BMOS’ Christmas Carol in Brum is a ‘wonderful way to start the festive season’

THE MUSICAL version of Charles Dickens’ classic tale had passed me by prior to this BMOS production and thus I approached the evening with a mixture of excitement and apprehension – excitement as I know that BMOS are first off the mark when new shows are released for performance to the musical theatre community – and they never spare the pennies when staging them.

Apprehension as to what damage the American writers Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens  might have done to the words of perhaps our most treasured novelist.

Amazingly they wrote this back in 1994 and then, as I learnt from the programme, it was performed annually for a number of years at the Paramount Theatre in New York – only coming to London but three years ago in 2016.

Well, all fears and doubts were unjustified – it’s a joy from start to finish – taking little away from the original classic tale but bringing modern accessibility via a really fabulous score from Alan Menken.

This ‘Christmas Carol’ flows seamlessly, never pausing for breath. It has spectacle, passion and is performed by a well-drilled company who sing and act their socks off under the direction of Stephen Duckham.

Not a weak link did I spot in this cast and stand-out performances for me came in abundance from Elliot Beech as a heart-warming Ghost of Christmas Present, Patrick Pryce as a flying wild-haired, wild-eyed, chain-bedraggled Marley, Daniel Parker as an endearing and believable Bob Cratchit as was his wife Mrs. Cratchit, played by Sarah Morris.

Also in my stand-out list comes the mighty Michael McCulley as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, a small but eye-catching performance from Siân Patterson as Fred’s wife Sally, an engaging Annabel Pilcher as the love of Ebenezer’s life Emily and happy chappies Andy Treacy and Jake Genders as Young Marley and Young Scrooge.

Then there was the fabulous Fezziwigs, Nick Owenford as Mr and Jo Smith as Mrs – my word they gave their all – acting majestically, powerfully vocal, leading the party dancing with a boisterous jubilance that was infectious and jumped the curtain line to have us smiling from ear to ear.

Of course all would be lost if Scrooge himself didn’t have the right amount of ‘Bah Humbug’ charisma, but Alistair Joliffe was for me every bit as charismatic as the other Alistair – I write of course of that late great original skinflint in the 1951 black and white movie, Alistair Sim.

Joliffe is dastardly and derisory of Christmas as befits the most miserable of misers, radiates repentance as the ghosts show him his past, present and future and quite rightly has us feeling sorry for the old codger come his Christmas Day ‘good will to all men’ (plus women and especially poorly children) shenanigans.

There are some brilliant dance routines – in particular the faultless red and white high kicking girls celebrating Christmas Present ‘Radio City’ style and Marley’s chain rattlers – great work from Choreographer Aaron Gibson.

The orchestra is spot-on, perfect under the musical direction of David Eastro, the sound by David Chinn well-balanced and the lighting design by Pete Watts was quite simply not only the best I have ever seen in a musical society production but included a couple of sparklingly original jaw dropping effects that deserve a gold star.

This BMOS Christmas Carol is a wonderful way to start the festive season – I just had to have a mince pie whilst writing my review in tribute.

Christmas Carol the musical runs until Saturday, November 30.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****Review by Euan Rose 

One Under’ at the Door

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL thriller ‘One Under’ thriller from Winsome Pinnock and performed by Graeae Theatre Company is one of the best dramas I have seen this year.

It’s not really a ‘whodunit’ but a ‘why-did-he-do-it’ in this story about people trying to make sense of why a young man jumps in front of a train.

Picture by Patrick Baldwin. s

Stanley J Browne skillfully plays Cyrus the train driver who quits his job after the suicide occurs on his watch. The young jumper is Sonny – a quite compelling performance from Reece Pantry.

We discover through a series of flashbacks as Cyrus tries to overcome his grief by delving into Sonny’s life that, amongst other complexities, he was reeling from a disastrous fling with a girl who works in a dry cleaners. This is the slightly bi-polar Christine (Clare-Louise English) who effectively adds more confusion into the melting pot.

Cyrus also meets Sonny’s resentful adopted sister Zoe (Evlyne Oyedokun) and mother Nella, (Shenagh Govan) – both of who have their own demons to deal with.

Govan brings such captivating passion to her role which for me makes hers the stand-out performance of this very talented company.

As with all good thrillers the reveal happens satisfyingly in the closing moments

Director Amit Sharma brings together the complexity of the story with great skill and clarity. There is never a dull moment in what is a very dialogue-reliant play.

Picture by Patrick Baldwin. s

Amelia Jane Hankin has designed the perfect space where the actors can just drift in and out of the action into a central circle.

The screen on which both narrative and audio description are displayed went from being a bit annoying at the outset to a valuable asset to help keep up with where and when we were on Cyrus’ complicated journey.

With ‘One Under’, Graeae once again follows its mantra as a force for change in theatre by breaking down barriers and boldly placing talented deaf and disabled artists centre stage.

Riveting theatre.

One Under runs at the Birmingham Rep until Saturday, November 23.

Click here for times, tickets and more information on the show.


Review by Euan Rose.

Tread the Boards’ hostage drama at Stratford’s Attic will have you captivated

IN MY role as a theatrical reviewer I am lucky to attend productions several times a week in some of the Midlands finest theatres.

‘The Attic’ in Stratford-upon-Avon is the probably the smallest venue I cover – it is also the one that offers some of the finest and most unique theatre you’ll get to see and always offers the warmest of welcomes.

This visit was no exception – a very powerful piece by Frank McGuinness entitled ‘Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me’ (from the song of the same name).

Picture by Andrew Maguire. s

It’s about an Englishman, an Irishman and an American which I know sounds like the start of a joke.  Far from it I’m afraid, as the ‘three’ are hostages chained to a wall somewhere in a dark cellar in Lebanon, back in the 1980s when hostage taking was fashionable.

That was pre 9/11 and pre-ISIS where hostages were prizes to be bartered – not heads on poles to display to the world.

The set by designer Zoe Rolph is intensely claustrophobic – comprising wall and floor of dirty, dank, grease-splattered concrete, to which the hostages are already chained via floor bolts and heavy shackles as we enter.

It is almost voyeuristic to wait for them to wake from their slumber as they lay on filthy mattresses.

To be chained and imprisoned like this, not knowing whether it is night or day, what is happening in the outside world as one day merges into another, days into weeks into months into years and those in there must turn to seeking comfort in insanity. This theme is at the heart of this compelling piece as the three men take turns to be the cheerleaders in keeping them all sound.

Picture by Andrew Maguire. s

Pete Meredith is the hapless captured American Adam who works out constantly by jogging on the spot whilst holding his chains, then pole-axing to the floor to do as many press ups as his body will take. Meredith perfectly captures the poor man’s battle for self-survival – it’s a fearless performance from an actor who transcends from craft to believability.

He is not alone in this transcending, Phil Leach as Michael  – the stiff upper lip Englishman – beautifully shows us the ups and downs of his journey where he discovers things about himself that he hadn’t dared to voice in his ‘outside the cell’ former life.

John-Robert Partridge is one of a handful of actors who can do little wrong for me and once again he reeled me to believing I was watching a wild eyed, bushy haired brutish, brash Irishman called Edward, not an actor playing him.

Director Jonathan Legg has painted his production with the finest of brushes – every word, movement and pause has its purpose. We already care about the three prisoners but Legg takes us deep into their personas to expose their vulnerabilities as well as their individual strengths and how they compliment each other, taking up the baton like a relay team.

In fairness I felt it could do with some pruning and being contained to one act as so intense is the feeling of confinement for the audience, that to escape between acts was somehow wrong.

Picture by Andrew Maguire. s

Don’t let that put you off, or believe that the subject matter is too depressing – yes there is sadness but also moments of joy and laugh-out-loud times so that you leave uplifted.

I cannot bang the drum for ‘Tread the Boards’ loudly enough.

Try and get along before it finishes on Sunday, if that’s not possible book tickets for their next show.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose.

Brum geta Carlos Acosta preview before he takes up new Brum role

WHEN a young Carlos Acosta began his dance training in Cuba back in the 1970s, he could not have imagined the stellar career that would follow.

The struggles he overcame to fulfil his dream are well-documented and he has become an inspiration to dancers across the globe.

On retiring as principal dancer with The Royal Ballet in 2016, Acosta formed his own company ACOSTA DANZA with the mission of harnessing and nurturing young creative dance talent emerging from his homeland.

Since then Acosta Danza has toured the world to critical acclaim.

The company’s arrival in Birmingham was something of a home-coming for Acosta as, in an extraordinary coup for the city, he will be taking the helm as artistic director at Birmingham Royal Ballet in January 2020.

The evening opened with the extraordinary SATORI by Raúl Reinoso – a member of the Acosta Danza company and mentored by Acosta himself.

Set to specially-composed music by Pepe Gavilondo, the piece explores the search for spiritual illumination.

Picture by Manuel Vason. S

The costumes become part of the set, billowing and changing shape as the dancers move, eventually shedding like a skin as they reach the moment of knowledge.

The sheer physicality of movement is simply stunning – precision is key to making the shared ‘costume’ work, whilst maintaining fluidity and grace – performed faultlessly and seemingly effortlessly by the company.

Principal dancer Zeleidy Crespo is mesmerising – her unbelievably long limbs and ability to make such incredible shapes with her body is jaw-dropping as she transitions from classical pointe to raw contemporary in one movement.

Special mention to lighting designer Fabiana Piccioli for her atmospheric and pin-point accurate lighting.

PAYSAGE, SOUDAIN, LA NUIT by Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg takes traditional Cuban music as a starting point through which to explore Cuba’s young people.

This is a joyful, optimistic piece, both an homage to Cuba’s past and nod to its future potential.

The set of tall grasses was beautifully simple, emphasising the feeling of warmth and care-free summers of youth and echoed by the laconic movements of the dancers.

Zeleidy Crespo was joined by Carlos Luis Blanco for choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkauoi’s FAUN – an interpretation of Claude Debussy’s famous piece ‘L’ Apres Midi D’un Faun’ with additional music by Nitin Sawhney.

This was the most intimate of pas de deux – at times you were unsure who’s limbs were whose, they became so intertwined, brilliantly matched by the fusion of Debussy with Sawhney’s evocative multi-cultural score.

The visceral physicality and strength of the two dancers was simply stunning and drew audible gasps from the audience.

The programme finished with ROOSTER – a piece by legendary choreographer Christopher Bruce, set to music by The Rolling Stones. I first saw ‘Rooster’ in the 90s – back then it was ground-breaking, provocative and raw  –  however this revival, following as it did such jaw-dropping performances, felt a little staid and under-stated, perhaps a mark of how far contemporary dance has come in the intervening years.

It was fun nonetheless and what a privilege to see the master Carlos Acosta himself literally strutting his stuff.

The cheers and lengthy standing ovation from the capacity audience at the end of the evening must’ve been music to Acosta’s ears – he is assured of a very warm welcome when he arrives to take up his new post in January and I for one can’t wait to see what he does with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

If you missed Acosta Danza this time, the company will be back in 2020 – invest in a ticket!


Birmingham Royal Ballet 2020/21 Season from Birmingham Royal Ballet on Vimeo.

Review by Johannah Dyer

For Euan Rose Reviews

Crescent’s Streetcar is Swift and Stella but needs more power

‘A STREETCAR Named Desire’ was first produced in 1947 and so physically and literally intense is this Tennessee Williams classic that it should still pack a powerful punch today.

Blanche Dubois (Annie Swift) a schoolteacher from small town Laurel, Mississippi, arrives via the said streetcar to the sparse New Orleans home of her sister, Stella Kowalski (Beth Gilbert) intent on staying for an indeterminable amount of time despite the sisters having lost touch.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

Blanche tells Stella she has lost the ancestral home ‘Belle Reve’ following the deaths of all their remaining family. She also tells her she is on an extended leave of absence from her teaching position due to her bad nerves.

The genius of Williams’ words is that he gives us a host of clues – ‘Belle Reve’ translates to ‘beautiful dream’. This is the first indication that all is not what is seems with prim and proper Blanche – with her attraction to the bourbon bottle being a close second.

Swift makes a good job of capturing many of the multitude of layers that go to make up the complexity of Blanche and is at her best in act two when the blurred lines between reality and the world she creates to protect herself, finally flip. It is, in fairness, one of the most dangerous roles in theatre and she follows many a famous footstep well.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

Gilbert has an easier role as the far less complex Stella, but she perfectly captures every available nuance of the character. She is utterly believable as a woman who has happily turned her back on privilege and swapped it for a role of sexually-fuelled subservience.

Stella is dominated by her Polish husband Stanley (Ollie Jones) – a man of little subtlety who can sees no relationships between men and women other than mutual physical pleasure – for all intents and purposes his brain seems located in his groin.

Jones offers a one-dimensional approach to portraying Stanley, who in fairness is a character that has little to offer in the terms of a light and shade.

Joe Palmer scores well as Stanley’s buddy Harold (Mitch) Mitchell who falls for Blanche’s advances as she sees him as easy prey.

Nicole Poole and James Browning make quality ‘Hubbels’ while Eduardo White, Destiny Sond, Katie Somers and Patrick Shannon succeed in all their supporting roles.

Picture by Graeme Braidwood. s

The cast accents are all perfectly drilled and executed so a shout-out for a good job to dialect coach Jaz Davidson and to the talented Phil Parsons for building a set from the Keith Harris design team that works perfectly in the studio space.

Director James David Knapp has knitted together the strengths of his talented cast and has created a smooth flowing production, which succeeds in telling the story.

There is no doubt Knapp knows how to paint the canvas, but to me he punches with soft body blows rather than the powerful Tennessee Williams haymakers that are on offer.

The darker moments should be darker, the physical theatre more intense and prolonged and Blanche’s descent into insanity, bleaker.

It’s always difficult to tackle a classic and this production achieves much of the journey.

Streetcar runs at The Crescent’s studio until Saturday.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review by Euan Rose.

Check out the new Curtains in Brum heading to West End

CURTAINS has the legend ‘A Musical Whodunnit’ underscored on its title, which is an intriguing concept.

Although new to the UK, and touring now prior to a West End opening, it has been around in the USA since 2006 and has even won a treasured Tony on Broadway.

It is a musical in the old traditional sense of big cast, high kicking chorus, love interest, memorable numbers with dialogue in-between them as opposed to the modern all singing – little or no dialogue offerings.

The writer of the original book Peter Stone unfortunately died before it made the stage and Rupert Holmes took over and finished it. Two theatrical giants added the music and lyrics; John Kander and the late Fred Ebb. These two gave us both ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Chicago’ and musicals don’t come much bigger or better than those.

In fairness ‘Curtains’ isn’t quite in the same league as those two classics but it is funny, refreshingly dated in it’s style and has some jolly numbers.

The show opens on the first night at a Boston theatre where  ‘Robbin’ Hood’ a Wild West musical version of Robin of Sherwood is just ending. The leading lady, film star Jessica Cranshaw (Nia Jermin) murders her part and then gets literally murdered in the curtain call by person or persons unknown.

Next morning, there is another assassination – this time of the show by the critics. Reading the reviews and sharing mutual depression we meet the song-writing duo Aaron Fox Andy Coxon) and Georgina Hendricks (Carley Stenson) along with the show’s producer Carmen Bernstein (Rebecca Lock) and her money man Oscar Shapiro (Martin Callaghan).

Enter Lieutenant Frank Cioffi played by the popular stand-up comedian Jason Manford who engages right from his first entrance. He develops the Cioffi character with more than a nod to the famous Peter Falk’s rain coated inspector Colombo..

He’s everybody’s friend, a cop with a heart as well as a sharp brain – but unlike Colombo, Cioffi is a keen amateur actor – and now he is an actor in Wonderland!

Cioffi confines cast and crew to the backstage of the theatre whilst he carries out his investigations and redirects the ‘Robbin’ Hood cast in their musical action.

There are more murders and attempted murders on the way to whodunit that of course I shall not give away in this review.

The humour is bawdy – the thin plot far-fetched but fun and there are plenty of exciting dance routines and witty lyrics in between the detection.

In addition to Manford who successfully makes the cross from stand-up to actor – Rebecca Lock is compelling and complete – both in song and acting.

My stand-out performance though is by Samuel Holmes as Director Christopher Belling – his delivery of acid sarcasm was perfect and left us begging for more.

There is also some delightful dancing and posing from Emma Cafrey as Bambi the producers daughter.

‘Curtains’ is a good nights entertainment and a big show that is still growing – I am sure by the time it hits the West End it will have shed ten minutes as it gathers pace.

Also like the Mel Brooks musical ‘The Producers’ It’s destined to be taken up by musical theatre companies all over the country when in time it gets an amateur release.

It’s a show that will send you home happy and whistling.

Curtains runs at the Alex until November 9.

Click here for tickets, times and more information.


Review by Euan Rose

Carmen staging was great on so many levels

FOR anyone new to Opera this WNO Carmen is the perfect introduction.

Bizet wrote a masterpiece in ‘Carmen’ and this Welsh National Opera version is a master class in accessibility.

The music is, of course, more recognisable than most other operas and with the staging updated to some undefined Latin American country where bandits mingle with bullfighters – it combines for the perfect operatic evening.

Under the baton of its flamboyant conductor Tomáš Hanus, the WNO orchestra is full of thrills and excitement, echoing the action director Jo Davies achieves on stage and complimenting magical movement direction by Denni Sayers and powerful fight direction from Lisa Connell.

The Set by Designer Leslie Travers is a wall-to-wall half crescent housing four stage levels, which transform perfectly to the four locations of each of the four acts.

It towers impressively, yet allows for intimate scenes to be played out in various places on this honeycombed labyrinth.

The lighting by Oliver Fenwick is equally impressive – none more so than in the final scenes when a whole bar of light rises silently from floor to ceiling making a breath-taking visual statement on the action it illuminates.

Stand out performances for me were Philip Rhodes who positively exhumes charisma as the toreador Escamillo, Ross Ramgobin as the love besotted soldier turned bandit Moralès and Anita Watson is perfect as his spurned lover Micaëla.

Virginie Verrez stuns us as the feisty femme-fatale Carmen.

She fights like an alley cat, seduces like the fabled cat woman and sings about as powerfully passionately as it gets – she is just purr- fect.

The chorus work – including that of the children – is of the highest standard and gloriously underpins the solo artists.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review By Euan Rose

Nativity’s stars shine brightly at the Grand to kick off the festive season in style

‘NATIVITY’ has been around as a movie for many few years now (I think we are at ‘Nativity 4’ in the film franchise) but as a musical for just two, I had the pleasure of reviewing the world premiere at the Birmingham REP and loved it.

Now this barnstorming blockbuster of a feelgood show has grown to even more dazzling heights.

For anyone that isn’t familiar with the story, it’s set in nearby Coventry where three friends grow up and dream of becoming stars. They all went to drama school together to further that dream.

Then two became – teachers! Aka Mr Maddens – delightfully broody performance from Scott Garnham and the chip the size of a house on his shoulder Mr Shakespeare –captured masterfully by Charles Brunton.

The third chum Jennifer Lore – a doey- eyed Ashleigh Gray – goes off on an internship to Hollywood where everyone back home believes she is a big shot movie director whilst in fact she’s a secretary!

Mr Madden teaches at local catholic primary school, ‘St. Bernadette’s’ which has lost its pride and is in dreaded ‘special measures;’

It is however going to polish up its tarnished tinsel by staging a Nativity play for the first time in five years.

The last time they attempted one it was given minus two stars by dreaded local critic Patrick Burns – a delightfully dastardly performance from Jamie Chapman.

Burns has however given annual five star reviews to the rival posh school ‘Oakmoor’ and their teacher Mr Shakespeare – who has grown-up to be nastiness personified…

The St Bernadette’s Nativity comeback happens because the enthusiasm of new teaching assistant Mr Poppy – a simply huge and totally engaging performance by Scott Paige – who reignites the sparks of pride in the students, Mr Maddens and beleaguered headteacher Mrs Bevan – a faithfully full-on performance by Penelope Woodman which many a head will no doubt identify with.

Along the way to the Bernadette’s Bethlehem, a white lie that ‘Hollywood’ is coming to Coventry to see their nativity sets off a chain of events of which dreams are made. Hollywood does indeed arrive – by helicopter and in the form of Hollywood icon Polly Parker – Love Island’s Dani Dyer.

The ‘Nativity,’ staged spectacularly in Coventry Cathedral is almost a separate show in itself, where the talented kids shine awesomely.

The effects are dazzling, the music and dancing feverish and the atmosphere magical.

One special moment when a spiteful Shakespeare pulls the plug on the lights and the audience is asked to light the stage via the lights of their mobiles is inspired. The three tiers of the Grand Theatre looked like a twinkling starry night.

Picture by Oliver Rosser. S

Huge congratulations to writer, director and composer Debbie Isitt for bringing back this gem bigger and better to the stage for new audiences to enjoy.

Congratulations also to Andrew Wright the choreographer, Dan Glover the musical director and David Woodhead the set and costume designer – plus of course to the Grand Theatre for staging so well this first leg of this national tour.

It is sumptuous and joyous early Christmas outing which kick-starts the season beautifully.

Nativity is at the Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review by Euan Rose