Tag Archives: Maureen Nolan

Snow White’s All Right

SNOW WHITE

Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, Thursday 30th December, 2021

As the pantomime season draws to a close, I am pleased to be able to fit one more in before the end of its run.  And what a cracker it turns out to be!

Headlining the cast as the Wicked Queen, Maureen Nolan is a striking, commanding figure, darkly glamourous, oozing evil and delivering some wicked one-liners.  Her big number, Alice Cooper’s Poison, as she cooks up the apple and her old woman disguise, is a definite highlight.  Nolan is still in great voice and the dancers, choreographed by Phillip Joel, add vigour and atmosphere to proceedings.

In the title role, Rebecca Keatley from Children’s television, makes for a vivacious, instantly likeable and upbeat leading lady, exuding friendliness.  She also reveals herself to be an excellent singer—this panto is riddled with well-known songs, from the charts and from West End shows.  Keatley’s vocals go extremely well with those of the mighty Keith Jack, in the role of the Prince.  Their duet is stunning.

Keith Jack is an ideal Prince, with his rugged good looks, soft Scottish burr and powerful singing voice.  As an extra treat, he gets his kit off (for plot reasons) and, in chains, belts out Close Every Door, because it would be a waste of one of the best Josephs in the business not to! 

Much of the comedy comes from Sean McKenzie’s naughty Dame Nellie Furlough, and Mike Newman as everybody’s friend, Muddles.  Together and separately, these two are easy to laugh at, and they work the crowd expertly.

The good fairy (Wendy Abrahams) gets plenty to do.  Being a stickler where panto is concerned, I am pleased to report she speaks in rhyming couplets.  Not only is she our narrator and the story’s supernatural influence, Fairy Wendy also forms a double act with Theo The Mouse, an incorrigible puppet who gets the younger members of the audience squealing with delight.

Appearing as Igor, the Queen’s henchman, is Wink Taylor, clearly enjoying himself in this larger-than-life character.  It turns out that Taylor also wrote the script.  Clearly he is someone who loves the traditional elements of pantomime as much as I do.  He gets the tone and balance exactly right.  The story is strong and every element exists to serve the plot.  Even the mischievous mouse puppet!  I suspect Taylor has a hand in that as well…

The show delivers enjoyment from curtain up to finale.  Act One closes with a rousing rendition of You Will Be Found from Dear Evan Hanson!  And it works superbly.  Moments of drama (e.g. Igor meeting Snow White in the forest to kill her!) are offset with silliness, and it all fits together wonderfully well.  Director Richard Cheshire ensures the pace never flags while giving scenes room to breathe.

Absent from the title are the seven dwarfs.  In the show they are referred to as ‘kind little men’ and they’re played by children in oversized cartoon heads, performing dumb-show to pre-recorded voices with a Dad’s Army theme, which is a clever idea but probably over the normal-sized heads of the kids in the audience.  Also, I think sometimes the kids in the big heads can’t see where they’re going, as the blocking of these scenes can suffer.  Given their limitations, it’s no wonder they are not given any fun stuff to do.

A traditional, well-made panto with most of the elements you could hope for (what, no slosh scene?). The Gatehouse has a hit on its hands, and its great to see this newly refurbished regional venue so well supported.  I’ll definitely be back next year to see if they can top this one.

☆☆☆☆

Sean McKenzie, Rebecca Keatley and Mike Newman

Pact Houses

BLOOD BROTHERS

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 29th April, 2013

It’s been years since I’ve seen Willy Russell’s incredibly successful musical and I have truly lost count of how many times I’ve seen it overall; so I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with its wit and melodrama.

Very little has changed.  There is a Nolan sister in the female lead as Mrs Johnstone (in this case it was Maureen but I think I’ve seen them all take a turn at least once) and the familiar redbrick terraced houses are still there – and this is because the show still works.  It doesn’t need a remould or touching up.  The sad fact is society has gone backwards to meet it: the social commentary has become piercingly pertinent all over again.

It begins with a rhyming prologue – a trick Willy Russell borrowed from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet – in which the whole plot is sketched out, heightening the inevitability of the tragedy to follow.

Mrs Johnstone, abandoned by her husband, struggles to feed her host of children.  They cry out in hunger and it’s no longer a ‘weren’t-times-tough’ kind of vibe.  Child poverty in this country is back in vogue, folks.  But Mrs Johnstone is no scrounger.  Drowning in debt to the catalogue company, she gets a job cleaning for a middle-class couple in a nicer part of town.  Suddenly, superstition comes into play.  An ill-advised and illegal pact between the women is doomed to failure and destruction.  Mrs Johnstone gives up one of her newborn twin sons to the childless Mrs Lyons.  Despite their mothers’ best efforts the boys meet and become friends – they make a pact, unwittingly mixing the blood they already share.

The scenes with the grown-up actors playing kids are what give the piece most of its humour and heart, and what attaches us to the protagonists.  We see the unfairness of their separation and, by extension, the inequalities in society reflected in their different upbringings.  Sean Jones is particularly good as Mickey, from age 7 running around to adulthood depression and desperation.  Daniel Taylor is good and scary as older brother Sammy, suddenly wilting into petulance when his mam insists he goes indoors, and I was particularly impressed by Olivia Sloyan’s Linda who transforms from little girl to teenage temptress to desperate housewife.

Tim Churchill stalks around as a casually malevolent Narrator, the external force commenting on the action and subtly manipulating it.  With superstition a recurring theme, we wonder who he is.  The Devil perhaps…

Maureen Nolan is in excellent voice as chirpy Mrs Johnstone – the explosive denouement still shocks and the final song is as devastating as ever .   Even if you’ve seen it before – and there were many people in the auditorium who keep going back time and time again.  Although it has finally closed in the West End, the show seems to be perennially on tour – you never have to wait long to get another fix of sardonic Scouse humour and witty lyrics, and it continues to do great business wherever it goes.

The Narrator poses the question directly to us: is it superstition or class that is behind the tragedy.  He asks us to look for real-life causes of poverty, injustice and oppression.  The class war is still very much with us and this 28 year old nostalgic story seems bang up-to-date and a little subversive.

Willy Russell’s feel-bad musical celebrates the humanity of the poor – something which is viciously overlooked by today’s coalition government.

Maureen Nolan and Sean Jones

Maureen Nolan and Sean Jones