REVIEW- ‘Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image Saves the World’ is a stunning theatrical adventure
Hurrah for Foley – Sean Foley that is – the artistic director of the Birmingham Rep, and creator, director and co-writer along with Al Murray and Matt Forde of this stunning theatrical adventure.
To think that just one hundred metres from where the world premiere of Spitting Image Live took place last night, the original TV series was born and ran for years, during the halcyon days when Birmingham was the TV powerhouse.
Foley has brought Spitting Image back – and with it, some ‘city of a thousand trades’ artistic pride.
Last night the REP played host to not only the press but also a star-studded gathering both on and off stage.
On stage Ian McKellan was our host for a royal variety show like no other. In attendance from ‘the firm’ were King Charles, Consort Camilla, Villa fan Wills, cool cat Kate, disgraced Uncle Andy and of course pushy Meghan and spare Harry blatantly flogging his book of the same name.
Outside of the monarchy there are world despots ‘Tangerine Trump,’ and evil midget Vladimir Putin with his chum – Chairman Xi Jinping of China.
We are of course talking not real folk but grotesque puppets, which just keep coming – over 130 of them.
The dialogue is outrageous, sometimes predictable – sometimes confusing, purposely cruel, peppered with the foulest language but very funny. It takes the show back to its roots with new order bravado.
There is a story linking together a catalogue of set pieces.
The second midget of the evening Tom Cruise is hired by King Charles to restore the tattered fabric of Britain’s society (represented by a festering moth eaten pair of underpants).
In a spoof of Mission Impossible crossed with Marvel’s Avengers Tiny Tom chooses Idris Elba, Angela Rayner, RuPaul, Greta Thunberg, Meghan Markle and Tyson Fury to take on the evil cabal of blustering Bojo, public school-kid Riki Sunak a demonic head spinning, vomiting Suella Braverman and Elon Musk as a transformer mechanically unfolding from a Tesla car.
Although the satire is mostly aimed at Tory politicians past and present, there are two hilarious running jokes; a boring billy-no-mates Sir Keir Starmer and the newly-resigned Crankies lookalike banshee from the Highlands, Nicola Sturgeon.
Alice Power’s set is extraordinary and works in harmony with endless fx spectacles – no wonder it has been previewing for two weeks before opening. It is full of every kind of trick from exploding boxes to a giant Tom Cruise face with x-ray eyes strong enough to hit the back row.
Puppet Master Scott Brooker is a genius, puppeteer team perfect and voice over artists/impressionists spot on.
My favourite part was the row of dancing penises ridden by red-coated fox hunters aka old money tory debs; here music, lyrics, props and actions merge to create the most wickedly funny shock and awe.
In truth some of the content is banal and misses the mark completely whilst other parts are ‘work in progress’’ It’s destined to be a moving feast and that’s exciting!
Foley’s show not only hit my funny bone but also made me proud that it has been produced and premiered in my birth town of Brum, I’m sure local MP Jess Philips who featured both on and off stage last night felt the same.
Live theatre is trailblazing here in our fair city – just need the TV companies to build some studios and play catch up.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose Reviews
REVIEW – Great to see full house sample Taste of Honey at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre
THE LATE 1950s saw the death of the teddy boys and the birth of angry young men in a spate of what was known as ‘kitchen sink dramas’.
Whilst ‘A Taste of Honey’ certainly fitted into that genre it also offered much more of a bite and has endured far longer than its companions.
Shelagh Delaney was just 19 when she wrote her classic play back in 1958.
Apparently, social issues and injustices caused her to write a novel encompassing her feelings via her working class hero, Jo.
En route, Delaney decided her voice would be better heard on the stage than from between book covers.
Whilst it’s cutting edge of social comment maybe confined to history,
Delaney’s text still hits a raw nerve if delivered properly.
Happily Collin Judge’s production is faithful and true to the original and is all the better for it.
The set (which as well as directing, Judges also designed) has an incredible shades-of-grey backdrop of a gasworks clearly visible through the windows of a Salford flat.
It’s a three dimensional masterpiece and looks so real you almost choke on polluted chemical air.
As the curtain rises, mother and daughter – Helen and Jo – enter together into a dingy, sparsely furnished bedsit with its view of the gasworks and a festering canal.
Having moved frequently they will once again share a bed and little else
It’s obvious Helen is a taker, a bully and a survivor. Jo has learnt to spar back and is under no illusion that her mother will always put herself first and her daughter a poor second.
Katie Merriman plays Helen with all the subtlety of an aging party girl – the type you can see waddling into a city bar in a skirt three sizes too small, trying to catch the eye of the next half-cut victim to buy the drinks.
Merriman delivers a powerful performance, which totters between Coronation Street caricature and Shakespearean heavyweight – from good time funny woman to nasty acid-tongued bitch.
Colette Nooney quite rightly plays Jo with more restraint – her in-out journey of ‘woe is me’ neediness twixt pioneer girl sass, is subtle and endearing.
There are other players involved in the plot besides mum and daughter – first up is one-eyed Peter, Helen’s younger lover-come-husband-to-be. We could all tell him that being ruled by what’s in your trousers never works out but of course he doesn’t listen!
Matt Kitson’s interpretation and was just a touch too frenetic for me on first night – seeing his past performances I have no doubt he can – and probably will – give us more through less.
Alex Gale is a delight as Jo’s gay friend Geoffrey, his presence is as warm as the blanket he puts over himself when he sleeps on the sofa. We are rooting for him to look after our pregnant heroine.
Making up the company was Jerome Glasgow as ‘person of colour’ sailorboy Jimmie. Glasgow was apparently a stand-in, but if we hadn’t been told we wouldn’t have seen the join.
In plot summary – Helen abandons Jo for Peter, Jo gets pregnant by Jimmie, who sails off from Salford never to be seen again; chum Geoffrey moves in to become Jo’s nanny-come-surrogate mum.
Helen – having been thrown out by her own chap and needing a place to live, comes back and throws Geoffrey out,
However when she finds out she is going to be grannie to a black baby, she packs her trunk again and says a final goodbye to the circus.
It’s a shame Delaney didn’t write a sequel ‘What Jo did next’ – because I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering.
Judges takes us on a journey that always has clarity with a few moments of brilliance from a talented company. It was a joy to see a full house – grab a ticket whilst you can.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose Reviews
REVIEW – Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at Birmingham Hippodrome is most accessible ballet with plenty to enjoy
CHOREOGRAPHER Matthew Bourne’s talent is the ability to take a traditional ballet narrative and turn it on its head – and his gothic version of classical ballet favourite ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is no exception.
Cue vampire fairies, a minx of a princess, a sexy gamekeeper (a la Lady Chatterly’s Lover) and a scary ‘bad fairy’ with growling hench men.
From curtain up, Bourne’s long-time collaborator Lez Brotherston carries the gothic theme through with imaginative, playful and sumptuous sets that perfectly echo Bourne’s vision for this interpretation.
The ballet starts in a traditional way, with the birth of a much longed for baby to the King and Queen.
Princess Aurora is introduced as a larger-than-life puppet baby, so brilliantly and humorously manipulated by the puppeteer (for whom I could find no credit listed) that the audience erupt into a chorus of ‘ahs’.
It’s clear from the start that this is no pious princess as we see first the baby and then fiesty teenage Aurora (danced with a delightful mix of innocence and sass by Ashley Shaw) leading the palace servants a merry dance.
At night, the princess is watched over by a band of vampiric, steam-punk fairies, lead by Count Lilac (a passionate Paris Fiztpatrick) who protect her from the designs of evil fairy Carabosse in a chilling portrayal by Ben Brown.
In this sequence, Bourne cleverly uses a travelator (like you get in airports) so the fairies appear to glide magically.
At Aurora’s 15th birthday party, we see her flirting with the young gamekeeper Leo (charismatic Andrew Monaghan) in a pas de deux that’s full of youthful lust and promise, the start of a romance that becomes a driver for the narrative.
Carabosse’s son Caradoc continues her legacy – it’s payback time as he first leads Aurora in a seductive dance and then gives her a glass rose on which she pricks her finger, poisoning her.
