Tag Archives: New Theatre

PREVIEW: INTERVIEW WITH THE STARS OF BEAUTIFUL, THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL

What follows is a syndicated interview with the stars of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical: Molly-Grace Cutler (Carole King), Tom Milner (Gerry Goffin), Seren Sandham-Davies (Cynthia Weil), and Jos Slovick (Barry Mann)

What can audiences expect when they come see the show?
Molly-Grace: It’s done by a full company of live musicians, which is very different to the original Broadway and West End productions and previous tours. It’s a really feel-good musical. It’s emotional and very heartwarming, to say the least.

Seren: There’s a lot of energy on stage and audiences are excited and happy to be back in the theatre. The music is infectious, we’re all so passionate about what we’re doing and everyone leaves with a smile on their faces and the tunes going round in their heads.

Jos: It’s like a gig within a play – lots of songs that people will recognise and lots of songs they maybe didn’t know were written by Carole King or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. They’re in for some laughs and some drama, and there’s something for everyone from ballads and rock songs to old-style show tunes.

Tom: There’s not a thing that any of our cast members don’t do. It’s full-on because we’re acting, singing, dancing and playing the music so the audience certainly gets its money’s worth.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

Molly-Grace, how would you describe Carole King as a character? And do you feel any pressure about bringing her to life on stage?
Molly-Grace: She’s an incredible music icon. She’s very driven and very determined, and you get to see how resilient she is as her story goes on. As for feeling the pressure, yes there’s a lot of that – especially given that she’s still to this day a living legend. But I’m very happy that I’m getting to play her and her music. The big challenge is in playing someone who is still around, so people will inevitably compare you to her as well as other people who have played the role before. It’s about doing your own thing whilst also paying respect to the people before along with Carole herself.

Tom, Seren and Jos, who do you play and how do they feature in Carole’s story?
Tom: Gerry Goffin is her first husband and songwriting partner. In the show he’s quite chaotic, he’s always striving for more and he eventually suffers a massive breakdown.

Seren: Cynthia Weil is part of a songwriting team with Barry Mann whose paths cross with Carole and Gerry during the Brill Building era in the 60s. As a character she’s ahead of her time. She doesn’t conform and she’s very prescient, plus she’s very funny and having a female comic character to play is an absolute gift.

Jos: Barry, as Seren says, is Cynthia’s songwriter partner as well as her husband. He’s very sharp with a lot of that Jewish humour; think Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld because he has that kind of rhythm to him. He’s a humorous hypochondriac.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

Were there things you were intrigued to learn about your characters?
Molly-King: [Laughs] That she married many times after Gerry Goffin. I also learned she was incredibly resilient and let nothing stand in the way of her success. She wrote from the heart, and that’s evident in every song she’s ever written. They’re very emotional.

Tom: I’d heard of Goffin and King’s music but I didn’t realise how much they wrote and how much they did for the industry. I also didn’t know about him as a person. He was always chasing happiness and the next big thing, which set him on a downward spiral.

Seren: I knew all the Mann and Weil songs but I didn’t know about the people who wrote them. I was intrigued by how Cynthia grew up in a conservative Jewish family but went against the grain of having that traditional life.

Jos: I knew a load of their songs but I didn’t know who wrote them. When I was a kid I had this talking dog toy and when you pressed its paw it would play Who Put The Bomp. I remember asking my dad ‘Who wrote that song?’ and he told me Barry Mann. But that’s all I knew about him. I didn’t know he’d also co-written On Broadway and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling among many others.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

There are so many great numbers in the show. Do you have any favourites to perform?
Molly-Grace: I’d have to say (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman because it’s such an honest, emotional song about her relationship with Gerry.

Seren: That song is very special because it has such an impact on the audience. I also love the rockier numbers and It’s Too Late, which has a jazzier feel. There are so many good songs, it’s hard to choose between them.

Jos: I play the guitar on It’s Too Late and it’s got a great groove to it. [Laughs] It’s my jam, as the kids say, and Molly-Grace sings and plays it wonderfully.

Tom: There’s a song I do with the cast called Pleasant Valley Sunday and it’s a great rocking, uptempo song.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

As an actor and musician, it must be great getting to bring all your skills to the table?
Molly-Grace: Absolutely. We’re very lucky that we have such a talented cast of actors and musicians who create this amazing sound. Being an actor-musician is what I trained to do but I think these kind of productions are still pretty new for the theatre industry.

Tom: I love music and acting so getting to scratch both itches with this show is brilliant. I’ve done regular acting roles, especially on TV, that I’ve loved but it’s so creatively fulfilling getting to do a bit of everything.

Seren: Having actor-musicians play the parts works so well for this show because it has music at its core. When you have a story like Beautiful that’s all about music and musicianship, it takes it to a whole new level.

Jos: It’s always fun because I get to combine my two great loves, namely acting and playing music. Are there enough shows that offer the chance to do both? [Laughs] I’ll say no because I want to get more work!

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

Beautiful aside, what have been your other favourite theatre roles?
Seren: I was in Brassed Off in 2015 and that was such an amazing job. The majority of us had a connection with mining through our families and we still keep in touch. Then I did a tour of Crazy For You which was great fun, getting to perform all those wonderful Gershwin tunes.

Molly-Grace: My first-ever job I did after finishing my training was a punk rock show called Oxy & the Morons and doing that straight out of drama school was very cathartic. I did a panto of Beauty and the Beast, I did Priscilla Queen of the Desert and I did a show called Girls Don’t Play Guitars and it was incredible playing a lead guitarist in a 60s rock-and-roll band.

Tom: My first-ever stage role was in a George Styles and Anthony Drewe musical called Soho Cinders and they were the first people to give me a leg up the musical theatre ladder because I was more of a TV boy. That was a real learning curve. Then recently I was in American Idiot and being able to sing Green Day songs for a year was great.

Jos: I was in Once, where I was a Czech burger joint manager and which I got to play bass, ukulele, banjo and mandolin. Then I was in the Theatre Royal Bath production of Bad Jews, which I loved because it’s such a great play.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

What are you most enjoying about taking Beautiful around the country? And how do you hope people will feel when they leave the theatre?
Molly-Grace: It’s about getting to share some incredible music with people as well as getting to share Carole’s story. A lot of people don’t know enough about her so it’s nice to show what she went through and how much she’s achieved.

Tom: It’s the kind of show everyone needs right now. We’ve all been through the pandemic and hard times and this show has such a feel-good factor. When we do the finale everyone is dancing, singing, clapping and smiling. For us to take it round the country and bring people so much joy is just amazing.

Jos: When we play the finale you can’t help but feel uplifted. Carole had a bit of a rough life but the music she produced was so wonderful that people will be skipping out of the theatre.

Seren: I hope they’ll be happy to be back in the theatre and that they feel excited and exuberant, and that they’ve made a connection during a time that’s been so hard for everyone. I just hope they feel the joy of this truly joyous show.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 24 – 28 May 2022

REVIEW Rock of Ages, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

Rock of Ages started life in a little club on Hollywood Boulevard before hitting the big time, racking up thousands of performances in a dozen countries – meaning that it’s actually living the dream to which its characters can only aspire. The jukebox musical is filled with so many classic rock anthems – Here I Go Again, Don’t Stop Believin’, The Final Countdown, and more – that it’s no wonder it’s become such a global sensation. Direct from the West End, this new UK tour is bigger, better and bawdier than ever – and if you wanna rock, then you’re in for nothin’ but a good time.

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

Rock of Ages is set in the heyday of the mid-to-late 80s, a time that was post-punk and pre-grunge: the era of soft rock and hair metal, where if you had three chords and a perm, you were a god amongst men. LA’s Sunset Strip is the place where such dreams are made – or dashed. Just like the Journey song which closes it, the show is brimming with “people living just to find emotion”: a small town girl and a city boy who fall in love; a washed-up rock star staging his comeback; and a motley crew (not that one) fighting to save the Strip from gentrification.

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston, Rock of Ages is the kind of show that just gets better every time you go again (trust me, this isn’t my first rodeo). The cast brings a tremendous energy to the stage, bolstered by a cracking live band and an ensemble that’s second to none. There’s a new vivacity to the choreography that’s unlike any version I’ve seen before, and Morgan Large’s set, sprinkled with spotlights and stacked with amps, takes you right back to the summer of ’87. And there’s always something amusing happening in the background, which makes every bit of the stage come alive – right down to the two protestors who look ready to break into Brokeback Mountain at any moment.

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

Gabriella Williams and Sam Turrell are sublime as the star-crossed Sherrie and Drew while X-Factor winner Matt Terry owns the stage as the salacious Stacee Jaxx – who, as he sings on Wanted Dead or Alive, really has seen a million faces and rocked them all. There’s also some serious powerhouse support by Jenny Fitzpatrick as the illustrious Justice Charlier (who deserves her own show), Vicki Manser as the rabble-rousing Regina, Vas Constanti as Heinz, and Andrew Carthy as Franz (a German Pee-Wee Herman, don’tcha know?) A special shout-out to Phoebe Samuel-Gray as Waitress No. 1 who sings one chorus and nearly walks off with the whole show.

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

But the show lives and dies on its Lonny – and Joe Gash is one for the ages. Channeling Freddie Mercury and Justin Hawkins, Gash is so effervescent he makes fizz look flat. (Russell Brand wishes he were that whimsical). His partner in business and in life, Dennis Dupree, is played by Coronation Street’s Kevin Kennedy: imagine if Axl Rose mellowed and started really investing in fringed jackets, and you’re pretty much there. Their romance is a surprisingly sweet little subplot which culminates in a climactic duet to REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight This Feeling. It’s funny, but genuinely tender too – and you really feel like Kennedy and Gash (the new Gallagher and Lyle?) are singing to each other, not at each other.

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

The book by Chris D’Arienzo could probably do with updating, but the cast bring sincerity and depth to characters that started life as names scribbled on album sleeves, and they tie it all together into something that’s moving without being mawkish. Rock of Ages isn’t a show that behaves itself: it’s chaotic, it’s crude, and it makes lowbrow look high – but when it rocks, it rolls. Just like in the song, I hope this show goes on and on, because we always need something to believe  in.

Rock of Ages is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff through to Saturday 21 May

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

PREVIEW Rock of Ages UK Tour – Interview with star Kevin Kennedy

No stranger to the small screen, television’s Kevin Kennedy has left the cobbles of Coronation Street far behind him as he takes to the stage and embraces his inner rock’n’roll star in the UK Tour of ROCK OF AGES which comes to the New Theatre Cardiff from 17 – 21 May 2022.

Not just an actor, you’ve also been part of many bands over the years. Have you been enjoying indulging your musical side in Rock of Ages?
Oh yes, it’s incredible to be able to put your two passions together – one being of course acting and the spoken word and the other being music, which is something I’ve loved throughout my life. To put those together is a perfect marriage, and in a vehicle such as Rock of Ages it is a whole lot of fun as well!

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard


For those who don’t know, could you tell us a bit about the story of Rock of Ages?
Rock of Ages is set in Los Angeles, California in the mid 1980s. It’s about a rock club called The Bourbon Room, which is absolutely legendary, every single band you could think of has played there. It’s an icon of rock’n’roll and absolutely the place to be, but the local council are attempting to close it down so we are fighting them. Alongside all of that there’s a beautiful love story, lots and lots of jokes and of course some of the most incredible music from the 80s like “Here I Go Again”, “The Final Countdown” and “I Want To Know What Love Is”.

