Mind-blowing master hypnotist and illusionist Derren Brown lived up to ‘Showman’ billing

AT THE end of a quite amazing evening, Derren Brown gave us theatre reviewers strict instructions not to be giving away the content of what we have witnessed.

I can quite understand why – the experience, which is as much a journey as a show, should be enjoyed with fresh eyes and ears every performance – so you won’t be getting any spoilers from me here.

This 250-night tour is entitled  ‘Showman’ and this sums up Mr. Brown pretty well, I’d say.

He is a one-off original, a master of illusion, a conjuror supreme and a mind-manipulating hypnotist whom, whilst appreciating his unique talents, I wouldn’t particularly welcome as a dinner guest. No, I’m happy to enjoy a safe distance between stage and seat.

That’s not true of most of the audience though, who begged in their droves to be part of the on-stage antics.

The seductive stage set is like we are guests in the huge parlour of a mysterious mansion, where extraordinary things happen. Things, which will become in-car conversations on the way home and ‘How did he do that?!’ conversations for weeks to come.

Brown enjoys a great rapport with the audience and whilst his dark brooding presence is indeed more showman than headmaster, everyone respectfully does what they are told.

I gave up trying to work out how things were done very early on, unlike a skeptic a couple of seats away who annoyingly kept telling his partner his theories. Mr Skeptic became a believer  before the final curtain though, leaping to his feet and whooping at the magical maestro’s walkdown.

Again without giving anything away but whetting the appetites – there are several story lines which tease and tantalise throughout the evening – all of which are cleverly resolved before we go home.

That’s all the background you’ll be getting from me – so onto the team responsible.

Firstly the script for the ‘Showman’ tour is a collaboration between Brown himself plus Andy Nyman and Andrew O’Connor – who are in addition the shows directors.  Not surprisingly Nyman and O’Connor are also actors and magicians in their own right. Oh to be a fly on the wall at one of their threesome script meetings!

Simon Higlett is the designer responsible for the mystic set and Charlie Morgan Jones the designer that illuminates it with some wizard sparks.

Brown also has a large production team of on and off-stage camera folk, technicians and chaperones who, judging by the programme notes, all appear to be one happy family. Just as well really if they are touring together for the next year.

The Alex was full right up the last seat in the Gods. Well done to the theatre staff who handled the large crowds faultlessly.

Opening an extra entrance at the start was an excellent idea – making sure everyone had double jab certificates, even taking some temperatures if they felt it necessary and advising mask wearing when moving about quite correct.   Inside it was the same – well monitored and safety first all done with a warm smile.

It’s probably house-full all week but do try and grab a return if you can – this is an experience like no other.

While Derren Brown’s TV shows are legendary, watching him live takes it to a whole new dimension.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

Understudy helps provide the magic for Chicago at the Wolverhampton Grand

THE MAGIC of theatre is that, because it’s live – you can expect the unexpected.

This was certainly true at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton last night, where Chicago understudy Billie Hardy got to stand in for an indisposed Faye Brookes, to play the lead role of Roxie Hart.

Big boots  – or rather high heels – to fill as Brookes has picked up rave reviews on earlier legs of this sell out tour. Looking at her programme biography, it seems about time Hardy got a break, having been an understudy in a few big musicals and suffering a tour cancellation due to Covid.

Well, Hardy started out confidently and ended triumphantly. I am sure the company went out of their way to support her and none more so than co-lead Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly. Their closing duet of ‘Nowadays’ and ‘Hot Honey Rag’ finished with a very ‘special eyes and teeth’ moment between them.

As to the show itself – this revival of the original 1996 Broadway multi-Tony winner from the legendary trio of Ebb, Kander and Fosse is packed full of raunchy dancing, cool jazz, glitz, glamour and a liberal sprinkling of raw emotion.

It’s set in the days of 1920s, when Prohibition brought huge profits for Chicago gangsters and the word ‘speakeasy’ was added to the dictionary.

There were hundreds of speakeasies (aka illegal drinking clubs) in Chicago and Roxy Hart was a dancer at one of them.

She murders her lover when he decides to leave her then hires top defence lawyer Billy Flynn to save her from the gallows.

Flynn is played by Darren Day who brings just the right amount of flamboyance and arrogance to the role, with Flynn’s courtroom antics being much more about show biz than justice.

Day’s ‘All I Care About’ when Flynn sings surrounded by feather floating girls in iconic Busby Berkley formation is spot on.

