Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Review of Spamalot Nottingham Theatre Royal

                 Make it your quest to go and see Spamalot!

Spamalot, the hit Monty Python comedy musical written by Eric Idle and John Du Prez currently resides at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 27th June. It is a fun, politically incorrect romp heavily influenced by Python's film 'Monty Python and The Holy Grail' graced with extra campness in the theatrical mix.

Directed by Christopher Luscombe with choreography by Jenny Arnold Spamalot tells the tale of King Arthur and his assistant Patsy (played by father and son Joe Pasquale and Joe Tracini) gathering together a group of knights to go on a quest to find the vessel of the Holy Grail. The quest is instigated by the beautiful Lady of the Lake played and sung by Sarah Earnshaw. Earnshaw has the perfect mix of terrific singing voice and comedy and her songs are some of the highlights of the show, in particular the Diva's Lament.

King Arthur's role is 98% comedy based and Pasquale comes into his own with some perfect comic timing and mastery of his comedic talents. Thankfully the role doesn't call for much singing as his, not so strong, singing voice doesn't match up with the high vocal standards of the rest of the cast. Saying that the first night audience at Nottingham Theatre Royal love every second he is on stage.

Joe Tracini wows the audience as the sympathetic Patsy and is clearly a gifted actor, singer and all round performer. He has energy in abundance and is clearly talent to watch out for. The heart glows each time he appears.

Plenty of Pythonesque silliness prevails throughout and fans who haven't seen the show will be delighted to see a vision of Eric Idle as God talking to King Arthur. All the character and situation elements from the film are here on stage, well most of them. We have the knights who say “nee”; the knight who gets chopped to bits by King Arthur but won't give up; the singing and dancing Knights of the Round Table strutting their stuff, the French Knights farting in the King's direction and soothsayer Tim and the deadly rabbit.

As the lyrics go “ If life seems jolly rotten, there's something you've forgotten and that's to laugh and dance and smile and sing...” and looking on that 'bright side of life' is what this show is all about.

Songs include Fisch Schlapping Song, The Song That Goes Like This (terrifically performed by Richard Meek as Sir Galahad and Sarah Earnshaw as Lady of the Lake) Camelot and Find Your Grail both given full belt by the full company. The most looked forward to and famous song is Always Look on the Bright Side of Life sung by Tracini in fine vocal form.

Three other highlights of the show are the Diva's Lament and the very funny scene in Prince Herbert's chamber with a gloriously camp Richard Kent as the 'soon to be wed' Prince Herbert who only wants to sing in falsetto. Jamie Tyler is hilarious as a newly realised gay Sir Lancelot and has the audience weeping with laughter in his song and dance scene featuring the jaunty Cococabana influenced song His Name is Lancelot. Will Hawksworth steals the show in the second half as brave Sir Robin and the two actresses Abigail Climer and Holly Easterbrook bring not only some showbiz female glitz and glamour to the stage but are also excellent in their comedy roles.

Overall a superb night's entertainment (or is that knight's entertainment?) which has the audience in stitches pretty much for the whole show. It even includes magic effects and audience participation and you are not obliged to eat any Spam in the interval but this reviewer did because he loves it. He could eat it day and night. Wonderful Spam! Marvellous Spam! Spam and chips, eggs and spam, I could eat Spam a lot. Maybe this reviewer is showing his age now. Exit stage left and don't trip over the shrubbery!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Review: Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama Showcase 2015

This 48th Anniversary Gala student Showcase from Nottingham based Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama showing twice at Nottingham Playhouse is totally outstanding and utterly professional. Every single aspect of the showcase is polished to a glittering sheen of its singing and dancing life.


This reviewer had the privilege of seeing the third year graduate show at London's Criterion Theatre in May this year and that was mightily impressive. Now this exciting Nottingham showcase features ninety-six students from across all three years including the twenty-six from the graduating class.

The hard work that has clearly gone into presenting this student showcase is breath-taking. There is never a moment's respite in the packed programme and full appreciation must go to the totally dedicated staff at MADD under the principal Frances Clayton and production co-ordinator Edward Nudd. Especial notice should be given to professional choreographers and directors Emma Clayton, Ryan Lee Seager, Stewart Arnold, Mark Webb, Daniel Gordon, Mark Hedges, Stuart Hayes, Kamilah Beckles and Sue Sparham. Additionally, the total theatrical package wouldn't be complete with the superb live band with musical director Callum Clarke and the amazing light ( Leigh Mulpeter) and sound (Rob Ketteridge) from MAC Productions Ltd.

The showcase features sixteen musical numbers including dance in various styles. The first half highlights have to be a re-imagined Bohemian Rhapsody, the opening number Queen of The Night, a very funny Keep It Gay, and Please Don't Touch Me performed by Amanda Blockley and Braidley Wilson. There's some terrific heart stopping dance in The Rich Man's Frug, frightening all male choreography in the menacing Where's Your Head At? and we finish with the vibrant closing piece The Rhythm of Life featuring the entire third year ensemble.

The second half opens up spectacularly with Steel Town Sky followed by third year vocalists Summer Rozenbroek, Rebecca Telling, Sadie Marie-Ebbon and Savanna Darnell singing I Have Nothing to great applause. Comedy highlights in the second half include Man Up and the flirty Doctors' Orders and more sombre pieces such as the touching dance piece Amazing Grace. Throughout the showcase the dancers excel in their often athletic work showing their dedication, fitness and fluidity and hard won choreography that make it all look easy. Such talent takes years of honing and the capacity audience clearly appreciated them.