And how does your character, ‘Dennis’ fit into this?
So, Dennis is the owner of The Bourbon Room and he’s an absolute rock guru. He’s given all these now legendary bands their stars and he’s been in bands himself. He’s also embraced the drug culture and intense sexuality of the 1980s with much enthusiasm and regularity! He’s a very interesting man to play – he’s got a good heart at his core but he’s a child of his culture and loves his sex, drugs and rock’n’roll! He’s a lot of fun to play!

Kevin Kennedy as ‘Dennis Dupree’ ©The Other Richard

Audiences may know you best from your time on television, particularly as ‘Curly Watts’ in “Coronation Street”. What are the biggest differences between working TV and theatre?
TV is a totally different skill and technique to theatre. Not least because you may put something in the can after filming and not get the payback of that for months or event years. You can almost film it, and then forget about it. With theatre however, it’s obviously live and live theatre is one of the last true shared experiences you can have – along with football! In the theatre you are all together and sharing one experience which is happening live, right in front of you and there’s not a lot of that left. That in itself generates its own energy and excitement as no two shows are the same. The show that you come and see will never been exactly the same as that ever again which is quite an exciting thought.

“ROCK OF AGES” boasts some of the biggest hits of the 1980s as its soundtrack. Were you a fan of 80s rock music?
I was a young-ish man in the 1980s and not a huge fan of some dance music, so the last refuge of guitar music to a certain extent was that brilliant American glam-rock that we showcase in Rock of Ages. They play their own instruments and perform live on stage so I had a huge respect for that.

Kevin Kennedy as ‘Dennis Dupree’ ©The Other Richard

Are there any challenges to performing this style of music on stage? Have you drawn from your experience as a musician?
It requires a lot of energy! However, once the show gets going it’s so much fun and no longer feels like work. Once you’ve done the hard work of learning the lines and where to stand we’ve been allowed to just have so much fun with it. Audiences are absolutely loving it because it’s just bonkers.


Do you have a favourite moment or number in the show?

Numerous moments! Although what I really enjoy is watching the other members of the cast doing their big solo numbers because they’re all so incredibly talented and it’s great to watch and learn from them. It’s been so lovely to see them grow into their characters from the first rehearsal through to our performances on tour now, where it all comes to fruition.

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

What about a favourite song?
Oh the entire finale is my favourite as it is just one big fat rock’n’roll number.

Do you have any ‘must-have’ items whilst on tour?
A cafetière, some coffee (obviously), my Manchester City mug, and of course the most important thing – a PlayStation!

Rock Of Ages Musical The Alexandra Birmingham New Tour Cast 21/22 ©The Other Richard

Finally, what can audiences expect when they come and see Rock of Ages?
They can just expect to have a great time. If you’re a seasoned theatre-goer or you’ve never been to a show before you will have a lot of fun. If you want to come dressed in your leather trousers and embrace your inner 80s rock star then do that! Even bring along an inflatable guitar if you want – everything is just a whole lot of fun.

REVIEW Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Your first ever trip to the theatre is always a magical experience. It’s a rite of passage, that first step through those doors and into a world of fun and fantasy. What you see on that first trip is something that sticks with you: for many children, that show is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the first musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice whose subsequent megahits include Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, and Cats. Whether you grew up on the Donny Osmond VHS, or watched Jason Donovan, Philip Schofield or Lee Mead don the icon dreamcoat on stage, everyone has their own Joseph story – and local boy Jac Yarrow is now the definitive Joseph for a whole new generation of kids as he returns to his home town for a show like no other.

Our story starts way, way back many centuries ago – not long after the Bible began, in fact. Our hero is Joseph, Jacob’s favourite son. After his father gifts him with the titular dreamcoat, Joseph’s jealous brothers sell him into slavery. While in Egypt, Joseph gets himself thrown in prison over a misunderstanding – but it’s only while he’s locked up that he finally unlocks the secret power of his dreams, and finds himself becoming the right-hand man of the Pharaoh himself.

Directed by Laurence Connor and staged at the London Palladium in 2019 and 2021, this new UK tour brings with it all the glitz and glamour of the West End. As the latest to don the dreamcoat, Yarrow has quite the legacy to live up to – and he does so with ease. It’s hard to believe this is his first role right out of drama school; a belter of a debut that has garnered much deserved praise, including an Olivier Award nomination. Yarrow might have implored us to ‘Close Every Door’ to him but I’m sure many more will be opening in future. His performance of ‘Close Every Door To Me’ is easily one of the best things I’ve ever seen on stage, and is well worth the price of admission alone.

X Factor winner Alexandra Burke, is not only a multimillion selling artist and West End star (Sister Act, The Bodyguard, Chess) but is fast proving herself as one of the most talented and versatile performers onstage today. She brings tremendous energy and charm to The Narrator, at ease in every moment whether she’s cheerfully corralling the young cast or playing a half dozen characters – each one more hilarious than the last. With such a dazzling repertoire to her name, when I say this is the best she’s ever been, that’s really saying something.

The whole ensemble is on top form, from the lively young cast to the cracking orchestra directed by John Rigby (who, in a nice touch, conducts music with a Welsh flag in place of a baton!) JoAnn Hunter’s zesty choreography really shines in ‘Go Go Go Joseph’, ‘Jacob and Sons’ and especially ‘One More Angel in Heaven’, which turns into a full-on rootin’ tootin’ hoedown, complete with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers-style gymnastics.

Speaking of brothers, Joseph’s are a blast: from a pitch-perfect Will Hawksworth who leads a riotous rendition of ‘Those Canaan Days’ led by, to Jabari Braham’s top-tier acrobatics, to Shane Antony-Whitely and young castmate Nadini Sharma who bring down the house with ‘Benjamin Calypso’. And as Pharaoh, Bobby Windebank is every inch The King – as a rock ‘n’ roll Pharaoh straight out of Graceland, he leads a rowdy Vegas-style set that leaves no hip thrust or ‘uh huh’ unturned.

Morgan Large’s stage is one big rainbow explosion, a technicolor utopia which gives way to a golden paradise once Joseph gets to the Pharoah’s court. It’s spectacular – and the titular dreamcoat, much like the show itself, is the best it’s ever been. Joseph has been performed for over 50 years in over 80 countries and counting, and it’s easy to see why. It had the whole audience on their feet, dancing and singing along. As Joseph sings that ‘Any Dream Will Do’, but this isn’t just any old dream. Technicolour, transcendent, triumphant, it’s the easiest 5 stars I’ve ever given. It really is the show that dreams are made of: so go, go see Joseph and see for yourself!

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff until Saturday 7th May

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

PREVIEW: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – Interview with star Jac Yarrow

What follows is a syndicated interview with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat star Jac Yarrow.

Joseph is such a fun, upbeat musical. Is that what we all need right now?
Oh my gosh, 100% yes. When we did it at the London Palladium our favourite shows to do would always be the Saturday or Sunday matinees because we’d get the crowds from all over the UK, not just the London crowds. To be able take this show to the regional theatres that have been closed for so long is just the tonic everybody needs. And particularly this incarnation of Joseph, which is the same production you got at the Palladium. It’s lavish and no-expense-sparred, and it’s really going to lift everyone’s spirits.


You first played the title role in 2019. How did that change your life?
It completely changed my life. I was still at drama school when I got the part and it was literally over the course of two or three days that I went from getting the role to it being announced. I went from being a student living in digs dreaming of being in the West End to suddenly living that dream for real.


You returned to the show again last year and now you’re touring in it. What keeps drawing you back?
It’s massively to do with the fans of the show. It has such an amazing fanbase and it’s ingrained in people’s DNA in the UK. Everybody knows the music and everybody’s grown up with it, even if they’re not aware of where it comes from. People come along and see the show all the time and go: ‘I didn’t realise that song was in it. I love that song and I used to sing it in school.’ I’m thrilled to keep coming back to it for that reason, plus to pass up the opportunity to take this incredible, up-to-date production that changed my life to people’s hometowns would have been crazy.

The show is a perennial school favourite. Were you in any school productions yourself?
I wasn’t in a school production as such but when I was around ten I was in a 30-minute condensed version of Joseph at my Saturday drama school. I did play Joseph himself but I don’t think I had a dreamcoat, just a makeshift little jacket or something. That was my only brush with the show as a kid, although I did see it later when it came to my hometown of Cardiff. I remember really enjoying it and it’s going to be a nice full-circle when I go back to the New Theatre and am on that stage myself.

Can you relate to Joseph in any way?
Yes, especially when I first started. There was the naivety and moving from the home comforts of Cardiff myself and Egypt in his case. It was like somebody flipped a switch and everything turned Technicolor. [Laughs] But my family isn’t as big as his and they certainly treat me a lot nicer.

Do you hit the gym to make sure you look good in the shirtless scenes?
Doing eight shows a week where I’m constantly running around keeps me in pretty good shape but I go to the gym, I eat well and I drink a lot of water – but that’s the stuff you have to do anyway when you’re doing such a full-on show as this.

Jason Donovan, who now stars as Pharaoh, played Joseph in 1991. How is it following in his footsteps?
It’s great. From day one Jason has been the most supportive person. I was terrified when I had to sing Close Every Door in front of him at rehearsal but he’s been amazing. He was the first person to throw his arms around me, congratulate me and give me the boost that I needed early on. Now we have such a laugh. He’s such a fun guy and he’s another reason why I wanted to go on tour with the show, because who better to do that with than Jason Donovan?

Might you play Pharaoh yourself one day?
This is the joke we always make. You could do Joseph forever because you could graduate from Joseph himself to Pharaoh and then you could finally move on to Jacob.

The West End production was one of the first to open to full capacity after social-distancing restrictions. What was the atmosphere like?
It was unbelievable. The atmosphere at Joseph is amazing anyway because of the fans and the way the Palladium is figured it’s such an intimate space, even though it’s huge. Then when the restrictions were lifted and we had full houses it was unbelievable. It’s such a tonic and, as I say, just the kind of show people want to see to lift their spirits. We were all emotional and it was quite overwhelming.

Joseph has been going strong since the early 70s. Why do you think audiences still love it?
I think it’s just timeless and, as Jason always says, it’s a very simple story. What you see is what you get and what you get is a really good time. It’s a wholesome tale about a boy overcoming adversity and it encourages you to follow your dreams. The message is so uplifting and it’s one of those shows that continues from generation to generation. We get people at the stage door saying to Jason ‘You were my Joseph when I was a kid’ and then I meet kids at the stage door and their mums say ‘This is their first time seeing it’ so I’m their Joseph. And it’s such a famous show that it’s kind of ingrained in everybody. It’s a huge part of our theatrical culture in the UK.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice score is full of great songs. Do you have a favourite to perform?
Definitely Close Every Door and I love Go, Go, Go Joseph because we have an amazing cast and they’re all on stage for that one. It’s a huge production number and I think that’s what is so exciting about taking this particular incarnation of Joseph around the country because it’s like we’re taking the West End production to everyone.


What have been your other favourite in-between-Joseph stage roles?
I’ve been lucky to have taken part in some concerts and some TV stuff as well, and I’ve loved doing panto. My first panto was in Birmingham in 2019, then I was in panto at the Palladium this Christmas just gone with another Joseph, namely Donny Osmond. I love doing panto for the same reason I love doing Joseph, because you get an amazing audience response and it’s such fun and so entertaining.

Is this your first big tour and what are you most looking forward to about taking Joseph around the country?
It’s my first tour ever. I’ve never toured before and I’m really looking forward to it because I actually haven’t visited that many towns and cities in the UK and Ireland. It will be amazing to see all these new places, get to know them better and sink my teeth into the role even more. We did it for ten weeks in 2019 and just shy of ten weeks at the Palladium last year, and it almost felt like that as soon as we were getting into the groove the run was over. Now we’re doing eight months on the road and it will be so rewarding to throw myself into it for all that time.

