Tag Archives: children’s theatre

Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

By: Lewis Carol

Adaption by Mike Kenney

Directed by: Rachel O’Riordan

(4 / 5)

 

Sherman’s Christmas shows are becoming one of my family’s staple events of the Christmas season. For the second year in a row, their main stage show has avoided an overly ‘Christmassy’ offering (last year’s production of ‘The Borrowers’ was one of our stand out shows from 2017) but despite this, they’ve still managed to inject a large dose of festive fun and frivolity in to the production.

Director Rachel O’Riordan has brought together an all-Welsh cast and it’s great to see some familiar faces who you may recognise from other stand-out productions from the last few years. Hannah McPake (who plays the Queen of Hearts) comes from the ‘Gagglebabble’ duo with Lucy Rivers, who also features in the show’s musical line up. Having seen both Wonderman and Sinners Club with Lucy and Hannah, you know you are in for an off-the-wall experience if they are involved.

I’d also recognised Elin Phillips as the Cheshire Cat/Caterpillar (who I saw in Tom Jones the Musical by Theatre Na n’Og), Alexandria Riley the March Hare/Tweedledum who was absolutely incredible in Fio’s production of The Mountaintop in Cardiff’s Other Room pub-theatre, Keiron Self (The Duchess) who also featured in last year’s Sherman Production of The Borrowers along with the hyperactively hilarious White Rabbit Joseph Tweedale.

It’s a familiar cast, but as an ensemble and with the innocence of Alice, played by relative newcomer Elian West, they had wonderful energy and chemistry. I was also glad to see Callum Davies’ debut as the Doormouse, having joined the cast through the Sherman Players and as one of the Sherman’s apprentice actors. It’s great to see new talent being supported by Sherman – and Callum was adorable as the mouse!

Firstly, mad props to designer Hayley Grindle and her team, who created a stunning chequerboard set, which was dazzling and disorientating at the same time! The intimacy of the space in Sherman creates such a lovely, cosy atmosphere and the set and props were clever and creative (the baby pig, the trap doors, the table legs, the ticking clocks, the tiny doors at the end of the corridor, the teacups, mushrooms and roses).

Writer Mike Kinney added his own flair to the show, which did not chain itself to the original book or Disney movie visuals, but found its own voice.

A Duchess with a valleys accent, Tweedledee and Tweedledum with broad Newport accents and a flavour of the Welsh language peppered in dialogue exchanges and songs brought a similar kind of relevance and familiarity that Christmas Panto-goers will know and love.

Having been a life-long fan of valleys Pantomime Dame Frank Vickery who sadly passed away this year, it was lovely to see Keiron Self mimicking the same kind of high-camp, neurotic valleys Mam vibe which always hits home with me!

The littlies in the audience also loved the huge presence and scary-as-hell crazy eyes of Hannah McPake as the Queen of Hearts. Francois Pandolfo’s turn as the hen-pecked, simpering and anxious King was simply brilliant. I hadn’t expected the show to include musical numbers and it added another rich layer to this lovely production, with the cast ensemble vocals (particularly in the ‘Alice’ intro song and refrain) so sweet-sounding and warming.

Another standout song which children will love (and you’ll see them mimicking it in the foyer afterwards, no doubt) was a song about Alice’s baby sister (who it turns out has a head of a pig). It’s possible you may also have the ‘Wah wah wah…’ song in your head for the rest of the evening.

I had two ‘mini-critics’ of my own with me, age 9 – and they are typically the harshest of critics and don’t pull any punches. What were their final thoughts?

“Why did Alice not have blonde hair?!” said one of the littlies, who was completely exasperated with this minor detail. I explained this was a theatre show – not a ruddy Disney movie. Things always change on stage.

“Still – everyone knows Alice has blonde hair…also, I thought the Wah Wah Wah song went on for ages.”

Riiiiiiiiiight – so what would your marks out of five be, I asked them both – dreading the answer.

“I’d give it 3.5 stars.” Mini Critic 2 said.

Sheesh! What about Mini Critic 1?

“Definitely a 4.5 – I thought the singing was lovely and they were really funny.”

Jeez, maybe the Queen of Hearts was right about kids! I also couldn’t believe that these two did not share my enthusiasm for the Jam tarts which the Sherman had so thoughtfully provided for their guests on opening night.

“Look kids – JAM TARTS…WOWWWWW!” It doesn’t take a lot to get me excited, I admit.

