Review – Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Peacock Theatre, 15th & 20th September 2018

Trocks 2018What could be better than a return visit by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo for the first time in three years in the UK? Answer: two return visits! Let me explain; for this first venue in the Trocks UK tour, they have been holding court at the Peacock Theatre for two weeks, with two different programmes illustrating their artistry and skills. And Mrs Chrisparkle and I were lucky enough to be able to see the shows on both the matinee of 15th September (Programme A) and the evening of the 20th (Programme B). Simples!

Trocks 2018 1This is actually the eleventh season of visits from the Trocks that we’ve been delighted to see; our first exposure to them was back in 1998, when Comrade Ida Neversayneva was at the height of her powers, and young Olga Supphozova was just starting out. Today, La Supphozova is the Grande Dame of the Company, and new, younger stars are beginning to shine. Such is the way with the Trocks; every time they come back, we get a mixture of old favourites (Swan Lake Act II and the Dying Swan are an ever-present fixture) and some new delights.

Trocks 2018 2As always, we start the show with some unexpected changes in the best tradition of Russian ballet, to the extent that the cast list in the programme is virtually meaningless! I wasn’t surprised that the mysterious missing Miss Natasha Notgoodenuff was winging her way on an errand of mercy, this time to help out the ailing ballerinas of Luton. Fortunately we were reassured that all of the ballerinas were in a very good mood for our performances. I’m sure we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Trocks 2018 3Programme A kicked off, and it would be criminal if it didn’t, with Swan Lake Act II. A splendidly petulant Benno danced by William Vanilla (Noah Herron) and a suitably languid and emotionless Jacques D’Aniels (Joshua Thake) introduced us to a new star of the Trocks, the sensational Nina Enimenimynimova (Long Zou) as an immaculate Odette. If ever there was someone who embodies the spirit of the Trocks, it’s Mr Zou, because not only is he a sensational dancer – those pirouettes and placings were all brilliant – but he invests Miss Enimenimynimova with such a cheeky sense of fun; flirting with her leading man and with the audience, and delightfully taking the rise out of the classical traditions of ballet whilst giving them the utmost respect too. Superb.

Trocks 2018 4After an interval, we were treated to the dubious pleasures of Patterns in Time, with a nod to the work of Merce Cunningham. This has also long been a favourite, not because of the dancing, which each time I forget to watch, but because of the hilarious po-faced shenanigans of the two musicians, creating sound effects from everyday odds and ends. This so beautifully mocks the “sound effect” accompaniments of modern dance, and Miss Supphozova (the inimitable Robert Carter) in particular made it impossible to watch the dance – I just love all those preparations in advance for just one note played on the recorder. Hilarious.

Trocks 2018 5Then it was time for La Trovatiara (Pas de cinq) which we’ve not seen before, although I know it’s been in the Trocks’ rep for some time. This is a scene from an opera that Verdi could have written, if he was writing for a bunch of pirate girls off the coast of Tripoli. It’s brought to life superbly by the statuesque Eugenia Repelskii (Joshua Thake again) and the chirpy Guzella Verbitskaya (Jack Furlong Jr) amongst others. I particularly liked the moment when Miss Repelskii, supported herself on the heads of Marat and Sergey Legupski (Christopher Ouellette and Kevin Garcia) in order to get a proper twirl action going.

Trocks 2018 6The Dying Swan was executed by Helen Highwaters (Duane Gosa), her fluffy feathers moulting madly as she first dances, then hobbles, her way across the stage. We all played along with the ridiculous over-reaction from the audience to confirm this as the sheer pantomime delight that it is. Maybe Miss Highwaters was a little too quick to encourage our applause, and found her way on and off stage through the curtains a little too easily? Comrade Ida would have milked another five minutes out of that act.

Trocks 2018 7Our final piece was again new to me, the Underwater Scene from The Little Humpback Horse; music (which sounded a little scratchy at times) by Pugni, choreography by the great Petipa. Olga Supphozova completely stole it with an extraordinary sequence of pirouettes which left the audience thundering their applause. Beautifully danced and exquisitely costumed too – I really liked the headgear of the Medusas, like they were photobombing a bunch of jellyfish. For an encore, the Trocks turned into a kind of Tiller Girl act, with high legs kicking along to Sinatra’s New York New York.

Trocks 2018 8Programme B started with a brilliant performance of Les Sylphides, with leading man Boris Mudko completely out of it on a mix of booze and Valium, or so it seemed. Once again La Eminemimynimova was on terrific form, and I loved the brilliant mix of dance and comedy throughout – including Miss Supphozova’s sleepwalking tumble into the auditorium, and Miss Repelskii’s perpetual attempts to take charge of the whole thing.

Trocks 2018 9After another helping of Patterns in Time, we had the Pas de Six from Napoli, and some stunning choreography after August Bournonville which gave it a truly exquisite feel. Some beautiful elements danced by Miss Verbitskaya and Miss Repelskii, but for me the highlights were the two male soloists, Nicholas Khachafallenjar (Haojun Xie) and especially Boris Dumbkopf (Takaomi Yoshino) who was totally outstanding.

Trocks 2018 10Our second Dying Swan was lethally executed by Olga Supphozova, in an amazing blend of pure beauty and frantic cygnicide; an absolutely classic performance. And the evening ended with another old favourite, Raymonda’s Wedding, with guest artiste Lagavulina Skotchroksova (Graham Sheffield) as the White Lady doing it for charity, and yet more superb performances from Miss Enimenimynimova as bride Raymonda, Boris Mudko (sobered up slightly) as her groom and some beautiful combinations of various Trocks in all the other roles.

Trocks 2018 11The Trocks never fail to inspire, to entertain, to make you laugh and to make you gasp at their incredible strength, grace and agility. A worldwide treasure for us all to share! If you haven’t seen them before, no excuses, you must go! Their UK and Ireland tour takes them to Southampton, Newcastle, Hull, Dublin, Buxton, Cardiff, Canterbury, Nottingham, Inverness, Edinburgh and wrapping up in Belfast in early November. Sheer genius!

Review – Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, aka The Trocks, Programme 2, Peacock Theatre, 26th September 2015

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte CarloYou can’t have enough of the Trocks, so hot on the pointe heels of last week’s show, we returned on Saturday to see their second programme, much of which will form their touring show which lasts from 6th October till 11th November. Unusually for the great traditions of Russian ballet, there was only one chyange to the yadvyertised pryogryamme, with Miss Nadia Doumiafeyva performing the role of Mystery Woman drinking at a table in Don Quixote. As usual Miss Natasha Notgoodenoff was winging her way on a mission of mercy, this time to support the ailing ballerinas at Les Grands Ballets de Croydon; and all of the ballerinas were, once again, in a very good mood that afternoon.

Les SylphidesWe started off with Les Sylphides, with our prima ballerinas in fine form, strutting their wonderful stuff, occasionally kicking each other over, bumping into each other, running to get into position, and being breathtakingly graceful whilst dealing with their avoirdupois. They were also having to negotiate their way around Sergey Legupski (Giovanni Goffredo) who had clearly taken a mixture of co-codamol and Sovietski Champagnski and was more than a danger to shipping. It’s a very funny piece, but actually what really stood out for me was the extraordinary pointe work throughout – it’s flawless, elegant and amazingly powerful. That’s the Trocks in a nutshell: outrageously hilarious, rivetingly technically brilliant.

Patterns in SpaceAfter the first interval comes Patterns in Space, and it’s the first time we’ve seen this piece since we first started coming to see the Trocks sometime back in the last century. In a fantastically woven mickey-take of Merce Cunningham, three splendidly earnest Trocks cavort, spin, exercise, leap and do everything else in between, in a totally random and meaningless dance sequence. Meanwhile, two on-stage po-faced musicians provide the backing accompaniment, by, inter alia, popping bubble wrap, rustling paper bags, and playing the National Anthem on the kazoo. Stupid and hilarious, you spend the entire time watching the antics of the demure Miss Lariska Dumbchenko (Raffaele Morra) and the wretched Mr Yuri Smirnov (Robert Carter) cack-handedly creating sounds out of nothing, whilst you totally ignore the brilliant dancing. One to file under The Most Wicked Parodies Ever.

Go For BaroccoNext comes another real favourite, Go For Barocco. To the urgent, driving rhythms of the Brandenburg Concertos, six stalwart Trocks in sensible black dresses bump and grind their way around the stage in an athletic and funny routine that really fits the music perfectly. At times the music gets so fast that all they can do to keep up is to power-walk across the stage, which always cracks me up. It shows off all their incredible dancing skills whilst constantly injecting it with off-the-wall movements, creating a really rewarding comic ballet.

Dying SwanAs always at the Trocks, for a special treat, one of the ballerinas will graciously consent to execute the Dying Swan for us. This time it was the vivacious and outgoing Miss Maria Paranova (Carlos Renedo), who brought out all the frantic concerns and bodily dysfunctions of a watery fowl on her last legs. She milked it for all it was worth, if that’s not too much of a mixed metaphor for you. People who clearly hadn’t seen it before were in tears of laughter. Wonderful stuff.

Don QuixoteThe programme ends with the (relatively) grandly staged Don Quixote, which we have actually seen performed by the Moscow City Ballet and it’s a perfect piece for the Trocks to lampoon. The stage is filled with an assortment of odd-bods, all of whom display their little Trockisms from time to time, just in case you’d actually forgotten you weren’t at a proper Russian ballet. As the performance develops you end up completely entranced by the pas de deux of Kitri – Miss Yakatarina Verbosovich (Chase Johnsey) and Basil – Vyacheslav Legupski (Paolo Cervellera). Their solos are simply outstanding and left the Peacock theatre audience enraptured for more.

Perfect if you like ballet; perfect if you like to laugh; if you like to combine the two, they can’t be beaten. Their UK tour continues to Newcastle, Southampton, Canterbury, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Inverness, Bradford, Nottingham, Brighton, Salford and Birmingham. What are you waiting for!

Review – Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo aka The Trocks, Programme 1, Peacock Theatre, 20th September 2015

The TrocksIt’s always a pleasure to welcome the Trocks back to the UK, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in two-and-a-half years, which is way too long. For this UK tour they’re starting at the Peacock Theatre in London with two one-week programmes, then taking in the rest of the country with a touring programme that combines the best of both London shows.

The BallerinasWhen you anticipate a Trocks performance, it’s the hilarious antics that you really look forward to, but you can never lose sight of the extraordinary dance talent within the company. There were some truly amazing performances in this show, at their best you won’t see better on the stage of the Bolshoi or at Covent Garden. Over the years one acquires an accumulated fondness for one’s favourite Trocks and two of my all-time favourites graced the stage at yesterday’s show; but every new tour gives you an opportunity to look out for new names, and there are plenty whom I can imagine will become firm favourites of the future.

The DanseursAfter the usual introduction, and the relief of knowing that all of their ballerinas are in a very good mood this afternoon, we started with their perfect staging of Swan Lake Act II. I have been spoilt by having seen the redoubtable M. Velour Pillaux (the brilliant Paul Ghiselin) take the role of von Rothbart many times, and no one quite captures ludicrous camp scariness and the sense of physical exhaustion all that running around induces quite like him. However, I really enjoyed Vladimir Legupski (Duane Gosa) as von Rothbart, deftly controlling the wayward Odette, victoriously blowing on his sharp-shooter. We’ve seen some great Trock Odettes too, but this was the first time we’d seen Miss Nadia Doumiafeyva (Philip Martin-Nielson) and she is Helen Highwatersextraordinarily graceful and feminine, whilst remaining ruthless with the inept Benno, a fantastically funny performance by Pepe Dufka (Raffaele Morra). Our Prince was the brilliantly dour Sergey Legupski (Giovanni Goffredo) who had me in stitches from his first “mime conversation” with Odette. He did a brilliant slow walk across the stage routine. Our team of naughty cygnets also gave us a great allegro moderato, and, whilst it’s sometimes hard to identify individual Trocks in a group, I think it was Miss Maria Paranova (Carlos Renedo) who gave a particularly disobedient and impish performance. It’s always great to see how various dancers perform different parts of the dance in different ways, and I think you could watch this dozens of times and still get more out of it. Simply one of the funniest thirty minutes on any stage, anywhere.

Yakatarina VerbosovichOur Pas de Deux was Les Corsaires, and is one of those Trocks pieces where the sheer joy and artistry of the ballet completely eclipses the humour. The two dancers were absolutely brilliant – the immense strength of Araf Legupski (Laszlo Major), and the elegant grace of Miss Alla Snizova (Carlos Hopuy) – make for an amazing coupling, overflowing with pizazz and chutzpah. The Pas de Six, Esmeralda, that followed, doesn’t have a terribly interesting narrative thread – it’s just one miserable woman being unsuccessfully cheered up by four girls and a wet bloke – but, as you would expect, Maria Paranovathey do it with pure Trocks style. On the face of it, all Nina Immobilashvili (Alberto Pretto) has to do as Esmerelda is to look constantly heartbroken – which she does very well – but her pointe work is out of this world. There is also a cute running gag with supporting artiste Helen Highwaters’ (Duane Gosa) offstage fruit basket. We end the second session with the execution of the Dying Swan – this time it was Miss Eugenia Repelskii who did the deed, with refinement, a delectable sense of loss and tragedy, and severe penniferous alopecia.

Nina ImmobiliashviliOur final treat is the grand staging of Paquita, an elaborate swirling and twirling ballet by Petipa with rousing tunes by Minkus. Our wonderful ballerina was the attitudinal but pinpoint accurate Yakaterina Verbosovich (Chase Johnsey) supported by the magnificently lugubrious and almost embalmed Vyacheslav Legupski (Paolo Cervellera), who nevertheless pays sexual attention to the hairy-chested Lariska Dumbchenko (Rafaella Morra on fine form) whilst La Verbosovich isn’t looking. Embellished with a sequence of immaculately performed variations by six of the ballerinas, it’s a splendid combination of great dancing and wonderfully stupid comedy. The afternoon was wrapped up with the splendidly incongruous Lord of the Dance curtain call, with more smoke on stage than in Nigel Farage’s fantasy pub.

Brilliant fun and amazing dancing. We’ll be back for Programme 2!

Review – Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo a.k.a The Trocks, Birmingham Hippodrome, 2nd February 2013

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte CarloIt’s always a pleasure to welcome back the Trocks to our shores, and indeed the intervening months between booking the tickets and seeing the show are actively spent in happy anticipation. If you don’t already know, every member of this all-male company of amazing dancers takes on a male and female persona appropriate to the Grand Tradition of Classical Ballet. Get to the theatre early so you have some time to read their biographies in the programme because they are wickedly funny. Olga SupphozovaYou can never be quite sure who or what you will see until you hear the pre-show announcement explaining the changes to the programme; along with the reassurance that all the ballerinas are in a very good mood for that performance. Will some of one’s old favourite performers still be strutting their stuff? Will there be some new shining stars in the company? Will they do all their old routines? The answers to those questions – certainly as far as the Saturday matinee in Birmingham were concerned – are yes, yes and no.

Lariska DumbchenkoWe’ve seen the Trocks now probably at least ten times, last time a couple of years ago, and on nearly every one of those occasions the first dance has been Act Two of Swan Lake, which is both one of the funniest and most superbly performed pieces you’re ever likely to see on a stage. This time, however, there was no Swan Lake! It is being performed at a couple of the gigs on their tour, but at Birmingham instead our opening act was Les Sylphides.

Jacques d’AnielsLes Sylphides combines the beauty of classical ballet with plenty of opportunities for slapstick. It showcases the dancers’ extraordinary talents but remains extremely funny. From the moment Olga Supphozova (one of my old favourites) strides on stage and demands that she takes over from Lariska Dumbchenko (another of my old favourites), who stomps off in a huff, you know they haven’t lost their ability to mock the art form in a most loving way. Miss Supphozova (the excellent Robert Carter) is on top form as she beefs her way through the routine, Marina Plezegetovstageskayacausing and side-stepping pratfalls and beguilingly drawing the audience along with her with that coquettish smile. She was matched with superb dancing by Marina Plezegetovstageskaya, which is the first time we’ve seen her, and together they were masterfully accompanied by M. Jacques d’Aniels, in a new reincarnation embodied by Lawrence Neuhauser. His vague, mindless expression is a complete hoot. The other dancers were all superb and the physical comedy of the dance was of the highest order – especially hilarious was the delightfully vacuous Miss Ludmila Beaulemova, a new Trock played by Scott Austin.

Ludmila BeaulemovaOur pas de deux for the matinee was danced by Yakatarina Verbosovich and Kravlji Snepek. Miss Verbosovich (the extraordinary Chase Johnsey) was on stunning form, with a performance of grace and precision that Darcey Bussell would have found hard to match. Mr Snepek (new Trock Philip Martin-Neilson, the youngest member of the company) grew into his performance and I am sure he will be a splendid stalwart of the group in the years to come.

Yakatarina VerbosovichThis was followed by La Vivandière, pas de six. I was a little disappointed because I also saw that Le Grand Pas De Quatre is being played at some theatres and that is a real favourite – but this was the first time we had seen La Vivandière. There was no need to be disappointed, as it’s beautifully danced and very funny. The hairy-chested Miss Dumbchenko (the brilliant Raffaele Morra) was back on stage and giving it her all. It was also a great opportunity to see some deft and seemingly effortless (I’m sure it isn’t) solo work by Andrei Leftov (the superb Boysie Dakobe).

Kravlji SnepekA major highlight of any Trocks performance is the Dying Swan solo – a five minute comic masterpiece of sheer magic. Joy of joys, it was to be a rare appearance by Miss Ida Nevasayneva, my favourite Trock, the marvellous creation of Paul Ghiselin. From the visual gags of the misplaced spotlight and the loose feathers, to Miss Nevasayneva’s wobbly, bandy legs and pained expressions, it’s five minutes where you can barely see the stage for tears of laughter. To witness Comrade Ida executing the terminal fowl one more time (something I had feared I would never see again) was a genuine thrill.

Andrei Leftov The final piece was Walpurgis Night, again a new piece for us – Go For Barocco and Raymonda’s Wedding seem to be temporarily retired. Superbly danced and elegantly staged, if I’m honest for me it didn’t have quite enough humour content to make the whole afternoon a balanced programme. It was still very enjoyable though, and the audience loved it. As usual we were treated to a surprise comedy curtain call act, which was very cleverly done and extremely different – but Mrs Chrisparkle and I both agreed we prefer their Lord of the Dance curtain routine.

Ida NevasaynevaBut this is to take nothing away from the excellence of the performance. The Birmingham Hippodrome is a very big theatre and it was a delight to see it so packed with happy balletomanes and comedy appreciators alike! The Trocks are touring the UK until the end of February and you’ll regret it if you don’t catch them.

Just checking in

Greetings, dear reader. Thought I’d just drop by to see how you’re doing; well, I hope! That’s good. Oh, I’m fine too, thank you for asking.

Taj MahalIf you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that what you normally get here is a lot of theatre stuff, a bit of travel, the occasional Eurovision meanderings and the odd what-not. Well, I had planned a nice set of travel blogs for you about our fascinating trip to India, that should have been going on at this very moment in time. Unfortunately, owing to circumstances beyond our control, this trip has had to be postponed – probably until this time next year. So not only am I unable to bring you first hand experiences of Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Pushkar, I also haven’t got any theatre trips booked for the moment. Next planned theatrical extravaganza is for about three weeks time when we will be taking in the Menier’s Merrily We Roll Along – that should be excellent.

Privates on ParadeSo here’s a chance to look forward to some more great shows that will be coming our way – and by consequence yours once I’ve written about them – into December and the New Year. After Merrily, we’ve got some Christmas shows – the Northampton Derngate’s panto Cinderella, and their festive play, A Christmas Carol; we’ll be going up to Sheffield again to see their panto, Cinderella (again, shame), and their new production of My Fair Lady, which I expect will be brilliant. We’ll be going into London to see the first of the new Michael Grandage season at the Noel Coward Theatre, Privates on Parade – that’s one of my favourite plays; Mrs Chrisparkle has never seen it, and I took my first girlfriend to see the original production back when I was 17, so that will be nice. Spymonkey are reviving their Cooped at the Royal Northampton, which should be a laugh; we’ve got the touring productions of The Ladykillers and Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at Milton Keynes, as well as the next in the series of Royal Philharmonic Concerts at the Derngate. And that’s all in January!

A Chorus Line - poster obtained from Drury Lane on the last night 26th March 1979February sees the return of the Trocks to the Birmingham Hippodrome – we always have to see them, as their combination of skill and comedy is out of this world. We’ll be seeing Sheffield’s new Full Monty, the return of A Chorus Line to the Palladium (still my favourite show of all time), Ellen Kent’s production of Carmen, which boasts a real Andalucian Stallion – not sure if that’s simply “bigging up” the guy playing Escamillo; and the touring production of The 39 Steps at Northampton which will be a hoot. March brings the prospect of The Book of Mormon in London (can’t wait) plus a comedy gig from Harry Hill. So there’s definitely loads to look forward to. I think the Royal and Derngate announce their spring season next week, so no doubt the credit card will be working overtime again.

Annual Chrisparkle AwardsEarly January will also see the Third Annual Chrisparkle Awards, a star studded gala gathered on my desktop to select the finest contributions of the year. In 2010 The Big Fellah, Thomas Morrison, Tracie Bennett, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and Paul Sinha won best new play, best actor, best actress, best dance, and best standup. Last year it was One Man Two Guvnors, Derek Jacobi, Gina McKee, The Trocks and Jason Byrne. Who will be festooned with plaudits this year? Only a few weeks till we find out.

Loreen in full flowAnd of course we are coming in to the Eurovision season. So early, you ask? Absolutely. Lithuania have already had three heats and (I think) five countries are choosing their songs in December. Preparations get earlier and earlier every year. Swedish Television have already made their mark on next year’s contest by shaking it up a bit. For the first time that all important running order will be decided by the show’s producers rather than by a random draw. The idea is that they can construct a more balanced programme by choosing a suitable order for the songs. That will probably work; but every fan knows that you can’t win from second position, and that every winner since 2004 has come from the 17th – 24th slot, so this is highly manipulative of the final outcome. Personally, I’m not happy about it. The fans who go to Malmo will also be largely standing in the centre of the stadium, which again will probably look lively on TV but will be a pain in the legs for some people, and anyone on the short side probably won’t get value for money for their €345. Still, it’s all good fun, isn’t it!

Work in progressSo please consider this meandering blogpost as representative of work in progress. It’s like one of those spacers you’re meant to put against the wall when you’re trying to do some tiling – not very attractive in itself but a tool to separate two more important items of décor. Or maybe like a red carpet; a glamorous conduit leading VIPs from one artistic event to another. Or just as a filler because I have nothing else to blog about at the moment.

Review of the Year 2011 – The Second Annual Chrisparkle Awards

Welcome to the Second Annual Chrisparkle Awards, celebrating the best in entertainment in Northampton and beyond! Every show that I saw in 2011 and that I blogged (actually only one show didn’t get blogged, more of which later) is eligible for one of these delightful – and virtual – awards.

So let’s get on with it, and start off with Best Dance Production.

As last year, I actually only saw three dance productions all year and they were all excellent. But the winner has to be one of our regular favourites, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (aka the Trocks) for their show at the Milton Keynes Theatre in March 2011. I’m awarding joint 2nd place to the other two productions, Rambert’s Awakening tour at the Derngate, Northampton in March and Richard Alston’s current tour at the Derngate in October.

Classical Music Concert of the Year.

We saw five concerts and they were all very enjoyable.
In 3rd place, it’s the BBC Prom we saw in July featuring the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus playing Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky and with soloist Midori doing the Walton Violin Concerto;
In 2nd place it’s the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Derngate with their programme of English Classics and soloist Julian Lloyd Webber in November; but just pipping it
In 1st place it’s the RPO again at the Derngate in May with their Grand Tchaikovsky Gala, and the spectacular solo by Alessandro Taverna of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto.

Best Entertainment Show of the Year.

An odd category this; it includes all the non-categorisable productions one sees over the year, including pantos, revues, circuses and so on. And it proved tricky to make a decision, but a decision has been made nonetheless.
In 3rd place, the adult-only Flathampton night at the Derngate in July;
In 2nd place, Theatre MAD’s late night charity show West End Eurovision at London’s Piccadilly Theatre in April; and
In 1st place, the wonderfully varied and superb Burlesque Show at the Royal, Northampton in July.

Regrettably, here comes the first turkey of the year – I am compelled to award a Worst Entertainment Show of the Year; which sadly has to go to the Chinese State Circus show at the Derngate last January, which was so boring and basically pathetic that I couldn’t be motivated to write about it.

Best Star Standup.

A new category for this year. This is to consider the best stand-up comic on a big stage, not the comics who have appeared at the Screaming Blue Murder club (see below). All four of the star comics we saw this year were new to us as live performers, so we saw them with no previous baggage. We thought one of them was a bit disappointing, but the rest were all excellent in their own way. So the top three is:

In 3rd place, Reginald D Hunter, Sometimes Even the Devil Tells the Truth, at the Derngate in November;
In 2nd place, Al Murray’s Barrel of Fun at the Derngate in October; and
In 1st place, Jason Byrne’s Cirque du Byrne at the Derngate in September.

Best Standup at the Screaming Blue Murder nights in Northampton.

I think we’ve seen over 40 comics this year at the Screaming Blue Murder shows. I’m not going to name and shame the few who were disappointing – they know who they are. This was very hard to whittle down to a top 5, and there are many terrific acts who are missing out on their Chrisparkle gong, but here goes:
In 5th place, the Raymond and Mr Timkins Revue (14th October);
In 4th place, Swindon’s own Tony Cowards (2nd September);
In 3rd place, Cornwall’s own Paul Kerensa (4th February);
In 2nd place, the superb comic creation Loretta Maine (13th May); and
In 1st place, the very hilarious Rob Heeney (1st April).

Best New Musical.

Last year we just had a best musical but this year it has been split into Best New Musical and Best Revival Musical. Only three contenders for each award, so here goes:
In 2nd place, Stephen Sondheim’s Roadshow at the Menier Chocolate Factory in August; and
In 1st place, Hamlet the Musical at the Royal in May. Hamlet won the award on the strength that by the interval I knew I just had to have the CD.

Best Revival Musical.

In 2nd place, and fully deserving of great congratulation, was the excellent revival of Avenue Q touring at the Derngate in July.
In 1st place, and fully deserving of even more congratulation, is Stephen Sondheim’s Company at the Sheffield Crucible in December.

No need for a worst musical nomination.

Best New Play/Comedy of the Year.

Again this has been split into new play and revival categories. We saw six “new” plays this year and they were all very rewarding in their own ways, but the top three is fairly easy to agree on.
In 3rd place, Clybourne Park at Wyndham’s Theatre in London in April;
In 2nd place, Diary of a Nobody at the Royal, Northampton, in March; and
In 1st place, One Man Two Guvnors on tour at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham in October.
I also want to give a mention to the excellent Terrible Advice at the Menier which only just failed to get in the top three.

Best Revival of a Play or Comedy of the Year.

Eleven contenders on the shortlist for this award, so there are some great productions who have missed out on a mention.
In 3rd place, The Years Between at the Royal, Northampton in February;
In 2nd place, Hobson’s Choice at the Sheffield Crucible in June; and
In 1st place, Racing Demon at the Sheffield Crucible in February.

Turkey time: Worst play of the year.

Four plays really didn’t come up to scratch in my book: Oxford Playhouse’s Lady in the Van was generally tedious; Warwick Arts Centre’s Government Inspector generally irritating; the Derngate’s Yes Prime Minister generally offensive; but worst of all was Smash at the Menier. How I hated that play.

Best performance by an Actress in a Musical.

For a long time through the year there was only one real contender for this award, but then along came another production and pipped her to the post!
In 3rd place, Samantha Spiro for Company at the Sheffield Crucible;
In 2nd place, Jess Robinson for Hamlet the Musical at the Royal, Northampton; and
In 1st place, Francesca Annis for Company at the Sheffield Crucible.

Best performance by an Actor in a Musical.

The same applies; two excellent performances earlier in the year trounced at Christmas!
In 3rd place, Jack Shalloo for Hamlet the Musical at the Royal, Northampton;
In 2nd place, James Fox for Chess at the Milton Keynes Theatre in January; and
In 1st place, Daniel Evans for Company at the Sheffield Crucible.

Best performance by an Actress in a Play.

Lots of fantastic performances this year but these are the lucky three:
In 3rd place, Marianne Oldham for The Years Between at the Royal, Northampton;
In 2nd place, Zoe Waites for Hobson’s Choice at the Sheffield Crucible; and
In 1st place, Gina McKee for the Donmar’s King Lear at the Milton Keynes Theatre in January.

Best performance by an Actor in a Play.

Again many great performances pass without a mention, but the top three are:
In 3rd place Malcolm Sinclair for Racing Demon at the Sheffield Crucible (and also Rattigan’s Nijinsky at Chichester in August);
In 2nd place, James Corden for One Man Two Guvnors at the New Alexandra in Birmingham; and
In 1st place, Derek Jacobi for King Lear at the Milton Keynes Theatre. Daft really – how can you compare James Corden and Derek Jacobi? I’ve gone with Mr Jacobi’s fresh and insightful reading as opposed to Mr Corden’s onstage fireworks. I also want to give a mention to the excellent Jamie Parker for Racing Demon too.

Best Ensemble Performance by the Company.

This is for where a company works seamlessly together, something I always really admire in a performance!
In 3rd place, Diary of a Nobody at the Royal, Northampton;
In 2nd place, Propeller’s Henry V on tour at the Milton Keynes Theatre in December; and
In 1st place, Hamlet the Musical at the Royal, Northampton.

Favourite theatre of the year.

Very torn. Last year I had no question about awarding the Chrisparkle to the Royal, Northampton. But this year I feel it should go to the Sheffield Crucible for consistency of excellence.

