This isn’t the first time the Woman in Black has brought its tour to Woking and I hope it won’t be the last, it has become of itself despite its fairly modern history, a story deserved to be counted amongst the great classic ghost stories of the likes of Wilkie Collins, MR James & Dickens and the play adaptation too is a welcome relief from what is usually frothy musical and touring tribute bands so often experienced in theatres just trying to stay open to offer some theatrical presence in towns across the country.
I arrived, scared. I have been before but still know it is different each time, the sudden shocks in different places. There were a lot of women in black milling about the foyer but luckily they looked chirpy and corporeal. I wondered if they were stealing her thunder – the real, actual, Woman In Black; outfit clashes can be an embarrassing taboo.
David Acton plays Arthur Kipps a man so traumatised by past events and held still, in their thrall. Desperate to lay ghosts to rest, he seeks help from an actor (Matthew Spence) to dramatise the events of a few days that, as a young man changed the course of his life. He needs help because he has never been able speak the words of his story to his family.
I took my friend Mary, she jumped and screamed like a big cry baby. I hadn’t really warned her (this was my third outing to the play) I am a frenemy. Well I say I didn’t warn her but my disclaimer is that I did whisper ‘brace yerself Mary’ as we sat down – not my fault she didn’t hear….
Based on Susan Hill’s novel, a torchbearer to the gothic ghost novel genre so favoured and flourished in Victorian Britain, they manage to pull off a theatrical coup – making the story so embedded in the audience imagination that the spare sets, lighting (a cast member in itself) and sound effects have you pulled in to all it’s horror, sadness and it’s comedy, for there are also a lot of laughs in it too. The atmosphere pervades throughout. To me, the play knocks the widely publicised film into a cocked hat, because it absolutely gives a chance for modern audiences to experience the art of story telling, the ghosts around the fire late at night, the primeval feeling of sensing threat, hairs standing up on the back of the neck. Not only does it tell a sad and painful story, one that spawns baleful jealousy from someone sent mad with loss but it also acts as a heritage piece giving people back something of a culture that seems lost. Not only a fine tribute to the story and it’s author but also the writer Stephen Mallatratt whose stage adaptation moves the action along so well. That it has successfully run for over 27 years is a great legacy to someone who has sadly passed away.
Though a double handed performance the dexterity of both Acton and Spence is such that it feels like a cast of many, the finely drawn characterisations that they move between has you in no doubt you are in the hands of masters of this craft and, as well as the light and shade and spare set means you have drawn in your mind vast marshlands and lonely mists, and imagine yourself seeing the Woman In Black so often referred to throughout. (No spoilers here I should get a theatrical medal I really should)
To see this play whilst in Woking get tickets here
Oh and wear sturdy pantaloons.
Here is a link to an interview with David Acton who plays Arthur Kipps in the second hour of the Radio Woking Fiery Bird Show where he gives insights into the play and the tour. Thursday 6 April https://m.mixcloud.com/radiowoking/fiery-bird-show-with-claudia-stark-featuring-david-acton-starring-in-woman-in-black/
Wonderland at the New Victoria theatre in Woking last night was a bit of a surprise. Not sure what to expect on arrival it seemed to be appealing to a large audience intent on holiday fun with kids, an expectation of the event to be a family affair. The wonder of it all wasn’t that this wasn’t necessarily a musical for kids although the imagery and large characterisation of the Wonderland characters made it appealing.
Alice (Kerry Ellis) is a struggling single mother, hitting 40 who hates her job but who has been so undermined by her controlling ex husband telling her she needed his protection, that she believes she will never get the job she loves and dreams of. She has always wanted to be a writer. She had started to believe what he had told her about herself and given up on her dreams, her daughter Ellie (Naomi Morris) desperate to see her take control, feels she should move on, go back to the teaching she gave up because her husband didn’t like her earning more than him, meanwhile Alice doesn’t even notice the geeky next door neighbour Jack (Stephen Webb) who works in the council recycling dept nursing dreams of being a singer and worships her from afar.
One day with her car stolen making her late for work she is fired. Fed up and tired she repeats how she ‘doesn’t want to live in the real world’ Ellie spies a large rabbit hopping past their tower block and follows him into a broken lift. Panicking as the lift door closes brings the rabbit back again who says he will take them down, and that is how they get to Wonderland ladies and gentlemen in these days of technology or rather disused lifts and depressing grey, high-rise, flats.