As with the traditional story, the good fairy Count Lilac intervenes and puts a spell on Aurora so she will sleep for 100 years until woken by a kiss.
But Bourne is never going to let his heroine simply awaken when kissed by some random stranger – prince or not – so here’s a classic Bourne twist – our gamekeeper Leo can live for 100 years and wake his love, but only if he also become a vampire fairy!
Act two brings us 100 years forward, to 2012 (this is a 10th anniversary revival production) and young Leo has sprouted his vampire fairy wings as he battles his way through the forest to find his girl.
But the evil Caradoc has also fallen in love with the sleeping princess, dancing seductively with her in her dreams as if she was a doll.
At the very moment Leo finds the princess and kisses her, Caradoc seizes her for himself – his dream of having the ‘real’ Aurora now fulfilled.
In the traditional ballet, a large chunk of act two is taken up with a ball with increasingly showy dances, celebrating the return of the princess – here though we are transported to a night club filled with cavorting dancers lead by Caradoc with Aurora.
The red and black costumes and set suggest a darkness and underlying seediness that is played out as we see Caradoc pass Aurora around his men friends. But of course all fairy stories must have a happy ending – and Leo, with the help of Count Lilac, eventually prevails, leaving us with a joyful ending.
There’s no grande jettes, showy pirouettes or corps-de-ballet (the company number’s just 18) in this version, but instead Bourne gives us an earthy, visually enchanting story that returns to the fundementals of a fairytale.
For those who haven’t seen a Matthew Bourne production, this is probably his most accessible ballet, beautifully choreographed to Tchaikovsky’s wonderful and familiar score.
Unlike some of Bournes other productions, there’s nothing too outrageous in the choreography which to me is a slight disappointment, but it’s a delightful and heart-warming watch.
Sleeping Beauty runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday, February 11. Click here for times, tickets and more information.
Euan Rose Reviews
REVIEW – Girl From the North Country at Birmingham’s Alexandra is well worth a visit
CONOR McPherson wrote and directed this taut, dystopian story against a backdrop of wondrously haunting numbers from Bob Dylan.
Let’s face it, outside of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, Dylan hasn’t exactly penned a catalogue of cheer over the years and so that makes it a perfect fit.
‘Girl’ is no jukebox musical nor indeed is it a musical where the audience is encouraged to applaud after every number.
Not a jazz hand in sight – rather at the end of each number an actor moves the story swiftly on, ensuring the audience saves their appreciation until the interval and the walkdown.
Set in the Great Depression ‘Girl’ takes place in the year of 1934 in a rundown guesthouse in Duluth, Minnesota – which incidentally is where Bob Dylan was born.
There is a large company comprising a cacophony of characters and storylines with a common theme of despair.
They bicker, insult, fight, eat, drink and sing taking their cues from a note on the honky-tonk or a rap of a drumstick on the snare drum.
The master of the house who is desperately trying to avoid bankruptcy through not being too choosy of his clientele is Nick, an all embracing outing from Colin Connor.
Frances McNamee is mesmerising as Nick’s dementia afflicted wife Elizabeth.
She also has the most awesome of singing voices.
Nick adds to his monetary troubles by carrying on an affair with one of his boarders, the newly widowed
Mrs Nielson – another outstanding all round performance from Maria Omakinwa.
Gregor Milne and Justina Kehinde convince as their equally troubled children Gene and Marianne.
Gene is a drunken, about to be dumped by his girlfriend, would-be writer and Marianne, who was adopted, is coloured and five months pregnant by a man she won’t name.
The grey chink of light, in an ink black sky being a proposition of marriage from a shopkeeper old enough to be her grandfather (Teddy Kempner).
Then we have a preacher who has lost his mojo, a boxer/ convict on the run plus various other folk whom the depression has beaten their despair into submission and capitulation.
Occasionally giving us a clue where we are in this complex discordance is Chris McHallem as Dr Walker, our narrator with his own fateful back-story.
Shout outs to musical director Andrew Corcoran for haunting arrangements to match every mood and Lucy Hind for movement that perfectly fits each character and molds to form time and place set pieces and Mark Henderson for moody and broody lighting design.
Rae Smith has designed a set which works like more of a cast member than an inanimate performing space.
