REVIEW – Spring Awakening at Solihull’s Dovehouse made for very thought-provoking theatre

IT IS always good to welcome new musical theatre companies to the Midlands arena, especially one that seeks to break the mould of just performing standard crowd pleasers.

Enter OBSIDIAN, the child born during Covid from the combined theatrical and entrepreneurial talents of actor/director Robert Bateman and musical director Phil Ypres-Smith.

Bateman and Ypres-Smith’s plan is to air edgy and lesser-known musicals with a message and to link that into raising awareness and funds for charities that support themes associated with the shows.

That is all well and good if what goes on stage lives up to the mantra and is not simply a fund-raiser – however worthy the cause. Any fears of that were allayed when the opening heralded a moment of breath-taking originality, to which I shall return.

Obsidian’s first choice of show is ‘Spring Awakening,’ the German classic ‘coming of age’ musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik based on the original 1891 play by Frank Wedekind,  which opened last night at the Dovehouse Theatre,

The storyline covers sexual discovery in its many guises – its beauty and its consequences. There is bullying, self-harm, abortion and suicide all set to a song book that jigs around from punk rock to classical aria.

In truth it’s never going to be laugh-a-minute-a-stuff – after all, German’s aren’t exactly renowned for their sense of humour and as for music – think Wagner but this is a show with a voice that cries out to be heard!

The opening I referred to is an imaginative creation by a hugely talented lighting designer Dermot Finnegan.

Wendla Bergman, the young girl whose short story is about to unfold is shrouded in an ethereal blue haze – a silent vignette in itself. The first of many memorable set lighting pieces which added titanic layers to the bare, utilitarian platform set.

Wendla is played by the extremely capable Lucy Covell, who I note has also appeared with the excellent Stratford based ‘Tread the Boards’ company and is in her final year at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire of Acting. Covell took her character on a journey that was both well signposted and endearing.

A young man burdened with problems is Moritz Stiefel –  bullied by his father, his teacher and his fellow students as the class scapegoat. His is a sad life with just one redeeming opportunity, which eludes him.

Moritz is played to perfection by Oli Keeling who draws us in like a waif from a Dicken’s novel.

Robert Bateman has set himself a daunting task by directing and choreographing the show in addition to playing a leading character – a trilogy of roles with danger lurking at every turn. To his credit, like Daisy in the show of the same name ‘Bateman pulls it off!’.

He can put a tick by every box. His Melchior Gabor, is an empathetic and compelling outing, his direction pacey and his choreography imaginative – so Bravo Mr B – your pioneering has paid off.

Co-Obsidian pioneer Phil Ypres-Smith has put together a band of excellence. To watch the two rows of musicians in vertical columns either side of the stage was quite unique.

One headed by Ypres-Smith MDing from behind his keyboards and the other by his co-conductor Jonathan Clarke on a harmonium. Guitars and drums stage right – strings and things stage left.

Ypres-Smith has directed passionate solos and some excellent choral work from the company that were always in keeping with the story; never once straying over into concert – a sure sign of director and musical director togetherness.

The entire cast deserves credit; they work in synergy as a well-drilled team exuding vigor. Especially noteworthy are Bethany Waller-Scott as Martha Bessell, Richard Bateman as Georg Zirschnitz and Tony Faughnan as the adult male.

For those of you who like me were wondering about the company name – OBSIDIAN is a black volcanic natural glass, which is supposedly extremely lucky – often used for making arrowheads. Well those arrows certainly struck home – this is an excellent night’s theatre that I highly recommend.


Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

REVIEW – Only Fools’ Marlene adds to already excellent ‘The Play What I Wrote’ at Malvern

THE CLEVERNESS of this show – and it is there in abundance – is that it is not written and performed as just another Morecambe and Wise tribute, but is an entity in its own right.

The plot concerns a troubled double-act, Thom and Dennis. Thom has set his heart on being a serious dramatic playwright whilst Dennis wants them to continue with their partnership. Thom’s new play is an epic set in the French Revolution entitled ‘A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple’ and Dennis sets himself a mission to persuade a big guest star to appear in the ‘play what Thom wrote’ in a bid to keep them together.

This approach salutes the genius of our beloved heroes Eric and Ernie more than any straightforward impression could do.

Dennis Herdman plays Dennis and Thom Tuck plays Thom. Mitesh Soni joins them as Arthur the stagehand and a host of other characters. You couldn’t drive a hair’s breadth between the talents of these three players.

Picture by Manuel Harlan. s

This 20-year update on the original show is directed and co-written by the Birmingham Rep’s current artistic director, Sean Foley.

Foley shares the writing credits with Hamish McColl and ‘of course’ Eddie Braben. Foley also appeared alongside McColl in the original production at Liverpool’s ‘Everyman’ where it was directed by Kenneth Branagh and won the Olivier Award for Best Comedy.

Classic Morecambe and Wise shows always had a surprise mystery guest to play the scapegoat in Ernie’s plays. Not unnaturally, this is also a highlight of this show as we eagerly await to see who is Thom’s unknown star.

There is a lot of history here – previous guest stars have included Ralph Fiennes (who did the original opening night back in 2001), Ewan McGregor, Bob Geldof, Joanna Lumley, Daniel Radcliffe, Kylie Minogue, Nigel Havers, Denise Welch, Sir Ian McKellen, Dawn French, Tom Hiddleston, Sting and not forgetting the late Roger Moore who actually suffered a real heart attack whilst taking part.

Hallowed footsteps indeed, Thom’s mystery star at Malvern turned out to be Only Fools and Horses favourite lady ‘Marlene’, the lovely Sue Holderness, who joined in the madness with great aplomb.

The clever set design is by Alice Power, which Tim Mitchell lights equally cleverly. Ian West’s choreography is slick and there is cheerful music under the direction of Steve Parry.

In truth there were a few teething problems on first night which meant the curtain was late going up on both acts – maybe it was the ghost of Eric Morecambe playing tricks?

Was he twitching his glasses in some celestial home for pranksters as our patience was stretched?

That is of course the magic of live theatre and I’m sure all will be running smoothly for the rest of the week.

It was joyous to see the wonderful Malvern Theatre packed and buzzing and a welcome tonic to hear audiences roaring with laughter again. Grab a ticket and bring a little sunshine into your life while you can.

The Play What I Wrote runs at Malvern Theatres until Saturday, February 19. Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

REVIEW – Phenomenal show rocks Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber style’

If you were perchance nearby the Alexandra Theatre last night then you couldn’t help but feel the streets pulsating as the ‘School of Rock’ hit Birmingham.

The packed audience comprised an awful lot of excited, dressed-to-boogie scholars, who were there to rock along to this jolly tale of how prim-and-proper private school students end up performing at the ‘Battle of the Bands.’

It’s actually all down to a ‘down but not out’ rock musician by the name of Dewey Finn. Sacked from his band, Dewey sponges free digs at his best friend Ned’s house much to the chagrin of Ned’s nag-bag fiancée Patty.

Patty wants Dewey to pay rent or get out; but luckily for Dewy, he takes a phone call intended for Ned offering him a substitute teacher’s job at the ‘Horace Green’ school. The lure of the American green back is too much of a temptation and Dewey passes himself off as Mr Schneebly, aka Ned.

The kids in his class are all classical music playing academic swats who he changes into his rocklets on a rocky road of discovery. As the song goes ‘Don’t know much trigonometry but what a wonderful world this can be!’

They say actors should never work with kids or animals – well, Jake Sharp as Dewy has to work with a dozen of them – and three different dozens on a circulating rota to boot.  Wouldn’t be a school without kids of course and it wouldn’t be a school of rock without these dirty dozens.

Sharp feeds off them and they take inspiration from him – it’s a lovely merry go round.  He rarely pauses for breath and his performance is  – in a word – phenomenal.

The line-up of ‘Horace Green Kids’ in the band on press night was Eva McGrath as Freddy on drums (and boy, could she pound those skins!), Chloe Marler as Katie booming it out on bass, Joseph Sheppard as cool dude Zack on lead guitar and Angus McDougall as Lawrence, the keyboard player who could give Rick Wakeman a run for his money. These young heroes do actually play the instruments – there is no miming.

They were joined in the classroom by Logan Matthews as Billy the band’s dresser, Keira Laver as Summer, the band manager and Angel Lucero as Tomika, the quiet girl who finds an Aretha Franklin voice and becomes the band’s lead singer

Completing the magnificently far from  dirty dozen as head bangers and backing singers were Riotafari Gardner as   James, Ava Masters as Sophie, Alex Shotton  as Mason, Lily Rose Martin as Marcy and Elisha Kerai as Shonelle.

There is also a large adult company multi–role playing and multi-tasking. Stand-out performances for me were Rebecca Locke as head teacher (and secret Stevie Nicks wannabe) Rosalie Mullins, Annell O’Dartey as the super efficient Mrs Hathaway and Mathew Rowland as Dowey’s hand bagged ex-rock chum Ned Schneebly.

In truth Andrew Lloyd Webber isn’t a rock writer but a musical theatre writer who has applied his genius to taking what was a highly successful film with some classic established numbers and completely turned it on it’s head. Yes it rocks, but Lloyd-Webber style.

The book is by the legendary pen of Julian Fellowes with lyrics by Glenn Slater. The Musical Director of the grown-up band is Michael Riley and the overall director of this happy show is Laurence Connor.

School of Rock runs at the Alex until Saturday. Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews