The Greater Game

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When several sporting associations suspended all competitive professional matches following the declaration of the First World War the football association were expected to follow suit. Instead the 1914 – 1915 season and the FA cup final continue as normal; the football league was actually suspended at the end of the 1914/1915 season.

This decision met with criticism from the general public who felt that men would rather watch or play football instead of serving King and country. The authorities responded to this criticism by deciding to form a Battalion specifically for footballers to join, creating the 17th Middlesex Footballers Battalion.

The Greater Game is written by Michael Head based on the book They took the lead: The Story of Clapton Orient’s Major Contribution to the Footballers’ Battalion in the Great War by Stephen Jenkins.

The story tells of the 42 Clapton Orient (later known as Leyton Orient) football players and backroom staff who became the first English football club to volunteer on mass for frontline duties in the Great War.

Using a one scene set director Adam Morley transports the viewer from the changing rooms of Clapton Orient (The O’s) to the trenches of the Somme.

The strong, talented, professional cast work effectively with each other to recreate the camaraderie of a team of footballers as they travel from football pitch to battlefield.

I was moved to tears throughout this production as the performances were so powerful, particularly by Scott Kyle’s portrayal of Sunderland born George Scott and the treatment he received when captured by the enemy. Scott delivered a superb performance.

The Greater Game is a raw, heart wrenching production that tells the important unique story of a remarkable football club, it’s players and staff who made the ultimate sacrifice for the greater game.

The Greater Game runs at Waterloo East Theatre from October 30th to 24th November.
MT

Theatretastic 4/5:

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We say: “The Greater Game is a raw, heart wrenching production that tells the important unique story of a remarkable football club, it’s players and staff who made the ultimate sacrifice for the greater game.”

Fame – The Musical

Fame – The Musical Production Images

To celebrate its 30th anniversary Fame the musical is currently touring the UK. With music by Steve Margoshes and lyrics by Jacques Levy, Fame the musical opened on Broadway in 1988 and is based on the 1980s film of the same name.

The story follows the hopes, dreams, love and losses of a group of students from New York’s high school for performing arts. It follows the students from their first audition to graduation. The musical explores issues of prejudice, identity, sexuality and substance abuse.

Director and choreographer Nick Winston has created a charismatic production that is full of a variety of energetic dance styles from Hip-hop to Ballet to Latin routines which are all delivered magnificently by this extremely talented young cast.

Set designer Morgan Large uses modern lighting against a backdrop of school yearbook photos to effectively create the corridors and rehearsal studios of the high school environment. We also marvelled at the iconic yellow taxis that moved around the backdrop as the cast sang the popular classic Fame.

There are strong performances from Stephanie Rojas as sassy Carmen, Jamal Crawford as street wise Tyrone, Keith Jack as star of TV commercials Nick and Jorgie Porter as classical dancer Iris.

Albey Brookes had the audience hysterically laughing with his comedic performance as Joe, alongside Hayley Johnston as food loving dancer Mabel.

The extremely talented on stage “band” members, Simon Anthony as Schlomo, Alexander Zane as Goody and Louisa Beadel as Lambchops all delivered the music with energy, passion and skill.

Mica Paris as teacher Mrs Sherman, gave an outstanding emotional delivery of These are my children which for me was the number of the evening.

Molly McGuire as student actress Serena, gave the stand out performance of the evening for me particularly with her accomplished acting skills and her beautiful voice. I really enjoyed her delivery of Let’s play a love scene.

Packed with outstanding choreography and fantastic performances from an extremely talented young cast, Fame the musical had the Birmingham audience on their feet in appreciation, as this production really did light up the stage like a flame!

This was one of our favourite productions that we have seen at The Alex this year.

Fame the musical runs at the Alex from 19th – 24th November when it continues its UK tour.

MT

Theatretastic rating 4/5:

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We say: “Packed with outstanding choreography and fantastic performances from an extremely talented young cast, Fame the musical had the Birmingham audience on their feet in appreciation, as this production really did light up the stage like a flame!”