Wonderland is run by a tyrannical Queen of Hearts (Wendi Peters) who makes regular threats to chop off heads unchallenged by the residents; after all, they only lose their head once meaning they can’t return to the real world that gave them so much grief, and by complying they have an easy life and don’t question her authority. An encounter with the Caterpillar (Kayi Ushe) who Alice looks to as a guru, the Cheshire Cat (Dominic Owen) (both brilliant performances of comedy and cool) who tells them to move forward always, brings them to the magic mirror where they are advised by the White Rabbit – a judge in the real world, more like Yoda in this – that the mirror turns you into someone who you could be, maybe want to be, maybe should have been – Jack and Ellie jump in quickly, Jack’s metamorphosis into the singer he has always wanted to be, fronting a boy band with stage moves is a hilarious moment and great vocal though longer than I needed to get the gist. Ellie, comes out as the teenager she would be, had she not felt unnoticed by her mother’s grief and responsible for her happiness. She stirs the Mad Hatter (Natalie McQueen) to go through the mirror, take responsibility for her hat factory and over throw the Queen, but the mirror change for her makes her as power hungry, turning her hat factory into a sweat shop nearly killing the dormouse (who was a lawyer in real life) in the process. Ellie, realising that her explanation of how power works to show unity to remove a dictator has resulting in her abetting another, worse one to the seat of power and yet one who, despite causing more suffering, it turns out is as frightened and confused about the change, repeating ‘that’s how power works’ like a frightened child and needs to go back, she didn’t need to change, she was told she wasn’t enough but as it turned out, she always was.
Alice refuses the mirror, refuses change until the realisation that it is what is needed to save her daughter under threat of being beheaded so the Queen can keep her in Wonderland as advisor. Finally Alice takes action, takes back the parent role, protects her daughter and the Mad Hatter goes back and all is well.
Perhaps this spoke to many people in similar positions the paradigm of fighting for a loved one overriding a lack of courage is always prevalent in the roles where a parent is called upon to save their child. That they have made an adaptation that brings these themes together recognising in Alice an everywoman facing those dilemmas being more common today, as Jack says to her ‘It’s not a unique story’ yet reaches the time old themes of courage coming from facing fear, from the ordinary heroisms of the everyday and from the different archetypes we set up as friend or enemy; always an extreme and yet existing in layers in all of us, the caterpillar as a guru denied he knew anything when Alice relied on him and quoted himself back, the cat causing trouble to be the one to say ‘I told you I was a trickster…..’ putting responsibility for her decisions firmly back with her.
And Ellie – her own natural chrysalis being shed from dutiful daughter to separate human and the dichotomy of adolescence back to the baby again who still needs her mum when she may have burned her wings in a too bright world.
The characterisations, costumes and comedy in this made it a pleasant alternative to the original story, still enjoyed by many but by those expecting the more traditional this was a delightful twist. This isn’t a jukebox musical the new songs are for the story, but there are a diverse range and the cool stylings of some of the choreography and costumes make it a show that has a broader appeal. The vocals of all the performers are stand out excellent, though a couple of songs in the second half had the music dominating occasionally making the words hard to make out. The magic mirror did look like a giant toilet seat though and the topiary of the bushes at the entrance to Wonderland did look like they were left by a giant cat so I’ll leave that subtext to be explored by finer minds that don’t boggle.
The cast got a very enthusiastic response the whole way through which is a great thing for new work albeit on a well loved theme which can be a risk. I’d take the risk if I were you Wonderland is at New Victoria Theatre until Sat 8 April 2017 http://www.atgtickets.com
Woking’s New Victoria Theatre hosts Thriller this week a celebration of the music of Michael Jackson.
With four main vocalists covering the diversity of Michael’s songs there was an opportunity to hear the harmonies arranged around them. The songs, more or less arranged in chronological order raised the energy of the audience at the start, the early ones such as Who’s Loving You and I Want You Back having people keen to enjoy the night. There was puzzlement in ABC where a child dressed in 70’s gear was on film miming to the song, with the dancers in full Pans People 1970’s kitsch regalia, surely either have a child actor/singer have the opportunity live to show their talent or show a film of Michael Jackson singing with the accompanying dancers?
The first half seemed very long with nineteen songs covered so though the vocalists were doing their best as well as the dancers and the dazzling light show the cast had to work hard to keep the audience attention.
Special mention needs to go to Shanice Steele the lead female singer and Rory Taylor who topped and tailed the range of vocals that Michael Jackson was known for. Taylor gave energy and grit to songs like Dirty Diana and Steele the earlier songs a powerful consistent vocal throughout.The musicians in the band gave a great show of expertise and the guitarists coming out to play to the audience gave it another layer their skill and showmanship a highlight for me. The disappointment for the MJ fan I was with was that the MJ character played by understudy Eddy Lima lip synced a great deal of his parts, his dancing however was flawless.