Are there any stops on the tour that are dear to your heart?
I did panto at the Birmingham Hippodrome so I’m looking forward to being back there. I was there in Snow White in 2019 and I love the people, the Hippodrome is beautiful and the audiences go wild. There are a lot of places I’m excited to see, like Blackpool and Glasgow. We’re closing the tour in Edinburgh and I’ve heard the theatre there is amazing. It’s also going to be really interesting to see how different audiences respond to the show in different places.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff until Saturday 7th May

REVIEW Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Irish-American dance sensation Michael Flatley catapulted Irish dancing into the mainstream with his first hit show, Riverdance, in 1994. He followed that up with the record-breaking, worldwide smash-hit, Lord of the Dance, in 1997, which has since gone on to break records and box offices around the world. Now the most successful touring production in entertainment history, its 25th anniversary tour chassés its way to Cardiff for a limited time this week.

The music begins, and clips from the production’s history are projected onto the stage as Flatley explains in voiceover how the story came to him in a dream, and how the show made that dream a reality. Then the stage darkens, and lights appear one by one, glowing orbs held by hooded druids that glide so ethereally you feel as though you’re walking through a dream yourself. Then the Little Spirit (Cassidy Ludwig) plays the titular tune on her magic flute and awakens ‘Planet Ireland’: a mystical, medieval fantasy world ruled over by the Lord of the Dance (Matt Smith), who is plunged into an epic battle for both heart(h) and home.

Drawing on Irish folklore, Flatley not only created the show, but produced, directed and choreographed it. There’s nothing quite like Irish dancing, and there’s nothing quite like Lord of the Dance: a mesmerizing spectacle from start to finish. The degree of athleticism, precision and timing on display is astounding, with the 40-strong cast showcasing an unparalleled level of skill and boundless energy. It’s dizzyingly good: I’ve simply never seen dancing like it. Smith steps into Flatley’s iconic shoes with ease; with unmatched bravado and charisma to spare, Smith weaves such a spell on the audience you simply have to join in with the dancing yourself.

There is only one Lord of the Dance, and he does not share power – but there’s a worthy contender for the throne in the shape of the Dark Lord (Zoltan Papp). Dressed like an embattled biker king, Papp brings a sinister swagger that had the audience booing (or, in my case, cheering) as if he were a pantomime villain. His duel with Smith is as thrilling a setpiece as you can imagine, and features some of the finest dance-fighting this side of West Side Story.

There’s not a weak link or a missed step in the whole ensemble, from Cyra Taylor’s mercurial Morrighan to Lauren Clarke’s sparkling Saoirse. Cassidy Ludwig brings a puck-like, playful charm to the Little Spirit, whose performance shines even more brightly than her glittery golden costume. The music, composed by Ronan Hardiman and Gerard Fahy, segues from lilting Celtic ballads one minute to ritualistic chants and sweeping epics the next, some of which is even performed live on stage courtesy of Giada Costenaro Cunningham and Aisling Sage’s first-class violin duets and singer Celyn Cartwright as Erin the Goddess, whose heavenly interludes give the cast time for a spritely costume change.

It’s fitting that the last word – or should that be ‘dance’? – is left to the man who started it all, with a trio of projected Flatleys out-dancing one another, only to be joined by the whole cast dancing in unison. If, like me, you have a much-loved VHS copy of Riverdance in pride of place on the shelf, or if you’ve never experienced the thrill of Irish dancing before, then this is the show for you. Lord of the Dance is only at the New Theatre for a limited time, so join the 60 million people who have loved and lived this show for an encore like no other. There have been 25 years of standing ovations so far, and if last night was any indication, here’s to 25 more!

Lord of the Dance is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff through to Wednesday 27th April

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

REVIEW Orbit’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Orbit Theatre has dazzled and delighted Cardiff audiences for five decades and counting. As Wales’ number one amateur theatre company, it’s staged productions of everything from Grease to Godspell, and now Orbit is back at the New Theatre with an enchanting new version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Sophie Baker as Dorothy Gale (and Ella as Toto)

The story follows Dorothy Gale, a young girl from Kansas who dreams of escaping her dreary existence. She gets her wish when a tornado sweeps her and her little dog, Toto, to the fantastical land of Oz, a place filled with lions and tigers and bears – oh my! With a pair of magical ruby slippers and three new friends – a scarecrow, a tin man, and a cowardly lion – she heads to the Emerald City to meet the only person who can grant her wish to return home: the great and powerful Wizard of Oz – that is, unless the Wicked Witch of the West doesn’t catch her first.

Deryn Grigg as the Wicked Witch of the West

Directed by Rob Thorne Jnr, the show is every bit as magical as the beloved movie starring Judy Garland. It’s hard to believe this is an “amateur” production because everyone both onstage and behind it is working at such a professional level. As Dorothy, Sophie Baker steps into the iconic ruby slippers with ease and sings an enchantingly beautiful rendition of Over the Rainbow, leaving not a single dry eye in the house. Her duet with Paige Hodgson’s glamorous Glinda the Good Witch is a highlight, as are her interactions with the Wizard himself (Lewis Cook). The timeless songs you know and love all sound incredible here – everything from We’re Off to See the Wizard and the Merry Old Land of Oz to If I Only Had a Brain / a Heart / the Nerve.

Dorothy’s new friends are all on top form, from Daniel Ivor Jones’s nimble Scarecrow to Fran Hudd’s graceful Tin Man, and especially Matthew Preece as the Cowardly Lion, who has all of Bert Lahr’s mannerisms down pat (you’ll truly believe he’s The King of the Forest). The Gatekeeper might have been a throwaway role in other hands than Joe Green’s, who brings a real star quality to his scenes, while Deryn Grigg is devilishly good as the Wicked Witch of the West. Orbit’s talented young cast bring spirit and spectacle to the stage as munchkins and monkeys and trees – oh my! – and really deliver on Nicola Boyd-Anderson’s fabulous choreography. No-one, however, steals the show more than the adorable Ella as Toto who is easily one of the cutest canines to ever grace the stage – not to mention the most mischievous.