It’s been a great year of theatregoing, thank you for your interest in my reviews and I hope 2012 will be a bumper year of theatre glory!

Review – Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Milton Keynes Theatre, 23rd March 2011

Ballets Trockadero de Monte CarloYay! The Trocks are back! Refreshed, revitalised and more athletic than ever! If you’ve seen them before you know they each take on the persona of a male and a female ballet star, from the finest Soviet tradition. You’ll also know this is no mere comedy show but a display of the most exquisitely controlled ballet you could possibly find outside the world’s top companies. We’ve been coming to see them for years now, and every time we get really excited at the prospect and always love their shows. I guess you could call us “fans”.

Yuri Smirnov Over the years, of course, one develops one’s favourites, and some of them were on stage last night. My favourite Trock of all time, Comrade Ida Nevasayneva, a.k.a. M. Velour Pilleaux, a.k.a. Paul Ghiselin, is the Ballet Master of the company and regrettably wasn’t performing. When he takes on the role of von Rothbart in Swan Lake he completely cracks me up, I can’t think of a funnier non-speaking performance. Last night though we had another really excellent von Rothbart, Yuri Smirnov, as performed by the brilliant Robert Carter. I had hoped Mr Carter’s other alter ego, Olga Supphozova, would play Odette, as his/her interpretation of that role can’t be beaten. However he was a great von Rothbart, maniacally evil when things are going his way, pathetically impotent when the Prince pulls stronger on the Odette tug-of-war.

Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow And what a Prince! Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow, as danced by Joshua Grant, absolutely embodied how splendid the dance can be on those moments when the comedy takes a back seat (which is never for long). His first solo was breathtaking. Mrs Chrisparkle gasped audibly. It was great. Maya Thickenthighya Odette herself was danced by Maya Thickenthighya (Emanuel Abruzzo in real life). He/she has joined the company since we last saw them and is a first rate new recruit. When you’ve seen the Trocks as often as we have, you get to see different incarnations of the same diva. She is very different from the Maya Thickenthighya I remember in the 1990s, who was a much more hirsute and stocky version!

Vanya Verikosa The supporting corps were marvellous as always, with extra special comedy brilliance from Vanya Verikosa (Brock Hayhoe). She really threw herself in to it. I also enjoyed Christopher Lam as Boris Nowitsky playing (not really dancing) Benno. Boris Nowitsky Great with the facial interpretations; best Benno I’ve seen since Igor Slowpokin. The Pas de deux that opened the second act was beautifully performed by (I think) Colette Adae (Claude Gamba) and Andrei Leftov (Boysie Dakobe, another terrific new Trock). Colette Adae Again the grace, skill and athleticism these guys create on stage is amazing. Apart from the fact that Colette looked a bit butch you would never know you weren’t at the Mariinsky.

Andrei LeftovThen we had Go for Barocco, to the music of the Brandenburg Concertos, simply, deftly staged, with its trademark dance that mixes pure classical style with Olympic Road Race Walk. I was delighted to see Lariska Dumbchenko (Raffaele Morra) join us for that one. Ms Dumbchenko exudes sheer elegance until she starts haring it across the stage all guns blazing.

Lariska DumbchenkoAnd of course, the Dying Swan. I wish I knew how they position those loose feathers in the costume so that they continue to fall out at a constant pace. It never fails to delight, and Ms Thickenthighya executed her beautifully.

Of all the dance companies I can bring to mind, this is the one that most constantly achieves balletic excellence. The pointe work is amazing. Sometimes you just find yourself staring at their feet in awe and ignoring the comedy. Their leaps are stunning. That move they do, sorry I don’t know the technical name, when they spin round several times whilst kicking their legs out and in at the same place on each spin is extraordinary. Olga SupphozovaAnd no one can do that like Ms Supphozova as she showed us in the final act, Raymonda’s Wedding. It’s a joyous piece that brings the whole company together, blending the finest dance with top physical comedy. Katerina Bychkova The coupling of the extremely tall Katerina Bychkova with the extremely short Andrei Leftov is pure genius. And of course it leads us to their finale, which always brings whoops from the audience.

As you can tell, we loved it. Their UK tour lasts another three or so weeks, so see if you can get tickets for High Wycombe, Birmingham, Sheffield, Bradford, Edinburgh or Salford. And we even got a signed poster too for £10. Bargain!