The sad and creaking furnishings embrace life in the Great Depression.
The gloom is counterbalanced occasionally by landscapes on screens appearing like portals on a timeless world outside the stifling guest house.
So disjointed is McPherson’s epic that I admit to becoming a little lost with the complexity at times, but there is so much to revel in from richness of text to music to performance to song to dance that it didn’t really matter.
‘Girl From The North Country’ is a one off original that has a voice all of its own.
Click here for times, tickets and more information.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose reviews
REVIEW – Peaky Blinders at Birmingham Hippodrome makes for a brilliant brutal ballet
PRESS night for Peaky Blnders – The Redemption of Thomas Shelby’ was a chance for the Hippodrome to play host to the great and the good of dance as well as the world’s arts critics.
It did it in style at a glamorous reception where peaked caps met pearls-a-plenty.
This was followed by a full house performance where there were also caps-a-plenty amongst the ‘Peaky Faithful’ and ‘Dance Aficionados’ who combined in intrigue and anticipation to see how Steven Knight’s graphic Brummagem gangland TV series could possibly be turned into ballet.
What followed from the first bang of a bass drum erupting like a mortar bomb was one of the most amazing nights I have ever spent in a theatre.
Rambert dance choreographer and director Benoit Swan Pouffer tells the Peaky Blinders’ story from their emergence from an underground hell – comrades in arms as a First World War tunnelling brigade, through to the notoriety of Irish gypsies turned Brummagem business men with guns and their own sense of morality.
It is brutal stuff – blood flies and enemies are dispatched in numbers, an angry tale full of debauchery and decadence told with passion and pride.
All the feared and beloved Peakies are there including Guillaume Queau glorious as Thomas Shelby, Conor Kerrigan as his half–mad elder brother Arthur, Simone Damberg-Wurtz as Aunt Polly, Naya Lovell as Tommy’s love of his life Grace Burgess and Adel Balint as Ada. I single these names out only because they are the most well-known characters – the whole company, magnificent in diversity, are individually and collectively triumphant.
There is amazing music composed by Roman GianArthur and performed by classical rock musicians – Yaron Engler on drums/percussion and vocals, James Douglas on cello/bass and vocals and The Last Morrell on guitar/keys and vocals.
Set designer Moi Tran has created a multi-levelled place of smoke filled mystery and imagination where the musicians merge with whores, gods, animals and gangsters. It’s an extraordinary concept – like something from the House of Marvel.
The Lighting Design from Natasha Chivers complements Tran’s set – it’s dark, stark and moody – ideal to display Richard Gellar’s awesome costumes.
The sound design from Moshik Kop is loud, relentless and seemingly comes from everywhere. The wonderful and macabre illusions from Filipe J Carvalho add another level.
Carousel horses are ridden like racehorses, sparks cascade as inverted fountains over Birmingham foundries accompanied by the deafening pounding hammers of the machinery in this city of a thousand trades. There is even a gypsy wedding and a gypsy funeral where a Blinder is traditionally cremated in a blazing caravan.
The fight scenes directed by Adrian Derrick-Palmer move with the speed of a classic kung-Fu movie. The dancers perform giant leaps and physical impossibilities.
Whilst act one concentrates on the rise and rise of the Thomas Shelby and his extended family, act two goes into an even darker fantasy world. Here a distraught Thomas Shelby having lost his wife to an Italian gangland bullet seeks solace in opium dens. We go with him on a cerebral trip where sex and fantasy merge and float on clouds of scented hallucinatory smoke whilst the sky rains poppy leafs.
The finale – like Steven Knight’s wonderful series – ends in a will he/ won’t he live scenario.
A piece of trivia here is that the last time I saw a Peaky Blinder on stage at the Hippodrome was back in 2010 in ‘Wallop Mrs Cox’ – a musical I wrote the book for in 1998. It started at The Crescent, and then had two runs at The Rep before the Hippodrome.
Pre-curtain, the lines I wrote came flooding back: –
‘Folks still recall that incredible brawl,
What happened in 36.
