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Review: The Woman in Black at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre by Lara Wadey

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“It was nine-thirty on Christmas Eve….” Actually it had just gone seven-fifteen on this cold winter’s night as I arrived in great anticipation at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre to review The Woman in Black. After all, who doesn’t like a ghost story to warm you up and get your heart racing to clear the cobwebs?

Now celebrating 27 years this horror story adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the novel by Susan Hill, tells a tale of Arthur Kipps (David Acton) who is so disturbed by his painful memories that he writes them down before seeking a young actor (Matthew Spender) to help him tell his tale.

For me the play had a slow start even though I chuckled on occasions, I found myself distracted by my thoughts. Maybe it was because although I’ve seen the play before, as well as the 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe, I couldn’t fully remember the story. This is probably a good place to point out that the audience this evening was far younger than when I saw it last time, which goes to show in my opinion that Harry Potter has helped keep the magic of the play attracting new younger fans through the film.

Anyway back to the plot. It tells a tale of young Kipps, a solicitor who has been sent to settle the affairs of Alice Drablow. At Drablow’s funeral he sees a woman dressed in black, in spite of the fact that no one else does. At Eel Marsh House the noises and sighting of the woman in black haunts him… then a local man reveals the full story of the house, a story of heartbreak and revenge. I don’t want to give too much more away, so you’ll have to grab yourself a ticket if you want to know more.

For me the play came to life in Act 2. The cast of two are excellent and feel every moment on their role. The set was simple yet effective and yes, we were on the edge of our seats, with screams and streaks from the audience that made us all laugh. I have heard that the show in London has a much more intimate feel, which I think would really work. I also think you could really have more fun scaring people like having a woman in black suddenly sitting next to you, or having something softly brushing past you; sometimes I do wonder how my mind works!

It was heart-warming to see the audience give a standing ovation on a Tuesday night. So, if you like a good thriller and enjoy being scared then grab yourself a ticket. Just a word of warning, don’t go alone!

The Woman in Black runs until Saturday 3rd December at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre. Tickets are available from http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/aylesbury-waterside-theatre or call the Box Office on 0844 871 7607.

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Review: Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors is based on an old black and white low-budget B-movie that was released in 1960. I personally grew up with the 1986 version of the film starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Steve Martin. Having never seen the stage show when I found out the tour was coming to Aylesbury Waterside Theatre I was thrilled at the thought of reviewing it.

Walking into the auditorium not only did the bright set instantly draw my eyes to the stage, but the hustle and bustle of a very excited audience on opening night added to the excitement. I was also fascinated by the few ‘Feed Me’ t-shirts I saw dotted about.

You may wonder how a play about a talking plant could be of any interest to anyone, or evenly remotely pass as a love story. But I assure you that it does. It’s a sweet love story brought to you from the partnership of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken; whom you would also know from their work on Disney’s animated classics “The Little Mermaid” (1989) and “Beauty and the Beast” (1991).

The story follows a geeky flower shop assistant Seymour (Sam Lupton) who was stuck living within the poverty of Skid Row, New York. Sweet Seymour is secretly in love with co-worker Audrey (Stephanie Clift). After discovering an unusual plant during a total eclipse (which he names Audrey II), he finds a way of saving his boss Mr Mushnik’s flower shop; whilst also winning Audrey’s heart away from her not very nice boyfriend Orin (Josh Wilmott). The chemistry between Seymour and Audrey couldn’t have been better and whoever casted those two needs a massive bravo! Seymour owned the stage throughout, never lacking energy. I wouldn’t be a true critic if I didn’t pick at something and if the only thing I can suggest is that Audrey needed a little more cleavage! Then they are clearly doing something right.

Unfortunately Rhydian Roberts was unable to play the role of the dentist Orin this evening, so his understudy Josh Wilmott filled his shoes, and that he did. Initially I didn’t think he looked mean or tough enough, but his vocals and energy soon put any of my doubts to rest.

Sasha Latoya (Crystal), Vanessa Fisher (Chiffon) and Cassie Clare (Ronnette) were on point! Their vocals, harmonies and presence kept the show alive and gave the show a little Motown vibe.

The show was full of energy throughout, with some well know songs including Downtown, Suddenly, Seymour and Be a Dentist, you could have actually heard a pin drop during the rendition of Somewhere That’s Green, an emotionally touching performance from Audrey (Stephanie Clift). Let’s not forget the song Get It, where a large singing plant is so realistic and believable it’s practically alive.

All in all it’s a fantastic show, where the hard work from everyone on and off set pays off.

Grab your tickets to this monster show and head down to Skid Row whilst its in town, but one word of advice, don’t feed the plant!

Little Shop of Horrors runs until Saturday 18th September at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre. Tickets are available from http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/aylesbury-waterside-theatre or call the Box Office on 0844 871 7607.

Review: Chicago the Musical

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In the three years I have been writing reviews, I have never been more excited than to review Chicago. I fell in love with the film starring Rene Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones in 2002 and then again as the West End production I saw in 2008.

For most of you I am sure that Chicago needs little or no introduction, but for those of you that don’t know, I will take you back to 1924 when Chicago was run by gangsters, was it fully of criminality as well as jazz and glamour. Cook County jail had women on ‘murderers row’, all with their own story to tell. Just like the kiss-and-tell tactics used today to become celebs, these women used their tales to become stars.

Just as I expected the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre was packed on press night. The opening number All That Jazz sets a strong alluring tone, leaving you wanting more. There aren’t many musicals where the orchestra are on stage, leaving the set very simple, but certainly doesn’t take away from the energy on stage. However I had to repress the urge to push them back a metre or so to enable extra space for the dancers.

Murderesses Sophie Carmen-Jones (Velma Kelly) owned her roll from the start rocking her little black dress and Roxie Hart (Hayley Tamaddon) from Emmerdale, also instantly won us over, well after I got over the fact that she wasn’t blonde! Soon they found themselves on death row together, fighting for the fame that will keep them from the gallows in 1920s Chicago.

Chicago wouldn’t be Chicago without the puppet master John Partridge as Billy Flynn, you would recognise him from Eastenders and Big Brother. He plays a smooth talking lawyer, who knew how to play the media to get the verdict he was after. After his performance of All I Care About I wasn’t sure what I thought, then after his exuberance performance of We Both Reached for the Gun with Roxie, I was sold! Not to mention the classic number Razzle Dazzle. Only knowing him from TV it’s clear to see the stage is where he belongs.

Chicago is a fast paced musical, with a strong flawless cast. The singing, acting and choreography were on point. My favourite number is still the Cell Block Tango with Velma and the girls.

Another favourite was Gina Murray as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, even though I felt she should have been a bigger build, I’m probably comparing her to the film here, she most certainly didn’t need a bigger voice as she wowed us performing When You’re Good to Mama. This was her first night after two weeks of rehearsals and if this was her performance on opening night then all I can say is Mama is certainly going to be good for the show!

It’s probably best I don’t forget to mention Amos Hart played by Neil Ditt, aka Mr Cellophane. He nailed his role and is far from invisable. Actually I don’t want to leave anyone out, as there is usually a few weak links in a show; but with such a strong talented cast together they put on an unforgettable dazzling show, it really would be a crime to miss it and all that jazz!

The show will be touring until Saturday 16th July. Tickets are available from http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/chicago/aylesbury-waterside-theatre/

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Review: Menopause The Musical

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As a thirty something year old woman I have yet to experience the menopause. I’ve also never heard of ‘Menopause the Musical’ so when I turned up to a sell-out audience at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

This all singing and dancing comedy show is set in a department store where four women meet at a lingerie sale. The show didn’t start off too well with two large monitor screens on stage which I assumed were adverts sponsoring the show, but I could be wrong. Once the lights eventually went down the show felt it had begun.

You may wonder how menopause could be something to laugh about but this all-star cast including Cheryl Fergison (EastEnders), Linda Nolan (The Nolans) and Rebecca Wheatley (Casualty) will certainly convince you that it is. I think it is an important message for women to feel that what they are going through is absolutely normal and that they’re not the only one. We laughed along with the many one liners about hot flushes, night sweats and other subjects that not just women, but men can also relate to. It certainly helped me gain a little understanding as to what women go through in ‘The Change’.

The first Act drifted from song to song with very little story line and although a little random was indeed very funny. The soundtracks were instantly recognisable, yet unfortunately at times the music was so loud I couldn’t actually hear all the words. After the first half my opinion was that the show was so bad that it was actually rather good as I couldn’t stop laughing even though it felt it was all utter nonsense. Cheryl Fergison was clearly the comedy value of the show, but I needed more.

The second Act was a different show altogether. It went from a cringing cheap production to a hilarious show that had the audience sitting on the edge of their seats in fits of laughter, or maybe they were just dodging the wet patch!

The second act did indeed develop a connection with the charterers, but for me it needed a little less song and a little more story line and comedy. Rebecca Wheatley had us in stitches with two hilarious scenes, one with a pink microphone meant to be a dildo, and another with her trying on a skimpy lingerie piece. We all laughed non-stop, as it was so easy to relate to the embarrassing moments being shared onstage.

With a standing ovation that I certainly wasn’t expecting, I can only describe it as a night out like no other.

http://www.menopauseuk.com/

 

 

Review: Goodnight Mister Tom

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For someone who is never lost for words; I’m completely lost for words! Wow! What a play!

I must admit that I wasn’t overly excited about seeing this play. I’m one of those people that if you mention history to me, I just turn off, assuming it’s going to bore me to tears. I’d actually find it more appealing watching paint dry. 

Well this one time I will stress that you should never judge a book by its cover. David Wood’s stage adaptation of the 1981 children’s classic by Michelle Magorian is definitely one not to be missed.

Goodnight Mister Tom is about a shy and quiet WWII evacuee William Beech (Alex Taylor-McDowall) who is housed in the Dorset countryside by a disgruntled old man Tom Oakley (David Troughton), but they soon develop a close friendship. Tom soon realises that William needs a lot of love and care as he takes him under his wing. 

Even though I haven’t read the book or seen the film, I was advised that it’s stayed true to the novel. Sometimes it good to review play as a blank canvas with no expectations. My daughter is currently studing the book so I will be interesed in her thoughts later on in the week once she’s seen it.  

For a children’s book, it really does touch some dark subjects including mental health, abuse and death, taking you though an emotional journey that will touch your heart in one way or another. In one scene you could feel the silence of the audence as they hung on to every word as they watched in great anticipation of what happened next… I even felt myself at one point uttering the word “No” at the stage!

As dark as the play is, it’s also full of love and humour. The acting is first class so much so that you felt emotionally attached to the cast. William Beech (Alex Taylor-McDowall) was a broken boy scared of everything in the world, unable to read or write until he found Mister Tom and his new found friends. It was touching to watch as he unfolded from a broken boy to a boy that was loved and in turn learned to love and trust in return. His new friend Zack (Oliver Loades) in his bright rainbow coloured jumped lit up the play with his over the top love for life, the play definitely wouldn’t have been the same without him, he oozed personality and charm. 

It wasn’t only William we watched change throughout, it was also Mister Tom. He too needed be be loved again after shutting down from grieving the loss of his wife and child. Let’s not forget his loveable dog Sammy, acted by puppeteer Elisa de Grey. Just as in the play War Horse, Sammy made you feel he was a real dog as he bounced around, barking. It was so hard to believe he was only a puppet. 

All the puppeterring brought the show to life scene by scene. The set changes were effortless, as we went from Dorset, to the believable train station and then back to London where we saw the shocking abuse William recieved on a day to day basic by his mother, the person that was supposed to protect him from the world.

With the perfect balance of love, laughter and tears this is a must see show. 

Goodnight Mister Tom runs until Saturday 16th April at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre. Tickets are available from www.atgtickets.com/venues/aylesbury-waterside-theatre or call the Box Office on 0844 871 7607. 