The dance routines did have flashes of brilliance but on occasion faltered, the routine use of the ‘hand on groin’ during nearly every dance routine seemed a bit ‘samey’ if I can use that technical term. In some songs the female dancers having very high heels fettered their athleticism brought back when they were equipped to actually dance, moonwalk sections were well executed and raised an enthusiastic reaction from the audience.
It’s hard to place a review when people are doing their best that doesn’t give a reflection of that. Each individual performer gave their best and their own contributions were fine, it’s just the whole that didn’t gel. There were too many songs crammed in so after all it lost it’s impact, I was looking at the programme to see how many were left. It felt like a holiday camp version without the crazy golf afterwards option.
There are times you want to be witty to be kind, and times you just can’t be bothered and this is one of them. I’m sorry Thriller but on occasion it was only mildly chafing. If you want to ignore me and I completely understand that a curmudgeon like me might not be on your wavelength my MJ fan accompanying me loved it (apart from the lip sync) and a little boy thanked his Dad for the best birthday present he ever had. Curmudgeon I may be but I did try a moonwalk in my socks on the kitchen floor to find the wine to write this review.
Thriller is at the New Victoria Theatre until Sat 7 May 2016 tickets available from http://www.atgtickets.com
A Big Old Bus called Priscilla rolled into Woking’s New Victoria Theatre this week with feathers and glitter, fellas and bows ….(thought I was going to say something else didn’t ya but I don’t know about gardening instruments, they have no place here, in theatre, unless it was a musical about Alan Titchmarsh)
The lavish production was lively from the start, a large pink lipstick firmly staking the intentions of the night being big, brash lively and entertaining. A big star of the whole event were the costumes designed by Lizzy Gardiner amazing from the gothic at the funeral scene of Trumpet ‘he couldn’t play a note dear but had such a large foreskin he could fit a gingerbread biscuit under it’ to paraphrase Bernadette played by Simon Green, to the eccentric paintbrushes, green cakes and sunflowers. The designer should get a medal but she’d probably make a better one herself anyway.
Singing from the Divas was amazing as they were lowered down from the ceiling to provide the voices for the tradition of the lip syncing drag queens a tradition that Adam played by Adam Bailey wants to break away from and struggles to convince the more traditional Bernadette. A jukebox show where every song is a well known hit that will have resonated with everyone bringing memories flooding back.
This bickering goes around Tick (Darren Day) who longing to see his son and fed up with city life decides to go to Alice Springs to perform in his wife’s casino show. The discovery of him having a wife and son shocks his feisty friends at the end.
The trio travel across the desert coming across traditional communities who haven’t embraced the drag queen phenomena and surprising pots of tolerance in Bob the mechanic who helps them out of a spot and falls in love with Bernadette, a touching sub story of dignity and compassion. Simon Green brings glamour and class to the role perfectly emulating the character who longs for a more refined days gone by glamour of the drag queen divas.
Darren Day’s portrayal of Tick balances the character as he changes from ordinary man to full blown femme fatale and yearning father, his singing is sweet and reminds me of Donny Osmond, luckily my sister wasn’t there she would’ve wet her knickers, though hopefully she has outgrown that now Donny is a Grandad.
The three amigos have a good chemistry and balance on stage and the characters meeting diversity have some hilarious moments. The bar in Broken Hill with dancing on the tables and bars reminds me wistfully of when the children were young and school Mums would have a night out every half term or so. Well, I say night out, they started out on one night and ended up on another day completely anyhow… back to work. My favourite line which I am going to commit to memory to use on occasion (don’t sue me) came from Bernadette to Shirley ‘why don’t you light your tampon and blow your box apart?’ There was also a great round of applause for ‘why do we do this every night copping insults and abuse?’ ‘So we can feel like real women’
At this point I need to declare an interest. On returning after the interval I was informed by a fellow reviewer that they needed dancers for the second half. ‘This sounds like the job for my matronly fame!’ my friend Maria came too (she actually can dance) We queued up with others who sort of looked fit and said things to each other like ‘what do we do?’ Oh just do what you did in ‘Phantom’ I thought ‘aye aye, these are ringers like those people that go to karaoke nights but have a booking as Tom Jones tributes in real life’ Backstage we were asked to put our wine down (!) a nice lady looked after my scarf. Suddenly I was pulled onstage by an Australian Diva the height of a building with a lovely deep voice and amazing eyelashes. ‘Follow Me, do what I do’ ‘Do you have tena lady back here because I don’t want Injury Lawyers 4U after me because Darren Day has slipped over?’ He couldn’t answer my probing in the middle of telling me to dance like a chicken. (I am a fully certified Irish dancer so kept my arms as low as possible – no relatives turning in their graves on my account, well not for dancing anyway) We went around the front of the stage and gave a bow, I was still in work clothes so hopefully no one will review the confused looking plump woman with wine cheeks dressed like a community nun with no make up on and needing her roots done. Should I get an agent? On the way back I asked if I could nick one of the amazing costumes for a gig this weekend, this suggestion was eschewed with the flimsy excuse of them being man sized. I pointed out I had two boys fighting under a blanket smuggled in my tunic but it fell on deaf ears. We went back to our seats and enjoyed the second half.
