Tag Archives: Suzanne Shaw

Turn Again

DICK WHITTINGTON

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 20th December, 2022

After all these years, Hippodrome pantomime favourite Matt Slack finally lands a title role.  At last he is able to make a Dick of himself.  If you’ve seen him before you know exactly what you’re going to get, and Slack delivers exactly what they pay him for.  No one does what Matt Slack does better than Matt Slack, but there is a strong whiff of we’ve seen it all before.  To paraphrase a line from the pantomime, Turn again, turn again, Matt Slack’s doing his turn again. 

You can’t help but admire his energy, his skill set (his impressions are off the scale!) and his wit – he is co-credited as scriptwriter along with veteran panto scribe, Alan McHugh.  The script is aimed well above the heads of the youngest members of the audience; it’s quite the rudest panto I’ve seen this year, which is fun for the grown-ups who have forked out for the tickets. 

As ever at the Hippodrome, it’s a massive spectacle.  An early appearance of the Rat King is breath-taking.   Unfortunately, its dialogue is largely drowned out by the atmospheric music that underscores the scene.  Playing the Rat King’s human emissary, the Rat Man is housewives’ favourite, Marti Pellow, who certainly looks the part.  Elegantly costumed, he struts around, performing tuneful songs of his own composition, but he is largely separate from the action.  It’s like he’s in a different show.  The rest are in a panto while he’s doing his musical theatre thing.

There’s a song about panto and how great it is.  We don’t need to know we’re watching a panto.  They don’t need to tell us they’re in a panto.  Again, the show veers toward musical theatre, which ain’t panto.  There’s no slosh scene, no ‘It’s behind you’ moment, and audience participation is kept to a bare minimum.

Conventionally a dancer is cast as the Cat.  Interestingly, we get local character Doreen Tipton instead.  Doreen has a marvellous deadpan woe-is-me delivery, and it’s great to see her branching away from her usual mockery of people on benefits.  As the Spirit of the Bells, TV’s Dr Ranj prances and sparkles around, very much being himself and proving himself a good sport.  Ironically, he serves as ‘straight man’ to Matt Slack’s extended pun-filled stories.

Andrew Ryan is Felicity Fitzwarren, a garishly glamorous dame, who definitely needs her own moment in the show out from under the shadow of Slack’s spotlight, while former pop star Suzanne Shaw provides love interest as Alice Fitzwarren. Shaw is strangely underused, with no solo number nor even a duet with Slack.

The cast is supported by a hardworking ensemble of ten, and a seven-piece band, led by Robert Willis. It’s a great looking, great-sounding production, beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell, and there are laughs aplenty throughout. What the show gains in scale and splendour, it loses in heart. Slick and spectacular, it’s enjoyable to be sure, but I feel it lacks some of the elements of the very art form it extols in song.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

What a Dick! Matt Slack reigning supreme (Photo: Paul Coltas)


Strictly the Best

CINDERELLA

Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 3rd January, 2018

 

It’s my final panto of the season and I’ve saved the biggest until last.  The Hippodrome’s annual extravaganza can be relied on to provide glitz and spectacle, almost to excess – Can you have too many sequins?  I think not.

In the title role, Suzanne Shaw is a spirited Cinderella, warm and friendly and assured – Alan McHugh’s script doesn’t give Cinders chance to demonstrate her goodness (and therefore worthiness for the Prince) – there is no gathering firewood for an old woman scene, for example; we have to take her goodness as hearsay…

Local girl and soul diva Beverley Knight is absolutely stunning as the Fairy Godmother – vocally, a dream, but she also enters into the panto spirit, playing on her Wolverhampton accent to comic effect.  A duet with one Grumbleweed (hilariously sabotaged by the other one) is a highlight of the evening.  Yes, the Grumbleweeds are back, having undergone something of a Sugababes change in line-up.  They bring old-school, variety club comedy to their roles as the Broker’s Men – their routine involving a treacherous padded stool remains funny no matter how many times you see it.

Hollyoaks heartthrob Danny Mac is perfectly cast as Prince Charming and, of course, there is plenty of opportunity to show off his Strictly skills.  Watching on the telly is one thing, but nothing beats the impact of seeing such dancing and showmanship demonstrated live.  Almost impossibly handsome, Mac could make a living as a Disney prince.  He is supported by Gary Watson’s camp and likeable Dandini, but Mac’s highlight is a dance-off with the Hippodrome’s resident funny man, Matt Slack, back for his umpteenth year in a row.

