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“Stories that need to be told.” An interview with Dramatist Peter Cox.

In this latest in the series of Playwright interviews Peter Cox gives an overview of his career to date, his time working for National Institutions, access to the arts for all and his hopes for the future. Interview by Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell.

Hi Peter great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I began my writing career at the Royal Court Theatre in London where I won the George Devine Award for most promising new playwright in 1983. My stage plays have since been commissioned and performed by companies throughout Britain – including 7:84 Theatre Company, the Royal National Theatre, Belfast Opera House, the Wales Millennium Centre and National Theatre Wales.

I’ve written and developed film and television drama for the BBC and various independent companies. My radio drama has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 & 4 but I’m maybe best known as the writer of 227 episodes of the acclaimed Channel 4 drama serial, Brookside, between 1986 and 2003. During this time, I was a lead member of the writing team that created multiple-strand stories for more than 2,400 episodes.

Throughout my career writing drama for theatre and television I’ve been privileged to work alongside, and with, masters of these forms including Samuel Beckett, Edward Bond, Billie Whitelaw, Michael Bogdanov, Danny Boyle, and Sir Phil Redmond CBE. The experience of learning alongside people who are working at the top of their profession is unbeatable and led me, in turn, to a commitment to mentoring theatre makers and writers.

Peter (left) working as Assistant Director with Edward Bond on the play The Worlds, performed by the Royal Court Young Peoples Theatre (AKA The Activists) in the Theatre Upstatirs.

Alongside my writing work I’ve been very active in the Creative Industries sector in Wales including creative leadership and advocacy in community arts, cultural policy making, economic and cultural regeneration, broadcast radio and television drama production, professional theatre, youth theatre, live music promotion, carnival, and cultural tourism.

I’m a founder trustee and ex-Chair of CARAD (Community Arts Rhayader and District), a Registered Charity that has developed a regionally significant Rural Community Arts and Heritage resource that’s brought more than £5 million of inward investment into Mid-Wales. During my leadership term CARAD facilitated the active engagement of more than 118,000 members of the community and helped to inspire and deliver over 650,000 hours of community participation and engagement in arts, heritage, and media projects.

In the 2010 New Year’s Honours list I was awarded an MBE for services to community arts – in essence, an acknowledgement of the amazing vision and hard work of many local people. In 2018, along with an ex-Brookside writer colleague, Judith Clucas, I co-founded a new media production company, Portsea Media Ltd.

So, what got you interested in the arts?

My earliest theatre-going experiences fuelled my desire to pursue a career in the performing arts. My first, on a teenage school-trip, was watching Peter Brook’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, with its rock-circus staging and Bottom being given a clown nose rather than an ass’s head. A few years later, as a drama student, I was awestruck watching the fabulous giant puppetry of Swiss theatre troupe Mummenschanz. Soon after I was deeply moved and inspired by Lindsay’s Kemp’s extraordinary, ‘Butoh’ influenced, movement-theatre production of ‘Flowers’ at Sadler’s Wells. There are visual stage images from all three productions seared into my memory to this day.

In each of these shows, the non-traditional theatre techniques and visual language used were incredibly powerful and profoundly enhanced the storytelling. Primarily though, I was conscious of the way my emotions, imagination and creativity were provoked by these vividly effective, stylised, and subversive theatrical approaches. I was hooked.

Why do you write?

I write to try and harness the vast numbers of ideas that just keep bursting out of my sub-conscious mind. I write to try to capture and express moments of extreme crisis, of powerful emotions, from rage and hate to love and grief. I write to make an actor’s blood run faster and to make audiences laugh and cry.

As both a playwright and screenwriter, I’ve researched in, and written about, many socially and politically challenging environments, including: the Bogside in Derry in 1982/3 just after the Hunger Strikes, across British coalfields during the 1984/5 Miners Strike, in Southern Sudan – a war and famine zone, during the Troubles in the Falls Road Belfast 1988/89, and so on. At the heart of all this work there are real people facing very real, and serious, crisis points in their personal and community lives.

Those are stories that need to be told.

Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?

I watch the world – politics, journalism, human behaviour and frailty, social trends etc… and generate ideas on a daily, if not hourly, basis. I never block any of my own ideas – I note them down, then they either get used or not. Sometimes they might resurface years later in an entirely new context.

I use a diverse range of process techniques, like T Cards and colour coding for structure, but my approach to storytelling is always the same, whatever the form… find a compelling character, or group of characters, and put them into a story that pushes them up against and beyond their own boundaries. The challenges they face, both mirror and echo the challenges that audiences face every day.

Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum word count?

Getting into my ‘writing zone’ is crucial. Blanking out all the extraneous noise from life and the world around me. Once there I honestly can’t say how the magic happens – when the words flow it’s an alchemical process. Researching and note-gathering are replaced by something akin to ‘channelling’ as characters, action, dialogue and images form in a kaleidoscopic visualisation.

I never judge or edit as I go – that comes later. I’m completely committed to revising and re-writing and I’m not afraid to write twenty or thirty drafts or more. I’m a strong advocate of the strength and power in a good relationship between writers, directors, and dramaturgs. I work on the understanding that writing is a form of improvisation on the page. I never ask, ‘Do you like what I’ve written?’ Always just, ‘How can it be better?’

Do you have a specific place that you work from?

When I worked as Writer in Residence with No Fit State Circus – on three site specific shows -my ‘standing-desk’ was a wheelie bin, out in the open air, with my writing files and laptop perched on top of it. I wouldn’t swap that experience for the world, but when it comes to writing every day, often for very long hours, I prefer my desk in my office space at home.

You began your writing career at the Royal Court Theatre and won the George Devine Award for most promising new playwright. We recently interviewed playwright Diana Nneka Atuona about her play Trouble in Butetown. Her script was recipient of the 2019 George Devine Award for her play then titled, ‘The Boy from Tiger Bay’. What role do awards and prizes play in a writer’s career and what difference, if any did it make to yours?

Huge congratulations to Diana. Winning the George Devine Award opened many professional doors for me, and I still place it high on my CV. Just as important though – was that it gave me a huge confidence boost and a validation of my writer’s voice.

I think it’s important that all ‘competitions’ should take the process very seriously. They need to be run with integrity and with good, sensitive communications. Giving thoughtful, considered, and professional feedback should be at the heart of the process – that way, everyone who enters is a winner.

I was fascinated with some Tweets you shared recently on a commission from The Royal National Theatre touring Welsh Miner’s Welfare Halls, where you also worked with 7:84 Theatre Company. How do you come to be involved in this project?