The touching scenes where Tick meets his son again were part of the underlying theme of acceptance that runs through the show. Bernadette’s acceptance of grief, of changing times, Adam’s of maturing and becoming kinder and accepting the differences in others, communities accepting people can be their own creation and not conform, and where the son accepts his father is what he is and loves him just the same.
The final amazing part was the question that many have asked over years and years from Richard Harris to Donna Summer and beyond. It was, in fact, Bernadette who left the cake out in the rain and the song and dance around this was a spectacle.
If only the colour and fun of this musical could be spilled out on the streets of every grey town, every grey day.
At the end they got a standing ovation and they deserved it. If you get a chance get to see it, especially if times have been a bit rough recently – better than a prescription and more fun than an enema. (So I am told) Really, do go and see it the whole shebang are fantastic and such a rapport with the audience too.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert runs at The New Victoria Theatre until Saturday 27 February tickets can be obtained from http://www.atgtickets.com 08448717645
The first thing is to get out of the way of the film if you want to really enjoy the Shawshank Redemption brought to Woking’s New Victoria Theatre in a new adapation of the Stephen King novella by Owen O’Neill and David Johns. Try and get it right out of your head, which by the second half you will. Written by two fans of the film but using the original novella medium as it’s guide this adaptation ensures it loses none of its impact that has made it an iconic story for so many.
The themes of redemption, innocence, brutality and kindness are universal through classical literature and popular culture; King himself cites Tolstoy and the American prison movies he watched as a boy as influences on this story; the bleak backdrop of the scenery serves to magnify these and bring in to sharp relief the menace, futile labour and lost hope that the inmates face.
From the early threat and menace of the high security prison that Andy DuFresne (Ian Kelsey) is thrust into, Red (Patrick Robinson) serves as narrator and bemused observer of Andy’s refusal to bow to the prison system, sometimes with brutal consequences for him. The rape scenes, despite being hinted at, still served as a chilling reminder of the reality of prison. Red’s admiration grows as Andy shapes a new way of life in the prison for the benefit of others yet still cannot comprehend his insistence of his innocence, a story they have heard too often before. The dynamic between Robinson and Kelsey with the exasperated realist trying to advise the stubborn visionary works very well to bring the two elements of the story together and the two characters to make a bearable life in prison.
As the play develops there are many stories around the central characters of Andy and Red. What at first appear to be a pack of brutes reveals individuals with their own heartbreak and vulnerability, yet having been the architects of death to innocents themselves. On one side of these are stood Andy and Red the visionary and the pragmatist and on the other, Rooster (Leigh Jones) drawing his character into the vacuous hyena sidekick of Bogs Diamond (Kevin Mathurin) a brutal man oppressing, bullying and raping his way to the top, conversely using Chess, a thinking game to help him along with it. There are those who have committed their crimes and completing their time cannot cope with the redemption of parole, a moving scene when Brooksie (Ian Barritt) unable to comprehend that he won’t be allowed into a library on the outside moves to end it all in the prison library, but, coached out of it by Andy decides to try. Those who see education as their redemption and the chance to do the right thing but are tricked by the system and the corruption it fosters. Kelly (Julian Mack) a young father who Andy coaches through his first ever exams and ignites a belief in himself and who is the only one who holds the key to Andy’s innocence.
Finally Red and Andy do meet their own redemption, Andy, having partaken in a Faustian dance with Warden Stammas (Owen O’Neill) – an excellent portrayal of the self righteous corrupt official who believes he is running his own world in Shawshank – scrapes his own escape over years with the help of Rita Hayworth and a small chisel, to meet Red, who has done his time and earned his parole. That they meet their redemption on a sunny beach with all the money in the world may well be a cliche but its one that we all recognise as an archetype of all being well with the world and redemption finally being complete. The baddies got their comeuppance (apart from one yes, you Mr ‘eating crisps three rows behind me’ next time get marshmallows) and the good guys got to live.