“Meh…don’t like Jam Tarts.”

I tried threatening them that if the Queen of Hearts heard their comments, she’d have their heads off but….

Kids today! You can lead them to a finely tuned production of Alice, but you can’t make them eat the Jam Tarts or get over the fact that Alice didn’t have blonde hair.

Ultimately though – we all agreed this was a great little show, which got us feeling very excited indeed for Christmas (oh, and I still have the Wah Wah Wah song circling my head!).

Go see it – you won’t regret it!

Review, Awful Auntie, Gemma Treharne-Foose

 

(3 / 5)

Mini fans of Walliams will love this show brought to you by Birmingham Stage Company and there are plenty of the tried and tested ingredients of ‘children’s theatre’ that have become the staple: farts, tricks, screams, talking about pees and poos and generally making adults look a bit silly (of course!). It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but you either have the stomach for David Walliams or you don’t.

Walliams – and Director/adapter Neal Foster borrow from the familiar narratives of Dahl. At the centre of each story is the child protagonist who fights against and overcomes the unfairness of life and its complicated and often cruel characters.

Teachers, headmasters or even your own family members can be funny, but they often despise children and treat them terribly. So it’s all the more glorious when these beastly brutes get their comeuppance…

For those unfamiliar with the story of Awful Aunt, Stella (Lady Saxby) wakes up from a coma to find herself covered in bandages. She’s told she’s been in a coma for three months. When she enquires with her Aunt Alberta about her parents, she tells Stella they were killed in a car accident.

Alberta is desperate to find the deeds to Saxby Hall so she can become the new heiress to the family fortune. But it turns out there is more to the story than a crashed Rolls Royce. With the help of ‘Soot’, the ghost-boy at Saxby hall, Stella uncovers a disturbing truth – and tries desperately to stop Aunt Alberta turning her beloved Saxby Hall in to a tacky Owl Museum.

Awful Auntie brings to life the mischievousness of Walliams’ book and there are some sweet scenes between Stella and Soot. The two eventually discover they have more in common than they initially realise (but no spoilers!).

The epicentre of the whole production and plot line is orchestrated and led by Leonidas. Her unshakable energy, childlike innocence and optimism never falters – and she carries the hopes and wishes of the audience with her as she struggles to escape from the clutches of her dreadful Aunt.

Alberta really is awful, too – so awful that she fought with the Germans in the Second World War because ‘the uniform was better’.

Aunt Alberta’s voice and physicality is expertly depicted by Timothy Speyer. He’s like a cross between The Two Fat Ladies and Cruella De Vil and his plummy tones, tweed ensemble and battle-axe physicality are spot-on.

Gibbon’s confuddled turn as aging Butler (played by Richard James) tickled us pink. To paraphrase Soot (the cockney chimney sweep ghost) – he hasn’t got a Scooby Doo what’s going on, but you’ll chuckle watching him.

Set-wise, there’s a great use of twisting towers to depict different scenes and settings and the towers are eerily brought to life with clever use of lighting by Jason Taylor and Jaqueline Trousdale. What’s striking is the use of puppetry throughout the show – particularly for central character Wagner the Bavarian Owl, puppetted by Roberta Bellekom. The design of Wagner was great, but it’s difficult to replicate on stage the character of Wagner in the book who was by far more dastardly and devious.

The staging and changing of locations was good, notable scenes include the car on the ice at Saxby Hall and ghostly goings on in the kitchen. Soot (played by Ashley Cousins) gives a sweet portrayal of the ghostly chimney sweep, reminding you somewhat of Lee Evans/Norman Wisdom and together, he and Stella complement each other well.

The final scene before the interval finishes very abruptly and falls a little flat, the lights come up before you realise what’s going on. The script could have made more an effort to leave you hanging for the second half.

The actors do a stellar job of portraying the characters – and although my daughter and I liked the production, it won’t pack the same level of punch, sass and cleverness that you might find at a Tim Minchin production of Matilda, for example. For me, the script for the stage production made it harder to engage with and keep you on your toes.

That being said, this is a great little show – and I’d definitely recommend it for a day/night out with the kids.

Review Awful Auntie at Theatr Brycheiniog by Roger Barrington

 

(4 / 5)

 

The Birmingham Stage Company’s brilliant adaptation of David Walliam’s 2014 bestselling book Awful Auntie, captivates  both children and adults.

Following on from their sellout tour of another Walliam’s book. Gangsta Granny, the BSC is embarking on an eighteen-month tour of the UK which featured a run during the summer at The Garrick theatre in London’s West End.

Cast with David Walliams

The show, endorsed by Walliams, is faithful to the book, and is fast-paced and funny, with an ingenious set design.

The story has twelve-year old Stella Saxby awakening in a bed, and being unable to move any part of her body. Casting away the bedding, she reveals that she is covered head to toe in bandages. Her screams arouse her Aunt Alberta, who tells her that she has been in a coma for three months and that she and her parents were involved in a road accident, resulting in the death of both mother and father, thereby leaving Stella an orphan.

Awful auntie 1

However, Stella soon realises her awful auntie has a nefarious plan to wrestle the stately home Saxby Hall, that now belongs to Stella, into her hands, but doesn’t know where the deeds are hidden.

Auntie has a Great Bavarian Owl named Wagner, (Get it?), who acts as her henchman – or should that be henchowl? Stella encounters a ghost called Soot, a  sweep who succumbed to his burns when someone lit a fire when he was up the chimney. There is a crazed ancient butler named Gibbon and an Inspector Strauss who is called to investigate Stella’s suspicions about her auntie.

AWFUL AUNTIE CREDITS

Story adapted and directed by Neal Foster

Set and Costume Designer: Jacqueline Trousdale

Lighting Designer: Jason Taylor

Composer: Jak Poore

Stella Saxby – Georgina Leonidas

Aunt Alberta – Timothy Speyer

Gibbon – Richard James

Wagner – Roberta Bellekom (puppeteer)

Soot – Ashley Cousins

Detective Strauss – Peter Mistyyoph

The star attraction of this show is the set design.  Four revolving doors and staircases create an impression of travel through the mansion, and a reference should be made to the stagehands, who work hard to render seamless scene changing within the fast-paced story.

Composer Jak Poore’s jaunty musical rhythm is exactly right to complement the actions unfolding on stage.

The cast possess rich cvs of their previous stage and film work, and it is easy to see this by their acting expertise on Stage.

Georgina Leonidas, you may recognise from her film portrayal of Harry Potter’s fellow Gryffindor Quidditch player, Katie Bell, in both parts of the Deathly Hallows stories. She plays a believable twelve-year old, innocent initially but becoming more savvy as the story develops.

Stella and Auntie

Awful Auntie Alberta is played in grand pantomime dame fashion by Timothy Speyer who maintains staying in character without going over the top, with commendable skill and constraint.

Richard James’s Gibbon has some of the funniest scenes and on occasion reminded me of Groucho Marx in his movements.

Ashley Cousins plays Soot in a Cockney accent that is consistent throughout, together with a youthful vitality  to enable him to portray Stella’s aide, confidant and friend in a credible way.

Roberta Bellekom’s consummate puppetry skills enable Wagner to be at times a villain and at others a cute pet.

Peter Mistyyoph plays Inspector Strauss in a mysterious way. See this show and you will know what I mean.

Anxious Stella

All is put together by Neal Foster’s faithful adaptation and brilliant direction. David Walliams commends Foster for having a similar sense of humour, which results in his capturing the essence of the author’s work. He had previously directed the Gangsta Granny adaptation to universal acclaim.

This is a visual treat for children. A school formed a large percentage of the audience for the performance that I viewed, and there was not a restless child among them. They left excited and contended with what they had just watched.

At times, the humour is a little risque and there are a couple of scenes that young children of a nervous disposition might feel uncomfortable with.

A scene where auntie is trying to break down a door with an axe to get at Stella, is accompanied by “Here comes Auntie”, reminding us of the famous passage in Stanley Kubric’s The Shining.

Awful Auntie is a first-rate children’s show with an engaging story-line, excellently performed and a visual delight on stage.

Brecon is my hometown but I had moved away, many years before Theatr Brycheiniog emerged in 1997. This was the first full-scale production that I had ever seen there and  If this is the  calibre of work that they present , then I am looking forward to many happy returns in the future.

http://www.brycheiniog.co.uk/

The show concludes its Brecon run on the 10th of December and  resumes it’s nationwide tour in the New Year. Venues and dates can be found here:-

http://birminghamstage.com/shows/awful-auntie/tour-info

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roger Barrington