Review – The Osmonds, A New Musical, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 4th May 2022

The Osmonds musicalIt wasn’t cool to like The Osmonds when I was growing up – not if you were a boy. And whilst I could recognise their style and panache, their talent and their commitment to hard work, I did find the majority of their songs insufferably slushy. They were at their best when they went rocky; Crazy Horses remains an iconic track of the 70s to this day. My own personal favourite was Goin’ Home – and I’m pleased to say it gets an airing in The Osmonds A New Musical, because when we saw the Real Osmonds (well, Jay, Merrill and Jimmy at any rate) at the Royal and Derngate a little over ten years ago it only got a shortened, perfunctory performance. My other favourite Osmonds rocky track is I Can’t Stop; that didn’t get a play in either show.

Jay leads the castBut it’s hard to underestimate how huge they were; and many of the crowd in last night’s audience were clearly teenyboppers of old, prepared to throw themselves into every routine. There’ll always be a space for something Osmondy on a stage for many years to come; and this new musical, penned by Julian Bigg and Shaun Kerrison after an original story by group member and middle brother Jay, isn’t a bad vehicle for bringing their old songs back and reviewing their career.

Donny and Andy WilliamsThe show is at its best when confronting the divisions between the family members and revealing the strictures that father George’s parenting inflicted on the young boys. The Osmonds themselves are portrayed both as adults – during the main years of their chart success – but also as children, taking their first steps on the Andy Williams Show, submitting to and/or bristling under the military discipline installed in them by George. Mother Olive is a kindly, comforting figure, but has no authority over her husband. Telling moments from their childhoods are re-enacted with the adult actor and child actor side by side, effectively emphasising how what happens in childhood sticks with you all through your life. At one point, Jay refers to the family as the Mormon von Trapps – a good line; it made me think that a lot of their later problems might have been solved if only Olive had sewn them play clothes from some old curtains.

All the OsmondsThe conflicts that arose from Donny and Marie’s separate successful career are also nicely observed; I enjoyed the four brothers’ bored and uninterested recording of the backing vocals to Donny and Marie’s Morning Side of the Mountain as a very nice encapsulation of what must have felt like a huge reduction in their influence and stake in the group. Alan and Merrill’s ambitious business venture to run their own studio is shown in its ascendance but more interestingly when it collapses. There are petty arguments stemming from Alan’s ruthless running of the group – a trait inherited from his father, from Merrill’s not being allowed to marry, and the mental stresses it caused him, and from Jay’s perception that no one listened to him. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that, given the pressures they must have had from being at the top of their performing tree, they didn’t argue more.

Trying a new styleThe scenes and the songs run in a chronological sequence (apart from The Proud One appearing too early and Crazy Horses too late) and are linked by an additional thread, that of Number One Fan Wendy from Manchester, who continues to send Jay fan mail throughout the years, never knowing if he saw her letters. She has an undiminishable love for Jay from afar; that special, unaccountable, irrational love that only a deep deep fan can have. Wendy’s dream to meet the great man finally comes true in a rather charming scene; I’ve no idea if this is truth, fiction, or if Wendy is simply symbolic of thousands of other girls who spilled their teenage angsts to their heroes. It would be rather rewarding if it were 100% true.

In full flowLucy Osborne’s set is bright, relatively simple and functional; her costume designs are excellent, from the classic barbershop outfits of the young boys, through the glam rock shirts and the subtle colour co-ordination of the brothers’ performing clothes – Alan is always basically in blue, Jay in Green, etc – including their latter-day (no pun intended) drift towards country music. Bill Deamer’s choreography accurately reflects the synchronised flamboyance of the group’s original moves, and on the whole the group and the band make a pretty good stab at recreating the definitive Osmond sound.

Jamming TogetherAlex Lodge takes the central role of Jay and conveys his essential wholesome kindness and likeability, occasionally tending towards an overly cutesy and trying “niceness” that may well be an accurate portrayal of the real Jay. Ryan Anderson’s Merrill is a good portrayal of a decent man pushed to the edge by circumstance and frustration; I thought the show could have made more of his clear mental distress, but it didn’t choose to take that route. For our performance Alex Cardall played Alan, and he nailed that “older sibling” natural authority and tendency towards bossiness. Danny Nattrass is solid as the relatively uninteresting Wayne, and Tristan Whincup was our understudy in the role of Donny; good in the singing department, but I felt he sometimes looked lost in the choreography.

The KidsCharlie Allen gives a very good performance as the unyielding, monolithic George, never betraying the smallest degree of warmth; and Nicola Bryan is the perfect antidote as Olive, a soothing source of kindness who, no matter what she might privately think, knows her place is to back up anything her husband says. I really liked Georgia Lennon as Marie – her performance of Paper Roses was probably the best rendition of any of the songs in the show. It’s a song I always hated as a teenager, seeing it as the epitome of drippiness; but Ms Lennon made me see it in a different light. Great work! And then we had our supporting cast of child Osmonds, who were all terrific, with excellent interaction with the adult actors and brilliant harmonies together.

MarieSo there were many good elements to the show, but, for some reason, a lot of it left me rather cold. Many of the song performances felt a little underwhelming; that said, Let Me In built to great finale to Act One, and they absolutely nailed Crazy Horses at Curtain Call. But even my favourite, Goin’ Home, felt slightly underpowered. Some of the characterisations felt a little threadbare. Comparisons are odious, but this is no Sunny Afternoon. It lacks an essential power and spark that should be driving through the whole show; instead it moves at a sedate pace, never quite reaching top gear. But it’s genuinely not a bad night out, and if you’re inclined towards a bit of clean-living Osmond nostalgia, the show should prompt some good memories. It’s on at the Royal and Derngate until Saturday 7th, and then continues its tour of the UK all the way through to December.

Production photos by Pamela Raith

3-starsThree-sy does it!

Review – Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends, Sondheim Theatre, London, 3rd May 2022

Old FriendsStephen Sondheim may have left this earth last November, but once you let him into your heart and your life, he never goes away. My first exposure to his work was when I got to see Side by Side by Sondheim at Wyndham’s Theatre in April 1977. Even though I was only 17 years and 1 day old, I was blown away by his wit and insight – let alone those melodies. When I first started seeing the young Miss Duncansby, I recorded the double album onto cassette for her (it’s something we used to do in those days, ask your parents) and I reckon that shared admiration for the great man went some way towards sealing our relationship.

Sondheim TheatreT S Eliot’s Prufrock measured out his life by coffee spoons. Mrs Chrisparkle and I have measured out our years with Sondheim lyrics – and I bet we’re not alone. Rarely a day goes by when one of life’s situations isn’t best expressed by a line from one of his songs. And there were plenty of those brilliant lines on offer in Tuesday night’s Sondheim’s Old Friends gala at the appropriately renamed Sondheim Theatre (normally I dislike the practice of renaming theatres, but in this case I’ll make an exception). Ostensibly it was in aid of the Stephen Sondheim Foundation; in essence it was an excuse for some of the world’s best Sondheim practitioners to come together for one huge celebration of his output.

Stephen SondheimIt’s so easy to go over the top with one’s appreciation of a great show, and words like amazing and incredible get bandied about in descriptions when what you really mean is very good, but it doesn’t sound exciting enough. However, I genuinely can’t think of the right superlatives to describe this show. It was sublime, it was thrilling, it was a constant source of delight. Not only that, it was way, way more slick than I had expected; a veritable gaudete of all the emotions that his works convey. Nothing that’s grim, nothing that’s Greek; just pure enjoyment from start to finish.

Running orderDevised and produced by Cameron Mackintosh, staged by Matthew Bourne and Maria Friedman, and choreographed by Stephen Mear; adding Sondheim’s songs to that mix, it was always going to be outstanding. The first thing that hit you was how tremendous Alfonso Casado Trigo’s 26 piece orchestra was – a classy, rich, full-bodied sound that blazed into every nook and cranny of the theatre. The programme gave us the running order of songs – forty in all – but not who would be performing them, so there was a continuous buzz about who to expect on stage next. Some of the combinations of song and singer were predictable; others were a delightful revelation.

Before Curtain upSome of the stars had roars of welcome from the moment they set foot on the stage. Julia McKenzie stopped the show within a second or two of its starting; still an amazing voice, still a wonderfully subtle sense of humour. Red Riding Hood turned around to reveal she was Bernadette Peters – cue a lengthy appreciation. A light shone on Dame Judi Dench and she didn’t get the chance to start singing for ages, waiting for the cheering to die down. I can’t describe each of these forty performances, although each stands out as a beacon of brilliance; I can only share with you some of my personal favourites.

intervalRob Brydon and Haydn Gwynne gave us The Little Things You Do Together with an immaculate mix of comedy and musicality. Anna-Jane Casey, Janie Dee and Josefina Gabrielle were a perfect goofy trio for You Could Drive a Person Crazy. Bernadette Peters delivered a spine-tingling Children Will Listen. Janie Dee, Julian Ovenden, Michael D Xavier and the West End All Stars showed what a brilliantly clever multi-layered piece A Weekend in The Country is. There were sobs all over the house for Judi Dench’s heart-wrenching Send in the Clowns. Michael Ball and Maria Friedman mined all the comedy out of The Worst Pies in London and A Little Priest. Haydn Gwynne took our breath away with The Ladies Who Lunch.

Curtain Call 1After the interval, Julia McKenzie, Gary Wilmot, Rosalie Craig and many more delivered a hilarious version of Broadway Baby where competitive auditionees try to outdo each other. Sian Phillips unexpectedly joined Rob Brydon, Damien Lewis and Julian Ovenden for the last verse of Everybody Ought to Have a Maid. Petula Clark gave us a resilient and determined I’m Still Here (including a brilliant throwaway line at one of the song’s more obscure references – “Google it!”) Michael Ball’s deliciously vindictive Could I Leave You? Janie Dee’s cutely innocent The Boy From… Bernadette Peters’ awe-inspiring Losing My Mind. Imelda Staunton’s legendary outstanding Everything’s Coming Up Roses. And so very much more…

Curtain Call 2The audience was as star-studded as the cast, but I only witnessed one truly stagey moment. On my way to the bar at the interval, I was caught between Cameron Mackintosh on my left and Christopher Biggins, resplendent in white scarf, on my right; Mr B called out to Mr M Darling it’s just marvellous, and Mr M beamed a suitably chuffed smile in response. But he was absolutely right! It was indeed marvellous. I can’t see how they could ever recreate this experience again in the same way, but the montage of songs worked brilliantly, and could pack a West End theatre every night as a revue in its own right.

I’m still buzzing from it all; the thrill of that experience will take a long time to calm down. Hopefully the relay into the Prince Edward Theatre will also be used as a recording for TV broadcast, because this is a celebration that should be relived for many years. That’s it. I’m out of superlatives!

Five Alive Let Theatre Thrive!

Review – Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, Playhouse Theatre, London, 27th April 2022

Kit Kat ClubTalk about a sensory overload! Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club is one of the most ambitious theatrical projects I’ve ever encountered, aiming to achieve so much and very nearly nailing it all. At first, we weren’t going to go. I knew that if I saw it, but wasn’t seated at one of the exclusive front row tables costing £Blimey O’Riley, I’d feel as though I was missing out on the full experience. And two lots of £Blimey O’Rileys is an unjustifiably awful lot of coin. However, a friend went and sat in those very same seats and was overwhelmed by it, and told us we had to go. So, grabbing those mammoth prices by the throat, we went as my birthday treat. Oh, thanks. Yes, 21 again, thank you for asking.

Let’s go back to basics. If anyone ever dares tell you that musical theatre is mere froth and cannot say anything deep and meaningful, point them in the direction of Cabaret and tell them to shut it. The product of a distillation from Christopher Isherwood’s original 1939 book Goodbye to Berlin, through its adaptation by John van Druten into the play I am a Camera, and finally to Kander and Ebb’s 1966 stage musical, it’s also fifty years (gasp!) since the iconic film version came out. American Cliff Bradshaw arrives in Berlin to gain inspiration to write. He’s quickly beguiled by Sally Bowles, singer at the Kit Kat Club, and their unorthodox relationship plays out against the rise of Nazism; the songs and routines performed at the club reflect the growing tensions in society. Landlady Fräulein Schneider is courted by widower fruitmonger Herr Schultz; he is Jewish, but optimistic. The audience has the dubious investment of dramatic irony, knowing the fate that will befall the characters within the next ten years although the characters themselves don’t. It still has the power to shock, to horrify, and to make you look away; it’s also still supremely entertaining, delightfully funny, and proves itself remarkably resilient to new presentations and interpretations.

Playhouse TheatreThe production has been veiled in secrecy, in, I presume, an attempt to maintain the mystique of the Kit Kat Club. Until the last couple of weeks, there have been no photographs of any sort – not even promotionally pasted outside the theatre. There is now a video trailer online giving you some idea of what to expect, but it doesn’t reveal much. What happens in the Kit Kat Club stays in the Kit Kat Club; to the extent that they insist you put a sticker over the camera lens on your phone on the way in. I must say, it made me feel as though I was being treated as less than an adult. I wouldn’t have taken any photos anyway I gently complained as I complied. You’re one of the few, replied the attendant. I am a Camera, but we’re definitely not.

This show tries to do two things: a) present a spectacular, bar-raising production of one of the greatest musicals of all time and b) frame it within an experience that includes food and drink, backstage pre-entertainment, and a transformation of the Playhouse into a genuine Kit Kat Club environment. It achieves a) fantastically well and has a good stab at b) whilst forgetting the practicalities of being a theatregoer, with the result that there is an element of endurance test about it. And I can’t believe the Emcee would be happy with that. Leave your troubles outside, he insists, in the famous opening song; in here, life is beautiful.

Let’s come to that later. There’s so much about this production that enthrals you. Rebecca Frecknall’s new production comes to life as a theatre-in-the-round extravaganza, using a relatively small circular revolving stage that itself reveals endless surprises throughout the show. The cast spill out into the table area of the audience so that the edge of the acting area is blurred; at one stage during Two Ladies, a Cabaret boy and girl were performing unspeakable rumpy-pumpy nudged up against my left thigh. The staging calls for very expressive, inventive and carefully controlled choreography, and Julia Cheng has done a marvellous job creating the perfect moves for the confined space – absolutely thrilling.

Fra Fee in CabaretAfter the first five minutes you also realise the quality of the singing voices – everyone blends and harmonises superbly; and with the intimacy of the presentation, the amazing clarity of sound doesn’t need that much artificial enhancement. It’s easy to forget how stage amplification can really distort voices, but here the music is just stunning. Even the orchestra is beautiful. Well, they sound it at any rate. And then there are the costumes! Emcee and the boys and girls wear a range of outrageous outfits, suggesting all manners of sexual self-expression, frequently topped off with a cheeky party hat. The respectable clothing of the more reserved characters, like Fräulein Schneider, Herr Schultz, and even Cliff Bradshaw, stand out in sharp contrast with the gaudy self-indulgence of the Kit Kat Coterie.

The show is studded with thrilling moments. The versatility of the revolving stage. The unique interaction between audience and cast that the intimate staging offers. Sexual tension invested in a pineapple. The shock comedy of the gorilla. Masturbation over Mein Kampf. The symbolic moment when Emcee smashes the glass in the traditional Jewish marriage good luck gesture. Perhaps the most extraordinary moment is when Sally Bowles delivers the big number Cabaret at the end of the show. As when Imelda Staunton tore up the rule book with her performance of Everything’s Coming up Roses in Gypsy, Amy Lennox’s rendition of this familiar song takes your breath away with its anger, its pain, its frustration, and its cruelty. You’ll never think of this song in the same way again.

Sally BowlesAs you might expect, the performances are outstanding. The above-mentioned Ms Lennox steals the show with her totally credible portrayal of Sally Bowles as a worn out trouper who slept her way to prominence. Her singing and stage presence are absolutely superb. Vivien Parry and Eliot Levey make a truly charming older couple, tentatively finding love against the odds. Omar Baroud’s Cliff is a kindly, benign presence, who takes everything in his stride including his bisexuality. Anna Jane Casey is a constant joy as Fräulein Kost, forever smuggling men out of her digs and incurring Fräulein Schneider’s disapproval. And the ensemble, who perform as the Cabaret Girls and Boys, are simply stunning. A veritable hotch-potch of shapes and sizes, genders and guises. You can’t pick out any particular actor but they all really make the show.

Omar Baroud in CabaretFra Fee has the biggest job of all, having to take over from Eddie Redmayne who, by all accounts, was just incredible as the Emcee, insinuating himself around the stage, an unsettling and unmissable presence. Mr F is also blessed with an amazing stage presence, and he works his facial expressions and vocal tics brilliantly into the role; and of course he can carry off all the Emcee’s fantastic songs with supreme theatricality. He’s a deceptively playful Emcee, grinning maniacally at us all, which makes the shock of the horror that’s barely concealed beneath the surface, even more terrifying.

So, as a show it’s sensational, no question. But what about as an experience for the audience – particularly those who forked out a genuine fortune to sit at a cabaret table? This is where it’s not quite so sensational. There’s no doubt that you get a truly amazing intimate experience, right up close to the action, constant eye contact and other interaction with all the ensemble. But there are practicalities too. The downside of theatre in the round is that there will always be times when the actors face away from you. It’s particularly galling when, for the ultimate moment of the show, the finale of the song Cabaret, all we could see was Ms Lennox’s back.

When you arrive, via the stage door basement, your route takes you past some informal entertainment – a band playing at the Red Bar, and some dancers at the Gold Bar, but there’s no real direction as to what you should be doing, where you should be going, and how long you should be lingering in one place, which detracted from the enjoyment of these additional entertainments. I wonder what happens when it’s pouring with rain outside? There’s no cloakroom provision, and even on a pleasant evening like last Wednesday, there was nowhere for us to put our jackets apart from wedged between our legs on the floor. You can’t hang them over the backrest of your chair because the table behind is wedged up against it. If you had wet coats or umbrellas, you’d have a serious practical problem.

PhoneToilet provision is poor, with very long queues; they’re gender neutral, which I guess is in keeping with the production, but women lining up in the same small space behind men using urinals is comfortable for no one. The meal is tasty and nutritious, but small; it takes no effort or gluttony to finish all three courses in under ten minutes. The champagne, at least, is excellent, but the £12 glass of Riesling at the interval was dismal. And £15 for a programme is outrageous. And that sticker on the phone – well, look what it did to Mrs Chrisparkle’s mobile – basically the cover is ruined.

Nevertheless, it’s a sensational, thrilling production and we loved every minute of it!

Production photos by Marc BrennerFive Alive, Let Theatre Thrive!

Review – Fatal Attraction, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 29th March 2022

Fatal AttractionI’m sure you’ll remember the original 1987 film Fatal Attraction, that rather over-sensational movie that was a must-see at the time, and which introduced us to the concept of the bunny boiler. James Dearden has adapted his own screenplay into this stage version, that was originally produced at the Theatre Royal Haymarket back in 2014. Reviews of this current production have varied between the ecstatic and the disastrous, so I was fascinated to see how it played out for myself!

Susie Amy and Oliver FarnworthThe play has a different ending from the film; apparently, this ending was Dearden’s original draft, but pre-release market research showed that moviegoers wanted a more gutsy and vengeful ending. This version makes the characters’ motivations and responsibilities more of a grey area; and in fact Mrs Chrisparkle and I are still discussing it the next day, which must be a sign of a thought-provoking production! And, despite a few clunky aspects, we both found this play engrossing, entertaining and totally credible; we really rather liked it.

Louise Redknapp and Oliver FarnworthBut I’m starting at the end, rather than the beginning, which doesn’t make sense. In case you didn’t know, in a nutshell: happily married Dan has a fling with editor Alex, whilst his wife Beth and daughter Ellen are out of town for the weekend. While they’re out of town, he rather goes to town, one might say. But when Alex turns out to be the clingy type who can’t accept being a one night stand, things start to get hot under the collar for Dan – and indeed his whole family. Initially he tries to balance keeping the secret from his wife and managing Alex’s expectations, but her resentment at not getting his full attention turns into something far more menacing and dangerous. And then she announces she is pregnant…

Susie AmyBut what this production shows is that describing Alex as clingy is probably a misrepresentation of her truth. There are scenes of self-harm – and it’s important that theatregoers know this in advance – that leave you in no doubt that she is severely mentally disturbed. This may, in part, be due to the difficult miscarriage she says she suffered. Whatever the cause, her mental instability becomes the root of her manipulation, obsession and vengefulness. Where Dan has simply taken advantage of a random encounter and turned it into a sexual liaison, just another notch on the bedpost perhaps, you sense that he has unwittingly provided Alex with the promise of what she sees is a better life, and a reason for existence; clearly her high-flying editorship isn’t enough to satisfy all her needs. As her obsession with him becomes deeper and deeper, its manifestation becomes impossible to ignore; a fatal attraction indeed.

Susie Amy and Oliver FarnworthThere’s also a surprise coda ending, which I couldn’t possibly tell you about because then it wouldn’t be a surprise! However, suffice to say that it addresses Dan’s laments of constantly making wrong decisions after wrong decisions, in a J B Priestley, Dangerous Corner style. The whole play lasts with you long after curtain down, as you ask yourself a series of what ifs; and you realise there’s never a definitive answer.

Great setMorgan Large’s set comes as a shock when you first see it, all grey geometric shapes and abstract surfaces; isn’t this play set in domestic locations? But when excellent screen projections unexpectedly appear on the set, displaying phone conversations, the New York cityscape and much more besides, you realise it’s a brilliantly devised set. Paul Englishby’s incidental music is incredibly effective at heightening the tension; normally I would find so much music distracting, but in this case it becomes a vital ingredient of the storytelling.

Oliver FarnworthOliver Farnworth, as Dan, is on stage most of the time; it’s a very demanding role, commenting on his own actions in regular asides to the audience, as well as actually enacting them. He absolutely looks the part, but occasionally it feels a little as though he’s reciting the lines rather than believing in them, and I felt he lacked a little light and shade in his delivery. But it’s a powerful and clear performance and you certainly heard every word.

Louise RedknappUnlike Louise Redknapp as Beth, who sounded a little under-amplified and occasionally you had to strain to catch everything she says. Beth is a relatively bland character for the first three quarters of the play, and it’s not until the end that she’s really given her chance to show what she’s made of. Unfortunately, I felt her important scenes lacked some emotion, and I didn’t entirely believe her fury and exasperation at what her husband has done.

Susie AmySusie Amy, however, nails the character of Alex to a T. Sensual, obsessive, manipulative, disturbed – and dangerously unpredictable. She absolutely captures the character’s multi-layers, with her tragic self-harm and manic revenge, cheerfully observing how much she’s terrifying Dan. Ms Amy fills the character with great depth and understanding, and she’s far from the one dimensional characterisation that it could be. A really strong and riveting performance.

Oliver FarnworthAmong the supporting cast, I really enjoyed John Macaulay as the laddish Jimmy, and Tony Glasgow as the no-nonsense detective O’Rourke. Anita Booth is also excellent as Beth’s mother Joan; I liked how she has a resemblance to Hilary Clinton, which puts a new perspective on Dan’s assertion that he did not have a relationship with that woman.

Susie Amy and Oliver FarnworthSome things about the production simply don’t work. Beth and Dan’s offstage daughter is voiced by Charlotte Holden, who not only sounds at least ten years older than the eight years old that Ellen’s meant to be, but the recorded nature of her voice just sounds false in comparison with the live voices on stage. Some of the stage combat comes across as a little cumbersome, and the unavoidable blacked-out stage clearing that occurs immediately after Thumper is fricasséed is a big faff that completely destroys the tension created by the scene.

Susie Amy and Oliver FarnworthDespite these quibbles, this production offers way more than you might have expected. Most of the action is met with complete silence from the audience, but it’s not a negative silence, it’s an engrossed, concentrating, appreciative silence. It holds your attention throughout; and if you think you understand the motivations of the characters from your memories of the film, this production will make you think again. After its week in Northampton, it continues its tour to Aylesbury, Glasgow, Cambridge and York. Definitely worth catching!

Production photos by Tristram Kenton

4-starsFour they’re jolly good fellows!

Review – Straight Line Crazy, Bridge Theatre, London, 26th March 2022

Straight Line CrazyIt’s always a pleasure to visit the Bridge Theatre, and especially on a crisp but stunningly beautiful day like last Saturday, with the sun high in the sky giving a glorious view over Tower Bridge and the Tower of London from outside the theatre’s front door. I booked this show fairly pronto after it was announced last year because the promise of the Bridge Theatre, Ralph Fiennes and a new David Hare play is, for me, about as winning a combination as you can get.

Ralph Fiennes as MosesStraight Line Crazy doesn’t tell the full story of hugely influential New York urban developer Robert Moses, but rather two significant periods in his life and career. I’d never heard of Robert Moses, apparently a very famous figure, which makes me frankly ignorant and I’m not proud of it. Act One is set in 1926 – pre-crash – where Moses has his heart set on opening up the beaches and parks of Long Island by creating new expressways for the motor car, no matter the nimbyism of the local landowners. Act Two takes us to 1955, and his proposal to carve up Washington Square Park with a road straight through the middle, which he says would alleviate the traffic congestion into Lower Manhattan.

Siobhan Cullen as FionnulaThe young Moses is brash and bold, with a propensity to start digging his new roads before he gets the official go-ahead; consultation is for wimps, problems can be glossed over with a little help from his influential contacts, and official fines are just part and parcel of his daily work. The older Moses doesn’t seem to have learned from his mistakes – in fact he doesn’t recognise that he can make a mistake; and his practice of riding roughshod over authority has developed into full-scale bullying of anyone who gets in his way.

Samuel Barnett as ArielNot only that, his personality flaws that are suggested in Act One have grown into proper monstrosity by Act Two. His misogyny, his racism and his contempt for the poor have run riot. He wants to open up parks and beaches but only for the right sort of people. No rapid transit access, just the motor car is king. And if you can’t afford a car – you can’t take advantage of his planning, simples. He brooks no criticism, under any circumstances; in the early days, his colleagues opted to be yes men, to stay in his good books and protect their own careers. Come the 1950s, Moses is surrounded by one faithful worker who has supported him throughout and sacrificed his own life and health as a consequence; another who realises they have taken their relationship as far as they can stand; and a third, younger, employee who has the guts to tell him how it is. You’re no different from anyone else, Mr Moses. Sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong.

Danny Webb as SmithNicholas Hytner’s magnificent production uses that wonderfully adaptive thrust stage at the Bridge to perfect effect, suggesting the opulent but sterile home of the Vanderbilts, the cantankerous atmosphere of the Washington Square Park protest meetings, or – mainly – the extensive draughtsmen’s workspace at Moses’ office. David Hare has written a play dripping with telling lines, mixing humour and hideousness in equal measure, revealing its characters’ motivations and personalities with subtlety and delicacy. As always, David Hare has a lot to say, and it’s a pleasure to take it all in. There are themes of democracy and truth, prejudice and bullying, corruption and decency, community and selfishness; all woven together in Hare’s inimitable intelligent and gripping style.

Alisha Bailey as MariahThe whole cast give us a masterclass in acting, but you can’t take anything away from Ralph Fiennes’ extraordinary performance as Moses. As a younger man provocative and insinuating, ambitious and determined; as an older man complacent and indulged, implacable and deaf to criticism. At a risk of sounding like Pseuds Corner, Hare provides all the ingredients for a characterisation of complexity, and Fiennes cooks them to perfection.  You can’t take your eyes – or ears – off him.

Alana Maria as ShirleySiobhán Cullen is fantastic as Finnuala Connell, the draughtswoman who must tread a fine line between her natural assertiveness and her requirement to give the boss what he needs to hear. She is accompanied by the excellent Samuel Barnett as Ariel Porter, Moses’ other long-time employee, quietly suppressing his own thoughts and needs, whilst genuinely wanting to support his boss and help him through hard times. There’s a brilliant cameo performance by Danny Webb as Governor Al Smith, full of bluster and exuberance, trying to assert his own authority over Moses but fighting to resist dipping his toes in the world of corruption.

Moses meets VanderbiltAlisha Bailey is excellent as the young Mariah Heller, who’s not afraid of saying what she thinks (actually, she portrays perfectly that she is afraid, but is going to speak her mind anyway!) There are smart supporting performances from Guy Paul as the arrogant Vanderbilt, Alana Maria as the enraged Shirley Hayes and Helen Schlesinger as the journalist and activist Jane Jacobs, who opposed Moses’ vision of town planning and whose role in the play you might have thought would have been developed further than it is. Perhaps it would have been, in a play about his life as a whole, rather than concentrating on just these two major moments of his career.

One of those fantastic theatrical experiences where all kinds of brilliant collide together to make a superb production. Straight Line Crazy plays at the Bridge Theatre until 18th June and it’s a must.

Production photos by Manuel Harlan

Five Alive, let Theatre Thrive!

Review – The Wellspring, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 24th March 2022

The WellspringWhen is a play not a play? A possible answer to this is when it’s a Memory Cycle, which is how The Wellspring is described on the front cover of its play text. It’s always intriguing to watch a stage production that’s unusual in some way. Yes, it’s scripted, ergo, it’s a play. But when the two performers, playing a father and son, really are that very same father and son playing themselves, you know you’re going to see something out of the ordinary.

David and Barney lay the tableA few years ago, playwright Barney Norris worked with his father, musician David Owen Norris, on a series of interviews to tell the story of the older man’s unorthodox journey through his career in music. It was when Barney’s production of The Remains of the Day was being presented at the Royal and Derngate that it was suggested that he might work up those interviews into a play format. And this is the result – with the usual Covid-enforced delay that almost every new production has had to undergo, of course. It has the feel of a chat show, but without a host, where the guests just volunteer anecdote after anecdote without prompting. With Barney playing Barney and David playing David, you can assume they’ve got the characterisations spot on; and you can assume they’re telling the truth.

Wellspring setBut can you? Memories can play tricks on you, and sometimes where one side believes something to be gospel, the other is convinced they’ve got it wrong; New Year’s Eves spent together – or apart – for example. On one occasion, Barney recalls hearing a rural 19th century song at a festival that blew his mind, as being such a brilliant insight into those hard times. But was it truly from that era? And if it blows you away, does it matter anyway? A lie can be much more rewarding than the truth. At the end of the play, Barney confirms that they’ve told a truth, not necessarily the truth; reality mixed with fantasy to create an end product, perhaps. Often old videotapes from Barney’s childhood are screened in the background, so that gives you an extra sense of truth. So, yes, it’s clearly autobiographical in style and presentation, but is it true autobiography? The audience must decide for themselves.

David Owen NorrisYou can see why this is a Made in Northampton production. David was brought up in Long Buckby, went to Daventry Grammar School and spent much of his youthful leisure time in Northampton. Although his parents separated when he was young, Barney also spent many childhood weekends in the county, and, when he was 19, organised a music festival for his dad with gigs all around rural Northamptonshire. That local connection acts as another bridge between the Norrises and the audience.

Non!The play is very beautifully written and performed with effortless ease. Individual moments from their past take on a whole new significance when explained in terms of the present day. I loved David’s recollections of standing on the bridge over the new M1 at Watford Gap, looking towards the north in one direction (because Watford Gap is traditionally where the north starts) and then looking south in the other (no one ever said that Watford Gap is where the south starts, but it must be by definition!) It’s one of T S Eliot’s still points in the turning world; rather like how he attributes his whole career to the one black note on the piano, B Flat, or how Barney lost his shyness when he realised it was ok for people to look at him when he was onstage in a junior school play. Tiny events such as these build into a life.

Father and sonThere are some great stories recounted; none as hilarious as David’s account of his appearance at the Sydney Piano Competition. There are also his tuition sessions with the scary Yvonne Lefébure in Paris, Barney’s reliving getting beaten up in Oxford, he and his friend Jeb playing Beatles songs at Stonehenge whilst an American guy scattered his wife’s ashes, and many more.

Barney tells a storyI can imagine that this is a difficult play to stage without it appearing too static. The old home movies and the constantly changing compass image work well to provide a little background movement. At one stage Barney rolls out a carpet on the stage, whilst he’s telling us about all the places in London he’s lived, even for the shortest time; a very rootless existence. The carpet emphasised his Wherever I Lay My Hat That’s my Home attitude to his rather nomadic lifestyle. A piano is onstage, for David to intersperse his recollections with snippets of music; and we see Grandad’s wonderful old music stand given pride of place next to it.

David at the pianoI’m not a fan of extraneous, unnecessary action on stage, and, during much of the first part of the play, we see Barney cooking – always something that an audience finds fascinating to watch. He and David sit down to eat it. But it’s never referred to in the text, we never know what he’s cooking, or why; and I did find that distracting. I also couldn’t understand why they painstakingly removed everything from sight at the end of the play; table, carpet, music stand, even the piano. It’s at odds with the concept that your memories are always with you – which is definitely one of the messages of the play. What was the point of hiding them away at the end? It felt like it was just to give the performers something to do; and whilst I understand the need for that, there also has to be a purpose to it. Just my little quibble.

Barney in full flowThe Wellspring only has a couple more nights in Northampton and then it will tour to various theatres and festivals, largely in locations that feature in their stories. Home is a moment that’s quickly lost, says Barney; afterwards you can only sail through the ghost of it. Charming, thought-provoking, and immensely nostalgic; private moments shared in that common hunt for home. At only 70 minutes with no interval, it fits neatly into a festival programme with admirable brevity of wit!

Production photos by Robert Day

4-starsFour they’re jolly good fellows!

Review – We Will Rock You, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 21st March 2022

We Will Rock YouThe 20th Anniversary Tour of this hugely successful show charges headfirst into Northampton for a week that’s already virtually sold out. Any show that can stimulate such anticipation and excitement is obviously doing something right. Cards on the Table time: I’m not really a fan of Queen. I know, I know, pipe down with your faux-outrage. But I’ve always found their style to be overblown and self-important; and the continued reverence about their output by the media and fans hasn’t made it any easier for me to start appreciating them. And indeed, when We Will Rock You makes direct reference to Queen it’s by elevating them to a cult religious status, which I find a right turn-off. There are a handful of their songs that I like; but the prospect of 2 hours 45 minutes of undiluted Queen made me feel bilious. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that far and away the best thing about this show is the music! More of that later…

The opening sequence strongly recalled a musical that I truly hated: Dave Clark’s Time, a pompous, vacuous show from 1986 that we endured for what felt like several hours at London’s Dominion Theatre (which is where We Will Rock You held sway for an extraordinary twelve years). I clutched my armrest wondering if I was going to hate this too. And, overall, I didn’t. But I have some big reservations about it.

Galileo and ScaramoucheLet’s accentuate the positive. Production-wise, it’s magnificent. At the back of the stage, constantly changing images, cameras, LEDs and so on provide a wonderful depth to the stage action, suggesting mood, locations, and the mindless backing masses who populate the sterile Gaga World into which the iPlanet has developed. (Bear with me). Sometimes hidden, sometimes revealed at the back of the stage is Zachary Flis’ amazing band who whack out the familiar numbers with gusto. It’s loud, by the way – very loud. At times my seat rumbled with reverberation so much I though I was preparing for take-off. Kentaur’s costumes and wigs are a production in themselves, reflecting the power of the oppressors, the simplicity of the protagonists, and the eccentricity of the Bohemians. Visually the whole thing is astounding.

the CastThere are also some fantastic individual performances. Almost entirely across the board, the female performers outshine the guys at every level. Martina Ciabatti Mennell’s Meat has a great voice and personality and brought enormous brightness to her role. As the ultimate baddie, Jenny O’Leary’s Killer Queen has an extraordinary stage presence and a belter of a voice. For me, the complete star of the show is Elena Skye as Scaramouche. The first thing Scaramouche does is sing Somebody to Love (a song I had never previously rated) and it was captivating, moving, gutsy and utterly brilliant. She is a fabulous singer, gave a fantastic characterisation to the role, and had the best feeling for the comedy of the piece of anyone in the cast.

Scaramouche and the Gaga GirlsAh yes, the comedy. The book is by Ben Elton. The Man from Auntie. The writer of witty, satirical, provocative, inventive novels. The man behind the inspirational anarchy of The Young Ones. The creator of arguably the best sitcom every written, Blackadder (well, series 2 and 4 anyway). His job was to devise a cunning plot that incorporates Queen songs and provide entertaining bridging material between them. So was he as cunning as a fox that’s just been made Professor of Cunning at Oxford University? No. I’m racking my brain to think of a book to a musical that’s more lame and lamentable than his contribution to We Will Rock You. His hero, Galileo, speaks in song lyrics; funny the first time, but it quickly palls. And whilst the early part of the show allows for some of the songs to fit in nicely with the plot, by the time we get to the second Act all hell breaks loose and they get plonked in Wherever, whenever (damn, I’m doing it now.) Elton obviously couldn’t fit in Bohemian Rhapsody, We are the Champions and We Will Rock You into the story, so they’re just an addition tucked into the end of the show. To be fair, there are two jokes. One is visual, when Galileo and Scaramouche decide they need to be careful when they settle down for a night of nookie. The other relates to the length of Brian May’s guitar solos. Otherwise it pootles along punfully; most of the characters are two-dimensional – those who aren’t are one-dimensional. It would need a gifted, independent director with a highly developed critical filter to keep this show on the straight and narrow. Remind me who the director is? Ah yes, Ben Elton. I don’t expect he suggested many cuts.

Curtain CallThe plot itself also doesn’t bear much analysis. Set sometime in the future, live music is banned, and anyone who attempts to play music is punished. Hang on, isn’t that the plot of Footloose? Anyway. There’s a bunch of rebels called the Bohemians (geddit?) who are like a religious cult who believe there is a sacred text (which basically contains the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody, not that they know that) and who have a few relics, including an old television and a video tape. It’s bizarre then, that, for presumably decades of misery, no one ever thought to put the video tape in the video recorder underneath the TV. Also bizarre that they mispronounce “video tape” “television” and “Brian” as though they were some long-dead foreign language, even though they pronounce everything else from that same language correctly. They’ve never heard of America, but they do understand the concept of Paris (Killer Queen lyrics) and Euro-Disney (lame joke). I’ll leave the textual analysis there, I think.

Rocky BohemiansIf it wasn’t for the Queen songs, the show would be dire. But then, without Queen, the show wouldn’t have existed! As a non-fan, I really enjoyed my two favourite songs Killer Queen and Don’t Stop Me Now, and Ian McIntosh as Galileo did pull out all the stops for a rousing performance of We are the Champions at the end. So it’s a resounding yes to the production values, music and star performances, and a resounding no to the book. The more you like Queen, the more you’ll like this show. But the incorporation of songs into the plot, and the “comic” element of the text made me realise what a masterpiece Mamma Mia is.

