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.

Recommended.

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

REVIEW – Divine hilarity at Hanbury Village Hall as ‘Nunsense’ offered us plenty of fun with nuns

THE CHOSEN venue seemed surprisingly appropriate for Starbuck Theatre Company’s staging of ‘Nunsense’ – a musical about fund raising Nuns in a village hall.

The action begins from the moment you set foot in Hanbury Village Hall and get ticked off on the register by a box office Nun.

Turn to your left into the make shift auditorium  and there’s another Nun, the  bearded ‘Sister’ Gareth Price-Baghurst, smiling and playing jolly tunes on the keyboard. Indeed, this hard-working Sister not only accompanies the two act mayhem throughout but does not even stop for a break at the interval.

Dan Goggin wrote ‘Nunsense’ back in 1985 and directed it himself in an off- Broadway production in December of the same year. Originally booked for just a short run at the Cherry Lane Theatre, it was so successful that it moved to the larger Douglas Fairbanks Theatre where it ran for 10 years – making it the second longest running off-Broadway show in showbiz history. (In case you were wondering the longest by a theatrical mile is ‘The Fantasticks’)

The story concerns five nuns who, along with 14 others, are the sole survivors of the ‘Little Sisters of Hoboken’ missionary order. Apparently their cook Sister Julia had accidently killed off the other 52 Nuns with a deadly pot of her vichyssoise.

The lucky survivors were off playing bingo and so avoided the temptations of the lethal soup.

As there is not enough money in the kitty to bury the last four of their fallen chums, the incumbents are stored in a deep freeze whilst the ‘Famous Five’ nuns seek to raise burial funds at a concert to which we are all invited.

They comprise Ashley Aston as Sister Mary Regina who was a former circus performer before taking up the habit – she is also the Mother Superior. Her competitive number two nun is Sister Mary Hubert played by Lila Thompsonm Sarah Pavlovs is a streetwise nun, Sister Robert Anne, Louise Ford plays Sister Mary Amnesia who has a stop/start memory due to a crucifix falling on her head and Rosie Greenwood, completing the company as Sister Mary Leo who wants to be the world’s first ballerina Nun.

Together this gang of six held the audience to contented ransom as they provided an enchanting evening of mischievous fun.

Every number and sketch added a different dimension of merriment. but my stand out highlights were Sister Mary Amnesia accompanied by a foul-mouthed glove puppet singing ‘’So You Want To Be Nun’, Sister Mary Regina’s drug-fueled romp ‘Turn Off That Spotlight’ and the big gospel finale from Sister Mary Hubert where the whole habit-wearing ensemble had us all clapping and converted one-night-only Catholics with the awesome ‘Holier Than Thou’

Sarah Pavlovs also directed and choreographed in addition to playing Sister Robert. That’s a spot-on the money theatrical holy trinity from a very talented lady.

Starbuck put on this production as part of their drive to raise money for Endometriosis services in Worcestershire – an under-funded cause.

Hopefully more dates and venues to see Starbuck perform Nunsense will be announced soon and it comes highly recommended from me. Four stars for a show in a village hall – first time I’ve ever done that!

****

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

REVIEW- Derren Brown proves he’s a true showman in thrilling performance at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre

I SAW this show earlier in this huge tour so knew what to expect – however my lips are sealed once again as Derren Brown gave us theatre reviewers strict instructions not to be giving away the content of what we have witnessed.

Fair play Mr. Showman the experience, which is as much a journey as a show, should be enjoyed with fresh eyes and ears every performance – so once again 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 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 once again, begged in their droves to be part of the onstage 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 even seeing it twice I am none the wiser.

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.

Again without giving anything away but whetting the appetites – there are several story lines which tease and tantalize 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 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!

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.

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.

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 is a very special experience.

You can see Derren Brown Showman at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre at 7.30pm until September 10, with an extra showing at 2.30pm on the final day.

Tickets start at £22.90.

Visit https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/derren-brown-showman/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham/ to book tickets.

Four Stars 

Review By Euan Rose 

Euan Rose Reviews

REVIEW – Take a trip back in time to the 50s and 60s with Dreamboats and Petticoats 3 at Malvern Theatres

Picture by Jack Merriman. s

YOU’VE got to hand it to Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield – like gold rush pioneers they struck a rich vein of audience back in 2009 with their first ‘Dreamboats and Petticoats’ – a musical celebration of 1950s and 60s rock and pop.

Now they just repeat the process every few years.

Last night it was ‘Dreamboats and Petticoats 3’ or to give it its full title ‘Dreamboats and Petticoats – Bringing On Back the Good Times’ which was what the majority of the septuagenarians and beyond audience at Malvern were there to do.

The sparse book by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran makes little attempt to tell a story but is merely a series of sound bites and lifted end-of-pier postcard jokes as a means of joining up the songs.  Such as mind numbing links like ‘Bobby and Laura look happy together’ – cue Bobby and Laura sing ‘Happy Together.’

I am trying to resist being churlish – as I said Kenwright and Mansfield know their market and so do not take any chances by asking their audiences to follow any form of plot except for boy gets girl – boy loses girl then boy gets girl back again!

Picture by Jack Merriman. s

So in this show we have a youth club rock group ‘The Conquests’ who get a gig at Butlins in Bognor Regis. Now that brought back some memories for me – at 13 years old, I won a singing competition whilst on holiday there – singing Johnny B Goode.

The house band was Rory Storm and the Hurricanes with a drummer destined to be a Beatle – one Ringo Starr.

I am sure the songbook evoked a veritable profusion of memories for all the patrons and there really are some classics here including Connie Francis’s ‘Lipstick On Your Collar’ and Eddie Cochran’s ‘C’mon Everybody’.