The set is cleverly centred around the fabulous ten-piece band, who are sited within a gold framed, steeply raked podium. Andrew Hilton ably conducts and MC’s the proceedings with character introductions, a bit of storytelling and the occasional quip.

Joel Montague gives an almost show stealing performance as Roxy’s cuckolded husband Amos. His rendition of the self-deprecating ‘Mister Cellophane’ brought a lump to the throat.

The sexiest number in the show has to be the classic ‘Cell Block Tango’ where the death row girls dressed in black lingerie and sitting aside bentwood chairs, sing how their male victims ‘Had it Coming.’ I guarantee you’d find it difficult to find a male audience member who wouldn’t let them off with a caution.

Sinitta Malone plays the prison boss lady ‘Mama Morton’ with a smile and an entrepreneurial swagger as she acts as part-mother hen and part-manager to the girls.

All the classic songs are here, All that Jazz, Razzle Dazzle, When You’re Good to Mama, the choreography is slick, the band is hot and everything flows.

A great show and finishing where I started, hats off to Billie Hardy – you done well, girl – and all that jazz!

Chicago runs until October 30 at the Grand. Click here for tickets, times and more information.

****

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

REVIEW – The Revlon Girl at Birmingham’s Crescent is thought-provoking theatre

THE CRESCENT Theatre Company have a knack of finding little known gems to include in their season – up now is ‘The Revlon Girl’  and a sparkling little golden nugget it is too.

On the face of it an unremitting 90 minutes about one of the bleakest moments of Welsh history sounds daunting – but genius scripting by Neil Anthony Docking and intuitive direction from Liz Plumpton cleverly balances misery with mirth leaving us satisfied not sated.

Fifty-five years ago in 1966 above Aberfan village, a name etched on all our hearts of those of us old enough to remember it – a colliery spoil tip, one of seven, like the seven gates of hells slid down the hill in a deathly black column of slime. It engulfed all in its wake including a school. 116 children and 28 adults died on that dreadful day.

The Ron Barber studio is transformed into the bare boarded function room and as we enter, a small monitor high up on a wall shows scratchy austere monochrome footage of the village and the period.

The lights dim to blackout and we hear rain amidst the playful sound of children’s voices. Then a rumble growing ominously into a ceaseless roar as the tragedy is relived in our minds. Then there is silence.

However, Docking’s play is not about the Aberfan disaster – Plumpton has cleverly dealt with that in the darkness – no we are concerned more with the aftermath.

It’s eight months on and we are about to meet Sian of the smiling face – she enters the function room, and turns on the lights, then takes a bucket and mop to the rainwater coming in the skylight. Sian is played with an infectious naughty Tinkerbelle – like gait by Charlotte Hurst.

She is the first to appear of this quite exceptional company of five women. All carefully crafted individuals with separate personas and stories yet united as a team to tell us the bigger story.

The ladies, who we learn have all lost children in the disaster, meet once a week in this room to laugh, cry and support each other. They have agreed to invite a cosmetic demonstrator in that evening to give them all the guilty pleasure of a makeup makeover.  The idea here is that however dark the starting point there is a time to turn to the light.

In addition to Hurst’s Sian the other mothers in the group comprise Naomi Jacobs as the guilt-ridden, brooding Marilyn; Jenny Thurston flaunts her pregnancy like a flag of independence as Jean and the foul-mouthed Rona is a deliciously welcome outing by Katie Merriman.

Femke Witney who is referred to simply as ‘Revlon’ by the others, plays the title role. Witney cleverly keeps one side of her personality in reserve until she finally explodes in a passionate tour de force that heralds a new dawn for them all.

Costumes by Stewart Snape are as always spot on – Revlon’s black and white woolly two-piece suit stood as iconic sixties chic.

The sound design by Ray Duddin is quite remarkable – one live effect in particular as the play draws towards its climax is a haunting drip-drip of rain seeping through the roof and striking the pan Sian had put there to catch it. This noise brings us full circle as we think of the rain that caused the tragedy.

The whole cast put in ‘A- lister’ performances, and the writer should be well pleased how well the director has told his story. We were left with much to think about and discuss. The Revlon Girl is a great nights theatre with a voice that deserves to be heard.

The Revlon Girl.runs until Saturday, October 30. Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

REVIEW – New Tom Jones musical What’s New Pussycat? had Birmingham Rep audience purring

OVER the past decade or so there has been a plethora of jukebox musicals, the majority of which have been tiresome in the extreme – where well-known songs averagely-performed are inserted into the of thinnest scripts and put out by producers much more interested in profit than product.

It was with this thought in mind that I joined the star-studded audience that walked the red carpet at the REP last night for the world premiere of ‘What’s New Pussycat?’

Picture by Pamela Raith Photography. s

How wrong could I have been?! From the moment I entered the auditorium and spied designer Jon Bausor’s stage pre-set, the portents looked good. The Rep’s cavernous stage was filled with a wall-to-wall series of arches – all of which were covered in more great paintings than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

It seemed as if a team of modern day Michelangelo’s had been at working alongside Banksy to depict iconic scenes from the swinging 60s and merge them with monochrome etchings of Henry Fielding’s 18th century’s virtuous society.

Suspended as if by sorcery in the midst of this artistry was a sign hung in mid air in three-dimensional psychedelic signwriting. It was asking us the legendary question ‘What’s new Pussycat?

Musical Director Josh Sood struck up the band like the first note of a rock concert where we have been waiting for the superstar to hit the stage.

Picture by Pamela Raith Photography. s

But this isn’t a Tom Jones concert, nor is it a Tom Jones tribute show – it is the cleverest musical take on a classic novel I have ever seen.

This is the ‘Fielding’ feel-good ‘vanity versus virtue’ story – enhanced with fabulous musical arrangements by Mathew Brind of some classic Tom Jones numbers seamlessly knitted into a genius stage book by Joe DiPietro.

There is a dream production team in evidence here; Director Luke Sheppard has done his job with a relentless passion, piling emotion-on-emotion, laugh-on-laugh, bawdiness to bring tears to the eyes and a rollicking good romp from start to finish. When you think this can’t get any better, it does!

They don’t come any higher on the choreography stakes than Dame Arlene Phillips – without exception everyone dances with complete engagement – the Dame’s hard core central troupe perform leaps and turns that defy gravity.

Janet Bird’s costumes unite Carnaby Street clobber with countryside tweeds to make the twain meet with a combination chic.

For the chaps that’s Edwardian frock coats and skin tight pants in outrageous colours, bare chest and bulging crutch lines – peacocks all.

Picture by Pamela Raith Photography. s

For the ladies there are Mary Quant’s marvellous mini skirts amidst a never-ending catwalk of brilliant bright latex coats, crushed velvet hot pants and black and white geometric classical evening garb.

Howard Hudson lighting design is a joyful cavalcade of colour and effects – the overhead bars fly in and out like they are alive.

The sound design by Gareth Owen is simply wonderful. Owen has only gone and done what no sound designer before in all my visits to the REP has done – achieved audio perfection. Every musical note is defined and every word spoken and sung crystal clear. Team REP – new standards have been set – no more black spot excuses for future shows, if you please!

Now to the cast who paint this magnificent theatrical canvas and give us a night to remember. Dominic Andersen excels in the title role of Tom Jones. He cleverly conceals his  ‘sex bombery’, leaving it to the ladies to swoon at his rakish innocence, dragging him off to the nearest dark corner for naughtiness. Anderson has a great pair of lungs on him too making much of every solo and especially his impassioned ‘She’s A Lady’.

Bronte Barbé is delicious as our modern day heroine Mary Western, we discover her caught up in a country code of hand-me-down wealth and piousness from which like a female Dick Whittington she goes London-bound in search  of fun, fortune and the true love of  her life – said Mr. Jones. Barbé charms us from get-go to curtain.

Picture by Pamela Raith Photography. s

A heart-warming performance coupled with awesome vocals. Her ‘Without Love’ is worth the ticket money on its own.

Melanie Walters as Mary’s hoity-toity ‘bring-‘em up strict – sell ‘em off to the highest bidder’ mummy is a gem of a performance as is Kelly Price’s society despot of the swinging 60s, Lady Bellaston.

Asaley Campbell is delightful as Mr Partridge and his tap-dance is a stand-out special moment in a show that’s packed with them.

Special doff of the cap for giving us the most comedic moments to Rebekah Hinds as ‘The Girl in the Polka Dress’. mischievous embodiment of the ‘bed ‘em don’t wed ‘em ‘  liberated 60s swinger is joyous.

Harry Kershaw brilliantly puts the oaf in oafish as Tom’s loathsome lawyer baddie half brother William Blifil and Julius D’Silva is a larger than life ‘Lord Allworthy’ and all the better the show is for it say I.

Shout-outs to Lemuel Knights as the outrageous Big Mikey and to the trio from the band who kept popping up in the ensemble scenes adding a sprinkling of fairy-rock-dust – take a bow Chris Ranger on sax, David Sear on trombone and Owain Harries on trumpet.

Although Tom Jones is a Welshman and from the programme notes the idea for this show was conceived across the pond in New York, I am very proud that it was actually brought to life in Birmingham.

Congratulations to Chloe Naldrett, Jonathan Brindley and Joshua Beaumont  the producers at the Birmingham Rep and to Flody Suarez, Josh Andrews, Stuart Galbraith and Donna Mundy of  Not Unusual Productions – together you have produced a triumph which I believe will run and run in the West End.

‘What’s New Pussycat?’ brings the REP back from lockdown blues with the bang of 1,000 bangers. It is awesome with a capital A, Unmissable with a capital U and wondrous with a capital W. If I could give it ten stars I would gladly do so.

Woowoooa woo

*****

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose reviews

I Call the Shots at The Prince of Wales in Moseley is ‘storytelling at its best’

THE PRINCE of Wales in Moseley is opening its doors to theatre on a regular basis now and also offering up a mix of performance spaces from within its quirky interior.

Last time I was here was to see the imaginative Scottish football saga 1902, which is now on its way to wow the fringe in London. For this The POW roofed over the garden and created quite a huge acting space by pub theatre standards.

This time, for ‘I Call The Shots’, it all happens in a much more intimate tinselight bedecked cozy room – where a packed house settled in for a unique night of theatre.

Mike Venables, impresario, writer, director, and multiple role-playing actor is no shrinking violet.

For him there was no cowering in the dressing room trying not to throw up and counting down the seconds to the curtain – he’s outside the auditorium door greeting everyone like a happy-clappy padre on a bright Sunday morning.

Once we are seated, Venables bursts in, greeting us all again – not as himself now, but as some strange ageing Scottish gangster who proceeds to set the scene like a television commentator does on Cheltenham Gold Cup Day.

Then quick as a flash we’re off at a breakneck pace on a tale of mayhem, mischief and mirth.

This doesn’t let up, falter or fluster for the next 60 minutes – which pass at the speed of an episode of Kiefer Sutherland’s ‘Twenty-Four’ if you were a fan.

The hero is a drama teacher who has tried to distance himself from his criminal parents but a bit like those old Western movies, try as he might, the baddies keep coming back to haunt him.

There is nothing to do but to don the inevitable tin star and build this one-man epic to a ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral ‘ finale.

Along the way there is comedy, drama, pathos; many lines that are praiseworthy.

This is of course is work in progress and a tweak or two is needed here and there to replace the obvious with the unexpected.

Venables is a unique talent – he is neither a stand-up-comedian nor a public speaker but without doubt he could be either if he wished.

No, what he is, is a storyteller; like one of those from the ‘days of old’, who moved from village to village, enthralling the locals with their tales.

As we emerge from the Covid lockdowns it’s fitting really that we should have a post apocalyptical performer like Venable ‘Calling the Shots’.

Watch out for new dates for the Venables’ one-man shows and grab yourself a brilliant night out in Mike’s company.

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

REVIEW – The Revlon Girl at Birmingham’s Crescent is thought-provoking theatre

THE CRESCENT Theatre Company have a knack of finding little known gems to include in their season – up now is ‘The Revlon Girl’  and a sparkling little golden nugget it is too.

On the face of it an unremitting 90 minutes about one of the bleakest moments of Welsh history sounds daunting – but genius scripting by Neil Anthony Docking and intuitive direction from Liz Plumpton cleverly balances misery with mirth leaving us satisfied not sated.

Fifty-five years ago in 1966 above Aberfan village, a name etched on all our hearts of those of us old enough to remember it – a colliery spoil tip, one of seven, like the seven gates of hells slid down the hill in a deathly black column of slime. It engulfed all in its wake including a school. 116 children and 28 adults died on that dreadful day.

The Ron Barber studio is transformed into the bare boarded function room and as we enter, a small monitor high up on a wall shows scratchy austere monochrome footage of the village and the period.

The lights dim to blackout and we hear rain amidst the playful sound of children’s voices. Then a rumble growing ominously into a ceaseless roar as the tragedy is relived in our minds. Then there is silence.