Lewis Cook as Professor Marvel/The Wizard of Oz

Orbit has won countless awards and has launched numerous careers, but their real magic comes from the fact that they make dreams come true. Their ‘Open Audition’ process means that newcomers have the opportunity to tread the boards and learn from the best. Dorothy’s story tells us that while there’s adventure to be found over the rainbow, there really is no place like home – and there’s no show quite as charming as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. If you and your family want a little bit of magic and a lot of fun this half term, then all you have to do is click your heels three times and follow the yellow brick road to the New Theatre.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz will be playing at Cardiff’s New Theatre from 20 – 23 April, with performances at 1pm and 5pm each day.

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Barbara to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here thanks.

REVIEW Dreamboats & Petticoats: Bringing On Back The Good Times! New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

With the pandemic having made the future uncertain, we’ve been compelled to look back at the past, to the glory days of our youth when everything seemed possible. That’s always been the magic behind Bill Kenwright’s smash-hit jukebox franchise, Dreamboats & Petticoats, based on the multimillion selling compilation albums. The latest installment, Bringing On Back The Good Times!, is the third in the series, but you don’t need to have seen the first two to enjoy this fabulous, feel-good show.

Written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, the story centres around sweethearts Laura (Elizabeth Carter) and Bobby (David Ribi), as their musical dreams threaten to keep them apart. While Laura’s chart-topping success earns her a starry residency in Torquay and equal billing with Frankie Howerd, Bobby is booked for the summer at the far-less glamorous Butlins in Bognor Regis, along with his old crew from St Mungo’s Youth Club. With both his career and his relationship in jeopardy, Bobby makes one final bid to save both: a wildcard run at becoming Britain’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.

The show really captures the feel of the era, thanks to an energetic cast, playful direction, and magnificent renditions of some of the decade’s most beloved songs, from Pretty Woman and C’mon Everybody to Keep on Running and Mony Mony. Sean Cavanagh’s colourful set of scrapbooked ticket stubs and album sleeves, and Carole Todd’s zesty choreography, also capture the fun and flamboyance of the decade. It’s a non-stop party from beginning to end: a joyous celebration of the music that made us, featuring more iconic tunes than you can shake a (rhythm) stick at! Everything is played and sung live onstage, and you won’t find a finer ensemble this side of the 60s. Ribi is excellent as the budding Buddy Holly and Carter as the Lesley Gore-alike, while Alastair Hill as the roving eyed frontman of Norman and the Conquests is responsible for some of the funniest moments in the show, especially when paired with Lauren Anderson-Oakley as his beleaguered wife, Sue.

The song list is bursting at the seams with some of the most iconic tunes in music history, and they’ve never sounded better than they do here. For a band aptly called ‘the Conquests’, they really do take no prisoners – so huge kudos to Benji Lord on bass, Joe Sterling on electric guitar, Alan Howell on acoustic, Daniel Kofi Wealthyland on drums, and musical director Sheridan Lloyd on keys. There’s fantastic musical backup by Lauren Chinery and Chloe Edwards-Wood on sax (and dancing) duties, plus some bravura brass courtesy of Rob Gathercole and Mike Lloyd, the latter of whom also plays a tyrannical Butlins Redcoat who steals every scene he’s in (imagine if Tom Hardy’s Charles Bronson joined the cast of Hi-De-Hi and you’re halfway there).

The songs fly so thick and fast that there’s often not enough time to applaud them all, which is what happens when the incredible Samara Clarke sings an utterly breathtaking rendition of Where the Boys Are. And while the music is staggering (Baby Now That I’ve Found You is a knockout), some of the show’s most powerful moments come from their a capella arrangements of Blue Moon (a real showcase for David Luke) and Come Softly to Me. Lord, Sterling and Gathercole playing twee Eurovision hopefuls was a standout (The Kennies were robbed!) and David Benson’s pitch-perfect Kenneth Williams’ ‘Ma crepe suzette’ bit had everyone in stitches. The cast also boasts a genuine star of the 1960s music scene: Mark Wynter (of Venus in Blue Jeans and Go Away Little Girl fame), who portrays Laura’s sagacious manager, Larry.

The show really comes to life in the second half, and while some of the ‘lead in’ dialogue is tenuous at best (‘How would you describe Laura?’ Cue ‘Pretty Woman’) but it’s all very tongue in cheek and who needs an excuse to sing Roy Orbison, anyway? If you experienced the music yourself the first time round, or if you’ve grown up listening to your parents’ or grandparents’ records, this show is a must-see. The 1960s aren’t just an escape: they’re a mirror. It was a time, like ours, filled with rebellion, political upheaval, and the threat of war on the horizon. The songs, and the performances, underscore the show’s clearest, loveliest message: that the good times will return, and better than ever.

Dreamboats & Petticoats Bringing On Back The Good Times! is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff through Saturday 16 April

Festival of Voice 2018: My review highlights (Gemma Treharne-Foose)

2018’s Festival of Voice, produced by the Wales Millennium Centre builds on previous years’ attempts to unite communities and celebrate voice in all its forms, drawing upon Wales’ wide cultural and musical legacy. This would be my first experience of the festival and it really kicked off in style.

Over the course of a week, I’d be bowled over, discover something new and completely unexpected and leave my typical comfort zone of only watching (and reviewing) theatre. Festivals like these are a smorgasbord of new opportunities to learn something new and develop your palate for new art forms and genres of music.

We were introduced to the opening of the festival from the centre’s Artistic Director and team, before being joined by community and advocacy groups – true to the centre’s vision to be inclusive and accessible, but I did wonder how ‘accessible’ it really is that unless you are familiar with the set-up and already know that you can verify your ticket – the £8 parking ticket cost to park in the nearest car park and see a WMC show would be pretty inaccessible to most carers and people on PIPs and other benefits.

I also need to point out the ridiculous set-up of the toilets in the centre. There are disabled toilets, sure – but the two sets of heavy doors, teeny-weeny area to dry your hands and the smallest bins I’ve ever seen in my life are deeply irritating.

But I digress….enough of the nit-picking and on to the main event…

CARERS CHOIR, GIG BUDDIES AND BILLY BRAG, WMC

Underappreciated, underpaid and perhaps an unlikely group of people to assemble as a choir, the festival was opened by a multi-generational group of carers, who sang with real spirit and heart. Knowing the obstacles and challenges they face in their day-to-day lives, their positivity shone through and the audience were visibly moved by their version of ‘What a wonderful world’ and ‘Lean on me’.

After rapturous applause, it was time for the Gig Buddy crew to crash into the foyer, clutching signs, banging drums and stamping their feet. They had formed a group to protest the fact that the support they receive does not take into account the fact that they too want to access music and arts performances – and these of course fall outside the typical office hours of supporters and carers. In association with Learning Disability Wales and Hijinx Theatre Company, the protesters delivered a skit about the fact that for most people – not being able to go to gigs, movies and performances like everybody else is not only unfair but naturally they’re quite rightly pissed off about it.

This was a brilliant opportunity to showcase the ‘Gig Buddies’ initiative where volunteers are matched (via their interests) to people with additional learning needs and various disabilities who need a little extra support to access gigs and shows. Bloody brilliant idea and I’m hoping to sign up myself.

The main event for the opening of the festival was ‘Topical singer songwriter’ Billy Brag (he doesn’t like to call himself a political performer in case it puts people off!). I knew the name Billy Brag but barely any of his actual material. This would be a new experience, not least for discovering the awesomeness that was supporting artist Nadine Shah, a Tyneside lass whose basy, punky songs are accompanied by soulful vocals.

Her edgy songs draw upon current affairs, world injustices and the hurt and heartbreak of modern life. Performing songs from her 2017 album ‘Holiday Destination’, she gave a fierce and raw performance. The song Holiday Destination and its refrain ‘How you gonna sleep tonight’ is a polemical nudge and critique on the holidaymakers in Kos who complained of refugees on the island ruining their holidays.

Shah tells the crowd “We need immigration – we make food taste better, we make the place look better and we make music sound better, too!”.

Shah’s heritage is Norwegian-Pakistani, and her Northern accent and humour shines through in her work. Billy Brag is – just like Nadine Shah, a storyteller. In between his songs, he delights the audience with his insights, his banter and his stinging observations about what’s going on in the world. He is unapologetic about his views, honest about his flaws and endlessly witty about politics in general.

He skewers Trump in the finale song based upon Bob Dylan’s ‘Times they are a changin’, which was changed to ‘Times they are a changing-BACK’). He tells the audience he wrote the song in a rage in 2016 when Trump was elected. His stories and rambles include the fact that he was schooled the last time he was in Cardiff for using a plastic bottle on stage at the Tramshed. “I’m sorry…I learned from my mistake. The oceans are full of plastic and shit, we need to do something about it.” Since then he’s used a ‘Gig Buddy’ aluminium bottle.

Of the grumpy artist Morrissey, he tells us “What is happening? He’s turned into a bloody gammon!”. Brag’s songs are clever and his set is largely improvised. He plays a song after an audience member shouts out a suggestion – and his final song is the famous classic ‘A New England’.

The entire audience shouts back the lyrics and it’s electrifying. I couldn’t believe I haven’t been following this chap’s career. Where the hell have I been the last 37 years? He has a new fan in the Rhondda, that’s for sure. The opening acts in the foyer and the main concert in the Donald Gordon theatre were rebellious in spirit and sound.

LOVECRAFT (NOT THE SEX SHOP IN CARDIFF), WMC (Ffresh bar)

I don’t know where Carys Eleri has been hiding out but we all need to see more of her. I didn’t know what the show ‘Lovecraft’ was going to be about – something to with science and love, I gleaned from the flyer. But it’s so much better than the event write-up promises.

I can’t praise the producers and director of this show enough for their vision. As sets go, it’s pretty low-tech, a cabaret-style set up within Ffresh bar serves as the set and Carys is accompanied by two screens which form a kind of visual aid and powerpoint for this hilarious one-woman show. The production is a romp through the idiosyncrasies and absurdities of love. What’s the ‘science’ behind love and sex? You’ll get to find out – via Carys’ brilliant stories.

It’s outrageously honest… and completely mental. This show will especially appeal to any women in their thirties who feel the pressure and expectation that society thrusts (‘scuse the pun) upon them.

At times, this feels like you are catching up with one of your girlfriends from Carmarthen who is every bit as outrageous and filthy as you are – and you’ll love her for it. The science narrative is informative, but not the main point of the show. You’ll be drawn in to her off the wall stories, brilliant observations about her Mam (“Carys…can’t you put on a bra..?”) and the dirty and embarrassing secrets we might all experience growing up – ‘fanny gallops’, hallucinogenic trips in the back of a taxi being driven by a unicorn and waking up naked next to another girl. We’ve all been there, right?

The song ‘Tit Montage’ is the highlight of the show, perhaps of the entire festival – and in my opinion would be a credible entry for the Eurovision Song Contest.

The song ‘I brain you’ is pee-your-pants hilarious. If Carys Eleri was running for Prime Minister, I’d probably vote for her. I BEG you to see this show – its been to Edinburgh Fringe already and has attracted a steady stream of adoration from audiences at the Festival of Voice.

There is so much life left in this show – and I hope it tours again (I will be sure to gather as many of my filthy friends as I can to share the experience with). My only negative points are that I could have happily sat through another hour of it before it finished and I now want Carys Eleri to be my best friend/drinking companion even though she has no idea who the hell I am.

RHONDDA RIPS IT UP (WNO), New Theatre

After a somewhat lukewarm experience at my last opera, I wasn’t sure if I was an ‘opera person’. But anyone following the #MeToo movement, who calls themself a feminist or admires the women who took part in the recent ‘Procession’ in Cardiff to mark a hundred years since women obtained the right to vote REALLY shouldn’t miss out on this show.

Led by Emcee Lesley Garrett, this is a look back at the stuffy Victorian era and the legendary Margaret Haig (Lady Rhondda) – a politician’s daughter and activist who led the Newport branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The indomitable Margaret Haig was an outspoken radical who along with other women, was judged and ridiculed by the Asquith’s liberal government for her efforts.

Played by Madeline Shaw, Lady Rhondda is a fearless campaigner. Along with her friends Edith and Prid (played by Paula Greenwood and Meriel Andrew), the production satirises the ‘old boy network’ of both the government and society at the time and pokes fun at the uptight/prissy way in which women were expected to behave.

I had no idea opera could be this edgy or this level of hilarious. Everything from the choreography, the physical comedy of Garrett and other cast members, the originality of the songs and cheeky/camp way they are delivered is a treat for the audience.

The stand out scenes are the songs ‘My girl’s pussy’ (yes, really!) and the song about the fondant fancies, complete with all the flair and foppishness of the Edwardian music hall tradition. This is Women’s Institute crossed with #MeToo.

There are also guest appearances from the WNO community chorus (who deliver a rousing performance as fellow suffragettes) and a nod to Haig and Helen Archdale’s gay relationship, demonstrating the extent to which Lady Rhondda tore up the rule book and challenged convention, albeit discreetly. There is a telling scene in the show when Margaret Haig and her friend are on the train (with their bomb-making materials) and they overhear a man saying “Suffragettes! If that was my wife, I’d give her a darn good thrashing!”.

Queue a hilariously camp sequence with a bunch of ‘men’ thrashing each other’s behinds with rolled up newspapers in a homo-erotic fashion. Nowadays we’d call this toxic masculinity at its worst – back then, those kinds of attitudes were de rigueur.

I am no opera buff, but WNO have delivered a phenomenal tribute to Lady Rhondda and her contribution as a suffragette and business pioneer.

It was sensitive without being syrupy and witty without being cruel. Not everyone will get the satire, apparently – one audience member overheard in the loo commented she didn’t understand why ‘men were being made fun of’ and that she preferred the WNO community chorus to the production itself. For me, the main feeling I got was one of immense gratitude – that so many women like Haig faced violence, imprisonment and the scorn of society and for their dogged determination to change history for the better.

Their first victory was not a resounding success, the first bill allowing women to vote was only for women over 30 with property. There was plenty more to fight for – and with world events and pussy-grabbing presidents reminding us daily, some might say the battle is far from over. But as the legendary suffragette Emily Pankhurst once said:

“Never surrender….never give up the fight.”

GWENNO, WMC (Weston Studio)

A former member of indie band The Pipettes, Gwenno has already amassed a strong critical following and fanbase after the release of album Un Dydd Olaf in 2015 and Cornish language ‘Le Kov’ in 2018. Her dedication and tribute to Edrica Hughes at the Festival of Voice was a moving tribute to the poet and patchwork quilt artist Edrica Huws (1907-1999).

There was a packed house in the Weston Studio for the one-off performance, entirely created and composed by Gwenno, but this time with the support of a violinist and harpist (Angharad Davies and Georgia Ruth). The stage was dressed like a set – a lived-in parlour with an old-fashioned crib, a fireplace and the markers of domesticity from a time gone by.

At the foot of the large screen above the stage stood Gwenno’s mixing decks and computer, flanked by a triple harp and wooden toys – the musical set and hi-tec equipment is a curious accompaniment to the ironing board, clothes horse and lamp on stage, denoting the ordinary, humble life of Edrica. On the screen we saw vignettes of slices of history sketched and animated on the screen, accompanying the synthy electric-pop landscape being played and mixed live in front of us.

We saw suffragettes marching in 1907, weaving in and out of the war, a grimy London landscape of the humdrum existence of everyday life, love, relationships and duty stitched together with the dreamy melodies and an almost hallucinogenic quality to the music. I hadn’t known about Edrica’s work or story before. An ordinary wife and mother, she didn’t start expressing herself artistically until age 51.

She became a ‘patchwork pioneer’, breaking the rules and conventions of art and design in terms of subject, material, tone and texture to become a celebrated exhibitor and artist/poet around the world.

Animated by Tad Davies, the on-screen vignettes to not distract so much as heighten the experience for the audience and Gwenno’s gentle vocals, the poppy disco beats, baseline and meandering harp and violin are a thing of beauty.

Gwenno’s soundscape is punctuated by poetic whisperings, especially poignant and beautiful during ‘Anrhefn Pentyndod / The chaos of childhood’ and kooky and marvellous when she donned a cat mask for ‘Y Gath’ / The Cat in tribute to Edrica’s ‘Cat on an ironing board’ piece.

She is not a wild or attention-seeking performer in the sense of other unique artists (like Bjork for example) but she is completely enigmatic – a quiet genius in many senses. She creates riffs and spacey echoes using props – one song loops the sounds made by wooden toys and they are overlaid with a base-heavy disco beat.

It is weird and wonderful and strangely soothing. Edrica is a feast for the senses, the thinking person’s mind disco – and you’ll be richer for having witnessed it.

In between each song, the audience is almost deathly silent for a few seconds – not because the show is bad (because it was clearly bloody brilliant) but because they know they had witnessed something magical and weren’t sure what the rules were. Should we get up and dance? Applaud wildly? Edrica Huws broke the rules during her lifetime and Gwenno is doing the same.

5 stars 

Type of show: Music / Theatre / Opera / Performance Art / Poetry

Title: Festival of Voice Venue: Multiple Locations

Dates: 7-17 June

Produced by: Wales Millennium Centre (and partners)

Author: Gemma Treharne-Foose

Review, Awful Auntie, Gemma Treharne-Foose

 

3 out of 5 stars (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.