Just after winning the George Devine Award, I was commissioned by Peter Gill, Associate Director at the Royal National Theatre, to go into the Kent Coalfield to live with a militant striking miner – and then to create a verbatim play taken from interviews with miners for the duration of the strike. I travelled to every coalfield across the rest of the country, interviewing and researching on picket lines, mass demos, in soup kitchens etc.



After the first version of the play was done at the National, (The Garden of England, directed by Peter Gill), I was asked to write a touring show with songs – inspired by that verbatim research – for 7:84 Theatre Company (England). We played some amazing huge venues to thousands of striking miners and their families – with the buses that brought the audiences being sponsored by other trade unions and using volunteer drivers. (Opening night in front of 2,500 in Sheffield City Hall, second night another massive audience in Newcastle City Hall, then Manchester Town Hall.) Our Wales venue was the Parc and Dare and it was an extraordinary night, as was the rest of the tour!

Peter outside of the Parc and Dare 1985.During the tour of Garden of England.

Then, in a strange turn of events, once the strike was over, Peter Gill commissioned me to go back to Kent to conduct another whole sequence of interviews in the defeated mining community. Once again I created a powerful piece of verbatim theatre, but one which was very different in tone to the first two. The two verbatim pieces played in the Cottesloe Theatre at the National Theatre.

My connection with 7:84 was a big influence on me. I was very lucky to get picked up as a young playwright by such a theatre visionary as the late John McGrath who founded the company. John was extremely encouraging to me and gave me various opportunities. He enabled me to go on the road with the company in both England and Scotland, as a form of apprenticeship. He commissioned me and I wrote several plays for 7:84. He put me on the 7:84 management committee. I owe him a lot. He had a fierce intellect and was extremely shrewd and analytical – always pushing societal boundaries and hierarchical cultural constructs. Working so closely with him inspired me to do the same – something I try to do with every new project I undertake.

What role do you think National Theatres and Playwrights have in telling the narratives of the citizens of their respective nations?

I’m a solid believer in the importance of National Theatres, and I was one of the first playwrights to join the National Theatre Wales Community Writers Group when it was created online.

To be a good playwright you must care in equal measure about your characters’ and your audience’s lives. You need to be adaptable and flexible to create a wide range of characters and stories. You need serious commitment, stamina and staying power. You need to be ready to shed tears as you dig into the depths of your own life experience to bring those emotions to life in your characters. You need to love drama, and the power it has, to affect people’s lives. All these things apply to being a good National Theatre as well.

Peter wrote The Stick Maker Tales for National Theatre Wales in 2018

A large part of your career was spent writing episodes of the Channel 4 drama serial, Brookside, between 1986 and 2003. During that time, you were a member of the writers’ team that created multiple-strand stories for more than 2,400 episodes. You have said about your work on Brookside that “As you might guess I love story and the power of story metaphor in people’s lives.” We often see the term, “Writing Team” on long running serial dramas, can you share how this process works for the writers involved?

A Writers Room, or being on a Writing Team, is most commonly associated with American TV Drama Series & Serials. Breaking Bad for example, has a formidable reputation for the strength of its Writers Room – one of the reasons it has been so globally successful. Brookside story-lined with the Writers Room model – right from the day it started in 1982.

During my time on Brookside there would be twelve to fourteen writers on the team at any one time. We’d meet with the producers every six months to determine long-term story potential for all core characters. Then we’d meet for two days every month, in storyline sessions led by the Producer and / or the Exec Producer, where we’d intensively thrash out a block of twelve episode outlines at a time. We’d then go on to be commissioned individually to write single episode scripts – or possibly two or three for more experienced writers. While in the Writers Room we’d fight for stories, find twists and turns, generate the drama, seek out the humour and push the political and social boundaries as far as we could. We’d argue fiercely about politics, sex, religion etc… to the extent that, on one occasion, Security was called to attend as someone had reported a fight was taking place!

Writers Rooms don’t suit all writers, and they can be quite attritional places. Often there’s a high fall-out rate, and on shows like Friends they’ve been identified as being brutal and unforgiving. All of that said, when they work well, and when they suit you, it can be a fantastic system to work within. I had the great fortune to write for Brookside for eighteen years and my time in the Writer’s Room was like a monthly injection of the best drug going – intensely focused and collaborative creativity. I developed huge respect for my colleagues and for their commitment to driving our series to be the best that it could be. The fact that people still stop me, and talk about stories from over twenty years ago, is a great tribute to the effort we made at the time to tell the best stories we could that viewers would identify with.

Peter with the cast and creatives from Brookside

In news just announced this week I’m very pleased to see that all episodes of Brookside have been digitally remastered and are due to be shown on STV – a free to air streaming service. I’ve no doubt that many of the stories that we told across the 80s and 90s will still resonate in the viewer’s lives.

Are there any particular storylines that you are most proud of during your time on Brookside?

Tough question. I was part of the Writers Room Team that generated storylines that ran through more than 2,400 episodes. I wrote 227 episodes which is a huge amount of broadcast television drama. To give you some idea of scale… just writing my episodes alone would be around three million words. By the time the team has story-lined and scripted over 2,400 episodes you are well into the tens of millions of words!

Brookside was conceived to bring real issues and real lives to the British television screen, through an ongoing drama serial. It was brave and ground-breaking. We prided ourselves on being ahead of social, political and legal issues and trends. Our audience looked to us to be challenging the boundaries of British politics through the eyes of ordinary people. We gave a voice to the genuine concerns, fears, and aspirations of our viewers – people with little or no power over their lives and their futures. Brookside was recognised from its first episode as ‘gritty social realism’, but we weren’t afraid to make people laugh along the way.

It was very important to us that we moved with the times. In the 1980s there had been a major national focus on Trade Union politics, and this was reflected in the programme. As we moved into the 1990s other social issues began to dominate, including LGBT+ issues, drug misuse, rise of feminist politics etc. Brookside further explored all these issues and many more.

So, having created hundreds of Brookside stories, it’s very hard to pick out a favourite – although the three-year-long ‘Body Under the Patio / Jordache’ story of domestic violence and child abuse is high on my list.

The Jordache Family

Maybe an easier way to frame it is to recognise that I have four favourite Brookside characters who were iconic soap characters played by outstanding actors who were great to write for: Sheila Grant, Jimmy Corkhill, Sinbad the Window Cleaner, and Mick Johnson. (Sue Johnstone, Dean Sullivan, Michael Starke, and Louis Emerick).