However, Docking’s play is not about the Aberfan disaster – Plumpton has cleverly dealt with that in the darkness – no we are concerned more with the aftermath.

It’s eight months on and we are about to meet Sian of the smiling face – she enters the function room, and turns on the lights, then takes a bucket and mop to the rainwater coming in the skylight. Sian is played with an infectious naughty Tinkerbelle – like gait by Charlotte Hurst.

She is the first to appear of this quite exceptional company of five women. All carefully crafted individuals with separate personas and stories yet united as a team to tell us the bigger story.

The ladies, who we learn have all lost children in the disaster, meet once a week in this room to laugh, cry and support each other. They have agreed to invite a cosmetic demonstrator in that evening to give them all the guilty pleasure of a makeup makeover.  The idea here is that however dark the starting point there is a time to turn to the light.

In addition to Hurst’s Sian the other mothers in the group comprise Naomi Jacobs as the guilt-ridden, brooding Marilyn; Jenny Thurston flaunts her pregnancy like a flag of independence as Jean and the foul-mouthed Rona is a deliciously welcome outing by Katie Merriman.

Femke Witney who is referred to simply as ‘Revlon’ by the others, plays the title role. Witney cleverly keeps one side of her personality in reserve until she finally explodes in a passionate tour de force that heralds a new dawn for them all.

Costumes by Stewart Snape are as always spot on – Revlon’s black and white woolly two-piece suit stood as iconic sixties chic.

The sound design by Ray Duddin is quite remarkable – one live effect in particular as the play draws towards its climax is a haunting drip-drip of rain seeping through the roof and striking the pan Sian had put there to catch it. This noise brings us full circle as we think of the rain that caused the tragedy.

The whole cast put in ‘A- lister’ performances, and the writer should be well pleased how well the director has told his story. We were left with much to think about and discuss. The Revlon Girl is a great nights theatre with a voice that deserves to be heard.

The Revlon Girl.runs until Saturday, October 30. Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is simply unmissable – catch it where you can

THIS was a show I had to see following Tristan Harris’s rave review of the Birmingham Alex’s leg of the tour.

Luckily I was able to catch up with it at the Grand Wolverhampton where it is playing to full houses every night.

Before we get to my review of the show I must give a special mention to the wonderful new proscenium curtain at the Grand. It is majestic both in richness of colour and elegance of style; fitting in perfectly with the ornate splendor of one of the finest auditoriums in the country.

‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ is refreshing in concept and like ‘Six’ it’s a debut show for new creative folk on the block – Tom Macrae wrote the book and lyrics partnering with Dan Gillespie Sells who scribed the score and Jonathan Butterell who did some all round co-writing and was the original director.

The show touches on the many challenges that face parents and school leavers today – what career path to take; dreams v reality, colour, class, religion and sexuality with a capital S. All intricate back-stories and comments wrapped up in the big picture of Jamie’s dream of being a drag artist.

The storyline has you laughing and crying in equal measures. It is clever, witty and oh so poignant.

It contains some cracking songs across a broad church of styles; stand outs for me were ‘The Wall In My Head’ sung by Jamie, ‘He’s My Boy’ from Jamie’s mum Margaret and of course the title song which includes pretty well the whole company at various stages.

The set where school desks become catwalks and the back wall becomes a cacophony of imagery is both practical and brilliant. The ‘wall’ takes us into various locations and opens up ingeniously, spilling rooms including a practical kitchen and a toilet block, onto the stage. Best of all, the back wall has a penthouse at its apex, which lights up every so often revealing what I can only describe as an Andy Warhol painting of a movie film strip; In each frame a band member sits silhouetted.

Matt Ryan directs a tight-as-a-drum company who feed off each other and us the audience.

Amongst the excellence standing out for me is Lara Denning as head teacher Miss Hedge, Amy Ellen Richardson as a ‘Mum for the times’, Margaret, Shobna Gulati as Margaret’s buddy, Ray and Sharan Phull as Jamie’s school chum Pritti Pasha.

Shane Richie proves once again he is not a one-trick East End pony. I was very impressed with his amoral Archie Rice in ‘The Entertainer’ and here he is playing the direct opposite as the aging, warm-hearted, drag artist Hugo.

Layton Williams simply owns the stage as Jamie.

It’s unmissable theatre, folks – try and get a return at the Grand if you can or travel and catch it on another leg of this national tour,

*****

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews