Chitty Chitty Bang Bang REVIEW

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Venue: The Mayflower Southampton

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flew straight into Southampton this week for the first stop on its road trip.  This touring production is based on the 1968 movie of the same name and follows Caractacus Potts’ journey as an eccentric inventor. I feel that this should be Chitty’s last outing as it is a bit outdated for today’s audience.

The all-star cast is led perfectly by Jason Manford, who was the best performance of the night. Manford who played Potts, the loveable father of two, received acclaim for his role in ‘The Producers’ and is the lifeblood of this production. Joined on stage by team purple, Henry Kent and Lucy Sherman, who melted the hearts of the audience as Jeremy and Jemima Potts.

Phil Jupitus and Michelle Collins who stared as Baron and Baroness Bomburst, the idiotic and childish child haters, gave cheesy but entertaining performances. The real comedy comes in the form of Vulgarian Spies; Scott Paige as Goran and Sam Harrison as Boris . The boys change the pace with their physical and accent orientated comedy.

Martin Kemp plays the pantomime villainesque, The Childcatcher. Whilst frightening some of the children in front of me, I wasn’t buying it. For such a well known star his part is tiny and not one of his best.

There are two other stars of the show. Simon Wainwright’s video designs are fantastically created and timed and combined seamlessly with the set design to create a magical backdrop. The flying, floating, rotating and honking car is mesmerising to watch and makes the production feel truly magical. Notable mention should also go to the Sherman brothers admired soundtrack including the titular classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang along with Truly Scrumptious and Me ol’ Bamboo.

This child and crowd pleaser continues at the Mayflower until Sunday 21st before heading on it’s UK and Ireland tour.

Review: https://criticalcharlotte.wordpress.com

Swan Lake – Birmingham Royal Ballet REVIEW

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Birmingham Royal Ballet – Swan Lake

5 Star by Charlotte Nelson

“I’ve never been to the ballet” – those were the words you would have heard me utter a few days ago. Swan Lake seemed like the best place to start and when I saw that The Birmingham Royal Ballet were back at the Mayflower, Southampton after 19 years to perform this timeless classic I jumped at the chance.

Initially I was concerned that I wouldn’t follow the story, due to there being no narration or spoken word however, this lavish rendition of this iconic ballet was so well performed that it perfectly told the story of Prince Siegfried. He falls for a Princess who has found herself enchanted by the ruthless Rothbart who has trapped her as a Swan; with the only way out for the pair being a pledge of undying love.

The dancing, to Petipa and Ivanov’s stunning choreography, was fabulous, and all the dancers were perfectly in sync with each other and wowed during some stunning solos. Yasuo Atsuji showed off a variety of different sides to Siegfried and was perfectly partnered with Nao Sakuma who effortlessly switched between Odette (Gentle and Sweet) and Odile (Vindictive). Special mention should be made to the ladies playing the cygnets who were always perfectly in sync and precise. How they all manage to stay on pointe I will never know, making it look effortless in what can only be assumed is an incredibly uncomfortable position.

Phenomenal scenery and well timed lighting make for a spectacular backdrop to this quality production; shown most brilliantly at the beginning of Act 4 when the Swans appear from underneath the mist, decked in the incredibly designed costumes. The costumes, mostly made in White, Black and Red have been seamlessly produced and help distinguish between the characters. Accompanied throughout by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia who spectacularly performed Tchaikovsky’s score; all the elements of this production come together seamlessly to provide the audience with a thoroughly mesmerising few hours of performance.

Swan Lake has finished its run at the Mayflower, however the Birmingham Royal Ballet are back at the Mayflower in Jan 2017 for Cinderella.

Review: https://criticalcharlotte.wordpress.com

Rebecca

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Venue: The Mayflower Southampton

Emma Rice of Kneehigh fame has adapted and directed this jumbled production of Rebecca ; a well-loved 1938 book by Daphne Du Maurier. Alfred Hitchcock turned his hand to creating an adaptation in the 1940’s, and each haunting production tells the tale of intrigue and jealousy.

The titular character is Maxim de Winter’s first wife Rebecca. Whilst it was never shown in the production, it is established that she disappeared out at sea a few months prior. Mr De Winter has since remarried and the new Mrs De Winter is trying to settle in to the Cornish Manderley Estate, desperate to win over its resident’s and step out of the shadow of her predecessor.

Newcomer Imogen Sage and Kneehigh Regular Tristan Sturrock do a resounding job portraying the ups and downs of their relationship, however, the adaptation is haphazard at best and its broken storytelling often left me thoroughly confused. The comedic use of a puppeteered dog and a young Welsh servant raised a laugh from the audience despite it being out of place with the dramatic and dark nature of the story; and thus stops it building to a peak. A strangely placed roly-poly, that quite frankly should have stayed in primary school PE, along with the bizarre use of freestanding windows being held up by members of the cast were beyond me.  A redeeming quality was the use of Cornish sea-shanties throughout, which the musical lover in me appreciated. The music pushed the story forward and added to the gothic and haunting atmosphere.

Rebecca is a visually stunning production complete with Leslie Travers’ astonishing set transporting you inside the Manderley estate quickly. One moment a broken boat, the next a Manderley wine cellar; the set flows from the indoors to the outdoors effortlessly.  Coupled with Tim Lutkin’s lighting design, the intensity of the Summer at Manderley is captured perfectly. I can find no faults with the set of Rebecca, it’s just a shame that the story didn’t match up to it as highly.

Rebecca is a muddled production that has resulted in equally as muddled opinions in my head. Whist this wasn’t particularly my cup of tea, there is no denying that it’s a beautifully staged production with redeeming elements; however I just feel a bit “meh” about the whole affair.

Review: https://criticalcharlotte.wordpress.com

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Venue: The Mayflower Southampton

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The sun may be the only thing shining on the French Riviera in this touring version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is based on the 1988 film of the same name, which starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin.

Scoundrels, previously shown in the West End with Robert Lindsay at the helm, is written by Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek and tells the story of two con-men: Lawrence Jameson (Michael Praed) and Freddy Benson (Noel Sullivan) who, along with their right hand man Andre (Mark Benton), are trying to fleece wealthy women out of their money. In a bid to determine who is the best con man and to be able to stay in Beaumont-Sur-Mer the pair place a bet on who can get 50k out of Soap Queen, Christine Colgate (Carley Stenson), first.

There’s no denying that Praed, Sullivan and Benton provided entertainment for the masses and were having the time of their lives in what was the penultimate show for the tour; but there was something missing with this production, and I felt as out of place in the audience of elderly, as the strangely placed Minion balloon looked in this 1950’s inspired musical. This musical is definitely a product of a time of “non pc” thinking; therefore I felt it was enjoyed more by the older generation.

Slapstick comedy a-plenty… Think Producers with an extra side helping of ham!  The scripting was at times offensive and I just couldn’t get on board with a scene where Freddy pretends to be disabled.

The entire cast did their best with what they were given and whilst there is no denying that Noel Sullivan of Hear’say fame and Hollyoaks’ Carley Stenson are brilliant singers, the musical has very little in the way of memorable songs. I can literally only name you one song without looking at the programme. Great Big Stuff is hopefully not stuck in my brain for all eternity, which is a shame as Sullivan can knock the socks off of a Rock Power ballad a la We Will Rock You/Rock of Ages any day of the week.

Peter McKintosh’s set is definitely a redeeming factor setting the tone and adding an extra ounce of glitz and glam to the French Riviera hotel setting.

A play not completely devoid of hope, but one that made me want to board a boat back to English shores after the first act.

The Mayflower Southampton was the last stop on the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels tour.

Review: https://criticalcharlotte.wordpress.com

Lord of the Flies

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Venue: Mayflower Theatre Southampton

The Regent’s Park Theatre version of Lord of the Flies is based on the 1954 novel by William Golding.  I seem to be one of the few who didn’t read Lord of the Flies for GCSE English and I haven’t picked up the book since, so I was going in with an open mind and didn’t really know what to expect.

Lord of the Flies delves into a dystopian world where a group of young boys between the ages of 6 and 12 find themselves accidently stranded after their plane was shot down from the sky. The play shows how the boys are divided into two groups – one which tries to maintain order and one which descends into utter chaos. At the beginning Ralph and Piggy (Anthony Roberts) try to call out all the survivors of the crash using a conch shell. There was some semblance of order on the island for a while until paranoia about a beast on the island kicks in and the boys begin to turn on each other.

For me the real selling point of this play is the design; Jo Bausor – the designer, Paul Keogan – Lighting Designer and Avgoustos Psillas – Sound Designer have done a stellar job at putting this production together. I would like to see how this was done in the Regents Park Open Air Theatre as I think it would bring a whole new level to the design. That being said this is without a doubt one of the most impressive pieces of staging that I have seen. Bausor’s awe inspiring set design includes a crashed plane with its contents thrown across the stage, which the children use as their playground. Keogan’s use of stage lighting was used to highlight different places on the island and separated different things that were happening simultaneously.

The cast were enthusiastic and passionate about the production which really came across; it must have been hard for the group to perform to a venue only filled to about a quarter of its capacity. Luke Ward – Wilkinson did a sterling job of leading the cast as Ralph, the charismatic leader who tries to be diplomatic.

Nigel Williams’ adaptation which may have been better as a one act play included a few updated 21st Century mod cons, what’s a 21st Century play without a selfie stick and boarding “the banter bus”, hey? To me, it just didn’t fit with the dystopian element of the production and seemed out of place. Whilst I have no problem with making classics relatable to a younger more modern audience, Golding’s classic didn’t benefit from the upgrade into the world of smartphones.

The play was lacking depth and the shock value was often lost on me. With a range of diverse themes and parallels to everyday life I was expecting the play to have more of a lasting impression on me as I left the theatre.

The production finished playing at the Mayflower on the 3rd of October before moving on to Cambridge and 16 other venues across the Country.

Review: https://criticalcharlotte.wordpress.com

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

The Campest Bus to Roll into Town

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Priscilla Queen of the Desert, based on the 1994 Australian film of the same name, rolled into the Mayflower on the 14th of September for a one week run. After nearly three years in the West End, this is the second UK wide tour and the second time it has enraptured audiences at this Southampton venue.

The cast is led by Priscilla’s newest member, Blue’s Duncan James as Tick. James shows off his impressive physique many a time before he goes on to don the Lycra and sequins as Tick’s alter ego Mitzi – with both parts of his performance equally entertaining.

The Musical tells the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman, who work as drag performers in Sydney. They decide to travel to Alice Springs after Tick, unbeknown to the others, tries to find them work close to his son and wife. With Tick’s hidden agenda of seeing his son, the trio, along with their tour bus Priscilla, head to the remote outback town of Alice Springs. The production highlights the trials and tribulations of going “on tour” into the  more rural areas of Australia and the homophobia that a drag act can encounter whilst presenting you with underlying messages of acceptance .

Simon Green and Adam Bailey do a sterling job as Tick’s two tour mates, Bernadette and Felicia. Note should also be made to the impressive singing imparted from the 3 divas who are suspended above all the action –providing the voices behind the lip synching drag queens.

Priscilla boasts a massive array of jukebox musical numbers including Go West,  I Will Survive, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head and Hot Stuff to name but a few – which are entertaining to watch. The costumes are equally as colourful and spectacular which adds a real energy to the performance – I’m jealous of how the cast walk and run so effortlessly in high heels, I would end up flat on my face running like they do.

There were two main things to let the production down for me and one was the set design. The Priscilla set if sent back to the garage, would fail its MOT – as it definitely needs some fine tuning. There was so much scope for impressive staging, with locations like Ayres Rock, however the cast were often just performing in front of a rickety red curtain which leads to the magnitude of Outback Australia being lost in translation.

The music/storyline ratio was slightly off in my opinion and I must admit, I didn’t really understand what was going on half the time partly through my own lack of context. I think director Simon Phillips saved the best piece of script to last with the interaction between Tick and his son – whose cuteness tugged on many a heart string!

Whilst there is room to improve, there is no denying that this musical does what it says on the tin. It is a fun, flamboyant and feel-good night out; the all singing all dancing element must win over audiences night after night. The Opening Night at The Mayflower had the whole audience on their feet and even had some dancing at curtain call.

Priscilla may be rolling into a town near you soon with dates scheduled until the end of April 2016.

Review: https://criticalcharlotte.wordpress.com

Curious Incident

 

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Venue: Mayflower Theatre Southampton

A UK Tour, with the National Theatre attached to it, automatically grabs my attention. Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time has done fantastically well in the West End and across the pond over on Broadway, so there was a high bar set in my eyes and I believe it smashed it!

5 years ago I was introduced to Mark Haddon’s ‘Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time’ in an A Level English class and was astounded and gripped by the story of Christopher Boone.

Now for those of you who haven’t spent a whole year of your life covering the pages of the novel in highlighter pen then the plot may be a mystery to you. Allow me to explain: The story follows Christopher, who has Asperger’s syndrome, playing detective when his neighbour’s dog is gruesomely murdered in the garden. The find leads him to make chat with ‘strangers’, make discoveries about his family and learns about bravery and honesty, all set in an academic mind full of maths equations and science.

Simon Stephens has done a stellar job translating the book onto the stage and with the help of director Marianne Elliot created the perfect all round visual production.

Chris Ashby acted phenomenally as Christopher, deserving the standing ovation he received, breaking the fourth wall and establishing a connection with the audience almost immediately. There was a real warmth and depth to his performance and his chemistry with Geraldine Alexander as the teacher was heart-warming. Frantic assembly’s movement direction added heaps to the performance and contributed seamlessly to the production.

Special note should be made to Bunny Christie’s visually stunning set design; admirably combining the simple set with more complex graphs, boxes and equations. The lighting and the video designs were spectacular and all together it perfectly encompassed the hectic goings on in Christopher’s head. The most seamless merging of sound, lighting, acting and visuals was during the train station sequence; all the cast and creatives excelled in this scene and was a standout for me.

You can certainly expect the unexpected in this production. Cast members lit only by torchlight, complicated math equation explanations, train sets, cast members in the audience and real life animals (and yes I did spend a lot of time checking Toby the rat was still inside his cage and wasn’t planning a great escape!)

Many adaptations are pitted up against their original version and most of the time they can fail to live up to people’s high expectations, but in this instance I have to say I preferred the play to the book. The hugely visual elements and staging heighten the plot and transported the audience into Christopher’s mind, something also done very well in the book.

Just remember Christopher never lies, so don’t be in a rush to leave your seats after the curtain call…

Curious Incident the tour continues onto Cornwall, Oxford and Liverpool in July and concludes its run in November 2015.

Review: https://criticalcharlotte.wordpress.com