P. S. The book for Time is worse. Time thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. At least We Will Rock You doesn’t take itself seriously.

Production photos by Johan Persson

3-starsThree-sy does it!

Review – An Improbable Musical, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 1st March 2022

An Improbable MusicalCunning use of language in that title, as it’s not only improbable because this is an improvisation show, so who knows what musical the cast will come up with every night, but also because the show is co-produced by a company called Improbable. Although their name suggests one of those lesser successful teams on an iffy series of The Apprentice, Improbable are, actually, an innovative theatre company that takes all manner of performance arts and mixes them together to make exciting and unpredictable new pieces. So now you know.

I must confess, gentle reader, that neither Mrs Chrisparkle nor I have been great fans of the improvisation genre in the past. I never really got the appeal of Whose Line is it Anyway (although everyone else did) and improvisation that I’ve seen on stage normally just raises a few minor chuckles at best. So I didn’t have massive hopes that I’d enjoy this show much – but, of course, I went in with an open mind and a glass of Shiraz to ease the pain.

The CastVerdict: it was a lot funnier than I expected! We were all advised at the beginning that they were two cast members down due to the dreaded Covid, but the structure of the show is such that you got no sense that anyone or any element was missing. One of the things I tend to dislike about improv is the audience constantly having to come up with ideas for the next sketch. But in this show, the audience were just asked three simple questions at the beginning, and the cast set about incorporating those answers during the show. That’s the audience input over and done with.

The process of identifying the audience’s responses within the material that emerges on stage is a source of great amusement. Sometimes you can see it looming obviously right at the beginning of a scene; sometimes it creeps up on you unexpectedly during a conversation or song. Hats off to everyone for seamlessly tailoring their material around the audience’s chosen subjects. It worked extremely well.

Adam CourtingWhat makes this show different from other improv shows is the musical aspect – yes, the clue’s in the title. This is not just an evening of sketches, but an attempt to put together a piece of musical theatre, with a distinct narrative that more or less makes sense from a distinct start to a distinct end. And they pretty much nailed it. Yes, one or two of the scenes came across as a mite random and overly-prolonged; I guess one of the problems with this genre is that you can’t always tell at the beginning of a scene how well it’s going to hang together or how funny it’s going to be. But for the most part it was funny and musically rewarding.

Our story concerned the trial separation of long-married Daisy and Simon and their adventures whilst apart. I really loved the scene where Daisy met up with her old college friends only to realise their relationship was more intimate than she had expected! This was interspersed with another story thread of a single mother finding she’s attracted to a man in a red hat. But who knows what story they’ll perform from show to show? The depth and intensity of the workshopping that they must have done to prepare for this run must have been immense, and it’s a credit to everyone that there wasn’t one moment where things broke down; such self-confidence deserves massive respect.

Josie LawrenceIt’s very much a team effort, but I must give special mention to the wonderful vocal characterisations of Ruth Bratt (not many people can make an entire theatre guffaw at the word cacao) and Niall Ashdown, whose Simon managed to be the biggest drip in the shower whilst still being irresistible to women. And of course Josie Lawrence, whose prestigious musical theatre background lit up her performances of a couple of searing big numbers. All this plus a group of musicians who instinctively knew which direction the show was going without comparing notes with the cast; as I said, that preparation must have been immense.

A unique entertainment, and performed with great style and wit. And no two shows are the same! Catch it at the Royal Theatre before it closes on Saturday night.

Production photos by Marc Brenner

4-starsFour they’re jolly good fellows!

Review – Much Ado About Nothing, Royal Shakespeare Company at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 25th February 2022

Much Ado About NothingYou know how you wait two years for a bus and then three all come along at once? This is the fate of Much Ado About Nothing for 2022. Not only has it been chosen as the opening “Big Play” for the RSC at the beginning of the year, but there’s also a production by Simon Godwin coming at the National Theatre this summer and in September we’re seeing a production by Robert Hastie at the Crucible in Sheffield. But then it is an enduringly popular play and there’ll always be a demand for it.

BenedickMichael Balogun, who was originally cast as Benedick, withdrew from the play days before Press Night which has played a spot of havoc with the timings for its reviews. But if we have learned nothing else from the pandemic, it’s that the show must go on. And there’s no doubt about it, it’s a fascinating production. If you are a loyal reader of my random jottings, you’ll know that one of my  watchwords is that I much prefer a brave failure to a lazy success. And this is one of those occasions. Yes, for the most part, this production fails to deliver on many levels. But, my word, does it put in a brave attempt to do so, and does it have a lot of fun getting there!

Claudio Leonato and HeroSet in some kind of futuristic otherworld, traditionally this play takes place in Messina, but this dramatis personae has been no nearer Italy than an outer space Pizza Express. This is a world of glowing orbs, fanciful fruits, swirly benches and magic blackboards. No extravagance is understated in the set or the costumes, with outrageous headdresses, topiaried hairdos, gold-emblazoned tabards, a Robocop-style constabulary and formal white wellies. Hero’s wedding dress resembles a huge butterfly, while Beatrice frequently reminds you that the spirit of Xena Warrior Princess is not dead. Facial make-up includes enough glitter, swirls and highlights to make Adam Ant look like a funeral director. Characters appear descending from the Flies or via a floral walkway. It’s as though Shakespeare has been taken over by The Magic Roundabout with Ermyntrude and Zebedee as the bickering lovers.

Aruna Jalloh and Adeola YemitanDone wrong, this could look cheap, tacky and ridiculous. But it’s a huge credit to Jemima Robinson’s set and Melissa Simon-Hartman’s costume design that it comes across as innovative, luxurious and aspirational. Imagine going on holiday to this futuristic playground – you’d be on a permanent high! Femi Temowo’s accompanying music is cleverly pitched, near-outrageous, and frequently off-putting; a kind of louche jazz that suggests a whole new notational language of music that we don’t recognise yet. You’d expect magic mushrooms in the saxophone and amphetamines in the keyboard, and it’s simply, thoroughly, delightfully and disconcertingly weird.