Each of them was a working-class character who grew in strength and influence over many years from essentially the same starting point – as one of life’s underdogs – people with no power or agency in wider society. Each of them showed great resilience, courage, and human spirit to overcome all the adversities they faced, and a political system heavily weighted against them.

Throughout your career you have often worked with the general public and young people in particular devising work together, how does this process differ from being commissioned to write a script by yourself? Can you make any suggestions for good practice in terms of this method of creativity and writing?

I’ve had extensive experience creating drama with communities including large-scale community plays in Wales and London, youth theatre in Belfast, youth and community film for the Rural Media Company and the BBC Wales Millennium Film, ‘A Light on The Hill’, commissioned and directed by Michael Bogdanov.

In all instances I aim to balance the process and the product equally. I always set the bar as high as possible, and ensure the whole project is delivered to the highest professional standards. This has an immense impact on the participant’s self-esteem and sense of achievement and can have a profound effect on people’s lives, including those in the audience. Best practice includes providing good access that removes barriers of all kinds, good listening and learning skills, honesty, respect, and integrity. With those basic principles in place everything else is about creating supportive systems and logistics that give people the best chance to grow in confidence and deliver at a level that they never thought they would be able to achieve.

Peter (centre) working in 1989 with with a group of young women from the Falls Road in West Belfast on his play Ma Hat Ma Coat and The Ghandi Girls

There are a range of organisations supporting Wales based writers. I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel healthyto you? Is it possible to sustain a career as a writer in Wales and if not, what would help?

It’s difficult to envisage a time when it will be genuinely ‘healthy’ as demand far outstrips supply. For example, the National Theatre Wales Community has four hundred and eighty-two members in its Writers Group. Let’s say half of them are active and wanting to write plays and get them performed. That’s over two hundred writers, while the number of commissions via companies like Theatr Clwyd, NTW, Sherman etc, will come nowhere near that in any one year.

This makes sustaining a career through theatre writing extremely difficult, except perhaps for a handful of playwrights. I’ve always thought of myself as a dramatist, not just a theatre playwright. This means in practice that I’ve gone out of my way across my career to find opportunities to deploy my core skills in a wide range of performance settings – radio, TV, film, circus etc. I would estimate that probably over 90% of my career earnings have come from working outside Wales.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why?

My ‘wish list’ would include: a Rural Region of Culture, youth theatre, touring theatre, new writing by writers of all ages, opportunities for women playwrights, mentoring… it could go on to be a very long list!

What currently inspires you about the arts in the Wales?

I’m hugely inspired by the number of young people coming through high-quality training and their determination to find all kinds of opportunities to tell diverse stories through drama. Their belief in what they do, and their love of it clearly transcends all else. But it’s very clear that, although financial remuneration doesn’t drive theatre makers on – poor financial rewards work against theatre makers from poorer backgrounds, so we risk those voices not being heard.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

Just before COVID, I worked with Sue Parrish, Artistic Director of Sphinx Theatre Company, a long-standing collaborator. The project we created was Words as Weapons – in partnership with Tom Kuhn of the Writing Brecht Project at Oxford University, Rowan Padmore from Arts at the Old Fire Station with CRISIS, the homeless charity, in Oxford and a group of participants with lived, often current, experience of homelessness.

As part of my preparation to run a sequence of writing workshops I read nearly one thousand Brecht poems, newly translated into English by David Constantine and Professor Tom Kuhn. It was a great privilege to be given access to this work, pre-publication, and what a journey of discovery it proved to be – page after page of surprising subjects and diverse styles. I’ve always believed Brecht had a voice that speaks to our lives today, but the more poems I read the stronger this conviction became.

Our writing group would meet every Monday afternoon and I’d use some of these Brecht poems as triggers for creating new work – in whatever form each group-member wished to try; poem, lyric / song, monologue, scene etc. When we read the Brecht poems aloud and discussed them, we found that their contemporary resonance and relevance was often quite extraordinary. He wrote some of these poems one hundred years ago, but he could easily have been writing directly about today.

Brecht’s words, his weapons, proved to be a fantastic catalyst for generating some exceptional new writing. Our workshop approach encouraged and nurtured each writer’s own voice. As each member of the group grew in confidence, they found themselves liberated and they pursued their own new writing with real energy and purpose. Each of their voices became clearer and stronger. I’ve no doubt Brecht would have genuinely celebrated this spate of creativity and commentary. As they created each new piece their hunger to express themselves matured, their words demanded to be shared and their voices demanded to be heard.

When we all stepped out onstage, in our live Words as Weapons performances, the packed houses listened intently and were moved and entertained as well as intellectually stimulated and politically provoked. But at the same time, these audiences were struggling to get their bearings.

This was two worlds colliding: 1920s Berlin v Oxford 2018.

They understood that they were listening to new writing – but they also knew we were sharing some Brecht poems – and at times they found it impossible to work out who had written what and when! That was a great project on so many levels.

Thanks for your time Peter

Review Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Having been a fan of musical theatre for many, many years you can imagine the outrage when I announced at a family gathering that I had never seen quite possibly in the world’s most successful musical Les Mis. My Aunty who showed particular astonishment decided that she would host a French evening (complete with French food) in her home so she could be in close proximity when I experienced this musical great for the first time. We had gathered our snacks, donned our French outfits and were settled ready to switch on the TV only to discover that someone had borrowed the DVD a few years ago and had yet to return it. This meant that we had to scramble around the house looking for another musical movie based in France which is when we stumbled upon the absolute chaos that is Moulin Rouge. Since this unplanned viewing, I very quickly fell in love with “spectacular spectacular” that is movie musical Moulin Rouge and it was only after researching the show for a review of the west-end, musical adaptation production that I discovered it is apart of the Red Curtain Trilogy directed by the iconic Baz Lurhmann. In this collection are Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet and the lesser-known but most important for this musical review Strictly Ballroom.


I think it is incredibly important that different musicals can be opportunities to tour through the UK as you quickly get used to the same shows being on a multi-year rotation. Prior to becoming a musical reviewer, one of my favourite things to do would be book a ticket to a random show that I have never heard of before. I don’t know if it’s the excitement of understanding characters, plot and themes as they happen live but this mystery was always extremely exciting to me. Due to the same shows touring year after a year, you unfairly begin comparing casts and so it is incredibly refreshing to see a show such as “Strictly Ballroom” which I had very little knowledge of before going into the theatre. In fact, I remember a conversation with a close friend a few years where this musical came up and I questioned how they made a musical based on the BBC show Strictly Come Dancing which was met with scoffs from those listening. For those like myself who have not heard of this musical before, Strictly Ballroom (with no connection to the hot TV show) is about Scott Hastings, played wonderfully in this production by Edwin Ray) who is a professional dancer at the top of his game who begins to questions the rigid rules and restrictions of ballroom dancing. This revolutionary spirit leads to him forming a dance partnership with amateur dancer Fran as the pair prepare for the biggest dance computing in the ballroom community!


A highlight performance for me throughout this musical would have to be Eastenders star Maisie Smith who comes fresh from her stint in the aforementioned Strictly Come Dancing. Maisie plays the ugly-duckling style character Fran who is essentially plucked from obscurity to dance with Scott ahead of his championship quest. Maisie managed to beautifully portray every aspect of the character from the awkward and amateur dancer origins to the confident and bold change-maker. Seeing this character go through this journey of confidence almost overshadows the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) the duo do not end up being awarded the first place trophy by this development is worth more than any ward possibly could be! Her comedic timing was absolutely perfect throughout leaving the audience howling with laughter, especially during the earlier stages of the show!

My favourite number in the entire show however would have to be “Paso Doble” where Scott tries (but fails miserably to impress Frans’s father with a ‘traditional Spanish dance.’ It is only once her father played by Jose Agudo begins to show the dancer how this dance should be really done that the music begins to beautifully build up into a wonderful ensemble, dance-heavy spectacle. Before everyone can join in Jose showcases his dance still with an incredible stamp-based choreography where he doesn’t miss a single beat and controls every inch of the stage!

Jose Agudo

Overall, Strictly Ballroom celebrates a very traditional art form in both a homage but also a message of contemporary revolution. The narratives with the story are all timeless stories that are done very cleanly and simply so that every person in the audience can understand and appreciate how each character functions within the story. I do have to admit that I think the scale of the show needs to be exaggerated so that the sense of rebellion can be extremely clear and obvious and for that reason, I would rate this show 3.5 stars out of 5!

Review Cirque du Soleil, Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities, Royal Albert Hall by James Ellis 

Photo Credit: Andy Paradise 

**** (4 / 5 stars)

Perhaps the name to be most associated with the art of circus, Cirque du Soleil needs little introduction. With their meteoric rise in world-wide tours they have become an industry of their own making. Truly something to aspire to.

First seen back in 2014, Kurious – Cabinet of Curiosities is a steam-punk, fever dream showing of many eye-bulging acts. There are way too many names to mention (from 22 different countries) but I was staggered by the energy, the athleticism and the bravado that all offered. I honestly wouldn’t have minded a bit more of a narrative approach, something to be hooked by between screens changes and the like. Through this approachable universality of the whole thing is a crowd pleasing decision often through broad humour, metallic spectacle and outrageous feats. This is also the most props they have ever used for any of their shows: 426 in total. 

Photo Credit: Andy Paradise 

Michel Laprise as writer and director has tapped into a goldmine of ideas here, the unrelenting flux of circus testament to the evening. Some personal favourite acts were Chih-Min Tuan, his intimate and dazzling Yo-Yo skills, something I never expected to see on a show of this scale. The hand puppet work of Theatre of Hands was just wonderful and clever, one of many delights. From Ukraine, Andrii Bondarenko left people flabbergasted with his Upside Down World something which just needs to be seen to be believed. Contortionists astride a giant mechanical hand, shock with their nimbleness and fluidity. Aerial and net play also were delightful with nods to The Creature from the Black Lagoon and other winks. Off note was the singer Sophie Guay, with a gramophone horn in her hair who added an extra depth to the acts and kept up a fine rollicking swing. The band were also a sensation, the celli being visible from the clockwork backstage.

   

The amazing set and costumes are of the finest quality as well, evoking the surreal, French Canadian vibe of the whole show. Mr Microcosmos played by Mathieu Hubener took on 20 pounds of metal costumes, a protruding belly where Mademoiselle Lili lived. Tackled by Rima Hadchiti, an evocation of circus of the past is here as her inclusion as a dwarf is a well handled and welcoming force and she often left us smiling. The Tomanobv Brothers appeared at first to be conjoined twins but this was a lie, something which leaves a bit of a bad taste today. Though their aerial straps act had us reeling. 

Framing the whole event was Cherecher played by Antonio Moreno, a mad scientist of sorts, lost between dreams and the real world, often floating around in the air. Facundo Giminez had his Invisible Circus (an idea which could have gone either way were it not for the squibs and strings) and a odd scene when he dragged a poor lady on stage and began to throw up a mock hairball as a cat he took the persona of. 

I’d recommend for the spectacle, though those seeking more meaty stories might need to look else where.  

Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities runs at the Royal Albert hall till 5 March 2023.

Review Hamlet, Lazarus Theatre Company, Southwark Playhouse, Elephant by James Ellis

Photo credit: Charles Flint
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

It has been with great delight that I’ve seen most of the recent canon of Lazarus Theatre in London. I’ve revelled in their bold take on the classics, a particular solid Doctor Faustus last year proving this.

Sadly, with the new year came a Hamlet which didn’t work on a lot of levels. Starting off with what looked like an AA meeting, declared as a safe space for the characters to speak their minds. It would have been a quirky idea to have had the Bard stripped back to just this scope, though the chairs are pushed away and a lot of tricks ensue. Michael Hawkey as the lead finds his first professional turn here and though it might not be the most remarkable take, there is youth, charm and some menace. There appears on surface level to be no Gertrude nor Claudius present which might be one of the major reasons why this cock-sure showing may not work as well as it should.

Photo credit: Charles Flint

The play maintains a flow as it went on. My major concern was the watery take on the verse and therefore the story. For it appears you may cut Hamlet down to a mere 90 minutes, but you’ve got to own this time and not always worry about fireworks. Director Ricky Dukes should be commended for his Russian Roulette risk taking here, though I did find myself bothered by multiple scenes. Hamlet still gets his Jeffrey Dahmer with Yorick, who’s head is plucked out of a fridge. Video work would show Ophelia’s real-time unending and a Mortal Combat style duel at the final were highlights. Hamlet’s death remained one of the show most disappointing aspects with alas, no ‘flights of angels singing thee to thy rest’.

The hustle of the cast would see some fine performances. Lexine Lee as Ophelia twas more retrospection then mania with with the role. Alex Zur is given little time to shine as Horatio, the rest of the players covering multiple roles and menacing proclamations as the father ghost.