Review – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is a famous Bible story about Jacob and his son Joseph, as well as his eleven brothers and of course the amazing coat of many colours. The show originally produced in 1972 continues to pull in crowds as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber fans.

I think that like me, many will relate it back to our High School days. I admit to knowing all the words due to performing it in my High School play, and having the young Joseph choir on the stage throughout the play not only gave it a nice touch, but also enabled me to relive childhood memories. 

As it was opening night, the theatre was full and we were ready to be entertained… Unfortunately the show was delayed by 30 minutes as we had to evacuate the building due to haze.  However this delay didn’t put a damper on the evening and we were soon back in our seats awaiting with great anticipation the evening ahead. 

Lloyd Daniels was unable to perform due to a bad back, so his understudy Matt Brinkler played Joseph and he certainly didn’t disappoint. Amelia Lily from The X Factor in 2011 was the narrator had a fabulous stage presence although I couldn’t understand why she was dressed as a magician! I also questioned why everyone on stage wore trainers. Surely as it was based in Egypt one would be wearing bare feet or sandals? 

In my opinion the show was completely entertaining from beginning to end even though it may have been a little bizarre at times. I’m not sure of the relevance of the Paris scene or even why Elvis was there. It made me query as to whether I had forgotten my bible stories!

Being the huge Andrew Lloyd Webber fan that I am, I adored Matt Brinker’s solo Close Every Door, but to go from performances like that with such depth and emotion to random fun with pop up sheep? Well that just didn’t flow for me.

The cast were clearly having a great time and performing well together. We couldn’t take our eyes off the brothers or the stage for that matter, as there was always something to catch our eyes, something to smile about. even if at times it seemed totally random.

All in all, we had a thoroughly entertaining evening that was full of energy from an amazing cast! The quote of the night has to go to my 10 year old daughter though who at the end of the first Act turned around to me and said “Mum, did you see that, Joseph has a six pack!”

Showing until Saturday 4th April at Aylesbury Waterside theatre

Review – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time left me wanting to run out to buy the book!

Being the winner of seven Olivier Awards including Best New Play, we were excited to have The National Theatre production visit Aylesbury Waterside Theatre. The play is about a boy trying to find his place in the world, a world that he sees differently from the rest of us.

As you walk into the auditorium, the scene is set with a dead dog lying in the middle of the stage, speared by a garden fork, which straight away gets you thinking. From the opening scene you’re on an emotional journey, which I can only assume lives up to Mark Haddon’s masterpiece.

Christopher Boone (Joshua Jenkins) is a 15-year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome, he goes on a quest to solve a mystery of who killed Wellington, his neighbour Mrs Shears’ dog. He records all the facts that he uncovers in a book as suggest by his teacher Siobhan (Geraldine Alexandera) who seems to understand him, as well as having a calming effect on him. The first half shows us the relationships he has with his parents and how his father Ed (Stuart Laing) struggles to bring Christopher up with the absence of his wife Judy (Gina Isaac).

Christopher has an extraordinary logical brain. His security lies in mathematics as he sees patterns in numbers, enabling him to work out complex maths problems. He also uses his logic to work out how things happen, like playing detective. It’s eye opening to see how he sees the world.

From the moment Joshua Jenkins steps onto the stage he was incredible having total control of his character, mentally, emotional and physically. I couldn’t think of anyone more fitting for the role. The whole cast blend effortlessly, each having a strong role, purpose and presence on the stage.

The second half is much more emotional as we watched Christopher travel to London with his pet rat Toby. The stresses and stains of London effects most of us, this therefore allowing us to connect with the ordeal he was going through.

The set is a huge mathematical grid that not only maps out the story but Christopher’s mind. The use of the space and technology blew me away, I have never seen anything put together that flowed so well, it was clever, futuristic and magical.

I don’t know how any review could possibly do this play justice. It is truly uplifting and will get you thinking. Fact.

Showing until Saturday March 21 at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.