When one day through the barracking racket
Mrs Cox clocked a look on the bracket
Of a man who was sort of a Bull Ring minder
Locally known as a Peaky Blinder
So called ‘cause of the blades secreted in his cap
Altogether a thoroughly unpleasant chap!’
Knight’s first award winning TV season came three years later in 2013 and Peaky Blinders became a worldwide household name bringing pride and to our accent and tourism to our city.
As Aunt Polly famously said “Don’t f*** with the Blinders”. Well Rambert Dance certainly hasn’t! In fact they’ve taken the Shelby clan into a fifth dimension. This is a groundbreaking triumph that demands to be seen.
The tour takes off nationwide, so if you can’t beg borrow or steal a ticket this week, don’t worry it finishes back here at the Hippodrome next March. Book now – t’would make an awesome Christmas present!
Peaky Blinders – The Redemption of Thomas Shelby runs at the Hippodrome until Sunday, October 2. Click here for times, tickets and more information.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose Reviews
REVIEW – Much-anticipated ‘dark’ version of South Pacific at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre is well worth a watch
THE ATMOSPHERE on press night at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre was buzzing with the nervous excitement – understandable as this was the first night of the national tour of Chichester Festival Theatre’s award winning production of ‘South Pacific’.
A half hour delay to opening the doors only added to the anticipation. Whilst no doubt it was technically tense back stage, front of house handled the lateness with smiles and a ‘we’re all in this together’ spirit. The joy in the voice of the duty manager when she announced the auditorium was now open brought grins all round.
Whilst the West End was still in lockdown, Director Daniel Evans was the first to put his head over the parapets with this large cast/full orchestra new working of a musical classic.
As the pandemic still raged, rehearsals had to be strictly socially distanced with soloists wearing visors. The show opened in July 2021 to a sea of brave patrons bedecked in blue face masks and ended in joyous celebration of cast and audience.
The writer of ‘South Pacific’ Oscar Hammerstein II wove his anti-racism views cleverly into this classic love story. It’s remarkable that this was 73 years ago when civil rights movements were but whispered.
Today, when they are shouted, his words and lyrics are not only a good story and a classic catalogue of songs but remain a relevant message to us all.
The action takes place on a sleepy Pacific island where Unite States navy and air force await news of what the Japanese enemy are up to.
Ensign Nellie Forbush played and sung with charisma and passion by wondrous soprano Gina Beck starts off singing she’s ‘In Love With A Wonderful Guy’ – but changes her mind when she finds the ‘guy’ is a widower with mixed race children.
The ‘wonderful guy’ in question is French plantation owner Emile de Becque – this is powerhouse of a performance from glorious tenor Julian Ovenden. He also gets for me the best line in the show when talking to Commander William Harbison (Stephen John Davis) – “We know what you’re against – but what are you for?” Methinks this is a question for many powerful folk today.
Alongside this bruising of hearts between Emile and Nellie is another love duo twixt Polynesian native girl Liat and seconded to the island army Lt Joseph Cable. Here the young soldier cannot overcome the colour prejudice drummed into him back in the land of apple pie. Love, it seems, cannot conquer all,
Ballerina Sera Maehara plays Liat – it’s a spellbinding performance, almost silent and a delicate cross between mime and dance. Hers is a story within a story. The final moment of the show is a snap black out with Liat airborne, leaping probably to her death. This got a ‘wow’ from me.
Rob Houchen brings a matinee idol feel to the troubled young lieutenant. Having broken up with Liat, he chums up with the equally distraught Emile and together they embark on a near suicide mission to spot what the Japanese are up to. Unlike Emile, poor Joe doesn’t make it back.
Joe does get to sing the most poignant if not memorable number in the show though, along with Emile – that’s ‘You’ve Got To be Carefully Taught’ – a should-be anthem about racial bigotry.
Joanna Ampil brings an angry freshness to the role of Bloody Mary. Particularly evident when she knocks all the sweetness out of ‘Happy Talk’ and turns into a question.
The late start and obvious technical hitches, especially with lighting made the first 3o minutes not exactly sparkle but by the end of Act One the barometer was showing hot. Come Act Two it bubbled and for the last ten minutes – erupted – earning a well-deserved standing ovation.
Peter McKintosh’s set was like many others I have seen recently, a huge tin box. Here the back consists of floor to ceiling corrugated iron, which opens to allow set piece furniture to truck on and off. The sides are I think supposed to be camouflaged aircraft hanger doors.
Whilst this allows for free flowing movement, I craved Palm trees and blue pacific skies.
Equally the floor was boarded with criss-cross planks – was I alone in wanting sand?
The centre of the stage was a huge revolve which seemed to be in constant use to the point of sending off waves of motion sickness. I suppose this was a clever way of getting movement through revolving stillness when this was blocked in Covid.
Equally Anne Yee’s choreography has much socially distanced dancing round in circles presumably for the same reason. Though her ‘Nothing Like A Dame’ and ‘Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair ‘ are both full-on touchy-feely brash bashes.
‘Dark’ is an apt description for this production and as such it touches all the right nerves. The text was not ever intended to be comfortable nor literally are the characters with their own skin.
It ends as happily as it can and more in triumph than schmaltz. I’d definitely go again as there is so much to take in on one sitting.
The show runs until Saturday, October 1 – Click here for times, tickets and more information.
Review by Euan RoseEuan Rose Reviews
REVIEW – Shakespeare In Love at Brum’s Crescent Theatre – as you’ll definitely like it
Probably the two most unlikely names to be linked together theatrically are Walt and Will or to give them their full billing Walt Disney and William Shakespeare.
It was you see the Disney Corporation partnered with Sonia Friedman that commissioned and produced the stage version of the Oscar winning movie ‘Shakespeare in Love’.
The movie, with screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard premiered in 1998 but the Disney co-pro stage play by Lee Hall didn’t happen until some 16 years later in 2014 at the Noel Coward Theatre in the West End.
The plot concerns how national treasure, tormented genius and all round bad boy ‘Young Will’ came to write his greatest love story of all time ‘Romeo and Juliet.
This all takes place four centuries ago but substitute rappers, internet influencers and countries where women are told what to do and wear for playwrights, rakes and vagabonds and men only laws – add actors and producers and the only thing that’s changed is doublets for denim and swords for guns.
Shakespeare in Love is a fast moving romp with a huge cast and as such it must have two essential ingredients – a director who has an all-seeing eye and can move the action with panoramic vision plus a designer that can give an uncluttered space for that to happen in.
Michael Barry is a seasoned director of everything from Classics to Opera – here he wisely pushes subtlety to one side and aims his firepower at creating broad, free flowing action.
In a company this size there is inevitably a varied degree of ability and experience – Barry has directed within those parameters and concentrates on leveling overall performance rather than valleys and mountains.
Keith Harris has adapted a double decker design set of his that we have seen before and why not indeed? It provides a main acting space big enough to accommodate the whole company and gives free flowing actor traffic access to it. Plus there’s an easy access upper level, which can be anything from an intimate balcony to a minstrel gallery.
Behind this is a huge cyclorama where glorious black and white etchings, blue skies and moving clouds add time, depth and place.
Oliver Jones brings a touch of a rock god to his William Shakespeare, his on stage charisma much sighed over by both female and male cast members jumps the curtain line and makes him our happy hero.
Alisdair Hurst plays Wills mentor and chum Kit Marlow with warmth and restraint; they make the perfect combination.
Jack Hobbis makes much art of the long suffering owner of the Rose theatre, Henslowe – Brian Wilson delivers a delightful little vignette as the stuttering Mr Wabash and Mark Thompson is spot on as the money lending gangster – would be actor Mr Fennyman.
A stand out performance for me was James David Knapp as Ned Alleyn the superstar actor of the day – Johnny Depp meets Mercutio I say.
On the female acting front Jaz Davison gives Dame Dench a run for her money in a Queen Elizabeth tour-de-force, Bethany Gilbert is simply radiant as Viola de Lesseps would be actor and the object of Will’s desires and Pat Dixon-Dale is as delightful as she is protective as Viola’s Nurse.
Costume designer for the show Rosemary Snape (assisted by it seems, by every seamstress in the Crescent) has produced West End worthy frocks.
