Light was the new production by the company, choreographed by Mark Baldwin,  and was the first dance on offer in a programme that also contained Siobhan Davies’ Carnival of the Animals, Mikaela Polley and Alexander Whitley’s Two Solos as a Tribute to Norman Morrice, and Garry Stewart’s Infinity. So much talent and so enjoyable.

  1. Mary Poppins – Birmingham Hippodrome, 23rd August 2008

The big show that is still packing them out today in London, Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne’s production was a huge crowd-pleaser and I still remember with awe the amazing dance that Bert performs when he taps around the entire stage, defying gravity. Daniel Crossley was an amazing Bert, Caroline Sheen a practically perfect Mary Poppins, plus Valda Aviks as the Bird Woman. Our nieces adored it.

  1. They’re Playing Our Song – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 31st August 2008

Mrs Chrisparkle had heard the soundtrack of the original London production of They’re Playing Our Song so many times that she knew it like the back of her hand – I loved it and played it all the time – but she had never seen it, so it was perfect timing that this production should come to the Menier – the first time that we had visited the theatre that would become a firm favourite venue. Alistair McGowan and Connie Fisher were the leads. My memory is that it wasn’t a patch on the original, but still very enjoyable.

  1. Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray – Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, 6th September 2008

New Adventures’ new production of Matthew Bourne’s new vision for Oscar Wilde’s well-known character was highly anticipated but my memory is that it was a little disappointing – primarily I found it hard to follow. A great dance cast though, with Richard Winsor as Gray, Michela Meazza as Lady H, Aaron Sillis as Basil, and massive choreographer of the future Drew McOnie in the ensemble.

  1. Enjoy – Oxford Playhouse, 8th September 2008

The Theatre Royal Bath’s production of Alan Bennett’s 1980 play looked like it was going to be a smash hit, with the wonderful promotion picture of Alison Steadman doing the hoovering in a ball gown. Unfortunately none of the script came up to the promotional photos, and I remember this being extremely boring and not at all funny.

  1. Hofesh Shechter’s Uprising/In Your Rooms – Oxford Playhouse, 18th September 2008

Moving past the London Press Night of Eurobeat, which we’d already seen earlier that summer in Milton Keynes, our next show was Hofesh Shechter’s double bill of Uprising and In Your Rooms, which I remember as being very lively and talented although perhaps a little samey. Incredible dancers, though.

 

 

 

  1. Calendar Girls – Festival Theatre, Chichester, 27th September 2008

This was the first outing for what would become Tim Firth’s much loved play about the Women’s Institute group who made a nudie calendar to raise money for charity. Very funny, but full of pathos. The “taking the pictures” scene is an absolute modern classic. A great cast included Elaine C Smith, Lynda Bellingham, Patricia Hodge, Sian Philips, Gaynor Faye, Julia Hills and Brigit Forsyth.

  1. Carousel – Milton Keynes Theatre, 15th October 2008

Ignoring a third and final visit to Eurobeat (a UK Eurovision fan club outing), our next show was to see Rodgers and Hammerstein’s immortal musical Carousel. I’d never seen it before, and frankly, it didn’t come to life and felt very dated, despite choreography from Adam Cooper and direction from Lindsay Posner. Heading the cast was Lesley Garrett – except that her understudy was performing that night. She wasn’t ill or indisposed, she just had a better offer for the night, which really annoyed me!

  1. Flashdance the Musical – Milton Keynes Theatre, 31st October 2008

One of my favourite musical movies, I was keen to see how Flashdance transferred to the stage. Memories are weak, but I think it was pretty good. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt shone as the welding dancer Alex Owens, with the late Bernie Nolan as her mother Hannah.

More theatre and dance memories? You impetuous thing, you! April to July 2008

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 1 – Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, 5th April 2008

Always a pleasure to see any of the NDT dance companies – and this was a tour by their Number One group, comprising of Jiri Kylian’s Wings of Wax, followed by Lightfoot Leon’s Signing Off, and finishing with Kylian’s Tar and Feathers. This would be the last time (to date) that we have seen NDT1 – let’s hope it’s not for ever!

