Tag Archives: Grand Theatre Wolverhampton

Rice and Cheese

THE ENTERTAINER

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 7th October, 2019

 

Archie Rice, washed-up, old-school, tax-dodging comic treats his audiences with scorn, but they’re not lapping it up anymore.  Meanwhile, at home, there’s a son away in a war, and Archie’s second wife is feeling the strain.  Daughter Jean is reaching her limits – she’s not going to put up with the old ways for much longer, while grandpa Billy Rice rants about immigrants and gives rise to friction… Archie’s home life is no picnic either.

Director Sean O’Connor brings John Osborne’s play forward in time from the Suez Crisis to the time of the Falklands Conflict.  But for all the pop music of the era and the references to Shake & Vac and Rising Damp, this is very much a play for today.  The bigoted, anti-immigrant attitudes expressed by old Billy, laughable in an Alf Garnett kind of way, have resurfaced in today’s Britain – and so Billy (played with conviction and credibility by Pip Donaghy) isn’t funny but alarming.  He’s a Sun reader, so what can you expect?  Headlines from that ‘newspaper’ are projected across the scene, and the anti-Argentine rhetoric of then is strikingly similar to today’s bile levelled against the EU, with whom we are not even at war.

Diana Vickers is a steadying presence as young Jean, whose boyfriend troubles bring her back to the family flat.  Jean becomes the ‘angry young woman’ of the piece, letting rip in a tirade that is a long time coming, while Alice Osmanski witters and frets effectively as Archie’s second wife Phoebe.  Christopher Bonwell has some strong moments as young Frank but of course the show belongs to the star.

Shane Richie is on excellent form as Archie Rice, from his off-colour, sexist jokes, to his Max Wall-esque clowning, and his cheesy cabaret singing.  Richie not only performs Archie’s act, he acts his decline – Don’t go expecting an evening of comedy!  This is heavy duty stuff, about the dynamics of this dysfunctional family at a time of political and economic uncertainty; it’s about personal failure, and also the human condition.  “I’m dead behind the eyes,” Richie claims acidly, before accusing all of us of being in the same state.  It’s a bitter moment in a bitter play.

The drama takes place on a conventional box set, but it’s kept back, behind a false proscenium arch, physically keeping the characters at a distance from us, the edges and tops of the flats clearly in view.  We are not part of the scene, not part of the family, but held at bay so we can examine them from afar.  Osborne’s scathing writing holds these people up, not for our admiration or sympathy, but for our ridicule and disparagement.  Characters step forward, speaking their opinions in broad asides, again reminding us of the artifice of the production.

It’s a challenging piece but as a statement on the country before its post-Brexit decline, it couldn’t be more on the money.  Fortunately for us, Shane Richie is more of an entertainer than poor Archie Rice could ever hope to be, giving a masterful performance with genuine star quality.

shane

Joker! Shane Richie as Archie Rice


Strumming my pain with his fingers…

Miloš: Voice of the Guitar

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Sunday 22nd September 2019

 

Miloš Karadaglić continues his mission to unite the worlds of classical and pop music by means of the acoustic guitar with this concert of a variety of pieces which he describes as a musical journey from Bach to the Beatles and beyond.  Backed by string quintet, 12 Ensemble, (who get the evening started with a Brandenberg Concerto by JS Bach), Miloš is a quietly intense figure, focussed on his fingers as he extracts audio beauty from his guitar.  It’s marvellous to behold and even better to hear.

He’s quite slight, in his skinny fit, black suit and black shirt, and handsome, like a lost Jonas Brother, with a charming, gently self-deprecating humour when he addresses the audience to tell us what’s coming up.  A native of Montenegro, he seems bemused to be in Wolverhampton – but, who wouldn’t be?  The sumptuous beauty of the Grand Theatre is an appropriate setting for the music we are about to hear.

After the quintet’s Bach opener, Miloš responds with a Bach solo, before they all play together a stirring and dynamic Boccherini fandango.  Other highlights include Tarrega’s Lagrima, wistful in its sadness, plucking at your heartstrings; a piece from De Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat, a bold and rhythmic flamenco; and the famous Spanish Romance, here exquisitely arranged for guitar and strings. Piazzolla’s rousing Libertando rounds off the first half nicely, and I already feel like I’ve been through the wringer – but pleasantly so!

The second half kicks off with a Villa-Lobos prelude in E minor, followed by pieces by Pujol and Savio – all favourites in the guitarist’s repertoire.  A real treat is when Miloš is joined by the first violinist from the quintet for a Piazzola duet, originally written for guitar and flute, that is just lovely.

And then we move onto more recent fare with the title track from the new album, Paul Simon’s Sound of Silence.  There is a danger, I always think, that pop songs rendered as instrumentals can sound like lift music or on-hold music, but the arrangements here add depth to the pieces.  Divested of their lyrics (an important part of any pop song) numbers by Radiohead and the Beatles take on new colours – and you can’t help singing the words in your head anyway.  The Fool On The Hill is given a rhapsodic treatment and it’s just marvellous.  It all sounds great but I prefer the classical pieces, the slow tangos with their bittersweet melancholy.  Probably just the mood I am in tonight!

A splendid evening with a rich and varied programme, showcasing the versatility of the instrument and the virtuosity of the performer.

Miloš Karadaglić

Strumming and fretting his hour upon the stage: Miloš Karadaglić

 

 

 


Long Haired Love-In

HAIR

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 23rd July, 2019

 

I saw this 50th anniversary production of the notorious musical when it was on at The Vaults in London and so I am delighted to be able to catch it again as the show does the rounds up and down the country.  The main difference is the touring show is an altogether less immersive affair, with only the punters in the front stalls drawing the actors’ attention, whether they want to or not!

It starts with the voice of Trump, the Draft Dodger-in-Chief himself, thereby linking the events of the story with the present day.  Very loosely, the show relates the story of friends Berger and Claude, offering insights into the counter-culture hippy life of the late 1960s.  In 1967, the show was deemed shocking, with joints smoked on stage, nudity, bad fucking language, and all the rest of it.  Society and the media have caught up with Hair since then but it is not entirely relegated to the realms of the period piece.  Sad but true, the social issues and concerns of half a century ago are still with us, flaring up like a persistent strain of herpes: racism, homophobia, nuclear arms, war…

Jonathan O’Boyle’s lively production loses something in immersiveness on tour, but none of the energy and vigour.  Galt Macdermot’s score with lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, has given us some standards (Aquarius, Good Morning Starshine) but the show is jam-packed with strong melodies and eloquent words.

Jake Quickenden is quick to charm us with his playful, cocky Berger, and is the first to engage audience members in proceedings.  Quickenden Is an assured presence with a good voice and he brings out the humour of the role.  Going Down is superbly done.  Paul Wilkins’s Claude, torn between dropping out and doing his duty, is an appealing figure.  His rendition of I Got Life bursts with exuberance and is a definite highlight of the evening.  Daisy Wood-Davies is a fine Sheila, and there’s a hilarious turn from Tom Bales as Margaret Mead.  Marcus Collins has his moments to shine as Hud while Bradley Judge’s Woof is fun, getting up to all sorts with a poster of Mick Jagger.

The entire company is in great voice, executing William Whelton’s choreography with infectious energy.  Many striking images arise, particularly during Claude’s second-act hallucination sequence, in which sacred cows from American history are lampooned.  The chorus march toward us and are shot in the head, one by one.  A blue sheet covers the fallen… O’Boyle and Whelton ensure it’s not just dancing around here, augmenting the storytelling of Ragni and Rado’s sometimes scant book.  The music is performed live by the onstage band, directed by Gareth Bretherton, creating a rich, and sometimes loud, palette of sound.

Fun, pertinent and sometimes beautiful, Hair still has something to say about the world we live in and the way we live in it.  I adored it all over again.

tn-500_paulwilkins(claude)-hairthemusical-uktour-photosbyjohanpersson(03082)

Paul Wilkins (Photo: Johan Persson)


Class Struggle

EDUCATING RITA

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 8th July, 2019

 

Almost forty years after its first production, Willy Russell’s acerbic two-hander is doing the rounds again, and it’s a pleasure to reconnect with the story of hairdresser Rita as she pursues her academic aspirations in order to better herself and improve her lot.  The tutor assigned to her by the Open University is jaded lecturer and functioning alcoholic Frank, who overcomes his reluctance and forms a bond with his persistent and unconventional new student.

We laugh at Rita’s gaffes, as we meet her through Frank’s eyes – the play credits us with a modicum of literary knowledge – and we see, also through Frank’s eyes, how education changes the bright but awkward young woman into a confident, knowledgeable scholar.  Frank thinks he has created a monster, Frankenstein-style – but what Rita has done is break the mould of her working-class upbringing.  By aspiring to something other than material gain and a ‘good night out’ down the pub, Rita has changed her life.  She now has something she never had before: choices.

As Frank, Stephen Tompkinson does a flawless job, dripping with bitterness and sarcasm.  Jessica Johnson’s Rita has impeccable comic timing, although her accent can wander around the Mersey estuary (and sometimes across the Irish Sea).  There is nothing to say that Rita has to be from Russell’s hometown of Liverpool; she could spring from any working-class community.

The star of the show is Willy Russell, and it’s great to be reminded of the richness of his writing. There is much more to the play than the snappy jokes and the developing relationship and mutual respect between tutor and student.  There is social commentary about the rigidity of the class system and the perceived need to maintain the boundaries that define who people are.  Rita battles against the prevailing working-class attitude that art, books, the opera and so on are ‘not for us’, but once the genie is out of the bottle, she is unable to go back to pub singalongs and settling down with her lot.

Director Max Roberts navigates Rita’s mercurial mood changes: one minute she’s mouthing off, making wise cracks, and the next she’s revealing some home truth; Roberts keeps his cast of two busy.  Both characters are somewhat histrionic in their own way so there is no danger of things becoming static.  Patrick Connellan’s set, with books everywhere, encapsulates dishevelled academia (representing Frank himself) with Rita as an agent of change, for herself and for her unwilling tutor.  Neither of their lives will be quite the same again.

There are plenty of laughs, and even a couple of touching moments.  The message is not heavy-handed, but I wonder how relevant it is today.  And then I think of the obstacles placed in the path of working-class people that hinder their access to higher education, some of which come from the working-class mindset itself, and I think, yes, the play still has currency.

A modern classic, finely presented, this play will make you laugh and make you think.

Jessica-Johnson-and-Stephen-Tompkinson-in-EDUCATING-RITA

Jessica Johnson and Stephen Tompkinson


Look Who’s Stalking

THE BODYGUARD

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 26th June,2019

 

Never having watched the Whitney Houston-Kevin Costner film, I come to Alexander Dinelaris’s stage adaptation of Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay without expectations – other than I expect to know the songs (the score is Houston’s back catalogue).  But will the whole enterprise be nothing more than a glorified, glamourised jukebox musical?

Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: yes, it is.

Rachel Marron is a diva at the top of her game, and as stroppy a Queen of the Night as her namesake in The Magic Flute.  When security expert Frank Farmer is hired to protect her from the nutter who has been sending creepy messages, she digs in her high heels and stubbornly refuses to comply with the measures Frank puts in place.  You can see where it’s going: she gets in danger, Frank rescues her, and it’s not long before they’re snogging.  Frank is conflicted with this blending of his professional and personal lives.  Meanwhile, the nutter is becoming more audacious, and Rachel’s overshadowed sister is mooning over Frank with unrequited affection…

It’s a loud, brash, lavish affair and I have to say I enjoyed it immensely.  As the determined diva, Jennlee Shallow is the real deal, a phenomenal belter-outerer of Houston’s signature songs.  (Alexandra Burke will take over the role for the second week of the show’s sojourn in Wolverhampton).  Shallow is matched by Micha Richardson as sister Nicki – her renditions of Saving All My Love For You and All At Once are definite highlights for me.

French actor (and renard d’argent) Benoît Maréchal is unbelievably handsome in the role of Frank Farmer, bringing Gallic charm and charisma to the role.  His lacklustre karaoke version of I Will Always Love You is hilarious.  In fact, the best scenes between the two leads are when they lighten up with each other.

Phil Atkinson is an imposing and menacing presence as The Stalker, although I wonder how he has time to run a campaign of terror when he is clearly never out of the gym.

The plot may be simplistic but such are the production values, with Tim Hatley’s sliding set and Mark Henderson’s cinematic lighting, we are swept along.  It’s a love story, a thriller and above all, a reminder of how many great tunes Whitney Houston put out there.  The hits keep coming and the orchestra, led by Michael Riley, is superb.

This is musical theatre on a grand scale, a spectacle, a chance to escape from reality for a couple of hours, and it manages to deliver the goods without descending into schmaltz and sentimentality.

I may not have seen the film, but I have heard the old joke about Whitney Houston’s favourite kind of coordination…

Hand-eye………………….

Jennlee Shallow and Benoît Maréchal in The Bodyguard UK Tour - 2704 - Photo by Paul Coltas [1]

Up in arms: Jennlee Shallow and Benoît Maréchal (Photo: Paul Coltas)

 


Holiday Camp

CLUB TROPICANA

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 29th April, 2019

 

Don’t you just hate it when your wedding is called off so your mates take you abroad to a hotel to drink it off and you end up at the same place as your intended and their mates?  This is the set-up for this new jukebox musical, the flimsy framework on which to hang hit songs from the 1980s.  Add to the mix a subplot about an anonymous hotel inspector and a stalled love affair between the hotel owners and we’re pretty much set.  As with other shows of this type, we get musical theatre performers emoting their way through vaguely relevant pop songs – part of the fun is the recognition of each song.

But what sets this one above those other shows is the star quality of its leading lights.  Talent show champion Joe McElderry is Garry, the hotel’s entertainment officer, sporting a pink (rather than a red or even a yellow) coat, coming across like the love child of George Michael and Dale Winton.  The pop songs are a walk in the park for McElderry’s excellent vocals but it is especially pleasing to see how much he has developed as a comic actor, with flawless timing, a neat line in facial expressions, and some energetic physical comedy.  It’s camper than Christmas and it feels like McElderry has found his home.

Also bringing the goods is veteran comic actor and impressionist Kate Robbins, appearing as Consuela the maid – from the Allo Allo school of funny foreigners.  In the hands of a pro like Robbins, the character is more than a stereotype, and is a superb comic creation in its own right.  Robbins gets the chance to show off her impressions, through the prism of Consuela attempting to make the hotel look busy by donning a succession of fancy-dress costumes (didn’t they use that idea in Crossroads?).

Other members of the company get their moments to shine.  Amelle Berrabah’s Serena delivers a lovely Only You, Karina Hind’s Lorraine gives a kick-ass Call Me and Cellen Chugg Jones’s Olly shows his vocal range with a-ha’s tricksy Take On Me.  Emily Tierney gives a broad comic turn as accident-prone snob, Christine, who is not all that she seems… Neil McDermott’s Robert appeals, with a neat delivery of some snappy one-liners.

Michael Gyngell’s script keeps the complications uncomplicated; we shrug off the thinness of the plot because he gives us so many funny lines.  Nick Winston’s choreography recalls the signature moves of the decade, and the band, led by MD Charlie Ingles, gets the audience on its feet.

Strindberg or Ibsen, this ain’t, but it’s not trying to be.  While Club Tropicana doesn’t exactly push the boundaries of theatre, it’s undemanding, hilarious, old-fashioned fun, performed by a likeable company.

But it strikes me as odd that the famous and much-loved title song is never sung.  Perhaps the rights could not be obtained.  In that case, they should have called the show something else – but then I suppose Hotel California is too downbeat for this hugely enjoyable farcical frolic.

Club Tropicana 3

Joe McElderry as Garry


Dutch Treat

ROTTERDAM

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 23rd April, 2019

 

Alice is a British girl working in Holland.  New Year’s Eve is fast approaching and she’s in anguish over an email she’s trying to write to her parents, finally telling them that she is gay.  On hand to offer advice is girlfriend Fiona, a down-to-earth northerner – trouble is, Fiona has her own revelation to make: she is a he and wants to present as such.  Alice has difficulties supporting ‘Adrian’, fearing the loss of the woman she loves…

So begins Jon Brittain’s searing social comedy, on tour at last.  The writing is sharp and funny, and it rings true, emotionally speaking.  And there is more to the piece than laughter.  The play gives us an insight into the personal lives of people who transition, in an empathetic albeit hilarious and sometimes moving fashion.  The setting – Rotterdam – a port where everyone is either coming or going, reflects the state of flux of the play’s central relationship.

As uptight Alice, Bethan Cullinane is utterly credible, whether Alice’s outbursts are sarcastic or heartfelt.  Equally strong is the excellent Lucy Jane Parkinson as Fiona/Adrian, plain-speaking in some respects and desperate to articulate emotions and experiences at other times.  As the pair come under strain, we are brought to an understanding of both points of view.

They are supported by Elijah W Harris as Adrian’s brother and Alice’s ex (and now her best friend), Josh (Brittain keeps it in the family for added confusion and comedy value!), and Ellie Morris as Dutch party girl Lelani.  Harris is the mediator, the Apollo to Morris’s Dionysus, pulling Alice in opposing directions.  Both are great, with Morris in particular being very funny.

Director Donnacadh O’Briain gets comedy and emotion from his cast – even the transitions are fun (the scenic transitions, I mean!); there is also subtlety here.  Beneath all the yelling and histrionics, the emotional truth comes out.   It’s a vibrant, extremely likeable and thought-provoking production that sheds light on aspects of today’s society about which there is ignorance and prejudice.  The humour makes the characters relatable, which leads to better understanding of this slice of human experience.  Above all, it’s a love story and everyone can relate to that.

I could have done without the blaring electropop music though.  Perhaps I’m just old.

Bethan-Cullinane-Lucy-Jane-Parkinson-Rotterdam-e1555095942266

Bethan Cullinane and Lucy Jane Parkinson (Photo: Helen Maybanks)