The period music from a bevy of musicians and vocalists under Gary Spruces awesome baton and some deft choreography again from the talented Barry put the wattle and daub between the scenes.
There are moments to savour, moments of belly aching humour, moments of tenderness, moments to delight and moments which will tighten as the run progresses.
Theatre about theatre performed and enjoyed by thespians – what’s not to like – I did immensely!
Shakespeare In Love runs at the Crescent until Saturday, October 1. Click here for times, tickets and more information.
Review by Euan Rose.
Euan Rose Reviews.
REVIEW – Brilliant Black is the Colour of My Voice shines light on Nina Simone
Black Is The Color Of My Voice is a personal take by Apphia Campbell on the life of the wondrous Nina Simone.
Campbell wrote the show whilst living and working as a singer in China in 2013.
It received rave reviews in Shanghai, moved to New York and the following year was a sell out smash hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Since 2016 (with a two-year break for the Covid pandemic) it has been touring on and off and has now reached the Grand Wolverhampton.
The sparse set consists of a sofa bed, a chair and a table. Campbell also has a suitcase full of Simone memorabilia she delves into containing trivial mementos through to a platinum disc for her song ‘Go To Hell’.
Simone was born in Tyron North Carolina in 1933 and christened Eunice Kathleen Wayman. She changed her name to Nina Simone in 1954 when she decided to stand up to racism, writing ‘Mississippi Goddam’ which became the anthem of the civil rights movement.
Campbell performs the show as a ritual – she talks to her dead mother and father as she jumps in and out of Simone’s life story. It is a journey littered with violence and despair but edged with hope and occasional joy.
There is no doubt that Simone was one tough woman, she had to be in a white male-dominated world and Campbell pulls no punches in showing that.
Campbell is a remarkable performer – her R&B singing blends beautifully into her dialogue so it is a continuation not a separation. She combines the two to produce a quite remarkable 70 minutes of magical theatre.
There is joint direction by Arran Hawkins and Nate Jacobs where they keep Campbell’s magnetic performance suitably tight. Equally tight is lighting design from Clancy Flynn. Completing the creatives is sound designer Joseph Degnan who is spot on in taking us to the places Simone describes.
The tour moves up North for the next few legs returning to the Midlands at the Leicester Curve on October 17 and 18 – in my opinion it’s well worth making the journey to see it.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose Reviews
REVIEW – ‘Wet eyes from both sadness and joy’ – Shawshank Redemption stage adaptation comes to Malvern Theatres
PRODUCER Bill Kenwright never fails to impress with his perception of what will put bums on seats outside of the tried and tested fare that is regurgitated year upon year.
This goes right back to when ex-Corrie actor Kenwright took a play by Willy Russell that was sinking into oblivion and turned it into a musical, then toured it for a couple of years and finally brought it back to the West End in triumph – the show was of course ‘Blood Brothers’ which, ironically, is now also one of the annual regurgitations.
Since Blood Brothers his catalogue has become exhaustive and mostly successful. It is somewhat brazenly formulative in that they are mostly famous films that he dares to transpose for the stage.
In fairness, comedians and writers Owen O’Neil and Dave Johns had the original idea to adapt Stephen King’s short novel ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ for the Edinburgh stage back in 2009 and now Kenwright has breathed fresh life into it with a brand new touring version.
Like so many other folk, I loved the gutsy ‘Shawshank’ film and was wowed by the masterful Morgan Freeman as ‘Red’. How does it stand up on stage? Well like everyone else at press night at Malvern, I hung onto every word, gasped a lot, had wet eyes of both sadness and joy and the two-hour journey flashed by.
Ben Onwukwe makes a fine job of Red or in full Ellis ‘Red’ Redding. In the Shawshank prison Red is both a lifer and a marketer (he is also our narrator) – if you want something and can pay for it, Red can get it. He’s been turned down for parole so many times that he’s made his mind up he’ll never be released. Onwukwe gives him warmth and depth, building all the time till we care about him passionately.
He fills Freeman’s big boots like they were made for him.
Joe Absolom is equally charismatic as Andy Dufresne, a lawyer serving two life sentences for the murder of his wife and her golf professional lover. A crime of which he is innocent but has no way of proving it.
The system in Shawshank is corrupt from the top down. From a warden misappropriating funds to brutal guards who are as equally culpable as the prisoners they watch over – the only difference is they get to wear the uniforms.
Warden Stammas has the whiff of evil about him – he is a bigot, a liar and a bully, Mark Heenehan gives him the full nine yards in displaying his abuse of power. Heenehan’s Stammas oozes corruption personified in his restrained camouflage of suit and tie – with a bible for a prop.
Coulter Dittman has us eating out of his hands as simple but lovable bad boy Tommy Williams.
David Esbjornson directs with a deft hand, skillfully moving the action over 20 years. We get to know everyone and watch them change. Lest we forget Esbjornson finds ways of reminding us from time to time that though the cons may be nice, they all (except Andy) did very bad things.
The clue is in the title ‘Redemption’. We are told the purpose of prison is not to punish but to change so that you can return to your place in normal society. However, just surviving day-to-day takes priority over redemption at Shawshank.
Gary Mccann has designed a highly convincing set, complete with huge high walls and gun terraces but with the stifling intimacy of individual cells and dark spaces where even darker things happen.
There are no weak links and the all-male company of 12 are unmiked and yet give the best vocal projection I’ve heard in a long while.
The show received a well earned standing ovation and I left thinking this is another Kenwright show that’s destined to run marathons.
The Shawshank Redemption runs until Saturday, September 24, at Malvern Theatres. Click here for times, tickets and more information.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose Reviews
REVIEW – ‘I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change’ is fine as it is
Joe DiPietro – the writer and lyricist for ‘I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change’ – is, I admit, one of my writing heroes.
His pedigree is quite extraordinary with shows from the noir homage to the comic book anti-hero ‘The Toxic Avenger’ through to last year’s smash hit at the REP ‘What’s New Pussycat’. Indeed I confess to even liking his most slated show ‘Diana’ when I watched it being streamed during lockdown.
DiPietro is not just a risk taker but he’s a full on ‘in-your-face’ risk taker – and so must the performing companies be.
Admittedly it doesn’t always come off, but happily this time it’s a damned good outing from the Crescent.
‘I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change’ is written as a four-hander, it’s also traditionally a minimalist set, props and costumes. Directors Neve Lawler and Mark Shaun Walsh have turned it into a six-hander and there are furniture, props and cossies galore. I’ll bet they had to fight for that in their budget!
Well hurrah for them – I thought it added joyful layers that didn’t clutter the words. Yes of course it’s all about the text whether sung or spoken, but often Americanese (and this show is very American) can require the attentiveness of Shakespeare, so anything that aids the concentration is to be welcomed.
This cast of six are for the most part in total harmony, whether that’s dancing (presume the directors did the choreography too as there isn’t a programme credit), singing or acting in this fast moving satire on relationships.
Anya McCutcheon Wells and Luke Plimmer are consistently easy on the ear and eye, none more so than they duet ‘A Stud And A Babe’ early in Act One.
Prior to that we had the delightful Kimberley Maynard and an energetic Jack Kirby singing something we must have all thought at some time ‘We Had It All’ – that’s when for me, the evening took off.
Hannah Lyons gets my doffed cap of the evening for her poignant self-discovery monologue The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz.
As well as directing, Mark Shaun Walsh is the sixth performing member of the company and gives depth and adds modernity to the thoughtful number ‘Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You’.
There is excellent accompaniment from Chris Arnold on piano and Liz Toney on violin with a couple of real stand out moments that provided musical mirth.
Yes it’s not without its flaws. One of which is diction getting lost. An easy thing to happen when transferring from rehearsal room to stage – just remember you know the words inside and out – we don’t.
That niggle aside, this is yet another great piece of Crescent studio theatre. From smoochy to raunchy, there is a full hamper of delights offered by DiPietro and like his writing the company go at it full on – full in your face.
Wonderful to see a full house – hope the word is getting round what theatrical delights are to be enjoyed on Sheepcote street.
The show is being staged in The Ron Barber Studio at The Crescent Theatre in Birmingham until Saturday, September 24. Click here for times, tickets and more information.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose Reviews