Tag Archives: Ray Quinn

Joy Ride


New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 13th June, 2018


The 1963 Cliff Richard film about a bunch of lads who travel across Europe in a London double-decker bus is now a vehicle, haha, for Ray Quinn and a ball of energy shaped liked the rest of the cast.  The minimal set, apart from the bus of course, gives them plenty of space to dance in – and boy, do they dance!  Quinn is an incredible mover – they all are – and director Racky Plews’s quirky 1960s choreography pulls no punches.  The staging of the musical numbers is a spectacular display of talent and skill.  It’s breath-taking and fun – fun being the watchword of this effortlessly likeable show.

There are plenty of iconic songs (the title song, Do You Wanna Dance?, The Young Ones, and so on) and some nondescript ones, but these are salvaged and redeemed by the energetic staging.  The script by Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan is charmingly funny, cheeky rather than smutty; it’s all light-hearted stuff, and I forgive the odd anachronisms (like ‘anger management’) because I’m having too good a time to care.

Like I said, as Don, the Cliff role, Quinn is incredible.  Even his speaking voice is mannered to suit the period and he seems to chuck himself around with ease.  He is supported by his mates: Rory Maguire is funny as Cyril; Billy Roberts is funny as Steve, in a low-brow kind of way; and Joe Goldie is funny – no, make that hilarious – as Edwin, especially when he’s attempting to mime.  They meet a trio of girls in France, on their way to stardom in Athens, and guess what, they’re all funny too, even if there’s not much to differentiate their characters other than hair colour.  The girls’ numbers are real treats.  I like Alice Baker’s Alma, Laura Marie Benson’s Angie, and particularly enjoy Gabby Antrobus’s Mimsie.

Adding drama to the bus ride is the marvellous Sophie Matthew as Barbara, starlet on the run, bringing Shakespearean transvestite intrigue when she stows away on the bus disguised as a boy (she’s in disguise, not the bus).  As well as being glamorous and elegant, Matthew is also funny – there’s a great scene when Quinn is towelling off after a shower and asks the ‘boy’ to assist.  Quinn is in impressive shape, by the way, and his cheeky smile is never far away.

Villain of the piece is Barbara’s pushy showbiz mother Stella, played to the hilt by Taryn Sudding.  The Muttley to her Dick Dastardly is none other than veteran entertainer Bobby Crush, having and being great fun under a dreadful toupee.  Crush proves himself a fine comic actor as the long-suffering Jerry; the delivery of his lines and the timing of his reactions is spot on.

This is relentless entertainment, harking back to a more innocent time and kept fresh and alive by an indefatigable company.  I leave the theatre with a big grin plastered over my face – and there’s not many bus journeys that have that effect.

summer hol


Half-Decent Proposal


New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 23rd May, 2017


There is a trend among theatre-makers to turn a mediocre film into a stage musical (eg Legally Blonde) and this show sits firmly in that genre.  Adam Sandler was the go-to guy for film comedy decades ago, mixing gross-out gags with sentiment.  Without his forceful personality, the material struggles.  Even with the show’s book written by Sandler collaborator Tim Herlihy (along with lyricist Chad Beguelin) the result is a mismatch of tones that don’t quite gel.

Jon Robyns appears as the cheese-for-hire performer of the title, compering weddings at the helm of his band, Simply Wed (best joke in the piece).   Where Robyns comes into his own is when, jilted at the altar, he becomes embittered and viciously savages the happy couple at his next gig, in a heartfelt and funny outburst, a public indulgence of emotion – which is what weddings are, I suppose!  Robyns also shines in duets with Cassie Compton who plays Julie, a waitress who crops up at the same weddings.  Compton is in great form, blending pop vocals with musical theatre expressiveness.

Julie is engaged to yuppie go-getter Glen (Ray Quinn, enjoying himself as the selfish and soulless financier/fiance) but from the start it’s clear (it would be clear to a blind man on a galloping horse) that she and the wedding singer are meant to be together.  There are stumbling blocks along the way, like the reappearance of runaway bride Linda (an energetic Hannah Jay-Allen) an unlikely leather-clad rock chick-cum-Donna Summer to Robyns’s clean-cut Huey Lewis persona.

Maplins escapee Ruth Madoc appears as Rosie, the wedding singer’s grandmother, for some of the broader comic moments, and there is decent support from Tara Verloop as Holly, Ashley Emerson as Sammy, and Samuel Holmes makes the most of the marginalised role of token gay George, who doesn’t get a subplot of his own.

The tunes, by Matthew Sklar, are serviceable if not memorable, with Chad Beguelin’s lyrics snappier than the dialogue.  Director Nick Winston’s choreography evokes the 1980s, and is performed by a lively chorus.  The show attempts to arouse nostalgia in its look and with its pop culture references; I would have liked to see more mullets and bigger hair though among Francis O’Connor’s costume designs.

A run-of-the-mill love story with no surprises is the underwhelming heart of this bright and colourful production.  There is something of a reminder that materialism is not the way to go – but then you knew that already, I hope – but I don’t get engaged (ha!) with the characters or care about their lives.  This is no reflection on the cast or the production values.  I think the script needs to decide which way it’s going to go: larger-than-life laughs or sweetly sentimental rom-com.  I feel as though it tries to deliver both but ends up delivering neither.  An unhappy marriage of tones.


Wedding tackle: Jon Robyns, trashing a wedding as Robbie Hart (Photo: Darren Bell)




Big Talent

Malvern Theatres, Monday 8th October, 2012

Jim Cartwright’s in-your-face contemporary fairytale is doing the rounds in this colourful and lively production, which he also directs. It is a fabulously funny night out – to paraphrase John McGrath.

As the audience filed into the elegant Festival theatre in well-heeled Great Malvern, a compere in gold lame jacket cracks jokes and introduces some turns: a spoon-player, a female George Formby impersonator; plunging us into the working men’s club that will feature in the story later on. There is even a raffle – some lucky bugger behind me won the prize jar of pickled gherkins. It all serves to set the tone for a raucous and riotous couple of hours.

The set is a doll’s house, more Fisher Price than Henrik Ibsen, the two-up, two-down residence of Mari (Beverley Callard) and her taciturn daughter, the eponymous Little Voice. Beverley Callard gives the performance of her career in this grotesque caricature of her onscreen persona. Mutton dressed as a parrot. But it’s not all boozing and swearing. There is a kind of poetry to Cartwright’s dialogue, most noticeable in Mari’s lines (perhaps because she speaks the most!). The heightened language and the characters’ names add to the fairytale aspects of the play. This is not gritty realism.

Ray Quinn, the telephone engineer’s mate, is the boyish Prince, who visits Little Voice at her bedroom window as though she is Rapunzel. It’s a sweet portrayal among all the larger-than-life characters. Sally Plumb is excellent as Mari’s big friend Sadie, using her physical presence to great comic effect. Joe McGann is a suitably smooth-talking as the self-serving agent, Ray Say, and Duggie Brown is in his element as club owner and compere Lou Boo.

But the night belongs to Little Voice. In her dramatic scenes, she is vulnerable and shy but when she is called upon to sing, Jess Robinson is nothing short of astonishing. She performs a medley, impersonating a wide range of divas in a dazzling display of vocal ability: Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner and even Cilla Black, to name just a few. It is like a whole series of Stars In Their Eyes condensed into ten minutes. And then, later, when Ray pushes her too far, Little Voice lets rip with an even more astounding barrage of impressions, flinging song lyrics at him in the appropriate voices with an almost machine-gun delivery. Brilliance.

As all fairytales should, this Cinderella story ends with the bad ones being brought down and the Princess getting her Prince. It’s been knockabout fun – there was even a game of bingo after the interval – and Cartwright pitches it perfectly. Working class drama doesn’t have to be anguish at the kitchen sink or trouble at mill, or indeed exclusive in its appeal.

The X Factor fodder who infest the entertainment industry (effectively replacing the old variety shows) haven’t the hard luck story of Little Voice, nor indeed a smidgeon of her talent. Go and see live shows, folks, and be uplifted rather than embittered.