Raymonda by English National Ballet.

Raymonda is one of the rarely performed Ballets seen in the UK. This version has been bought to the stage through the incredible collaboration of co-producers from the English National Ballet and Finnish National Opera.

Placed during the Crimean War, the story is about Raymonda’s struggle between her duty to family and husband and the desire to help in the war hospital helping wounded soldiers and fulfilling the life she would choose to live rather than the one expected of her during the Victorian Era.

This new debut version of the production by director and choreographer Tamara Rojo is outstanding. Each scene, ensemble dance, and storyline are clear and beautifully performed. The success of this production will certainly help with launching a promising career for Rojo. I look forward to seeing what she brings next to the stage.

Set and costume designer Antony McDonald creates three incredible sets using the same layout and building individual settings each time. From the beginning on the bleak battlefield to the luxurious Turkish Palace with a large range of richly woven rugs and cushions to the finale at the vineyard wedding venue. Combined with the stunning costumes throughout. I especially the beautiful red dresses are worn by one of the principal dancers.

Special mention has to be made to the incredible English National Ballet Philharmonic Orchestra led by Gavin Sutherland and guest conductor Alexander Ingram. The musical score combines passion and jubilation as Raymonda’s tale unfolds before us. I think nothing beats listening to the orchestra warming up as you take your seat at the start.

Lead principal dancer Fernanda Oliveira’s performance in the role of Raymonda was flawless. Whether dancing solo, one-to-one or joined by the dance ensemble Oliviera never missed a step. Her arm and hand gestures when miming an instrument had been impeccably timed with the accompanying instrument from the orchestra. An amazing pleasure to have had the good fortune of watching.

Raymonda is a spectacular production and one of those rare finds that are worth putting on your watch list.

For more information on this Ballet and future productions at the Mayflower in Southampton please use the link below.

Five Stars.

https://www.mayflower.org.uk/whats-on/enb-raymonda-2022/



James Barry director “Wizard of Oz” Theatre Royal Winchester.

Taking time out from the strict rehearsal regime, James Barry spared a few moments away to talk to me about his directing role in the upcoming Pantomime Wizard of Oz which will be this year’s Christmas production performing at the Theatre Royal in Winchester from Saturday 3rd December until January 2nd.

How long have you been directing for and involved in the Theatre Industry?
I trained as an actor way back when God was a boy but gradually started to write and direct more, as I wanted to be more involved in the creative process. In the 1990s I set up a touring company and although I initially cast myself in the shows, I eventually stopped, to concentrate on the other elements. My last acting role was about 15 years ago.

What made you decide to work on this Pantomime this year?
I work on a panto every year! I love it. I appeared in my first panto in 1980 and co-wrote my first one in 1982. I have written and/or directed at least once every year since 1995.



Have you previously directed or worked at the Theatre Royal Winchester?
Yes, this is my eighteenth-year writing and directing the show at this beautiful theatre. I had been to the venue many times before (including seeing my wife in a show here) but hadn’t worked here before my panto stint. I love it.



Do you have any funny rehearsal stories from the last couple of weeks?
Panto rehearsals are hard work. We have to get what is a full piece of musical theatre up and running in just two weeks. My favourite moments are when an idea or a funny line just comes out of the actors working together in a scene. It’s not in the original script, it’s a result of that moment of interaction on stage. If we were working on someone else’s script, we couldn’t put it in. But because we’re creating the show ourselves, in it goes! And they are invariably the biggest laughs in the show!

Do you have a favourite Pantomime?
It changes all the time. I have done five versions of Beauty & the Beast over the years and have loved every one of them. There are so many different ways of telling that story. But I recently wrote and directed Dick Whittington, which has never been one of my favourite subjects and it was great. We had a fantastic cast, and because I’m not a fan of the traditional storyline, I played around with it and had some fun. We got two nominations at the panto awards that year, so we must have done something right!

How do you respond to critics and actors who class Pantomime as low art?
Pantomime is an essential element of Christmas for so many families, as much a part of the festivities as the turkey and the presents. Because of that, it can sometimes be dismissed as something trivial and frivolous. But good panto is real, hard graft to get right, and takes commitment and talent from everyone involved. It has to appeal across the age range from four to a hundred and four. It has to be funny, exciting, tender, spectacular – and it has to work whether there is an audience of schoolchildren, or the front ten rows are full of noisy office parties. And all this is put together in double quick time. Those who poo poo it should give it a try. My wife and I met some new friends a few years ago, who had never been to panto, saying it wasn’t for them. They came to my production of Peter Pan and have been back every year since. And they now bring their grown-up children along too!

What are your working plans for next year?
We are already discussing next year’s panto, but no decision has been made yet. I know what I’d like to do but for now all I will say is watch this space.

Have you had time to explore Winchester while staying here, if so what has been your highlight?
I’ve known Winchester all my life; I grew up in Basingstoke, so it’s always been on my radar. It’s a beautiful city, and I especially love being here at Christmas. I never tire of walking around by the cathedral, and along the river. I just wish it was easier to park! (Sadly, very true)
I also love the theatre. It’s such a pretty auditorium with a very intimate feel – perfect for a panto.

I have been informed that Wizard of Oz! isn’t a traditional panto title, but we are definitely giving it the panto style. It’s going to be a lot of fun. If what I saw and heard from the rehearsals taking place audiences are in for a festive Panto treat. Just a quick reminder it is running from 3rd December until 2nd January.

Photo credit to Jon Bonner. https://instagram.com/jonbonphotography?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

https://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/TRWinchester

Migrations-Welsh National Opera.

Migrations tell the story of migrants spanning between 1620-2022 who risk their lives for the opportunity to have better quality and opportunity in life. This isn’t a tale of “woe is us” this is a strong powerful Operatic performance sharing the plight tens of thousands of people have embarked upon for the dream of a better life. Conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren led the orchestra through the voyage with incredible navigation.

The Native American Cree community fighting for their right to “exist” is told by Dawn (Marion Newman) a worn down native who only wants to live on and survive by the land her ancestors left her. Fighting the large oil companies devastating her habitat for greed and expansion. Challenging the question of authority and ownership of free land. Her voice is waning and the frustrated exhaustion comes across as a heart-rendering performance.

To the right-hand side of the stage, the four richly dressed gentry sit eating a vast array of decadent dishes served to them by their “negro” slave. Oblivious to the plight of pain and torment surrounding them. They laugh, eat and discuss the trading of slaves in the way in which you would write a shopping list. The boos they received at the end highlight the impact their presence had on the audience.

A flock of birds on their annual migration fly in and out of the stage observing the human migrants as they go. The youngest constantly questioned the adults on why they continued the same way each year and why are people behaving in a “stupid” manner. However, on arrival at their annual nesting rock, they discover its been a casualty of global warming and is now submerged underwater, exhausted by their long flight each of the birds succumbs to the water and died in quick succession.

Will Todd’s music and orchestrations bring each era to life with a new passion for each migrant collective? The scale of work involved shows Todd’s passion and conviction in bringing their stories to life. With a cast of over 80 performers, it is certainly not a small-scale production and I was impressed that the attention to detail never slips.

A refreshing and honest modern Opera. Bringing to stage up-to-date concerns, and raising awareness of real-life issues and major problems is to be congratulated and applauded. Migrations will remain with me for a long time, feelings of disgust and despair never go away overnight.

Migration issues are as relevant today as they have been throughout History. The plight people endure escaping war, murder, rape, and atrocities. Although pinpointed over several decades migration hasn’t changed and as long as people feel undervalued and afraid of the lives they are living it will continue for many decades more.

I would strongly recommend buying a programme for Migrations. It is a fascinating insight into how the Opera was constructed and the indepth historical information collected and covered throughout the Opera.

For more information about the Welsh National Opera and future ptarmigan at the Mayflower please visit the link below.

Four Stars

https://wno.org.uk/

https://www.mayflower.org.uk/

A Sherlock Carol Written and directed by Mark Shanahan.

A Sherlock Carol breaks with the traditional version of Sherlock Holmes created by Arthur Conan Doyle while incorporating the Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol where we find Tiny Tim has grown up to become Dr Cratchit (Damian Lynch) who runs a children’s home supported by his benefactor Ebenezer Scrooge (Kammy Darweish).

Sherlock Holmes ( Ben Caplan) is called upon by Dr. Crachit to solve the death/murder of Ebenezer Scrooge whose body has been discovered dead in his favorite chair just before Christmas. After only recently returning to London Holmes is reluctant to help and would rather remain anonymous.

Forget the traditional dear stalker wearing immaculately dressed London Gentry version and think more of the scruffier television version of Elementary made for CBS Television. Caplan’s performance has incorporated Jonny Lee Millers’ mannerisms along with his American/English accent distinctively heard in Elementary. At times I did a double take to be certain it was Caplan still on stage.

The sharp mind and scrutiny of each observation are ever-present. The top hat presented to Sherlock becomes verbally dissected right down to the alcoholic drink consumed by its wearer. This attention to detail will always set Sherlock apart from all the other fictional detectives.

Linda Cho successfully achieves the challenge set to her “to honour the source…and celebrate the new play…” the incredibly bold dresses worn by Rosie Armstong as the Duchess and Gemma Laurie in the role of Emma Wiggins create an air of wealth and elegance each time they entered the stage.

The play picks up the pace after the interval after feeling it dragged slightly toward the end of the first half. Sherlock starts explaining the mystery around Scrooge’s death while joining all the clues together and delivering more humour to the audience.

If you want a break this year from the traditional Christmas Pantomimes then this is a seasonal and entertaining performance to go and watch. Although I wouldn’t suggest it’s suitable for younger audiences.

For further information on A Sherlock Carol and future productions at the Marylebone Theatre please use the link below. It’s certainly an Off West End venue worth visiting just a short walk from Bakerloo Station.

Photo credit Danny Kaan

Three Stars.

https://www.marylebonetheatre.com/

Rapunzel by Annie Siddons.

There’s nothing quite like reviewing a festive family production when the auditorium is full of excitement from the four busloads of primary school children sitting ready and waiting the wonders that are about to come alive on the stage. At 10.30 am, spirits are running high.

Rapunzel (Tilly-Mae Millbrook) is left by her father after the death of her Mother in the garden belonging to herbalist Mother Gothel (Miiya Alexandra). Teaching Rapunzel all about the healing qualities of each of the plants growing in the garden the audience have a horticultural lesson as part of the entertainment. The pair become incredibly close.

Everything in the garden is rosy until Rapunzel begins to blossom into a young woman and the fear of losing her to a young man engulfs Mother Gothel who then decides to hide her in the tower. Keeping her safe and all to herself. All parents know this is never going to end well!

Tilly-Mae Millbrook’s performance in the role of Rapunzel brings a touch of reality often lost in other adaptations in the form of Rapunzel’s reaction each time her hair is used for a rope ladder her face winces and consorts demonstrating the pain and torture that would be felt.

Along comes Prezze (Jess Lobo) to rescue her from the Tower and take her back to his family Palace to live happily ever after. Things don’t go to plan as you might expect and the journeys they embark on certainly weren’t part of their plans, however, they need to be travelled before being reunited.

Upon revisiting performances like Rapunzel as an adult you see the cruelty and control used by the dominant “bad” characters over those they deem weak. Although Mother Gothel approaches from a maternal perspective it’s nonetheless cruel and imprisonment.

I especially liked the slapstick-style comedy used by Rapunzel as she flees the two “baddies” who want to Rob her. Each of the extremely talented cast members doubles up as the orchestra bringing the musical score directly to the stage either as a solo or collective depending on the music required.

Pierluigi Ambrosi (Emma Barclay) encompasses humour, truth, and an abundance of talent to see the errors of their ways and turn their back on crime and work towards a positive future. Barclay’s performance shone throughout the play and engaged enthusiastically with the younger audience members.

Offie Award-winning director Lucy Betts has bought to stage the classic tale of Rapunzel and added a few twists which make for a thoroughly enjoyable alternative Christmas production.

The programmes retail at £3 each which I think is good value for money, as well as the usual cast information it has several pages of word search, crosswords, and make your crown instructions which would entertain younger audiences at home afterward, keeping the magic alive a while longer.

For more information on this Christmas production and future work coming to the Watermill please use the link below. Rapunzel is running now until 1st January 2023.

Four Stars

https://www.watermill.org.uk/

Triggered by Emma Burnell.

Hollingsdene Labour Party meeting opens up proceedings for the evening’s performance. June Wright (Carrie Cohen) the mature stalwart long-term Labour member chairs the meeting with a strong authoritative presence, leading the meeting fairly to ensure all the comrades who have gathered there behave in an orderly fashion allowing everyone a chance to speak.

Local MP Sally Finch (Antonia Beamish) actively supports local University Lecturer Jim Marr (Michael Palmer) on the picket line as he protests against the further proposed cuts in Education. However, when he meets Sofia Peters (Catherine Adams) she isn’t as quick to support as nobody was there to represent her Mother whose cleaning job in the University was unfavorably changed without consultation and came out against these changes to protect her interests and future.

Fragility in the political landscape comes to the forefront when MP Sally Finch votes against the whip in an education bill within a parliamentary vote. Her reasons are never fully explained or questioned in depth. However, it spells disaster and the future of her holding onto the seat is locally Triggered and put to the constituents vote.

Emna Burnell’s long standing political background and insider understanding run throughout Triggered. Many inside jokes are often apparent and appreciated by audience members in the “know”, yet admittedly many of these went over my head.

Sharing the plate of biscuits towards the beginning of the play explained how you could identify a person’s political preference by the biscuit they chose. I chose a custard cream this apparently represents the safe choice that rarely goes creates waves and supports Tony Blair! Not sure anyone who knows me would agree. Yet, If the garibaldi is your preference it’s the one that nobody admits to liking, apparently like a Tory supporter. Make of that what you will. I will need to choose my biscuits with more consideration from now on.

An interesting plot that although based on the Labour party could easily transcend across other parties. My knowledge of behind-the-scenes politics is limited and I left feeling I had a small insight into the grassroots side of how the constituency hub might have been managed.

For more information on Triggered and future productions please visit the link below. Although I do believe that this run of Triggered has already sold out.

Four Stars

White Bear Theatre | Greater London
https://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk

https://www.independent.co.uk/author/emma-burnell

Bombay Superstar by Samir Bhamra.

Bombay Superstar was based during the 1970s Bollywood film Industry era. Laila (Nisha Aaliya) moves to Bombay to seek an acting career after the death of her Amma (Mother) and to locate her Appa (father). The famous married Bollywood director DD (Chirag Rao). However, once confronted he denies her existence and turns away. All great ingredients for a passion-driven musical.

Sikandar (Rav Moore) is the ultimate Bollywood leading man. Full of charm, enchanting dancers and smooth tones. Women swoon over him and his film studio director DD goes out of his way to protect him. However, although he is married the up-and-coming new starlet Laila turns his head and the pair unsurprisingly become entwined in an ill-fated love affair.

With a vast array of brightly coloured, sparkly Bollywood-style costumes the cast wears some impressive outfits. The gold trousers worn by the cast in the final scene are striking and left a lasting impression. A couple of the jackets worn by two of the main male characters have been intricately designed and looked striking.

The screen at the back of the stage towards the top depicted various household roof scenes allowing the audience to follow whose home you are in or which Film studio the cast is working for. It also plays hosts subtitle translations from Indian to English. Although at times they didn’t necessarily follow the onstage dialogue.

Choreographers Rohan Shah and Shruti Shah have recreated all the glitz and glamour connected with the Bollywood film magic and brought it onto the stage to delight audiences while they have been touring the UK.

Bombay Superstar marks the 50th show bought to the stage by Phizzical Theatre Company. Creators of South Asian stories and musicals. They aim to create strong adventurous storylines to empower the next generation of theatre producers.

For more information on this production and future work at the Mast in Southampton please use the link below.

Three and a half Stars

https://www.mayflowerstudios.org.uk/what-s-on/bombay-superstar-2022/

Witches of Oz written by Shay Shay.

Witches of Oz The Vault’s latest immersive product is a blend of The Wizard of Oz and the Witches from Wicked. There are two options in place to enjoy the show. The three-course dinner is served at intervals throughout the performance or shows only, with both groups sharing the same seating area. The main course is delicious chicken thighs with a selection of vegetables and two varieties of cooked beetroot which I devoured.

The evening begins as the subjects of Emerald City (audience) are sent down the destructed yellow brick road signs to the first cabaret room. Relax with a carefully constructed themed cocktail, wine or a range of soft drinks. Take your seat as the cast introduces themselves and warms up the audience for an entertaining trip to the World of Oz.

Travel on twenty years as we return to the land of Oz under Waterloo in The Vaults. Changes have taken place in the land of Oz and Dorothy is no longer a sweet and innocent little girl. Older and wiser the group are bought back together and set on a new journey in the Emerald City.

The Lion (Milla Sutton) certainly has found the courage she was searching for in donning the figure-hugging dominatrix PVC outfit. Complete with a glorious large mane and the tail-designed finishing touch of a whip, leaving her ready to jump into action if and when required throughout the evening. Fabulous power dressing in the Land of Oz.

Director and writer Shay Shay yet again work his magic. After the recent sell-out successful production of Mulan Rouge in the same venue in the depths of the Vaults. Witches of Oz is an equal musical treat adding a Shay Shay twist to the famous Oz characters. I look forward to seeing what Shay Shay creates next.

For more information on this production please visit the link below.

Four Stars

https://www.thevaults.london/the-witches-of-oz

Trainspotting Live adapted by Harry Gibson.

Adapted from Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel Trainspotting the fully interactive staged version of Trainspotting Live adapted by Harry Gibson delivers a fast-paced, adrenaline-fuelled journey into Welsh’s characters. Staying close to the original novel we enter the darker side of the Streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Audience members enter the fast paced drug-fuelled rave becoming immediately fully immersed in the Trainspotting Live journey. One word of warning, be prepared for anything to happen.

The production in keeping with the original novel doesn’t judge addiction, heroin use or the lives of those caught up in the cycle of drug abuse. They bring to life the high and lows faced by addicts, desperate for another fix to experience the warmth and euphoria the needle, powder or tablets provides. Making life feel normal or bearable again.

Greg Esplin gives an outstanding performance as Tommy. The drug-fuelled induced behaviour was triggered by splitting up with his girlfriend. Desperate to escape the pain the “easy way”.

After the death of her baby, Alison (Lauren Downie) takes a massive hit. Convulsing on the floor centre stage with her eyes fixed in a drug-induced coma is shocking. Downie’s realistic performance left me shocked and horrified never questioning whether or not she had taken a large dose of heroin.

Listening to a couple of friends’ experiences who were also at The Mast tonight, they commented on how real the drug-fuelled highs and lows were depicted. Waking up to be confronted by the addict covered in their faeces and urine. Witnessing someone living the drug life It’s not shock value Theatre, it’s the reality of drug addiction.

Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher creates an untraditional theatre space in which the audience becomes part of the story. Seated on either side of the stage the action is almost within arms reach by every member of the audience. There’s no escape from what you are about to witness.

Trainspotting Live is one of the rare Theatre events that make you want to close your eyes and look away yet watch intensely out of grim intrigue all at the same time. Especially when Renton (Andrew Barrett) sits down on an extremely vile and heavily soiled toilet. It certainly turned my stomach over just thinking how that would have smelt.

Although these are the last performances at The Mast in Southampton in the current run of Trainspotting Live there are plans to return it to the stage next year. If you’ve missed it this time round I can highly recommend adding it to the top of your watch list next year.

For more information on this production and future plays at The Mast please use the links below.

Five Stars.

Photo credit Geraint Lewis.

https://ticketing.mayflowerstudios.org.uk/overview/trainspotting-2022

https://www.trainspottinglive.com/

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=trainspotting+Live&view=detail&mid=0B3D1D77966866093C350B3D1D77966866093C35&FORM=VIRE&PC=SWG01

The Sleeping Sword at The Watermill Theatre.

Based on the 2002 book by Michael Morpurgo and adapted by Tatty Hennessy The Sleeping Sword tells the story of the Arthurian legend-obsessed Bun, who has read the story many times. Swept up by the magic of Merlin and the innocence of young Arthur removing Excalibur from the stone.

Bun (Aarian Mehrabani) knows every inch of the small Island of Bryher where he lives with his Father played by visually impaired actor (Kirsty Ferriggi). After a diving accident off the jetty, he loses his sight and is left to adapt to a world he can no longer see. With his friend Anna (Tika Mu’tamir) he learns to map the Island differently and enjoy life once again.

Bun and Anna unknowingly meet Merlin in the guise of a traveller on the Island for the Summer Solstice and are plunged into an unforgettable adventure.

Each performance will be fully captioned with integrated audio and sound effects performed by the cast to enable audience members who are blind, visually impaired and deaf to enjoy all the explorations without missing any of the action. Just be prepared to bring your best seagull impression with you!

The parcels Bun’s new teacher Mrs Parsons, sends him from the mainland were fascinating. I had no idea that a speaking compass existed or that you could get a large pen-style object that told you what an object is when you point it at it. All of these aids make life hopefully feel more included in the world they live in.

I would have liked to have known more about how being blind made Bun honestly feel and how he now saw the world. How much of his friends and Dad he could see. Were they visible in a block, fuzzy or not at all?

The cast of three brings the Island to life through the adventures and sound effects brilliantly. Bun’s bed becomes his Dad’s boat on a couple of occasions, which I dare say many audience members can relate to from childhood, creating an imaginative world from your bed as you transport your mind somewhere else.

Director Lucy Jane Atkinson successfully brings together friendship, hope, disaster and an intriguing twist on the famous Arthurian legend, through the eyes of Bun’s imagination and adventures to the stage. Creating a world for adults and children to transport to and enjoy together.

For more information on this play and future performances coming to The Watermill Theatre please use the link below.

Four Stars.

Photo credit Mark Senior.

https://www.watermill.org.uk/the_sleeping_sword