For fans of Shawshank Redemption the film, and for those who have never seen it, this play is a powerful adaptation of a good story, a morality play with more subtlety than tradition, and one that resonates across cultures and generations, because what it comes down to is that people want good people to do well, and it isn’t only the prisoners trapped in Shawshank as the greedy power hungry guards and warden in the prisons of their own making showed. Andy and Red got out of there, they were still left behind. Everyday.
The power of music to lift the spirits that is so present through this story was represented with songs of the era played in between set changes. While reflecting on the whole thing this song Wide Road by local Woking band Cardboard Carousel written about young men in prisons they visited who had committed crimes which gave them life sentences, is a good listen when thinking about this play.
The Shawshank Redemption is on at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre until Sat 14 November. For information and tickets contact 0844 8717645 or http://www.atgtickets.com/woking
Last night Monday 2 February saw Woking’s New Victoria Theatre turn into a Sheffield Working Men’s Club circa 1980’s sometime during Margaret Thatcher’s err reign? There may have been expectation amongst the mainly female audience but it’s a big theatre and without big glasses and with the clever lighting we should be aware that the finale when it comes is fitting for the matrons of Woking not to be discombobulated beyond necessary.
It’s almost a shame though, that this is the focus of what many see this to be about, when it is a story centred around a group of men who have felt emasculated by unemployment and the decimation of life as they know it in 1980’s Sheffield and covers the issues that are still relevant today still faced by people against an austere backdrop of life somewhat different but pulling on the same resilience that always gets us through. So this is a play where the common themes that affect everyone at some time are faced and dealt with, unemployment, depression, homosexuality, sexual equality, the effects of relationship breakdown and body image and through it all the humour that gets most people through the darkest times and gives a shorthand of empathy to friends going through it shines through. A friend said he felt like he was at a hen night and yet it’s a shame more men hadn’t given it a go – it’s largely dealing with issues many men recognise as common causes of anxiety but in a humorous way. It covers the difficulties that women face when their world too changes and they have to navigate the icy and unpredictable waters of supporting a partner whose way of coping may not make them the easiest to love.
An iconic film is a hard act to follow and yet the writer Simon Beaufoy ensures that the themes and dialogue are fresh, adapting the screenplay to theatre very effectively losing nothing of the depth of feeling and drive of the story. All of the cast are superb at giving a nod to the characters shaped in it yet making their own. The opening scene where Gaz (Gary Lucy) and Dave (Martin Miller) attempt to steal a girder while Gaz’s son Nathan looks on sets the scene on their past and the desperation they are in their present. As the play moves on and they gather more to their troupe the dynamic and chemistry amongst the actors bring the reality of a close knit group of friends helping each other – learning the moves using the Arsenal offside trap and with a dose of the morality play – one leaves the group to deal in isolation with their problems until the realisation that others, are in fact on your side. The moment where Dave saves Lomper from suicide only to receive an ungrateful response is quick and had the audience roaring with laughter. There were many more of those moments.
The fact that the audience identify with the characters and wants them to shed their troubles and their anxieties and liberate themselves inside actually displays what a ‘feel good’ factor can do in inspiring people to cheer others on in life. Maybe we could all do with remembering that people in need sometimes need a cheering audience not a judgemental bureaucracy maybe writing situations and characters like this does that. Hope so.
The Full Monty is a play that does appeal to all I took my sixteen year old daughter who eagerly jumped at the chance – she hadn’t seen the film so didn’t know it was less about stripping and more about humanity. Despite me using the opportunity to explain at length that it was a good snapshot of what happened to Britain under Margaret Thatcher I don’t know if I got anywhere, at the end the mobile phone was quickly tapping out to her friends ‘Can’t believe my Mum has just taken me to a strip show’ followed by pouty snapchat picture. She won’t read this so I’m ok. Anyway she said I fancied the bloke from Dinnerladies (Andrew Dunn plays Gerald, the beleaguered foreman desperately trying to keep his position in life) even though I pointed out he was making an excellent job of this role and Dinner ladies was a very well written piece of TV. They just don’t get it these kids. So here you go – here’s THAT pic….
Oh, wait… I lied – you’ll have to see for yourself……
The Full Monty is at New Victoria Theatre until Saturday 7 February for bookings check out http://www.atgtickets.