Review – Kinky Boots, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 19th September 2018

Kinky Boots the TourCyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s musical has been around for a few years now – we saw it at the Adelphi back in December 2015 – and it’s simply poetic justice that its first UK tour should start at its spiritual home here in Northampton. A massive pair of kinky boots hang suspended over the stalls bar at the Royal and Derngate, as if to prove the point! If you want to know what I think about the show itself, the set, the songs, the characters and the story, I can do no better than to refer you to my original review here.

Charlie and NicolaMrs Chrisparkle and I saw the first preview of the UK tour last Wednesday. So how is it looking, three years on, with a new cast, in a new theatre? Is this going to be a successful tour? You bet your kinky boots it will! It’s looking like a million dollars, I reckon $900,000 of which have been spent on the encrusted diamonds on the heel of a boot fit for a Milan catwalk. It’s still a great show, with its warm and life-enhancing message of acceptance and kindness. You still wonder (well I do) how a mild-mannered guy like Charlie Price ended up with such a ruthless girlfriend as Nicola; anyone who wants to tear down a shoe factory and put dozens of people out of work simply to make money by converting them into flats has got to have a streak of cruelty in there somewhere. I still despair (slightly) that it makes Northampton out to be a much worse place than it is; somewhere you escape from rather than somewhere you turn to. I still try to work out how many of the Angels are played by women… it’s still zero.

Real bootsPerhaps this time around, I realised quite how thin the plot is. Ailing shoe factory changes tack and manufactures kinky boots – in other words, fabulous, glamorous 2 feet 6 items of tubular sex that are sturdy enough to take a man’s weight. They take their product to Milan. Err… that’s it. Of course, it’s the character development that is the most interesting; and that’s the character of Lola, because Charlie is a remarkably bland character for a hero. Lola is a fabulous drag queen by night (and by day if she can wangle it) and she’s learned how to handle the tough times when she’s abused on the street (or, indeed, in the workplace). When she’s not Lola, she’s Simon from Clacton, a subdued, underwhelming husk of a man. She’s only comfortable when she kicks reality into touch and takes on her glossy mantle. But then, as we all know, life is always better when you’re in a musical.

Angels and LolaI hadn’t heard the songs again since seeing the show three years ago and I was impressed all over again; and Patrick Hurley’s nine-piece band spreads the joy beautifully with their amazing playing. However, there were times when the music was just a little too loud for the speech – it seems there’s always room to tighten up the balance just a little bit. And without mentioning any names, a couple of the female voices seemed to me way off pitch at times in the first Act; first night nerves no doubt. Anyway, no need to worry, what can seriously go wrong with a performance of Kinky Boots? It’s not as if the conveyor belts on which they dance froze and they had to stop the show!

Big numberNo, wait… that’s exactly what happened. Halfway through the big end of Act 1 number, Everybody Say Yeah, everybody said stop. It felt wrong when the Angels walked in along the conveyor belts looking rather anxious, rather than being propelled in, and, bless them, everyone tried their utmost to make a go of the scene, but pretty quickly the lights went out, the curtain came down and we were all asked to remain in our seats whilst some backstage guys got their spanners out. Unfortunately, Front of House took this as the cue to bring in the interval ice-creams (there was only a minute or so left of the first half to go) so we had the accidentally amusing sight of punters joining massive queues down the aisle only to be told that the show was just about to re-commence, so that they rapidly had to scamper back to their seats, with or without raspberry ripples. Fair play to the cast, who picked it up again halfway through the show, but I had to laugh at a few of their faces revealing a sense of enormous relief when elements of the set finally worked as they were meant to!

Lola and the AngelsAnd what of our new cast? It’s always exciting when you can say that magic phrase a star is born, although I suspect I may be late to that party already. But, in the shape of Callum Francis, this Lola is truly sensational. For sheer stage presence, as well as fantastic singing and being a great little mover, you cannot take your eyes off Mr Francis the entire night. Every time he comes on stage a little voice inside you goes “hurrah, he’s back!” He wins you over in an instant with his brilliant comic timing, engagingly over-the-top expressions, and the kindness and warmth he exudes on stage. Absolutely superb.

Lauren and CharlieIt must be very hard to hold your own against Mr Francis (if you’ll pardon the expression), but Joel Harper-Jackson does a terrific job as Charlie Price, the rather hen-pecked boyfriend who comes into his own as he starts to take responsibility for the factory. Whilst the show is full of brash and snazzy numbers, it was his performance of Soul of a Man that stood out for me as its defining moment.

LaurenThe rest of the ensemble all give great support – Paula Lane’s Lauren is sweetly excitable, Helen Ternent’s Nicola conveys a strong sense of steely determination, Demitri Lampra’s Don is suitably aggressive and there’s a wonderfully funny turn from Adam Price as the senior employee George finally letting his hair down. And of course there’s a brilliant array of Angels – not even Captain Scarlet was that lucky. But everyone gives it their all and turns in a great performance.

On the conveyor beltIt was one of those instant ovation nights – not a slow, semi-unwilling Mexican wave through the audience, but everyone got up like a shot and stayed up. Even more noticeable, after the cast had finally left the stage, no one in the audience showed the slightest interest in leaving the theatre until the band had finished the final note of their outro. That tells its own story as to how much of a good time everyone had.

I think it’s fair to predict that this tour is going to be a massive success!

Photos by Johan Persson – from the West End 2015 production.

Review – Mother Goose, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 6th January 2018

Mother GooseFor the second show of our Sheffield weekend we made our annual pilgrimage to the Lyceum Theatre for the unmissable Lyceum panto. This year, Mother Goose; and – as every year for the last ten years – it starred Damian Williams. Mr Williams’ tenth anniversary as the city’s favourite dame did not go uncelebrated; and quite right too, as he has carved out for himself a dream of a niche position – he is Mr Panto.

Jill, Mother Goose and CharlieWhy would you want to see the same actor every year performing more or less the same role? It’s a fair question, but the answer’s simple; he’s the best in the business. His instant rapport with the audience is a true thing of beauty. You know he will spend the whole two and a half hours taking the mickey out of himself, and of us, and of his fellow cast members, and of the show itself, and of Rotherham, and of the band, and so on and so on. Going back to the Sheffield panto itself every year is like the most self-indulgent comfort eating. Fairy GoodfeatherIt’s returning to something that you love, that nourishes you, that makes you feel all warm and safe, and that never lets you down. You know it will begin with the boys and girls of the ensemble running into the auditorium singing Bring Me Sunshine. You know the wooden bench will come out to a great fanfare and that Mr Williams and others of the cast will sit on it and sing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life whilst ghoulies appear behind them, then we shout It’s Behind You? What is? A Ghost? Is there? The other Mother Goose and the villagersWell! We’ll have to do it again then won’t we! as the ghosts pick off the cast members one by one till only Mr W is left which makes the ghosts run off in terror instead. If that didn’t happen, you’d be entitled to your money back. You know there’ll be a spurious patter sketch where they punfully mention the names of either perfumes or aftershave, board games, pop groups, local towns and villages, newspapers and magazines, or as it was this year, shop names. Every year the same. Every year a winner.

Mother Goose and Demon VanityMother Goose isn’t among the most popular of pantos and this is only the second time I’ve seen it – the first being back in 1980 with the late John Inman as the dame. There’s something much funnier and totally ridiculous about having the dame as a “fat bloke in a dress” (their words, not mine) rather than a slim, camp man who actually looks rather good in a dress; nothing against Mr Inman of course, who was a fine comedy actor. But Mr Williams delights in his grotesquerie and really doesn’t care quite how preposterous he looks. This was particularly appropriate for this panto, as Mother Goose (the character) has decided she’s fed up with being teased for her looks and wants to be thought of as beautiful. Fat chance, love. But as she tries to be more beautiful, her personality becomes more ugly. Eventually all her friends and family say she’s not the MG they used to know and love anymore. MG gives in, stops all the vanity lark, and everyone’s happy again. There’s a moral in there somewhere.

Demon VanityThe story of Mother Goose is so slight you could tell it in less than a sentence, which enables the creative team in this show to go to town on the characterisations and the interplay between the characters and the audience. Who cares about the story, when you’ve got Mateo from Benidorm getting the hots for himself in a mirror, with Mr Williams as his mirror reflection puckering back at him. There’s always one killer comedy scene in the panto, and that was it for this year. Jake Canuso, as “Demon Vanity” (who?), is playing his first pantomime (I think) and was a terrific sport, with the script absolutely playing up to his foolish and vain TV Lothario persona; never missing an opportunity to pout provocatively at anything passing by or to languish lavishly at the foot of the stage, always demanding the attention of the laydeez (and doubtless some of the gentz too). Mr Canuso impressed with his early dance training and is suprisingly nimble on his toes.

SquireElsewhere, Mr Williams was merciless with Adam Price, who played the Squire; Mr Price was giving some extra characterisation to his role with a bit of vocal trickery, and Mr Williams was like a dog with a bone. Teasing him to the nth degree, he did not let go until his prey was fully vanquished. He joked with Andy Day about he looks like Fatima Whitbread, and OMG he does; he constantly referred to one of the male dancer/villagers as Barbara – although he really didn’t look like a Barbara to me. I don’t think any of the cast got through the show completely unscathed, but it was all totally hilarious. Mr Williams picked on the hapless man at the end of the front row for a bit of audience participation, including naming the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs. The song that was introducing her firmly suggested the name Faith would be perfect to fit in with the lyrics. His choice? Wilbur. For a female goose. You couldn’t make it up.

Fairy Goodfeather againThis year’s two best lines: 1) when dressed as a mobile phone Mr Williams said he was going off for a rest as he’d downloaded an app (a nap, geddit?) and 2) when Mother Goose was told to lose weight, she thought the advice was “Don’t eat anything fatty” whereas in fact it was “Don’t eat anything, Fatty”. There was a 3D sequence in the second half, where we all had to don our special glasses. I always get muddled up trying to put them on over my own glasses, but fortunately Mrs Chrisparkle has had special training from Help The Aged to help me put them on. In the sequence, we accompanied MG flying through the air, and at once stage through a snow storm, during which, through some clever technology, rain came down upon as all and I got thoroughly soaked! Fortunately I have a terrific sense of humour.

Jill, Billy and CharlieMy other favourite feature of the show was the regular appearances of Lisa Davina Philip as Fairy Goodfeather. I loved her characterisation as a truly well-urban street-Jamaican fairy. It was a brilliantly modern and inventive take on an old format and Ms Philip was side-splittingly hilarious all the way through. I’m sure her fairy dust would be littered with rice ‘n’ peas. Definitely the funniest fairy I’ve seen in many a year!

The castThe kids we saw were the Red Team and they gave it everything – some really good dancers too! Cara Dudgeon and Dylan Craig were suitably cute together as Jill and Charlie Goose, and were pretty damn good at the singing and dancing too. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the dame. There’s nothing like a dame, and there’s no other dame like this one.

Booking has already started for Peter Pan next Christmas – Mr Williams’ eleventh season. Can’t wait!

Production photos by Robert Day