  1. James Son of James – Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 11th April 2008

This was a fun and inventive show from the now defunct Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, full of anarchy and lunacy but tremendously exciting theatre from a hugely talented group of dancers. Really enjoyed it.

  1. Billy Elliot The Musical – Victoria Palace Theatre, London, 3rd May 2008

An unpopular opinion here, but I think the stage version of Billy Elliot is vastly inferior to the original film. Superbly staged and performed, of course, but for some reason we just didn’t connect with our Billy – I don’t know which actor it was who played it on our performance, (although I know it wasn’t young Layton Williams, I would have remembered him) and I just felt rather let down by the whole thing.

  1. Doctor Dolittle – Birmingham Hippodrome, 11th May 2008

We took our nieces to see this show, starring Tommy Steele and with all the old familiar Leslie Bricusse songs from the original film. One of those productions that I’m sure was perfectly good but I cannot for the life of me remember anything about it – not even going to see it in the first place. I must be getting old.

  1. The Good Soul of Szechuan – Young Vic, London, 17th May 2008

We’d heard excellent things about this new production by Richard Jones of Brecht’s Good Woman of Szechuan – and those excellent things were correct! An excellent translation by David Harrower, with a fantastic central performance by Jane Horrocks, with great support from the likes of Liza Sadovy and John Marquez. Enjoyed it enormously!

  1. The Cherry Orchard – Festival Theatre, Chichester, 7th June 2008

Philip Franks directed this new version of Chekhov’s classic by Mike Poulton, and there were fantastic performances from a plethora of brilliant actors. Diana Rigg played Ranyevskaya, with Michael Siberry as Lopakhin, Natalie Cassidy as Dunyasha, William Gaunt as Gayev, Jemma Redgrave as Varya, John Nettleton as Simeonov-Pishchik, Maureen Lipman as Charlotta Ivanovna, and Frank Finlay as Firs, in what was I believe his final stage appearance. Immaculate and superb.

  1. Hairspray – Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 28th June 2008

The original London production had already been running for a good nine months before we finally got around to seeing it – and it was a total delight from start to finish. Michael Ball was Edna and Ian Talbot was Wilbur, with the brilliant Leanne Jones as Tracy, the excellent Ben James-Ellis as Link, and the fabulous Tracie Bennett as Velma. Many great stars of the future lurk further down the cast list, including Adrian Hansel as Seaweed, Sandra Marvin as Lorraine, and Michael Vinsen as Brad. The show’s popularity has never gone away, and why would it?

  1. Sail Away – Lost Musicals at the Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London, 6th July 2008

Another of Ian Marshall Fisher’s fantastic rejuvenations of an old lost show, Noel Coward’s 1961 show is set in New York City, and this production included many of the Lost Musicals favourite performers, including James Vaughan, Stewart Permutt, Ursula Smith and Vivienne Martin.

 

 

 

 

  1. Twelfth Night – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College Gardens, Oxford, 12th July 2008

Bill Bankes-Jones’ hilarious production of Twelfth Night was perfect in the gardens of Wadham College, with brilliant performances throughout, although James Lavender’s Malvolio in particular was a superb mix of ridicule and despair.

  1. Eurobeat The Musical – Milton Keynes Theatre, 18th July 2008

The first of three times that we saw this particular version of Eurobeat – which is without question the original and best. Wonderfully funny presentation from Les Dennis and Mel Giedroyc, and ten fantastic parody songs; the winner that night (and on the third time we saw it) was the KGBoyz with Ice Queen for Russia, but the second time (which was the London Press Night) it was Ronan Corr’s La La La for Ireland, which remains my favourite song from this selection. A tremendous spoof, done with real heart and incredibly funny.

It’s been a while – here are some more theatre and dance memories! December 2007 to March 2008

  1. The Country Wife – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, 29th December 2007

A great cast assembled to do justice to William Wycherley’s terrific Restoration Comedy, with Toby Stephens as Horner, Patricia Hodge as Lady Fidget, David Haig as Pinchwife, and Janet Brown as Old Lady Squeamish. Directed by Jonathan Kent, it provided a lot of seasonal fun!

  1. The Seagull – Royal Shakespeare Company at the New London Theatre, London, 1st January 2008