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 and Lucy Jane Parkinson (Photo: Helen Maybanks)
Leave a comment | tags: Bethan Cullinane, Donnacadh O'Briain, Elijah W Harris, Ellie Morris, Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Jon Brittain, Lucy Jane Parkinson, review, Rotterdam | posted in Review
BILLIONAIRE BOY The Musical
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 20th February, 2019
The children’s books of David Walliams have filled the gap left by Roald Dahl. They are child-centred stories, with outlandish events and grotesque characters – usually the adults, save for one or two sympathetically presented ones. Billionaire Boy the Musical fits this mould exactly, telling the story of young Joe Spud, son of toilet-paper innovator Len, one of the richest men in the world. For all his riches, Joe is unhappy. He wants friends and so opts to go to the local comprehensive to make some. It’s not long, of course, before his money gets in the way.
As Joe, Ryan Heenan is an appealing figure, boyish and with a superb singing voice that suits the rock and pop sensibilities of the score. The songs (by Miranda Cooper and Nick Coler, with lyrics by Jon Brittain) are without exception catchy, with witty lyrics and in a range of styles. Dean Nolan is great as the crass nouveau riche Len but seems to have the most fun as a disgusting dinner lady (imagine Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull let loose in a school kitchen!) Bringing out Len’s paternal side is the mighty Sophia Nomvete as Gwen, the Mum of Joe’s new friend Bob. Nomvete has remarkable presence, whether she’s narrating, playing Gwen, or a more exaggerated character like the school teacher.
Lem Knights is great fun as Bob, bringing physical humour and also sensitivity to the role, while Eleanor Kane’s Lauren is cute and energetic without being too girly. Jared Leathwood and Natalie Morgan gurn and growl as school bullies, the Grubbs. (Cast members also play musical instruments, augmenting the upstage band)
Special mention to Avita Jay, doubling as Len’s gold-digging model girlfriend Sapphire Stone and as shopkeeper Raj (a staple of Walliams’s books) working the audience and doing a lot of the frame-breaking. This is a show that establishes a rapport with the audience without going full-on panto. We are included in everything and somehow the overt theatricality of the piece draws us in rather than alienating us in a Brechtian fashion.
It’s a funny and engaging production. Director Luke Sheppard keeps everything lively so when the moments of pathos come, they are all the more touching. There’s a wealth of talent at work here in a show rich with comedy, infectious tunes and a moral, which is perhaps obvious but is not hammered home.
Working with Nuffield Southampton Theatres, the Belgrade has struck it rich with this vibrant new musical. I loved every minute.
Golden boys Ryan Heenan as Joe and Lem Knights as Bob (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Leave a comment | tags: Avita Jay, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Billionaire Boy, David Walliams, Dean Nolan, Eleanor Kane, Jared Leathwood, Jon Brittain, Lem Knights, Luke Sheppard, Miranda Cooper, Natalie Morgan, Nick Coler, Nuffield Southampton Theatres, review, Ryan Heenan, Sophia Nomvete | posted in Review, Theatre Review