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages production images

Written by Chris D’Arienzo, Rock of Ages is a jukebox musical comedy based on the classic rock anthems of the 1980s. Nominated for 5 Tony awards Rock of Ages opened on Broadway in 2009 closing in 2015.

Set in 1987 on Sunset Strip in Hollywood, the story tells of a small-town girl Sherrie who meets and falls in love with city boy Drew whilst they both pursue fame and fortune in the world of rock and roll.

Tongue in cheek dance routines created by director and choreographer Nick Winston are delivered with energy and precision by the talented cast. Combined together with the big hairstyles and rock fashions of the era, the cheesy nostalgic atmosphere of this piece is created.

Danielle Hope (Sherrie) and Luke Walsh (Drew) have excellent onstage chemistry and both delivered outstanding vocals. I particularly enjoyed their duet Waiting for a girl like you.

Zoe Birkett gave an outstanding performance as Venus strip club manager Justice. Her duet with Hope, Harden my heart, was my favourite number of the evening.

Lucas Rush as the narrator Lonny is the perfect showman, breaking the fourth wall as he worked the audience with charm and humour.

Andrew Carthy’s portrayal of exuberant geeky German Franz, caused the audience to dissolve in fits of laughter. Vas Constanti gave a wonderful comedic performance as Franz’s father Hertz, together they were a dynamic duo.

Rock of Ages is a parody of all things rock; a show that mocks itself and does not take itself seriously. What it lacks in storyline and dialogue it makes up with well-known rock anthems of a generation, all delivered by the onstage band with power and professionalism.

This production is full of good fun and fantastic performances. Packed to the brim with power ballads and humour, Rock of Ages had the Birmingham audience rocking their way to the midnight train by the end of the show.

We just can’t fight this feeling any more, Rock of Ages is our guilty pleasure musical!

Rock of Ages runs at the Alex theatre Birmingham from the 13th November to 17th November when it continues its national tour.
MT

Theatretastic 4/5:

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We say: “We just can’t fight this feeling any more, Rock of Ages is our guilty pleasure musical!”

Hairspray – WBOS Youtheatre 

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I was a member of WBOS Youtheatre, joining in 1997, and spent many wonderful years performing in shows such as Oklahoma, 42nd Street and even playing the lead of ‘Annie’ in 1999. So you can imagine the delight of being invited along to watch the 2018 WBOS Youtheatre production of Hairspray.

The award winning youth section of WBOS was formed in 1987 and the company comprises of young people ranging from 10-19 years of age. They perform a musical annually at the Garrick Theatre, Lichfield and also perform at the Dormston Mill Theatre in Sedgley.

With music by Marc Sharman and lyrics by Sharman and Scott Whitman, the musical Hairspray is set in 1960s Baltimore and tells the story of teenager Tracy Turnblad, who’s dream is to be a dancer on the Corny Collins television show. Tracy’s shape, personality and passion for social integration sets her apart from the other girls.

Director Ben Cole, Choreographer Claire Flavell and Musical Director George Stuart have created a vibrant charming production. This was my second time seeing Hairspray this year, previously watching the touring production at the Wolverhampton Grand in February, so it was wonderful to watch a production which was packed full of fresh energy and enthusiasm.

I loved being a member of this company back in my youth because it felt like a huge family. It is nice to see that in 2018 this is still the case, as this talented youth company appear to be a strong team performing the choreography with precision in unity.

Jessica Harrison was outstanding as Tracy Turnblad, reminding me of a young Carrie Hope Fletcher, as she oozed natural stage presence and charisma. Jessica performs with such professionalism and gives attention to detail in her performance. Her wonderful dance skills and energy never faltered in this demanding role, which is what I have witnessed previously in professional performances. Jessica also had fantastic chemistry with Joe Simmons, Link Larkin, who had a wonderful voice which was showcased in It takes two.

Thomas Rantell gave such a warm subtle performance as the bold Edna Turnblad, making it one of my favourite performances of Edna from the many productions of Hairspray that I have seen. I particularly enjoyed the performance of You’re Timeless To Me with Finn Smith, Wilbur Turnblad, who gave a charming quirky performance as the joke shop owner.

The Corny Collins show wouldn’t be complete without a dazzling showman played by the charismatic Will Foggin. Tia Mcdonald as the sassy Amber Von Tussle captured the essence of this true “mean girl, working together with her villianous mother Velma Von Tussle, Eleanor Shephard, as they both commanded the stage.

I loved the performance of Penny Pingleton by Arabella Yardley. Arabella gave the audience an excellent comedic performance, with audience members being reduced to laughter around us. Her remarkable characterisation and acting ability made Penny a standout character. It was enjoyable to watch the relationship with Penny and her strict overbearing mother Prudy performed perfectly by Holly Page.

Ashley Mazanhi has wonderful vocals and gave a confident performance as Seaweed. Tia Coe as his sister Little Inez, delivered her lines and dance moves with confidence. Her mother, Motormouth Maybelle, played by Nevaeh Leveridge is a strong character and Nevaeh portrayed this strength with ease and power with her performance of Big, Blonde and Beautiful.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable production of Hairspray which showcased the wealth of talent that lives within this youth company from the principle cast to the entire company .

We look forward to their next show – Bring it On!
DT

Theatretastic rating 4/5:

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We say: “WBOS Youtheatre are packed to the brim with talented youth! This was a charming and energetic production of Hairspray”

Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing Photo credit: Alastair Muir

I first saw Dirty Dancing the movie, starring Patrick Swazye and Jennifer Grey, at our local cinema in 1987 and have been a fan of the movie ever since. Yes, I am one of those people who can quote lines from the film and who knows all the words to all the songs within the movie.

I have never seen Dirty Dancing on stage, I am not sure why, although it was adapted for the stage in 2006 and has toured extensively throughout the world including the UK. So, I was delighted when Theatretastic was invited by the Alex to the Birmingham leg of the fourth UK tour of this well-known production.

Set in 1963 the story tells of middle-class teenager Frances (Baby) Houseman who goes on a family summer vacation to Kellerman’s a resort in the Catskill mountains. Here she meets working class dance instructor Johnny Castle and her life changes forever.

In director Federico Bellone’s fast paced production, set designer Roberto Comotti uses video projection to recreate scenes from the film. Jennifer Irving’s costume design recreates those used in the film and transports the viewer into the 1960s.

The strong, talented ensemble work together as a team, their energy generating to the audience as they delivered Gillian Bruce’s choreography from Latin to Ballroom routines with precision and flair.

Lizzie Ottley portrays Lisa Houseman with great humour her delivery of the “hula number” was a delight and caused the audience around us to dissolve into laughter.

The chemistry between the characters of Baby and Johnny did fall flat at times but they captured the essence of these two iconic roles in their individual performances.

Michael OReilly made his professional debut as Johnny Castle and delivers the variety of dance styles with confidence, physicality and professionalism.

Kira Malou gives a very strong performance as “Baby” Frances Houseman, capturing the sweetness and vulnerability of the character; successfully injecting humour into the training montage sequences and delivering the dance routines with precision and flair.

Simone Covele gave the outstanding performance of the evening as Johnny’s dance partner Penny. Covele’s fantastic delivery of the dance routines showcased her flexibility and suppleness.

Dirty Dancing successfully recreates the movie on stage which will appeal to fans of the film.

Personally, I would have liked to see more of a musical theatre adaption, however, the energy of the cast and the professional delivery of the fabulous dance routines resulted in a production that was thoroughly enjoyed by the Birmingham audience.

Who knows they may even have had the time of their lives? Sorry I just could not help myself!

Dirty dancing at the Alex theatre Birmingham from the 5th – 10th November when it continues its national tour.
MT

Theatretastic rating: 3.5/5

We say: “Dirty Dancing is a sexy, energetic, nostalgic night out at the theatre!”

Orange Polar Bear

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This innovative original work is a collaboration between Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Hanyong Theatre company and the National Theatre of Korea in association with Birmingham City University.

The Orange Polar Bear by award winning playwrights Sun-Duck Ko and Evan Placey was created following a series of workshops with groups of young people in Birmingham and Korea focusing on the concerns young people face growing up in this century.

Performed in English and Korean, The Orange Polar Bear tells the story of two 15 year old teenagers, British William and South Korean Jiyoung who are both “living invisible lives in chaotic cities on opposite sides of the world”.

The simple white stage design, effective use of lighting and video imagery combined with composers Jang Yeong-Gyu haunting score creates the atmosphere of this modern piece.

The cast of six extremely talented actors (four of them playing more than one character of differing ages) comprising of actors from South Korea and the UK, work well together to create a piece of realistic and emotional theatre.

Rasaq Kukoyi gives a strong performance as the angry frustrated William, and we look forward to following the career of this very talented young actor.

Minju Kim gave an outstanding performance as Jiyoung. Although English translation in the form of subtitles ran across the back of the stage, I did not read them, as I found myself being drawn to the teenage angst captured in Kim’s performance.

Orange Polar Bear is a fresh, funny, artistic piece of theatre that draws the viewer effectively into the stressful, sometimes traumatic life of a teenager, and certainly gave this adult something to think about.

Orange Polar Bear at the Birmingham Rep from 1st – 10th November.
MT

Theatretastic rating 4/5:

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We say: “Orange Polar Bear is a fresh, funny, artistic piece of theatre that draws the viewer effectively into the stressful, sometimes traumatic life of a teenager, and certainly gave this adult something to think about.”

War Horse

Coinciding with the centenary commemorations of the end of the first World War, the National Theatre’s acclaimed play War Horse is currently on its second national tour of the UK.

Based on the children’s book by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse tells the story of Albert and his horse Joey. When war breaks out Albert’s father sells Joey to the Army for a hundred pounds as a cavalry officers’ charger.  Heartbroken, 16-year-old Albert lies about his age to enlist into the army and sets out on a dangerous journey to find his beloved horse.

Suspended above the stage is a 25-metre-wide projection screen in the design of a ripped page from a sketch book. The black and white drawings of theatre designer Rae Smith are projected on to this screen and provide the visual backdrop to the story. The drawings quickly change between each scene transporting the viewer from the tranquility of rural Devon to the battlefields of the Somme.

Bob Fox as the song man, drifts in and out of each scene, his stunning vocals and accomplished accordion playing effectively brings “song maker” John Tams beautiful folk songs to life; the haunting lyrics used so effectively to tell this story.

The 12 strong team of highly talented puppeteers play Joey and Topthorn in rotation at different performances, all puppets are designed and made by the Handspring Puppet Company from South Africa.

I completely forgot that Joey and Topthorn were puppets, as each team of three puppeteers skilfully created a realistic horse that gallops, charges and whinnies across the stage, as they deliver Toby Sedgwick’s choreography with precision.

There are strong performances from Thomas Dennis as Albert Narracott and Jo Castleton as his mother Rose. They have excellent chemistry with each other creating a believable mother and son relationship.

War Horse is a powerful reminder of the futility of war, demonstrated poignantly in a scene following a battle of the Somme. When the machine gun fire stops, silence envelops the auditorium as the viewer is left to reflect on the bodies of horses and young men lying across the stage.

War Horse is a beautiful, artistic, moving production that took me on a journey of emotions from laughter to tears, and left me with renewed respect for all men, women and animals who lost their lives during the Great War.

War Horse was at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 17th October 2018 and now continues its national tour.

MT

Theatretastic rating 5/5:

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We say: “War Horse is a beautiful, artistic, moving production that took me on a journey of emotions from laughter to tears. A must see!”