Tag Archives: Andy Williams

Take This


Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 1st May, 2018


Regular readers will know of my aversion to jukebox musicals and so it is with some trepidation that I approach this production.  An out-and-proud Take That fan from way back, I had seen some of the auditions for the titular band in a BBC talent programme, and that wasn’t enough to put me off!

Not, as the woman behind me expected, the story of Take That, this is instead the tale of Rachel and her schoolfriends.  The Band, a Take-Thattish quintet of handsome lads, form the soundtrack to their lives, and encapsulate their hopes and dreams.  Teen Rachel (Faye Christall) cranks up their music to drown out her parents’ quarrels and escape her problems – boy band as metaphor for heroin, perhaps!  When her best mate Debbie (Rachelle Diedericks) wins concert tickets, the group of girls set off on an adventure that changes their young lives.  The other members are sporty Claire (Sarah Kate Howarth), promiscuous extrovert Heather (Katy Clayton) and swotty Zoe (Lauren Jacobs).  We realise the show’s title refers not only to the omnipresent boyband but also to the rubber bracelets on which the girls swear undying friendship, in a kind of Blood Brothers move.

The boy band work as a kind of dispassionate Greek chorus, hardly ever off apart from costume changes – the songs don’t necessarily relate to the action or the characters – and it’s like a play with songs, until the characters start singing too and we’re launched back into musical theatre territory, although, even then, they sing because they want to, rather than to express emotion or character or to further the plot.  And it doesn’t matter.  The musical numbers are spectacularly staged – production values are high, indeed.  Relight My Fire, for example, turns the last bus home into a chariot pulled by the band in Greek helmets, while jets of flame leap from the footlights…

The story jumps 25 years and forty-something Rachel has won a competition to see the band’s reunion gig in Prague.  A reunion is on the cards and there is much humour and more than a little poignancy with the regard to the passage of time and the way life turns out.  Rachel Lumberg is the keystone of the story as grown-up Rachel – with her partner Jeff (Martin Miller) the script takes a John Godber turn, with the relationship strife and the planned trip abroad.  Jayne McKenna and Emily Joyce are good fun as the grown-up Zoe and Heather respectively, but it is the once-sporty Claire who steals the show and our hearts in a lovely portrayal by Alison Fitzjohn.  Andy Williams (not that one) crops up again and again in a range of roles, each of them humorous in an economical, throwaway style that demonstrates his versatility and comic timing.

Tim Firth’s script channels Victoria Wood with its down-to-earth North-Western bathos, and Willy Russell in its female empowerment.  There are plenty of laughs, more than a smattering of wit and a touching denouement that has me wiping my eye.

And the boyband?  Wow.  Selected for their vocal abilities, they also have to dance their socks (and in some cases their tops) off, in a dazzling and energetic display.  Kim Gavin’s choreography evokes the pop videos of Take That and the boys (AJ, Nick, Curtis, Yazdan and Sario) seem tireless in their efforts.  Very impressive.

Kim Gavin also directs, along with Jack Ryder, and they get the pace and feel of the piece just right, keeping us on the right side of sentimentality and teasing us with just enough nostalgia to set the scene while allowing this new story to have legs of its own.  This charming, warm-hearted piece blends down-to-earth humour with spectacular staging and it all fits together beautifully for a show you’ll Never Forget.


The boys in the Band (Photo: Matt Crockett)


The Honeymoon is over…


The REP, Birmingham, Friday 1st May, 2015


Expectations are more than knee high for a Kneehigh production. You expect to see certain things delivered in a certain style and once again director Emma Rice does not disappoint. The trappings of a Kneehigh show are all in evidence: the onstage musicians underscoring the action, beautiful puppetry (the dog is especially endearing) and a certain brio to the performance style.

Daphne du Maurier’s dark tale of jealousy becomes in this treatment a fairy story. A young girl moves into a castle (well, Manderley!) and discovers, Bluebeard-like, that her new husband has secrets… It’s not that the house is haunted but the inhabitants are, unable to shake off the memory of De Winter’s first wife, the eponymous and unseen Rebecca.

Imogen Sage is suitably appealing as the second Mrs De Winter, blundering from faux pas to faux pas and giving rise to tension. Tristan Sturrock cuts a dash as widower/newlywed Maxim De Winter, a man whose inner torments cause anguish and outbursts of temper. He is out-debonaired though by Ewan Wardrop as Jack Favell, his first wife’s lover. Wardrop sweeps across the stage, Astaire-like and cocky. You can see why Rebecca strayed! Emily Raymond is dour and yet impassioned as housekeeper Mrs Danvers, devoted to her former boss, and particularly enjoyable are Lizzie Winter and Andy Williams (not that Andy Williams) as hedonistic in-laws, Beatrice and Giles. Katy Owen almost steals the show as young servant Robert, whose dancing has to be seen to be believed.

For me, this production is all about the staging. Leslie Travers’s set combines elements of the rugged Cornish coast with the interior of Manderley and, depending on how scenes are lit (designed by Tim Lutkin) either the house or the Poldarkian  landscape dominates. A boat, lowered from the flies, becomes part of the floor in the house – it is as though they are dancing on the drowned Rebecca’s grave. Flashes of lightning remind us of the duality of mankind; beneath the veneer of civilisation run the powerful forces of nature. This is certainly true of Maxim De Winter – and the rest of us too!

It’s an enchanting and inventively theatrical production that should satisfy Kneehigh fans and Du Maurier aficionados alike.