Tag Archives: Lisa Riley

Beanz Meanz Lolz

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 12th December, 2017

 

Apart from a couple of changes, the main cast from last year’s rollicking Aladdin returns to Wolverhampton for this generous bean feast of fun, and they seem to work more as a team this time.  Lisa Riley is in the good fairy role, as Mother Nature, glamorous yet down-to-earth – in fact, despite the lofty heights of the beanstalk, this is a very down-to-earth show!  Ian Adams is Dame Trot in an array of gorgeously over-the-top outfits.  Adams is an excellent dame, whose mannerisms never descend into caricature or lampoon.  He is supported by Adam C Booth as Simple Simon, an energised funny man who can work the audience seemingly effortlessly.  Local star Doreen Tipton is also back to augment the comic capers, bringing local jokes for local people – the Black Country dialect is instantly funny, and Doreen’s deadpan presence is a hoot.

Graham Cole is enjoying himself as the giant’s henchman, Fleshcreep – he even has a go at singing to open the second act.  Bless.

But leading man and star of the show is Gareth Gates, looking rugged and sounding smooth.  His pop star vocals are as sweet as ever, and he treats us to a rendition of Unchained Melody that gives me shivers.  He looks great in panto costume and handles the action well, leaving the broad comedy to the others.  His voice blends well with Sarah Vaughan’s Jill, and a traditional routine on a wall with interference from Simple Simon offers one of this funny shows funniest moments.  There is a chaotic version of The 12 Days of Christmas, complete with water pistols, and a delightful moment with youngsters brought up from the audience.

Everything you expect to see is here, well presented and pleasingly performed, from the troupe of dancers and the chorus of kids, to the corny jokes and some hilarious bawdy humour.  When the giant finally puts in an appearance, it is an impressive piece of large-scale puppetry, and there is the added bonus of a cameo from Julie Paton, singing gorgeously as his golden harp.  Paton also choreographs and so is responsible for a lot of the show’s pizzazz.

Production values are high and the fun levels higher.  This is a solid and reliable pantomime that delivers on all fronts.  Hugely enjoyable and full of good cheer, this production demonstrates why I think pantomime is the best thing about the festive season.

Lisa Riley as Mother Nature and Gareth Gates as Jack in Jack And The Beanstalk - Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Lisa Riley as Mother Nature and Gareth Gates as Jack (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

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Rubbing the Right Way

ALADDIN

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 13th December, 2016

 

This year’s panto may be the Grand’s most lavish for years, containing moments of spectacle and glamour, but of course what matters most is the cast.  Qdos Entertainment has gathered a fine ensemble of familiar and not-so-familiar faces, all of whom go all out to deliver the goods.

aladdin-joe

Wow factor: Joe McElderry as Aladdin

In the title role is Joe McElderry, last seen on these boards as an excellent Joseph.  He sings like an angel from pop heaven, to be sure, but can he handle the comedy?  The answer is an unqualified yes.  McElderry is a natural for the panto style and makes an affable, adorable hero.  Lucy Kay is a beautiful Princess with a voice to match (her duets with McElderry are especially good); Adam C Booth’s Wishee Washee is a highly energised crowd pleaser and Ian Adams’s Widow Twankey is an old-school dame, played to perfection.  Lisa Riley, in great shape, is an amusing Slave of the Ring, bluff, Northern and friendly, but it is the Lazy Empress, played by Doreen who almost steals the show, giving Old Peking a decidedly and inescapably Black Country flavour.  Doreen also proves she is more than a one-trick pony (or should I say ‘oss’?) with a song-and-dance number that defies her supposedly lazy persona.  A real treat is Stefan Pejic’s delicious Abanazar.  Pejic plays the villain with such relish you can’t help liking him! Ben Faulks is fun as PC Ping Pong, although if you don’t know of his children’s TV gardening-based series, some of the references leave you a bit cold.  Neal Wright’s smart-talking Genie of the Lamp is a great surprise.

Michael Harrison and Alan McHugh’s script is faithful to the story – the bizarre mash-up of Arabian Nights and Chinese kitsch – while allowing for contemporary touches and moments of wonder.  We’ve seen flying carpets before but not like this one, but it’s a comic song routine about alternative employment for the characters that brings the house down.

Kelvin Towse leads a tight group of musicians. The glamorous dancers are complemented by kids from the Classic Academy of Dance. The belly laughs don’t stop coming and the impetus never flags.

This production is excellent value and unrelenting fun.  You couldn’t wish for a better show.

 


Female Parts

CALENDAR GIRLS
Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 1st February, 2012

It is often the cry of actresses of a certain age that there are not enough parts for them, that they become invisible. This hugely successful play belies that complaint: middle-aged actresses and their parts are undeniably visible in this case!

In recent years a new genre of play has emerged specifically to address the shortage of roles for older females, it seems. Plays in this genre are all essentially the same and adhere to a very formulaic set-up. A diverse group of women come together for a common goal. In Stepping Out, it’s tap dancing. In The Naked Truth, it’s pole dancing. In The Tart And The Vicar’s Wife, it’s brothel-keeping. .. The women are differentiated by markedly different costumes and each will have a defining characteristic along the lines of Walt Disney’s dwarves. There’s the brassy one, the vulgar one, the timorous one, the prudish one… As they work towards their common goal along the way there will be tears and tantrums and much larking around. Someone will surprise us with how good they are at the activity in question. Someone else will reveal a private tragedy. Friends will fall out and be reconciled. They will all rise to the occasion and achieve the goal. It is play-writing by numbers.

This formula has been applied to the based-in-truth story of women in a Yorkshire branch of the Women’s Institute who posed nude for a best-selling calendar that raised more than enough money for a new settee in a hospital. You don’t need to know the facts – you can tell exactly what is going to happen on stage because of the formula.

As depicted here, this small Yorkshire community is peopled by wise-cracking individuals with boundless exuberance – ‘appen there’s summat in t’water – throwing punch lines around like buckshot. Even the bloke dying from leukaemia, (Joe McGann) is relentlessly funny. The spectre of cancer casts a brief shadow on all this exuberance; it is a comedy, after all, but the attempts at pathos lack punch.

The funniest sequence is the photo shoot for the calendar. Fuelled by vodka, the women soon lose their inhibitions and their dressing gowns and create a series of tableaux that are more saucy postcard than titillating burlesque. The script glosses over the fact that they are blatantly short of five months but then I suppose seeing all twelve would slow the pace considerably.

The cast throw themselves into proceedings with, guess what, exuberance. Lynda Bellingham provides much of the impetus as Chris (brassy), ably supported by June Watson as Jessie (grumpy) and Lisa Riley (fatty, self-conscious, prudish). Deena Payne (Viv Windsor off of Emmerdale) is the musical one. Jan Harvey is the sad one. Former Hi-de-Hi glockenspiel banger, Ruth Madoc is Marie, chair of the branch. She is responsible for booking speakers who give talks on such edifying topics as the history of the tea towel and the provenance of broccoli. Her performance is like a demonstration of accents of the British Isles. There is a cameo by Camilla Dallerup as a skinny beautician that improves on her recent foray as Genie of the Lamp but I couldn’t help cheering when Lisa Riley, overcoming her prudishness, tells her to fuck off. Formerly Jake off of Hollyoaks, Kevin Sacre doubles as the hospital-porter-cum-photographer and as a callous media type, but overall the cockles are warmed by the central friendship between Bellingham and Harvey. Fundamentally that is what these plays are all about: sisterhood and the friendship between women rather than forwarding any feminist agenda.

The play is like eating a box of chocolates in one go. Pleasant while it lasts if not entirely to one’s taste, but not all that nutritious when it’s over. And it is a box of chocolates with only one layer. I would like to see one of these plays subvert the formula and frustrate expectations. Calendar Girls is a reliable, crowd-pleasing confection. It’s like settling down to watch your favourite soap or sit-com. You’re in safe hands here as sure as April follows May.