In writing a review one is conscious of those artistes not mentioned and in this case theatrical numbers equally not mentioned. Certainly every one of the ninety-six performers perfectly demonstrate why their top talents have been chosen to be a student at such a prestigious school as Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama! They should all be very very proud. Next to me in the audience are the parents of a young woman who is starting her course at MADD in September this year. In the interval they tell me that she is sitting at the end of the row and is getting emotional at the thoughts and sights of what lies ahead of her. Her parents seem extremely impressed as were many a set of parents and families in this capacity audience tonight. She can look forward to being coached by industry professionals of the highest calibre.

The showcase ends on a huge high as a costumed cavalcade of singers and dancers begin the final numbers by the full company. The Freak Flag story book character costumes are totally brilliant and there seems to be a never ending flow of students spilling out of every door and lining the auditorium. The whole audience is smiling and clapping along and as the final notes of the following Car Wash number hit the roof the fully deserved applause is deafening.

After the showcase and outside of my opinion and outside the theatre itself are a very happy crowd of audience well wishers including former students who have come along to support the current students. The terms “brilliant”, “extremely professional” and “loved the way it all flowed” echo through the throng. #rogeroverandout.

PS: To read more about my visit to the MADD college earlier this year click this LINK.

Production photo credits Joe Shaw

Review: The Siege. Nottingham Playhouse

No stranger to political drama himself, playwright Howard Brenton has described the Palestine based Freedom Theatre of Jenin's production of The Siege as 'Real political theatre, performed out of the terrible and inspiring experience of a struggle for freedom and justice and living proof that telling stories and entertaining audiences are powerful acts of resistance to oppression.'

The ninety minute drama by this famous Palestinian theatre company is an emotionally gripping non stop tale of Palestinian freedom fighters who, in 2002, sought sanctuary in the Church of The Nativity in Bethlehem. The work is actually enhanced by the very nature that all six male actors are speaking Arabic (with English language surtitles above the action) throughout the play. Only the character of the 'tour guide' speaks English.

The stories of the fighters and the nuns, priests, and civilians with them in the church, plus the opposing Israeli army and their tactics, are brought to life through a variety of ways including archive film footage, monologues and dangerously realistic shooting and bombing effects. Strange high pitched noises are used by the Israeli forces to demoralise those holed up in the church and there is even a moment of dark humour as one of the fighters reacts to the enemy's psychological method of forcibly using his mother's voice to beg him and his comrades to surrender themselves.

Writer Nabil Al-Raee's story abounds with talk of miracles, sacrifice and visions of Jesus in the church. Helicopters circle the church and snipers hide on every rooftop. The thirty nine day siege drags on and we hear that food is getting short in supply. The centre of Bethlehem is paralysed keeping tens of thousands under curfew. All the while we hear of the controversially biased nature of the media coverage. It is a desperate situation as the trapped are starving and the wounded are slowly bleeding to death. Actors Ahmed Rokh, Ahmed Tobasi, Faisal Abu Alheja, Hassan Taha, Milad Qunebe and Rabee Hanani bring the stories terrifically and terrifyingly to life.

From the very outset the audience enter the auditorium to the distant sound of Christian chanting and the impressive visuals of the dark interior of the set designed by Anna Gisle. Given that drama historically had it's origins through a blend of religion, ceremony and entertainment and later on developed strong connections with the Christian church this reviewer has the uncanny feeling that the Nottingham Playhouse audience are almost cast as the captive witnesses in the stage reconstruction of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. As the 'tour guide' says “I'll take you on a tour to get to know this place.” In The Siege you also get a 'tour de force' company of brilliant theatre makers.

Review originally featured as lead review in EG section of Nottingham Post 12th June 2015

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Leicester Writes Festival overview. Promo.

Leicester Writes Festival       

June 26th-28th 2015 Leicester Writes: a festival of new writing is the go-to event for new and emerging writers across the East Midlands. A superb line up of authors and experts will take you through all you need to know about becoming a writer and getting published. Whether you're interested in poetry, writing novels or short stories, screen writing or blogging - you'll find a panel of insiders who really know their stuff. Perfect your elevator pitch over a networking lunch. Learn the art of writing and how to keep going until you've made it. Filled with inspiration and advice, Leicester Writes is the first and only festival dedicated to showcasing regional literary talent and helping you fuel your creativity. Tickets from only £35 per day. View the full programme online . Only restricted tickets will be available after 15th June 2015.  Leicester Writes Link.      

There's also a pre-festival event which is free to attend. Full details below:      

Where do we go from here? Literature development in Leicestershire. A Mass Conversion about Literary Strategy in Leicester.

Thursday 25th June 4.30 to 5.30pm.

Room KELTI, Ken Edwards Building, Centre of New Writing, University of Leicester.

In association with the Centre for New Writing Leicester Writes hosts a Pecha Kucha style event to discuss our collaborative ambitions for literary development in Leicestershire. We invite anyone who is engaged with Leicester's writing scene to hold this conversation. What are our ambitions for literary development in Leicester? What have we got? How can we collaborate most effectively? How can we achieve them? Please fill in our simple Survey Monkey questionnaire in advance of the meeting. No need to book for this event. Survey link: