Tag Archives: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Chuckles with the Chuckles


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 15th December, 2015


Every pantomime version of Peter Pan has expectations to fulfil: people expect to see certain things from the original play as well as all the fun and overt theatricality of the pantomime. Alan McHugh’s adaptation satisfies on most levels: quite a few of J M Barrie’s lines make it into the script, and we get everything we could wish from a panto – apart from a dame, which is a shame, but there is no space for one in this fun-packed adventure.

Ross Carpenter is instantly appealing as a boisterous, Puckish Pan, with a chuckle in his voice (no, not one of those Chuckles) showing how much Peter enjoys his life – something some Pans I have seen don’t seem to do. He flies with grace and runs around with boyish energy. Wendy, a difficult part because she’s often so serious, is played with wide-eyed wonder by Hannah Nicholls. Their opening scenes – indeed, much of the Barrie-like scenes – are played well but at high speed. Director David Burrows has us rattling through the story at a rate of knots; the characters have no thinking time. This is all well and good if we are familiar with the tale, but even then I want them to slow down just a little.

John Altman enjoys himself as a snarling Captain Hook, stalking around the stage and wielding a massive hook. He looks fabulous in his extravagant costume – he deserves better songs to sing. And this is true of the whole shebang. The cast do their best to sell the musical numbers, singing and dancing their hearts out, but we would prefer to hear some better-known tunes. At one point, Peter Pan asks us to join in with his crocodile song but we don’t because we can’t – we don’t know it.

Lucy Evans is good fun as a stroppy, spitefully childish Tinkerbell, while Kimmy Edwards’s Tiger Lily is exotic and in great voice. Local boys James Shaw and Archie Turner appear as John and Michael, making their professional debuts and demonstrating commitment and focus throughout. You’d think they’d been doing this for years.

Who has been doing this for years: the undisputed stars of the show, the Chuckle Brothers. Their old-school style of comedy is the perfect fit for pantomime. But here’s the bonus: the routines and skits they give us are not the commonplace moments that crop up in every panto. This brings a freshness and an air of anything-might-happen to proceedings. Seemingly effortless, Paul and Barry are supreme entertainers: the comic timing is impeccable and the interplay between their personas is never short of hilarious. Watch out for a scene with a cucumber, and a simple but effective bit involving grown-up audience participation – a refreshing change from the parade of little kids that is usually brought up for a sing-song. At first it seems that their scenes interrupt the main story but they soon become integrated into the plot, as the Smee Brothers, wannabe pirates with a conscience.

The ensemble works hard: Hook turns out to be an equal opportunities employer – there are as many sexy female pirates as there are camp male ones. Steven Harris’s choreography keeps the stage vibrant and busy, even if the songs are a tad uninspiring. Under the baton of MD David Lane, the band keeps energy levels high. And that’s what you want, in the end. You want entertainment and fun. This Peter Pan delivers belly laughs and spectacle – Hook’s pirate ship is especially striking. There is something for everyone – if the yelling of a child sitting behind me that he believes in fairies, and the lecherous exclamations of a nearby dad, seeing Tinker Bell for the first time, are anything to go by.

The Chuckle Brothers as Paul & Barry Smee

The Chuckle Brothers as Paul and Barry Smee

 Playing until Sunday 24th January, 2016 – Tickets available from the Box Office on 01902 429212 or book online at the website.


Let’s Call The Whole Thing Hoff


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 17th November, 2015


Yet another jukebox musical is doing the rounds. This one cobbles together tunes from the 80s and early 90s. The setting is the party island of Ibiza and the plot, such as it is, concerns young Penny from Wales, flying out to spend time with her estranged father who runs a club. On the way she meets and falls for a club rep – Daddy doesn’t approve of their relationship, even though he is now seeing a woman half his age. Add to this a storyline about the drugs scene – the wide-boy bouncer is selling ecstasy in the club – and, well, that’s about it.

It’s a loud, brash, colourful affair and all a bit too holiday-camp for my liking, where importuning people to clap along means you’re giving them a good time. We are encouraged to take selfies to be projected on screen during the interval. No, thank you.

The big draw of the show is David Hoff (he doesn’t want the Hassel anymore) as club owner, Ross. Never one to take himself too seriously, there are lots of in-jokes and direct references to his earlier career, including an obligatory Baywatch routine. It just seems a little tired. He gives us a passable rendition of Barry Manilow’s Even Now but later songs have him just yelling. The comic timing is there, especially in scenes with Tam Ryan as Spanish barman Jose (who must be the grandson of Andrew Sachs’s Manuel). The presence of the Hoff is not enough to keep me enthused, in this almost relentless barrage of light and noise.

Tam Ryan is an asset – with his ad libs and juggling – and Barry Bloxham’s drug-pushing Ebenezer (what else?!) makes you want to boo him for all the right reasons.  There’s a bizarre scene when the Hoff unwittingly drops an E that has to be seen to be disbelieved.

Like other shows of its kind, there is a bid to cram in as many songs as possible, never mind how tenuous the relevance. It’s a nostalgia fest, basically. But unlike shows which celebrate other eras in popular music, here the genres covered tend not to allow for emotive singing. There is something dispassionate about it, which doesn’t help us to engage or the characters to grow. Penny (a likeable Stephanie Webber) alone with club rep paramour Rik (Shane Richie Junior) at last, bursts forth with a hi-energy rendition of Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now. It’s the crack-your-nuts-with-a-sledgehammer approach. By the end of the show I feel like I’ve been beaten about the head with the entire collection of House Anthems and Now That’s What I Call Music.

Director Jon Conway’s script has an affable quality to it – I like corny jokes – but this is barely a step away from panto for grown-ups. There is enough colour and energy coming from the cast to make you want to like it: the costumes by Linda Lusardi and Lucy Kane scream ‘Fun!’, and the chorus hurl themselves through Chris Baldock’s in-period choreography with boundless enthusiasm. But it’s just not doing it for me. The wafer-thin subplots with their facile resolutions, the forced nature of the audience participation, and the fact that I didn’t particularly like the music the first time around, all serve to put me off. Undemanding, I don’t mind. Uninvolving, is a waste of time.

Plenty of people were having a great time, though. If you’re looking for light and unchallenging fare, a trip down Memory Lane on the Vengabus, this might be the show for you. It’s just not my cup of tea.


The Hoff during one of the show’s rare quiet moments (Photo: Linda Lusardi)

Smashing Widows

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 27th June, 2012

Ivan Menchell’s play features three Jewish widows in New York so you know as soon as the curtain rises that the dialogue is going to be laced with a particular kind of humour. The women kvetch and take verbal swipes at each other in a gently amusing manner.

There is Lucille (Shirley-Anne Field) who is all fur coat and high heels, claiming to live life to the fullest by ‘playing the field’. There is Doris (Anne Charleston – Madge off of Neighbours) who is still hopelessly devoted to her late spouse to the extent that it impinges on her every mood. There is Ida (Anita Harris who must be gene-spliced with Peter Pan) who is willing to make tentative steps into moving on with her life. They make for an amusing trio and pleasant company.

And that’s about it.

The plot doesn’t really go anywhere. Every month the women meet at Ida’s home and travel together to the cemetery wherein their husbands are buried. They meet widower Sam (Peter Ellis, whose Noo Yoik accent was the most consistent) and he and Ida embark on a cautious romance. This budding relationship is thrown into brief jeopardy when the other two women warn him off, but after an almighty piss-up at a friend’s (offstage) wedding, recriminations and reconciliations are made. It takes the death of one of the women to make the survivors disband the Cemetery Club and get on with their lives. It has taken them long enough.

Shirley-Anne Field is very good as glamorous but brittle Lucille. Anne Charleston has a voice like peppered chocolate, rough and rich and well-suited to her sardonic character. But for me the real treat was seeing Anita Harris sparkle as the cautious, nervous Ida, suddenly finding herself an awkward schoolgirl again as she comes out of her shell with Sam.

Debbie Norman’s cameo as Mildred, Sam’s alternative date to the wedding, is such a striking portrayal you wonder what Sam sees in her. Her laugh could chop liver and her scene injects energy into the second act.

All in all it was a pleasant if inconsequential couple of hours. I was glad to see roles for older actresses that don’t involve them posing for novelty calendars or learning how to pole dance.

Present Arms

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 24th November, 2011

Alan Ayckbourn’s seasonal comedy is doing the rounds again in this quality production directed by Robin Herford, boasting an ensemble cast assembled it would appear from the soaps – there’s him from Walford and her off of Doctors… Audience members around me were playing Spot the Star.

Whatever their provenance, it’s a bloody good cast. The play covers the period from Christmas Eve to early morning after Boxing Day. Neville and Belinda Bunker have filled their house with friends and family. Spinster-in-the-making Rachel has invited her writer friend Clive to join them for the festivities. If you’ve ever spent Christmas with someone else’s family, you will be aware of the pitfalls.

Add to the mix a pair of warring uncles: one (the magnificent Dennis Lill) believes society is going down the pan at a rate of knots and goes around armed to the teeth. He gives little children guns as Christmas presents – one lucky lad gets a crossbow, having received his gun the previous year. The other uncle (Christopher Timothy) is an ineffectual doctor with an alcoholic wife (the hilarious Sue Wallace) and a habit of performing excruciatingly inept puppet shows every year, despite the family’s hatred of this ritual. Tensions simmer and boil over. The writer makes a move on the hostess but their coitus under the Christmas tree is interrupted by a Duracell bunny, wrapped up for one of the kids, banging its drum and alerting the household.

As socially awkward novelist Colin, Mathew Bose is at once endearing to the audience and also the recipient of most of our cringes. We feel his awkwardness and embarrassment, when Dennis Lill reveals the six-inch throwing blade he keeps strapped to his lower leg, or when inhibited Rachel tries to express herself whenever she can snatch a moment alone with him.

The play is a comedy of manners but there is also plenty of physical comedy and wonderful moments to enjoy. The rehearsal of the puppet show is always the highlight for me, every time I see a production. Uncle Bernard’s Three Little Pigs is as funny a play-within-a-play as that of the Mechanicals’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Glynis Barber as neglected wife Belinda shows the fragility of the character. She has one of the darkest speeches in the play in which she reveals her need to try to keep up-to-date with each new thing, and her complete inability to do so. “You have to take an interest, don’t you?” she says. “If I didn’t, well, I’d just die.” This is as bleak a moment as any in Chekov.

The play ends with early morning farce, in which Colin is carried off to hospital having been shot by the mad uncle who mistook him for a looter of Christmas presents. The typical family Christmas might not involve firearms but, as Ayckbourn shows us, can still be quite a battlefield.