Put simply I would have preferred to watch Mystery Science Theatre do their ribbing on an awful dubbed take on Hamlet on German TV back in the 60s. I’m still faithful for the rebirth of Lazarus once more.

Hamlet continues at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant till 4 Feb 2023.

Review Bugsy Malone, The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Prior to actually taking my seat in the Donald Gordon theatre in Wales Millennium Centre, I was talking to a friend about how I was attending the press evening for Bugsy Malone. This comment was met with an extremely perplexed and confused face and then followed by the remark “I didn’t know you were a fan of grime music?” This miscommunication occurred because I was not aware but there is an extremely popular rapper who goes by the moniker Bugzy Malone. Even in teaching, I often forget that people oftentimes do not have the same experiences growing up and often the list of movies, books, plays etc that were a key part of my upbringing are different from person to person. For those who were not aware Bugsy Malone (with an “s”, not a “z”) is a stage musical/film that tells the story of two rival gangs in New York with one rather unique twist. The lead characters are played by a collection of child actors who run around shooting each other with pies creating an almost comedy spoof of classic gangster movies.

There is no doubt that at some point or another in your life you have heard the famous warning you should “never work with children or animals.” We have all seen some variation of a video when a young child takes to the mic and let out the wildest comments that leaves you wondering where that comes from. In the world of theatre this due to the unpredictable nature of these two groups and their likelihood to forget lines, mess up choreography or miss cues. However, if this cast of incredibly talented performers is anything to go by then this saying needs to be retired ASAP! Every one of the principal cast members showcased the most incredible professionalism, confidence, talent and stage presence that the majority of people (myself included) can only dream of!

The entire show was anchored by the wonderfully talented Gabriel Payne who plus the titular role and cheeky wannabe gangster Bugsy Malone himself. Taking on the lead role of a musical is intimidating for a seasoned performer but Gabriel did not seem fazed in the slightest, in fact, every single moment this young performer graced the stage (which was an overwhelming amount for a such a young performer) he was flawlessly in character, mentally present and used every inch of the stage that had the audience in constant hysterics. One of my favourite numbers in the entire musical would have to be “down and out” which was led by Bugsy and empowered the remaining characters to join in and fight against the bad guys in the story. Gabriel used this number to show off that he is not only a talented actor but also possesses incredible vocal talents. This performance was so fantastic that the empowering message transcended the narrative itself and had the audience wanted to get up and join the revolution themselves.

Towards the beginning sections of the musical we are introduced to the eccentric mob boss and owner of the liveliest club to ever exist, Fat Sam played by the brilliant Albie Snelson! At the beginning of the show, we meet this character as an over-the-top personality that has a sense of Donald Trump about him but as the story progress, and his close friends are taken out, he becomes more and more desperate and frenzied which was captured beautifully by Albie. One of my highlights in the entire show would have to be a moment at his lowest where Sam is forced to carry out his own scene changes which has Albie acknowledging the lack of stage crew and having to run around at take all the set of chair. After becoming overcome with emotions after his invention leads to the loss of one of his closest friends, the lights do not go down leading Fat Sam on stage audibly asking for a scene change. The young performer performed a series of hilarious fourth wall breaks as he ran around the stage wheeling off props and staging which had the audience rolling with laughter throughout!


Both Bugsy and Fat Sam are involved in the brilliant car chase that brings a conclusive end to act one. The creative team working on this production cleverly used a series of strobe lights to portray the high-speed and extremely intense car chase (despite only having one car on stage) which was amazing to watch!

I also thoroughly enjoyed the recognisable song “So You Wanna Be a Boxer?” which was an extremely high-energy, dance-heavy, ensemble spectacle that was cleverly choreographed to include iconic boxing-based movements such as skipping, using a punching bag and even stepping into the ring. The number built up to the large-scale performance logically that had the audiences eyes racing across the stage as so much was going on! Talking about theatric experiences , I also loved the song “Bad Guys” that saw Fat Sam’s henchmen deliver a wonderfully over-the-top, classic Broadway-style song all about why they turned to a life of crime. Everyone of the performers leaned heavily into the exaggerated-ness of the number with fantastic facial expressions, massive movements and involving the audience. The last thing I would have expected from this hamster spoof movie would what could only be described as a rave/club mega-mix with the younger performers living their best lives and showcasing their dance skills with a range of unique tricks!

Overall, Bugsy Malone, The musical is a cleverly written gangster spoof that removes the violence we have come to expect from this genre. Breaking up each ‘death’ having a comedic scene to help soften the idea of a character being shot. As expected, the younger cast members really shine with each showcasing tremendous amounts of talent, professionalism and unlimited potential!

“This is a time where people are very open to forgotten histories” An interview with Diana Nneka Atuona.

Hi Diana, great to meet you, what first got you interested in the arts?

As child, I was always into creative writing and storytelling. I wanted to be a song writer (still kind of do) and I would also write short stories. I wrote my first play when I was around 11 or 12 for my church and just loved the idea of entertaining audiences.

Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?

Ideas come in a variety of ways for me. Either I go looking (which rarely yields results) or I just get flashes of inspiration. It has to be said though, that it is pretty rare for me to find an idea that I fall in love long enough to want to work on but when I do, there is no greater feeling. I often start with finding the world first then, figuring out a premise before populating the world with characters. In terms of process, I now understand the importance of planning and structuring where I can so I try to complete that first before I start scripting.

 Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum word count?

I definitely don’t have word count. On a good day, I’d have been doing some writing in my head the night before so I really try and put that down until there is nothing left in my head or until I have to get on with life duties. I do try and write from the beginning of the story until the end but if there is a scene I am struggling with, I’ll just skip it and focus on one that’s strongest in my mind.

 Your latest play Trouble in Butetown plays at The Donmar Warehouse, London from the 10 February. The production takes place in an area of Cardiff Docks, called Butetown or Tiger Bay during World War Two. The production information describes the area as “home to souls from every corner of the globe” What drew you to this location and period for your play?

I fell in love with the history. It’s strange as, prior to writing about Tiger Bay, I knew very little about its history so I cannot explain what led me to go down that path but I’m glad I did. The more I researched, the more I fell in love with it. As a girl from Peckham in south London, I know a lot of people would be surprised to hear that I would choose to write this story but actually, there are elements of Tiger Bay’s history that I can relate to. I grew up in London, so I understand the world of racially diverse communities first hand. As a Peckham girl, I know what it’s like to grow up in a town that has a negative reputation that is not completely deserved, neither is it completely undeserved (we’re also both experiencing massive gentrification).

I also grew up around people like the characters in my play, salt of the earth types who would take the mick out of you but also have your back if you were ever in trouble. Tiger Bay’s cultural identity is also made up in part, of the West African culture. Being of West African descent myself, I felt I could easily relate. There were many periods I could have set this play in but I chose WW2 as the world of Jim Crow that the black American GIs who arrived in Cardiff suffered under, contrasted very nicely with the diversity and inclusion of Tiger Bay. I also felt that we have seen a ton of WW2 stories depicting the life of white Britain. I don’t believe I have seen anything that depicts the life of British people of colour.

Do you think the plays period and themes will resonate with contemporary audiences?

I think it will. This is a time where people are very open to forgotten histories. I also think that the themes of race and identity are very pertinent today. Essentially, this is a human story and I don’t think they ever really go out of style.

Trouble in Butetown is a recipient of the Theatre Royal Haymarket Writers Award and The George Devine Award. Did winning these awards increase awareness of your work and make commissioning of the production more likely?

Most definitely. The George Devine is a very well regarded theatre award and it was a real privilege to win it. It got the play in front of many venues, the Donmar being one of them and the rest, as they say, is history. The TRHW award was really important as it provided the necessary funds for me to develop the play and also provided support for the production as a whole. I am very grateful to have received both.

 There are a range of organisations supporting UK based writers. I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you? Is it possible to sustain a career as a writer in the UK and if not what would help?

That’s a pretty tough one for me to answer as historically, I never wrote fast enough to make a consistent living as a writer. I have however found that there has often been support when I needed it most, I am thinking of amazing organisations like The Peggy Ramsey Fund or the Fleabag fund. I think there can always be more support for writers especially due to the precarious nature of our jobs.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why?

I would probably say that I would fund new writing from under represented voices. In order for this industry to remain fresh and vibrant, we need a diversity of voices.

 What currently inspires you about the arts in the UK?

The landscape has changed so drastically since I started on this journey. There is a real appetite for new stories and there does seem to be a willingness from a lot of organisations to support new talent. It does feel like it’s all for the taking now.

 What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

My daughter turning three years old. She is the love of my life and to be surrounded by all our friends and family meant the world to me.

You can find out more about Trouble in Butetown and book tickets here

“I am inspired by those who don’t quit” An interview with Nyla Webbe, Creative Arts Development Officer for G Expressions

Interviewed by Guy O’Donnell, Director Get the Chance

Hi Nyla great to meet you, what got you interested in the arts?

For as long as I remember I have always had a love for performing. My parents said that they would watch me with my teddies in the garden pretending I was in another world and talking to myself, I was always creating stories and living in my own imagination. I also attended a very creative church growing up and from the age of 6-12 I was involved in productions, always singing, dancing and acting.

 You are the Creative Arts Development Officer for G Expressions based in Newport, the organisation “works to support young people aged 10-25 to dance develop and achieve their dreams. Through dance, theatre, and leadership activities , giving young people the confidence, tools and skills to achieve their goals.” How did you come to be involved in the organisation and why is its work important?

My family members run the organisation and since it began in 2010 I have always been involved in some shape or form. I was a young mum, therefore my children were my priority and my personal dreams of performing were put to the side but I assisted with G-Expressions on projects and would help out with dance at their previous studio ‘Bella Bella’. When they started doing theatre shows in 2014 I was keen to help out and began shadowing and assisting the writer and director of the shows, which happened to be Alexandria Riley.

Alexandria Riley

I then made my debut as a starring role in their production of ‘Sisters Acting up’ and felt such a buzz, even being at the age of 28 it was an amazing feeling and seeing how G-Expressions facilitate all their service users and staff, giving them a platform to achieve their dreams was such a great feeling. I then became an assistant director on their last show ‘Hard Knock Life’ and also got my job as Creative Arts Development Officer.

Being able to support young people in exploring their creative gifts is like a dream job for me. Giving them a safe place where they don’t feel judged and can be who they want to be, with the encouragement and guidance to do so gives them confidence and self-belief to reach their full potential.

You have written and are currently working on a new live production for G Expressions called Urban School of Arts. The production is described as “An original story filled with dance and drama about young people surviving their journey through performing arts school, all in hopes of pursuing their dreams of becoming artists” Can you tell us more about the creative process for the production and your intentions for it?

I began writing the story line during the Pandemic, after discussions with young people during a podcast I had set up through G-Expressions called ‘Say it How it is’. It was a great opportunity for young people to talk about different topics that they felt they were affected by and allowed them to talk openly and honestly, as most had said that they don’t feel listened to or even understood by authorities and adults. The stories came from real life topics and made me want to raise awareness about these topics that young people face, to help them talk more about it but to also give them a platform to express themselves in a creative way where they can be heard. I always wanted it to be an original as in the past we have used music that people know but have always had the issues of copyright, but I felt that we were in a place where we could offer more opportunities for artists to be recognised for their talents. I worked with some local young artists who love to write and produce and we managed to get funding from the High Sheriff to bring in a professional producer and work in the studio to record these songs. We now have a soundtrack alongside the show and I would love to see this tour and possibly see other drama schools put it on, who knows?

Urban School of Arts can be seen at The Riverfront Theatre, Newport from 03-04 Feb, tickets can be booked here

Much of your work takes place in Newport and is supported by The University of South Wales and The Riverfront Theatre, what more can be done to create opportunities for young creatives based in Newport?

We need more funding and buildings, it’s a simple answer really. G-Expressions are fortunate to have such a great partnership with USW and are now building on their relationship with The Riverfront Theatre and I am hoping that more opportunities come from this show. Access for young people interested in the arts is difficult, especially the young people we work with who don’t have the right backgrounds or finances. There needs to be more training and projects for them to be involved in.

The Urban School of Arts company.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why?

Training and development for artists who are new and need that bit of support. For myself, giving opportunities is so important.

 What currently inspires you about the arts in the UK?

People who are doing things their way and making their mark. I feel that there is so much talent out there that people don’t know about, but they are creeping through the gaps and slowly getting noticed. I am inspired by those who don’t quit, those theatre groups and artists who are doing what they love despite the challenges they face is inspiring.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

‘The Making of a Monster’- Connor Allen’s raw talent and vulnerability to be brave and so in your face was a true example of an all-round creative. It was a brilliant show that I hope continues and is recognised for its genius way of writing and performance.