In addition to producing, Kenwright also directs – which he does with the affectionate touch of one who has obviously loved and lived in that halcyon era.

The choreography by Carole Todd is engaging and accurate – from the ‘Shadows’ dance steps of the guitarists to the hands in the air ‘Stop! In The Name of Love’ motions of the ensemble.

Kenwright is served by a 17-strong cast, who are all consummate multi-tasking professionals – they act, sing, dance and make their own music on brass, strings and percussion.

Mark Wynter, who at near 80 is one of a dwindling number of still working pop crooners from the late 50s, puts in a sprightly performance as talent agent Larry and gets to do a medley of his own numbers from half a century ago.

There is a stunning a cappella version of Blue Moon led by David Luke who plays Ray – it’s beautifully sung and the complete tranquillity contrasts perfectly with the real rockers like Hang On Sloopy and Mony Mony.

Picture by Jack Merriman. s

For me the highlight of the show was a Eurovision song contest section where our leads Laura (Elisabeth Carter) and Bobby (BBC Little Mix winner Jacob Fowler) singing as a duo are among three finalists to represent the UK.

Enter ‘The Kellys’  – a wondrous vignette featuring a parody of clean-cut 60s trio ‘The Bachelors.’ They spoof the very worst of Eurovision entries with a dreadful number called ‘Whizbang Gang’.

The title ‘Dreamboats and Petticoats’ comes from a nine CD series from Universal Music so as we are only at number 3. no doubt there will be more shows to come and why not indeed? Malvern gave it a rapturous roar at the walkdown last night – many that could, stood and others waved sticks and banged Zimmer frames approvingly.

In essence, this show features an excellent, well-directed cast and a superb songbook – so yes bring back the good times but with perhaps a less crude and lightweight script.

It didn’t help the cause that I had reviewed ‘Beautiful’ the Carole King musical the night before where the talented Douglas McGrath has written a book that is as sharp as it is crisp – lifting and complimenting the huge songbook.

Even so I’m sure the Dreamboats box office tills will continue to jingle-jangle regardless.

A final special shout out to audio man Chris Whybrow who delivered a pretty authentic 60s sound – Sheridan Lloyd for magnificent MD-ship and nimble fingered keys, plus my top man – Daniel Kofi Wealthyland – for being the most exciting drummer I’ve heard in a long while. He drove each number with a passion in every beat.

The show runs in Malvern until Saturday, September 3.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

***

Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.

REVIEW – Carole King musical at Birmingham Hippodrome truly is a ‘Beautiful’ production

I was bowled over by the premiere of this UK tour when I reviewed the opening night at Malvern back in May and thoroughly enjoyed seeing how it had matured after ‘four months on the road’ at the Hippodrome last night.

In 2013, the original show had mixed reactions on Broadway but this new version from Leicester’s exciting ‘Curve’ producing theatre is, as I predicted, running with much stronger legs and packing auditoria across the UK.

The action starts from the minute you enter the theatre. The rear of the stage is split into a recording studio control room and a drum booth where much is already happening. In front of these actors and musicians tune up, perform riffs and chat.

The stage is devoid of any curtaining front, back and above. Above it banks of lights gaze down like inquisitive eyes.

The lighting state changes and suddenly a grand piano is discovered, caught in an inverted pyramid of light from a spot way up in the Gods.

Everyone and everything else has disappeared like a conjuring trick and we are now in a giant concert hall circa 1971 where Carol King is introduced and we burst into spontaneous applause as she sings the first few bars of ‘So Far Away’.

Whilst we are still clapping the grand piano moves off and is replaced by a small upright in the 1958 home where a 15–year-old Carole is writing and singing encouraged by her mother.

In the blink of an eye we are transported again to Queen’s College in New York City where she meets her husband-to-be Gerry Goffin.

Carole is a mother at 16 and along with her husband, becomes a sort after songwriter by seventeen – and here we are barely a few minutes into the show, so fast does it all move.

Musically from ‘Oh Carol’ to ‘Natural Woman’ the hits just keep coming; after all she wrote and co-wrote over 120 of them, for a innumerable bevy of groups and solo artists until she turned the spotlight on herself.

‘Beautiful’ confines itself story wise to the earlier years of her life, up until a couple of years after her divorce from Goffin and her solo career as a performer heralds the next stage of her life.

Molly-Grace Cutler is simply sensational as Carole King, oozing charisma, credibility and vulnerability.

There are no passengers in this multi-talented cast; they all play a variety of instruments and multi-role as pop groups, solo artists, recording technicians and a myriad of others whilst moving the scenery to boot.

Tom Milner makes for a moody and tortured soul as Gerry Goffin; Jos Slovick piles on the Jewish humour as songwriter Barry Mann; Seren Sanham-Davies is a blonde bundle of talent as Barry’s wife and writing partner Cynthia Weil.

Garry Robson captures the madness of the 1960’s musical revolution as studio bigwig Donnie Kirshner.

Douglas McGrath’s book is sharp and crisp raising it above the common jukebox musical dialogue which is usually just a weak sandwich filling between the songs.

Nikolai Foster has directed with extraordinary passion and originality. Frankie Bradshaw’s stripped back, ever moving set is a triumphant clutter and Ben Cracknell’s lighting design cavernous and dazzling.

Understandably the first night sparkle wasn’t there this time around – nor was the unforgettable relief on the faces of the cast in the walkdown. They now just smile with the joy of another standing ovation.

‘Beautiful’ is beautiful both in name and practice; a joyous show not to be missed.

The show runs at the Hippodrome until Saturday, September 3.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

*****

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews