Catch ‘joyous’ Tell Me on a Sunday at Malvern – it runs until Saturday

MALVERN Theatres is spoiling us with the premiere of two tours in two weeks.

Following last weeks brilliant ‘A Splinter of Ice’ this week we had the first night of a long UK tour of the wonderful Jodie Prenger as Emma in the glorious Andrew Lloyd Webber/Don Black classic one-woman musical ‘Tell Me On A Sunday’.

The action started outside the theatre when a jazz band dressed in striped blazers and straw boaters greeted us. It was great to see passers by as well as theatregoers enjoying the stomping tunes in glorious sunshine.

Prenger follows in the illustrious footsteps of Sarah Brightman and Marti Webb in this new production superbly crafted by director Paul Foster, but she doesn’t show any nervousness at all as she totally makes the role her own. She has an amazing voice and crystal clear diction – plus an acting ability to engage, enthral and touch the occasional raw nerve of emotional heartbreak that is part of our rite of passage.

Emma’s story is of the romantic adventures of an English girl living in New York in the 1980s. She oozes optimism and every time she gets knocked back down the rabbit hole by a procession of poor choice lovers, she dusts herself off, does a bit of self-assertion and carries on to making the next mistake with a beaming smile.

Emma writes often to her mum in England, who must dread getting the letters and reading of her daughter’s latest escapades. Yet you can imagine she laughs and cries with her. This is of course before mobile phones and social media made the world a much smaller place. By the time her motherly advice arrived by mail, Emma would have moved on to pastures new.

In addition to the title song of ‘Tell Me On A Sunday’ the show contains some of lyricist Don Black and Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s finest, including ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’, ‘I’m Very You, You’re Very Me’ and the hilariously ironic ‘Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad.’ All of the songs merge seamlessly into the story, commenting musically.

The set is an iconic model New York City behind which the fine quartet under the musical direction of Francis Goodhand sound like a full blown orchestra,

The show only lasts 60 minutes and that is perfect, every minute is a joy. As a bonus, Jodie Prenger treats us to a few songs and a Q&A experience after the interval and sings a duet with her understudy another Jodie, Jodie Beth Meyer. This lasted only 15 minutes and we could have savoured double that – but having already given us a non-stop awesome performance I will not quibble.

‘Tell Me On a Sunday’ runs at Malvern until Saturday before it goes on its travels across the UK – catch if you can – it’s joyous stuff.

Click here for times, tickets and more.

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

‘Cracking’ Splinter of Ice at Malvern provides a warm glow after a winter bereft of live theatre

TO BE BACK reviewing live theatre in itself was a treat – the fact that we could have a drink in the bar and enjoy the pre-show buzz, a second treat. The big whopping cherry on the top was that this tour premier production of ‘A Splinter of Ice’ is a cracker!

The combination of writer Ben Brown and director Alan Strachan is a meeting of minds and the combination of Oliver Ford Davies and Stephen Boxer is a masterclass not only in acting, but also in audience engagement. Davies plays the legendary bipolar novelist and MI6 agent Graham Greene, Boxer plays his ex-MI6 boss and arguably our most notorious double agent, Kim Philby.

The action takes place in Philby’s Moscow apartment one night in 1987 when Greene has dinner with his old friend whom he has not seen for 33 years.

The set by Michael Pavelka cleverly uses a metal framework to define and divide spaces – from the elevator to the apartment, to the intimacy of a well-worn parlor.  The final touch of the Kremlin appearing as if it had been watching their conversations along with us was a touch of imaginative genius.

As the third member of the company, Karen Ascoe puts in a very believable performance as Philby’s wife Rufa where she oozes protection for the man she loves and confides that he has not long to live.

There is a chess set on a table down stage, which fittingly symbolises the verbal chess game played between the two old chums.

We learn much about both players – and yet we learn little. That is the cleverness of script, direction and performance. What motivates someone to give allegiance to a foreign power, which believes in the repression of everything they believe in?

Four-times married Philby isn’t exactly living the dream that he envisaged would be his Russian reward, but he still clings onto the belief he is playing a game more than living a life. With the thrill of the chase – always being more exciting to him than the prize – he cannot admit that a life controlled by political minders makes him more of puppet than player.

Our sometime narrator Greene equally has never stopped searching and playing games, even he tells us, the deadly one of Russian roulette.

Villains to some, heroes to others, but certainly both these real life quirks of history are played as boys that never really grew up.

The show has had the benefit of an online performance, which received excellent reviews. Now on the stage where it belongs, the live tour must surely end in the West End.

The cast applauded us – their socially-distanced full house audience – as we applauded them. A bonding and a walkdown moment which announces at long last – ‘Theatre is Back!

The Original Theatre Company’s A Spliter of Ice runs until Saturday, June 12. Click here for more information and to book tickets.

Review by Euan Rose.