Review Les Miserables, Wales Millennium Centre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Les Mis in 2022 hits different 

Even if you’ve been effectively living under a rock since the 80’s, you might at least have a passing familiarity with the striking lead imagery for this big-hitting musical. The banner of the iconic young orphan and the red flag waving behind her is a permanent fixture in London’s West End and a mecca for theatre goers.

Les Miserables is one of theatre’s ‘big boys’, you may have never read Victor Hugo’s 1861 novel or even sat through a musical before but between Alain Boubil (Book and Lyrics), Claude-Michel Schonberg’s Music and Cameron Mackintosh’s golden touch as legendary producer, the production’s breakout songs have become synonymous with the musical theatre tradition, a crossover success as the songs (I Dreamed a Dream, Do You Hear the People Sing, Bring Him Home) have continued to catch the imagination of audiences around the world. 

Seeing the show in 2022 hits different, too. When Victor Hugo penned the original story during turbulent times in 19th century France, things were bad. Wages were being driven down and poverty was rife, while profits for industrialists were soaring. Despite a revolution and revolt against the French King, though – the upper middle classes still reaped the benefits. A new Royal King was anointed – but still, workers were suppressed against a backdrop of “enrichissez-vous” (getting rich) under the leadership of Louis Phillipe. Some things never change, it seems.  By the time we get to the song “Look Down” and the pleading chorus of beggars painting a woeful picture of no safety nets, no compassion and no grace for those unfortunate enough to be born poor – you will sadly relate if you are currently living in Tory Britain in 2022. The wealth gap has never been bigger and we’re sliding backwards to 1815, more’s the pity. 

The opening for this show (beautifully staged in Cardiff under the watchful eye of Directors Laurence Connor and James Powell along with Designer Matt Kinley), brings you into the eye of the storm during this era of unrest, as lead character Valjean’s backstory as a prisoner in a chain gang make their entrance. Even as we skip forward to 1823, conditions are still no better – and workers isolate and turn on one another in a vicious “dog eat dog” environment. We’re introduced to Fantine (beautifully played by Lauren Drew) and in time-honoured tradition of my uncanny ability to tear up at the merest hint of a ballad, her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” instantly had me in tears. This is a production that is guaranteed to wow you and pack a real punch. The ensemble cast skillfully demonstrates the pressure, the desperation, the cruelty and injustice of this era and the glimmer of hope that can be found in friendships and lovers. 

Despite being one of the “old kids on the block” this is a fairly timeless story and the production still feels fresh, I saw the show twice in one week and once with my teenage daughter. As parents of teenagers will know, it’s not easy keeping a Tik-Toking teen engaged – and this is a meaty show, too with a running time of over 2.5 hours. I won’t lie, it does feel long. It definitely felt long sitting on the fourth level (and very hot, too!), but numb bums and sweaty pits aside, this is a wondrous production. If you’re a sap like me, your belly will flip and you will blub (Oh Fantine!). 

For a show over fourty years old, it probably wouldn’t pass the theatre equivalent of the Bechdel Test, understandable given that this is a male-dominated environment of uprising, war and revolution. The strongest and most complex female role in this production is Eponine and it was a joy to watch Siobhan O-Driscoll shine in this role. I’m not sure if I detected some Scourse undertones to her accent…but it’s lovely to hear some accent diversity on stage. Cosette gets a rough deal as a character, I feel. She is an archetype of a female love interest and sadly her most interesting element to her character happens in the past, while she is under the guardianship of the Inkeepers. Speaking of Inkeepers, they are utterly brilliant on stage and a very welcome moment of light relief. Merthyr’s own Ian Hughes (as Monsieur Therbardier) and his side-kick Tessa Kadler command the stage and offer a riotous turn in “Master of the House”. Finally, we mustn’t forget the two leads Dean Chisnall (as Jean Valjean) and Nic Greenshields as Javert. They already have an exemplary record of theatre credits under their belt and their powerful performances on this tour will no doubt pave the way to more future greatness. I thoroughly enjoyed this show and I can’t believe I waited so long to see it on stage. 

Les Mis is playing at The WMC in Cardiff until 14th January. If you’re getting the new year blues, I recommend a front seat at the French revolution in the 1830’s…bring your tissues…! 

Review The Lion , the B*tch and the Wardrobe, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

Images Credit Jorge Lizalde
4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

When applying to join Get the Chance I talked about how as someone who has taken part in a plethora of community productions across Wales in both on and off-stage roles I have a deeper understanding of how the mechanics of putting on a show works. Usually, as a reviewer, we are focused on whatever happens on or around the stage for the three-ish hours of a select performance but I am going to start this week’s review a little bit differently by talking about something that happened before the auditorium even opened for “The Lion, the B*tch and the Wardrobe. As me and the famous Aunty Chris sat eating waiting for the doors of the venue to open, we discovered that Bar One at Wales Millennium Centre was selling a unique “B*tch Juice” cocktail to help celebrate the press evening of the show we were moments from seeing. At around £6 (which was under what I expected to pay for a cocktail at the Millennium Center) the vodka, cranberry and lemonade drink was incredibly refreshing and wonderfully delicious! In fact, I’m going to try experimenting at home to try and get the recipe as close to the one I had as possible as it was simply that nice!

This time last year I was invited to attend a performance of XXXmas Carol where I talked about my not-so-secret love of Polly Amorous from meeting her in nightclub settings and being absolutely astonished by how much of an incredible performer she was on the stage! When it was announced that Polly and the gang were returning for ‘The Lion, the B*tch and the Wardrobe’ the surprise of Polly’s acting prowess was gone. I walked into this show (sort of unfairly) with the knowledge of the previous show and how amazing the sober songbird of Splott was but despite all this she still managed to surpass the already high bar she had previously set! Not only had she built on her already fantastic stage presence but her vocal abilities seem to have only grown tenfold since the last time.

The show opens with Polly and her personal piano player Felix Sürbe as they take the audience of a whistle-stop tour of iconic Christmas anthems! The later sections of these mash-ups were where Polly really found her footing and managed to introduce her brand of hilarious humour and amazing vocals! Polly not only plays an integral part of the camp retelling of the CS Lewis story itself but also acts as a narrator of the show helping to transition from storytelling to an array of performers to scenes flawlessly. She is able to maintain the humour embedded into the show while also driving the plot without appearing like she is pushing things along which is not an easy thing to do. Whenever I watch Polly perform I always ask if she can give us a rendition of defying gravity from Wicked as this is a musical I love and is one of my favourite songs she does in her set. This is why I was totally overwhelmed when she not only busted out of a performance of this iconic song but did so while suspended in the air on a zip wire. Seeing her dangle in the air while singing about flying not only made sense narratively but the humour in her being left on stage had the audience howling!