Slack is in his element as Buttons.  Hardly what you might call a subtle performer, he manages to wring a little pathos into Buttons’s unrequited love for Cinders, and his routine with children volunteers from the audience shows off his skills and tests his professionalism.  The show affords him chance to rattle off innuendo (there’s a snack-related scene and one in which he lip-synchs to a host of song clips) and we know we’re in safe hands for a good laugh.  There is one moment, however, when the wheels almost come off.  It is usually the prerogative of the villain to insult the audience – otherwise, any interplay with individuals is usually good-natured and cheeky.  Here though, Slack turns a video camera on the crowd, projecting faces onto a screen for all to see.  It’s excruciatingly uncomfortable and unnecessary, and more to do with Theatre of Cruelty than pantomime.  That part aside, this is a marvellously entertaining production.

Here the Ugly Sisters are vicious drag queens: Voluptua (a deadpan Ceri Dupree) and Verucca (a gurning David Dale) swan around in ridiculously OTT outfits, spouting barbed remarks, many of them off-colour.  It’s wonderful stuff but their nastiness is in keeping with the needs of the plot: their bullying of Cinderella loses none of its cruelty, much as we enjoy their bitchiness.

The transformation scene that closes the first act is splendid on the grand scale but it is the dancing and the old-fashioned humour that really make this show sparkle, with Beverley Knight and Danny Mac bringing the star quality to a solid and skillful cast.

Cinderella

Having a ball: Suzanne Shaw and Danny Mac

 


Flat Pop

The latest jukebox musical on the block is a real nostalgia fest for fans of 1970s pop.  It strings together songs by hitmakers Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman who wrote classic tracks for the likes of Suzi Quatro, Mud, and The Sweet.  With shows of this type you expect the links to songs to be tenuous at best and the plot to be contrived in such a way as to maximise the potential to include as much of the back catalogue as possible.  The problem with this particular piece of inconsequential fluff is it takes itself too seriously.  An injection of camp would make it more engaging.

The story, such as it is, tells of busker Mickey Block (‘my friends call me Buster’) who, fleeing from creditors, takes refuge in a mysterious museum of rock and roll, run by Crazy Max (Paul Nicholas in a cowboy hat).  Max sends Mickey back in time to 1972 in order to perform ‘two good deeds’, via a record booth that doubles as a portal through the fourth dimension.  Of course.  In 1972, Mickey falls in love – the implications and potential consequences of time-travel do not feature.  Apart from a stray reference to Facebook and Twitter, Mickey fits right in.  No one bats an eyelid.

Mickey (Aaron Sidwell) is a likeable sort who plays a mean guitar but the show really lifts when Carol (Suzanne Shaw) belts out Devilgate Drive.  Shaw’s voice is perfectly suited to this type of music; all of her numbers are a treat but for me the musical highlight is when Jodie (Micha Richardson) performs Better Be Good To Me with depth and emotional truth.

David Soames’s script is lazy.  When Alice (Louise English) tells neighbour Paul Nicholas (sans cowboy hat) that she is moving house because she cannot afford the mortgage, he launches into a rather dour rendition of Living Next Door To Alice, which includes the line “I don’t know why she’s leaving” as part of the refrain.  (Weren’t you listening, man? I would have shouted but I was too busy singing the Chubby Brown version: Alice?  Who the f— is Alice?)  Nicholas’s voice is deeper and richer than it was during his own pop heyday but, like the show as a whole (which he also directs) he needs to lighten up a bit.

The mostly youthful cast is a talented bunch who perform some excellent Flick Colby-style choreography by Rebecca Howell.  The Young Generation and Pan’s People spring to mind.  Too often the plot comes to a halt for yet another number – unlike ‘straight’ musicals (if I can call them that!) where songs develop story or reveal character, here the songs and the plot get in the way of each other.  There’s a completely unnecessary version of Lonely This Christmas played on a shoehorn.

Blockbuster is just not as much fun as it ought to be.  This pop musical has too few bubbles to keep it fizzy.

blockbuster