BeatriceThere are also some terrific performances, none more so than Akiya Henry’s irrepressible Beatrice, who gives us one hilariously cantankerous appearance after another, chockfull of inventive characterisations, impetuous mischief and some brilliant physical comic business. The best scene in the whole play is where, separately, both Benedick and Beatrice overhear how the other is apparently in love with them; and Ms Henry’s contortions to hide behind or blend in with the set’s outrageously stylised vegetation so she can’t be noticed is comedy genius. By comparison, Luke Wilson’s Benedick comes across as an unusually decent sort of chap, rather reasonable and sensible. As a result perhaps there aren’t quite as many fireworks set off in the interchanges between the two characters, but at least Benedick is a beacon of sobriety in an otherwise hippy-trippy world.

Don PedraAnn Ogbomo is also outstanding as Don Pedra (minor quibble, but shouldn’t she be a Donna?) with tremendous stage presence and a gloriously authoritative voice that commands you listen and pay attention. Micah Balfour is also excellent as the manipulating Don John, and Taya Ming also impresses as a rather childlike and fragile Hero. Karen Henthorn plays the difficult role of Dogberry purely for laughs and gives us some excellent malapropisms.

Don JohnWasn’t it Shakespeare who said – and I think it was – the play’s the thing? And that, sadly, is where this production starts to fall apart. In his vision for the play, director Roy Alexander Weise has turned all his attention to the look of the thing, but not much thought has gone into its meaning. The futuristic otherworld is beautifully realised, but what light does it shed on, say, the motivations of Don John, or the common sense of Claudio, let alone whether Benedick and Beatrice have a future together? The bright façade of the production has seeped through to the plot, making almost all the characters much more lightweight and shallower. There’s little sense of the danger or tragedy that lurks beneath the surface because it’s all just a bit too nice and bland.

The Cast of Much AdoIt also bumbles and stumbles along at a very slow pace, and at three-and-a-quarter hours feels way too long. The second half in particular gets very boring at times, and feels very stop-starty with the plot progression; you feel the occasional urge to mutter just get on with it, rather than stop for another bit of music and sombre standing around. Scene changes need to be more dynamic – Act One ends with a whimper rather than a bang and no one has a clue whether to applaud or not; the movement of the actors needs to be more decisive and meaningfull; in fact, the whole thing just needs to be a lot snappier.

UrsulaDefinitely a brave failure rather than a lazy success. I hope the RSC keeps the set and costumes and uses them to much more telling effect in another play. Much Ado About Nothing continues at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 12th March.

 

Production photos by Ikin Yum

3-starsThreesy Does It!

Review – Menopause the Musical 2, Castle Theatre, Wellingborough, 23rd February 2022

Cast your mind back, gentle reader, to the halcyon days of the early days of 2020. Fresh shoots heralded the birth of Spring. The snowdrops of winter survival gave way to the daffodils of hope. We’d reached the 2020s and it was going to be one helluva decade. Alas, we knew not quite how helluva that would turn out to be. Menopause the Musical 2 hit the road with a few happy shows around the country, including the promise of two performances at the Castle Theatre, Wellingborough in April. But then you-know-what happened, and we were all confined to barracks with the occasional Johnson-approved exercise walk in the park (but no stopping).

Fast forward two years and the show – like so many others that got suspended in mid-air – is back on the road. And, I must say, it was well worth the wait. Menopause the Musical 2 is a deceptively modest little show that really packs a punch that I certainly wasn’t expecting. Perhaps if I’d seen Menopause the Musical 1 I might have known more what to expect. For sure, the 95%-plus female audience at the Castle Theatre last night (and what a splendid little venue it is) definitely knew what to expect. After all, most of them had either been or were going through the menopause anyway. I’m not saying you have to be a woman to enjoy this show; but, if not, being on intimate terms with a woman of a certain age helps!

MTM2 Cast againCruising Through Menopause is the breezy subtitle, and our four nameless heroines, all clearly long-time pals, have joined a cruise to get away from it all (it all mainly being the men in their lives). You’ve got the flamboyant actressy one, whose main job is to advertise the cruise’s sponsor, MyPelvicHealth.co.uk (which I had no idea was genuine, I thought it was made up for the show); you’ve got the hippy-ish one whose fella can’t perform the simplest of domestic tasks without being talked through it; you’ve got the confident, entrepreneurial one whose son has married a right cow and who can’t remember why she walked into a room; and you’ve got the mousey downtrodden one who never goes anywhere without the ashes of her late husband and can’t imagine ever taking up with another man. Add to this the disembodied voice of the ship’s captain, whose manly continental vocal tones can turn knees to jelly, and, as the old News of the World would have said, all human life is here.

The concept is a pretty simple one. We follow them as they get on board, get settled, get eating and drinking, get relaxed, get hot and bothered, get into a karaoke competition, and finally get formal (because they’re going to share the captain’s table; be careful, Captain, that might not be all they share). They’ve all got one thing in common – the menopause; and they’re not afraid to express its delights and disappointments through the medium of song. The songs themselves are for the most part well-known old pop tunes but with changed comedy lyrics, and this is where the real fun of the show is to be found.

MTM2 in full danceThere are some genuinely hilarious re-wordings that bring the house down with both their originality and the recognition of just how damn appropriate they are. I could ruin it for you by giving the surprises away, suffice it to say, you’ll never have heard better lyrics to Holding out for a Hero, Knock Three Times or Let’s Hear it for the Boy.

MTM2 Crissy RockThe cast are a truly fun four who blend into a great ensemble, but all bring their individual talents to the fore. Susie Fenwick (hilarious in Beautiful a couple of years ago) is terrific as the flamboyant actressy one; she has a great stage presence and brings huge vitality and dynamism to the role. The hippy-ish one is played by Benidorm’s redoubtable Crissy Rock with an excellent mix of comic timing, world-weariness and experienced savvy, all distilled through her broad Scouse accent.

MTM2 CastEurovision’s Nicki French plays the confident entrepreneurial one with a wicked sense of self-deprecating humour and a brilliant rapport with the audience – and of course she has a fantastic voice to boot. For our performance, the mousey one was played by understudy Katherine Glasson – and she knocked it out of the park, with her hilarious facial expressions and a marvellous downbeat characterisation that changes from ugly duckling into a sensational swan. The show is also strongly enhanced by a fantastic musical backing track that is so full and vivid that you’d swear there was a thirty-piece band at the back of the stage.

MTM2 Crissy Rock and Rebecca WheatleyThe show went down a complete storm with the audience who were instantly on their feet at curtain call. It works a treat because it doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t – just four talented ladies making us laugh at one of Mother Nature’s most-suffered and least-understood impositions. I hadn’t heard Mrs Chrisparkle laugh so loudly at a show for many a year. The tour continues all the way through to June – pack your Tenas and get booking!

Production photos by whoever the uncredited photographer was!

Five Alive let Theatre Thrive!