In last year’s performance, we were introduced to the incredibly sensual Erik McGill who wowed the audience with his gravity-defying trapeze skills. This year he was given a much bigger responsibility of playing the loveable (yet extremely horny) Mr Bumnus. From the moment we first met this unique character to the more emotional moments throughout Eric is able to portray this goat/Human hybrid creature wonderfully while taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster throughout. His first performance was a beautiful routine which involved Erik scaling up a floating lamp post and showcasing the most mesmerising poses and positions while keeping a lustful gaze at Polly the entire time.  He manages to control his body in such a smooth and fluid way meaning that the transitions from poses is just as entertaining as the tricks themselves. Early in the show, we see a hilarious scene where Mr Bumnus was Polly to spank him in return for secrets that would help the host on her quest. Erik does a fantastic job of taking this sexual (by nature) scene and injecting the perfect amount of comedy making it suitable for the stage. My favourite moment of this character however was just after an emotional moment with Mr Bumnus is violently punished for betraying the queen and Polly needs to find a way to bring him back to life. This leads to Polly discovering a paddle and using it to deliver a thunderous spank that not only jolts him back to life but straight into an incredible trapeze act. While Asha Jane delivered a wonderful performance of “It’s Raining Men”, Erik soared through the air on his trapeze with every time he leapt from the trapeze I physically jumped out of my seat! The range of flips and tricks he was able to perform while dangling so dangerously high in the air had my heart racing on the floor so I can’t imagine what he would have been feeling up there!

I was a little disappointed however that Rahim El Habachi had a much more drawn-back involvement in this year’s show not only because he is a friend of mine but also because his unique brand of belly dancing is always a crowd favourite! Last year he was able to showcase his dance skills, live singing and showcase original spoken word pieces and while he could showcase some of his talents, he did not have as many opportunities as last year! This performance was much more focused on his acting talents as he took on the role of a sexy reindeer and the mighty Ass-lan where he was able to throw his voice in such a way to create a powerful, bombing sound this character has become associated with. Throughout the show, Foo Foo LaBelle was able to showcase her incredible burlesque-infused performances including a police-inspired number where a lucky audience member was selected to go on stage and receive a sensual lap dance live in front of everyone. The performer was able to totally command the stage while also allowing for a reasonable amount of chaos and comedy with the audience member involved which is always a gamble in shows! I also thoroughly enjoyed the rendition of “Feeling Good” by Asha which ended with a vibrant explosion of streamers with every performing storming the stage to help mark the end of act one!

Overall, creating a queer retelling of a story originally created by a devoted Christian is not only an extremely powerful and political statement but also the fantastical elements of Narnia lend themselves beautifully to the series of unique performances. Polly managed to anchor the explosion of sensual eroticism (of whips, chains, spanking etc) with a mind-blowing performance and wonderful vocals (from Polly included) which is no easy feat! I would rate this show 4.5 stars out of 5!

You can find out more about the production and book tickets here

REVIEW Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Take your first Steps to a perfect Christmas! With last year’s Aladdin interrupted by the pandemic, the New Theatre’s annual in-house panto returns with the spirit of Christmas back in full swing. Presented by Crossroads Pantomimes and directed by David Burrows, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a magic apple you’ll want to take a bite of.

Nay-Nay Gapomo in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (photo credit: Tim Dickeson)

Alan McHugh’s script draws on the story we know from Disney’s animated retelling while bringing some big panto laughs. Denquar Chupak plays the titular princess with characteristic sweetness and style, making a welcome return to the New after playing Princess Jasmine last year alongside Gareth Gates as Aladdin. A lovely romance blossoms between her and Nay-Nay Gapomo’s Prince Carwyn, who Queen Lucretia (Siân Reeves) has her (evil) eye on.

Siân Reeves and Ian ‘H’ Watkins in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (photo credit: Tim Dickeson)

Local boy and pop icon Ian ‘H’ Watkins from international supergroup Steps plays the Spirit of the Mirror and has an absolutely smashing (!) time onstage. Decked out in silver sparkles (imagine if the Tin Man started a pop career and you’re halfway there), he gets the audience on their feet and Stomp-ing to the beat of a classic pop medley quicker than you can say 5, 6, 7, 8! He’s far and away the Heart(beat) of the show. If, by the time you see H from Steps riding a flying motorbike over the audience, you don’t feel as though you’ve got your money’s worth, then that really is a Tragedy.

Siân Reeves and Gareth Thomas in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (photo credit: Tim Dickeson)

He riffs especially well off the other two feathers on the show’s Welsh crown: legendary Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas as Henchman ‘Alfie’, and Panto Dame Extraordinaire Mike Doyle as Nurse Nancy (who’ll be at the New again in February with his own show, ‘Rock with Laughter’). While a few of the tropes could do with an upgrade – the 12 Days of Christmas went on about a week too long for me, but the kids in the audience were loving it – they’re performed with such joy that you can’t help but join in (though I think the time could have been better spent with another Steps dance-break, for example!) There’s potty humour for the little ones and innuendo for the adults, and while it’s not always my cup of tea, it was often my cup of cocoa – which Mike Doyle dresses up as in one memorable moment! His Shirley Bassey has to be seen to be believed, though my personal fave is an outfit that cannot be described and certainly not Trifled with.

Mike Doyle in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (photo credit: Tim Dickeson)

While ‘The Magnificent Seven’ of the title don’t feature often, they make an impression when they do – kudos to Gareth Elis, Ella Howlett, Mia Jae, Tiaan Jones, JB Maya, and especially James Rockey as the Seven’s eccentric Eric Idle-esque leader Doc (though I was quite surprised they hadn’t cast actors of short stature in these roles). But it’s better the devil you know as Siân Reeves vamps and camps it up as the vain(glorious) Lucretia, especially during her own Steps number – though if anyone’s walking away from this show with a crown, it’s Britain’s Got Talent finalist Steve Hewlett, whose ventriloquist act with grouchy puppet ‘Arthur’ has more than earned his royal seal of approval!

Denquar Chupak in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (photo credit: Tim Dickeson)

With enchanting scenery and brilliant special effects, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is brimming with festive magic and brings a fantastic new twist on the original tale you know and love.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is playing at the New Theatre through to 8 January 2023. You can find more information on the show and book tickets here.

Ian ‘H’ Watkins in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (photo credit: Tim Dickeson)