Tag Archives: Regent Theatre Stoke on Trent

Perfect Fit

CINDERELLA

Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent, Wednesday 28th December, 2016

 

Seemingly a permanent fixture for the Regent’s annual pantomime, the dream team double act of local hero Jonathan Wilkes and Welsh actor Christian Patterson are back with one of their best efforts in years.  Appearing as one of the ugly sisters, Patterson has also written the script – a faithful, fast-moving and above all funny version that allows traditional routines, topical references and a rate of one-liners per minute that no other show this year can match.

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Wilkes, on his home turf, can do no wrong, but he does not rest on his laurels, working tirelessly (This year my name is Buttons) to ensure everyone has a great time.  His first entrance, purportedly in a cage borne by a gorilla, shows a level of self-awareness and mockery that endears him from the off: “I call him Robbie; he carries me everywhere.”  Wilkes has a cheeky stage persona, excellent comic timing and also a good, old-fashioned pop singer’s voice that is a treat to hear.

In the title role is newcomer Finley Guy, a young performer who exudes star quality.  Her Cinders is easily a match for the more seasoned professionals and she is more than able to carry scenes on her own.  Her singing voice is strong and pleasant, making her one of the best I’ve seen in the role.  Similarly, Owen Broughton’s Prince Charming makes a striking impression.  Ian Stroughair’s Dandini is a wildly camp, flamboyant gay man but it is pleasing that his sexuality is not the butt (ha!) of any jokes – he is included and accepted, and that is refreshing.  Michael Geary is fun as a wild-haired Baron Hardup who finally asserts himself, and Hannah Potts brings rhymes and giggles as a bubbly Fairy Cupcake – the transformation of Cinders from rags to ballgown is truly breath-taking and magical, right before our very eyes.

Simon Nehan pairs up with Patterson as the other sister, a villainous pair who also provide much of the laughter.  The comic timing is impeccable – we love to hate them.  Routines like Busy Bee and The 12 Days of Christmas are always hilarious when tackled by such skilled performers – youngsters in the audience who may not have seen them before are just as tickled as those of us who know what’s coming.

The dancers, choreographed by Nikki Wilkes, are excellent; elegantly acrobatic, the boys especially impress.  Clearly, along with Guy and Broughton, students at the Wilkes Academy are of the highest calibre.

A glittering glut of gags and wonder, this Cinderella satisfies on every count.  Wilkes and Patterson have triumphed again!

cinderella

Rising star: Finley Guy as Cinderella

 

 

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Floppy Dick

DICK WHITTINGTON

Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent, Sunday 28th December, 2014

Every year I make the pilgrimage to the Potteries for one reason only: the Jonathan Wilkes pantomime. My reviews of previous productions all say the same thing: Wilkes is in his element, it’s great rough-and-ready knockabout fun, and so on.

And so I was looking forward to more of the same this year. That’s part of the deal with pantomime – you get more of the same.

Disappointingly, this year the shine has gone off the bauble. There is something not quite there. It’s not the production values; the show looks great. It’s not the music – in fact, the musical numbers sound a cut above anything else you might hear on the panto circuit, thanks to the astounding talent of West End star Louise Dearman as Alice Fitzwarren, and energy levels rise when the hard-working dance troupe comes on to perform Nikki Wilkes’s choreography.

The problem, I believe, lies in the lacklustre direction. Wilkes and his regular dame Christian Patterson share the director’s chair, not for the first time, but I detect a touch of complacency in their approach. On stage they are an excellent double act. They have proved this year after year and they are obviously good mates in the real world. But they do need a good kick up the arse.

The show comes across as more of a walk-through than a run. Familiar routines and corny jokes are all in place, but there is a sense of just going through the motions. The 12 Days of Christmas is particularly offhand and slovenly. It’s not even a matter of a lack of surprises. When the material is so familiar, you need to see it delivered with skill and precision. Wilkes and Patterson can do, and have done, much better than this.  It feels like they are phoning it in this year.

At one point a giant inflatable sausage springs from a hob, giving rise to off-colour gags, which may or may not be ad libs, and for a brief moment, the old sparkle is there. But, like the sausage, the show can’t maintain this level of freshness and fun and begins to flag and flop again.

On his home turf, Wilkes can do no wrong in the eyes of the locals. He is the family favourite doing his annual party trick. But I think the Wilkes-Patterson partnership needs perhaps to take a break. Or get in an outside director to put them through their paces. This Dick is flaccid and unsatisfying when it should be giving us a wild ride and leaving us breathless.

dick


Criminally Bland

LEGALLY BLONDE

Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, Thursday 29th September, 2011

 

When I heard that a film I didn’t really enjoy had been adapted as a stage musical, I did not break my neck in the rush to get a ticket.  Now the show is well-established in the West End and a touring production is doing the rounds, so I thought I’d give it a go.  Most of the details of the film had long since faded from memory so I was just about coming to it fresh.

 

The plot centres on one woman’s struggle to succeed at snooty Harvard Law School but she faces prejudice and is met with resistance because she has blonde hair and carries a little dog in a bag.  The poor cow.  Her motivation for getting a law degree is merely  so she can follow the prig who dumped her and sit in the same class. Her father agrees to fund this ill-conceived desire for education without so much as a shrug.

 

This is Elle Wood’s struggle.

 

It’s hardly Evita, is it?

 

This is the problem with the musical.  The first half is all about setting her up in class so that she can rapidly rise to the top, using style tips as the answers to legal conundrums. (Conundra?)  And it’s all a bit “meh” and “who cares?”  The score doesn’t help.  Act One is like one endless meandering song, weak on melody and lacking in variety of tone and tempo.  A shrieking choir of sorority girls follows Elle to Harvard, in her mind as a Greek chorus.  The shrillness is unrelenting.

 

But Act Two is like a completely different show.  The songs are punchy and funny.  The action, dominated by a murder trial at which Elle and her classmates are gaining work experience, is lively and hilarious.  There is more fun in two minutes of this second half than in the whole of the first.  The show revels in its own shallowness, almost sending itself up.  If the first half had had more of this spoof quality to it, exaggerating Elle’s blondness into a disability, like being legally blind, then the entire evening would have been very entertaining.

 

Its message (and there is one) is that you can’t take a shower with a new perm.  No, it’s that appearances are important.  They can be deceiving (the dizzy blonde is the most intelligent of the bunch; the witness for the prosecution is really a gay).  That there is no real struggle, no real jeopardy for our heroine doesn’t matter when the show is performed with exuberance and talent.  What is criminal is that the likeable and capable cast only get to shine in half a show.