Tag Archives: Phylip Harries

Keeping up with the Joneses

TOM – A Story of Tom Jones: The Musical

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 1st June, 2016

 

Those expecting a jukebox musical of Jones’s many hits may be surprised to find there is more in the way of drama on offer here – in that way, it IS unusual.  This is the story of Tom from Pontypridd, a mining town in the ‘Land of Song’.  It’s the 1950s, and Teddy Boy Tom sings in a pub at weekends.  The rest of the time he devotes to his job at the mill, brawling in bars and getting himself chucked through chip shop windows.  He impregnates his girlfriend at an early age and they marry.  She – Linda – believes her husband is set for greater things and supports him every step of the way, even when the groupies start to get their hooks into him.  Eventually, a move to London is made to cut a demo for Decca… Unlike other stories of this type, fame and fortune don’t come easy, and certainly not before the interval.  Here we see the star going through his troubles before he hits the big time.

As Tom, Kit Orton plays a blinder.  His Tom-Jonesishness grows as the character develops as a performer.  With each song, he sounds more and more like that famous soulful voice, and all the moves including pelvic thrusts are there.  Elin Phillips is sweet and funny as the loyal and devoted Linda, while Richard Corgan makes a strong impression as manager and impresario Gordon Mills, gambling his finances on Tom’s potential.  Phylip Harries is a bright-eyed, enthusiastic narrator – it all ticks along steadily enough but it is a hilarious scene involving eccentric record producer Joe Meek that kick-starts the show.  Energy levels rise and the show becomes more energised and electrifying.  As Tom develops as an entertainer, the show develops as a piece of entertainment, and it turns out to be rather good indeed.

The action culminates in the release of It’s Not Unusual – the entire cast joins the band for a rousing rendition, including some searing trumpet playing from Nicola Bryan (who also delivers strong and funny character work as Tom’s mum).  Tom Jones is propelled into worldwide stardom and we have been shown glimpses of how he earned it.   A medley of early hits gets us on our feet – by the end it’s Kit Orton we’re cheering for, a star turn who carries off the musicality and the drama most effectively.

I refrained from throwing my knickers at the stage – just about.

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Kit Orton thrusts himself into the spotlight as Tom

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Much Fun About Plenty

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford Castle, Thursday 2nd July, 2015

 

Shakespeare’s finest and funniest rom-com comes to Stafford Castle in this new production directed by Peter Rowe. While the cast sings music hall songs, we find the set and the setting rather striking. Dawn Allsopp’s elegant stage, with trimmed lawns and a classical pavilion is bedecked with union flag bunting – to celebrate the return of the troops from the War. Behind and above this is the ruined castle, adding to the sense of England gone by (even though the play is nominally set in Messina).

Any Much Ado is only as good as its Beatrice and Benedick. In this one they are a mature couple: imagine Caroline Quentin and Boris Karloff – that’s a bit harsh, perhaps. Philip Bretherton’s Benedick is not so much a silver as an arctic fox and a bit stern, while Sherry Baines’s Beatrice is a little bit matronly. The pair are none the less witty for all this and it makes sense. They have spent their lives avoiding and railing against marriage and only come to find each other late in life: it adds poignancy to Beatrice’s lines about everyone else getting married but her and shows that love can keep us all young at heart.  You can’t help but like them.

Tom Palmer is a tall and dashing Claudio, capricious but not without conviction. He is especially good in the wedding scene and so is his intended Hero (Catherine Lamb). In fact, it’s the best scene of the night: Peter Rowe delivers the surprise and the tension. He could make more of the comic eavesdropping scenes, nicely played though they are. Edward York’s Leonato is delightfully hopeless at deception and yet heart-breaking when denouncing his daughter. Jake Ferretti’s Don Pedro is full of fun, in marked contrast to his whining petulant brother, Don John – the villain of the piece (Jon Trenchard).

Phylip Harries is a Welsh Dogberry and a very funny one. The scene in which he instructs the watchmen is glorious nonsense, a forerunner of the ‘awkward squad’ we still see in pantomimes today – and it’s gratifying to hear Shakespeare’s lines still getting laughs. They could do with another one or two men though, to flesh things out.

James Hague sings sweetly as Balthasar in a lovely version of Sigh No More, Ladies. As Don John’s henchmen, Dan de Cruz’s cheeky chappie Borachio makes a strong contrast with Charlie Tighe’s Conrade.

This is a satisfying production, not exactly innovative (but then, why tinker just for the sake of it?) and offers much to enjoy.

much ado


Dream a Little Dream

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Stafford Festival Shakespeare, Stafford Castle, Thursday 11th July, 2013

Using the remains of the castle as a backdrop, the stage nestles into the bailey’s slopes and dips with a simple evocation of the forest and the palace of Theseus.  Elegant pagodas are dotted around, the largest of which serves as a bandstand; as the audience arrive, the Mechanicals treat us to a light-hearted concert of Gilbert & Sullivan numbers.  The setting is Edwardian and a little bit colonial but director Peter Rowe doesn’t labour the point.  By keeping things simple, he allows the comedy of Shakespeare’s script to hold centrestage, proving you don’t need gimmicks and ‘clever’ reinterpretations to make a production accessible and effective.

Quite simply, it’s one of the funniest Dreams I’ve seen in a long while.

The ensemble of four young lovers is intensely presented.  Hilarious when they’re under the influence of Oberon’s love-juice (sic) and rowdy when their passions are aroused, this quartet demonstrate physical comedy that belies the elegance and formality of their period costumes.  Jennifer Greenwood is a fireball of a Hermia, contrasting with Georgina White’s neurotic Helena.  Eamonn O’Dwyer is a poised, slightly stuffy Demetrius but it is Craig Fletcher’s dashing Lysander who gets most of the laughs.

As you’d expect, the Mechanicals are delightful.  An affable bunch directed by Phylip Harries’s Quince, they prepare their production of Pyramus & Thisbe in the woods. Interestingly and very effectively, their version is a cod operetta, continuing the G & S motif.  It works brilliantly, thanks to Greg Palmer’s musical direction and composition.  James Haggie’s Thisbe is a scream, Paul Kissaun’s Lion is adorable (such a contrast between this actor’s Snug the joiner and his Egeus!) but of course, it is Bottom the weaver who dominates.  Eric Potts shows himself to be a wonderful Shakespearean clown, stepping outside his customary role as pantomime dame.  His Bottom is rounded, cheeky and pert.

Simone James is aloof as Hippolyta and graceful as Titania, followed by a troupe of fairies; the otherworldly aspects of the production are simply and stylishly achieved; the overall effect is magical.  Robert Fitch’s Oberon is more commanding than his Theseus, but then the fairy king has mischief to be done.  His servant Puck, for me, steals the show.  Lanre Malaolu gives an excitable Puck, a ball of pent-up energy, a nifty little mover with some fine comic playing.

A dream of a Dream, then.  Already I’m looking forward to hearing about next year’s production.

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Eric Potts and Phylip Harries indulge in some pre-show operetta