Barnum! Rolling in to New Victoria Theatre Woking

Phineas T Barnum proclaimed he ran the greatest show on earth and this week brought that to New Victoria Theatre, Woking.

How do you make a musical about a larger than life but nevertheless real man? It seems you make it big and you make it an event that starts before the curtain has even been raised.

On taking seats, the New Victoria Theatre auditorium is filled with show people, juggling amongst and with, the audience, walking on their hands, climbing the seats, leaning over the balconies making shapes in the air with banners and streamers, giving the atmosphere of a bustling busy circus. Usually the only tension inducing activity before any show is apologising as people have to stand up for you to reach your seat while you balance a bag, cup and coats trying not to bash the people on the row in front on the head with your stuff (sharp intake of breath as you balance all that – Human Buckeroo – will that last item be one too many?! CRACKERJACK!) The skill of turning your phone off in time, the decisions (ooooohhh!) as you look at your phone thinking ‘airplane mode or fully off?’ (aaahhhhh!) It’s exhausting before you even sit down and now someone is walking on their hands!! In a theatre!! At the side!! on the steps!! OK everyone JUST CALM DOWN! Actually let’s park the word ‘calm’ for a couple of hours, even if written in block capitals – like shouting.

Brian Conley is a great choice to play P.T Barnum he manages to personalise the role where he interacts in a way that the public know him as himself and yet remain authentic to the part. At the beginning he jokes and speaks to individual audience members making the whole auditorium part of the show as any good circus owner would. He talks of the Humbug – what some would call lies, others call marketing, he says the ‘sucker is born every minute’ and colourfully displays that he is right to the end of the show and yet it isn’t cynical he believes in these shows himself, and the authentic love of the character for the larger than life, the amazing, the incredible shines through.

Linzi Hateley is absolutely brilliant as Chairy Barnum, the dynamic between her and Conley makes them a very believable married couple. The moment when the showman’s wranglers reveal what they consider to be the most fearful and ferocious creature known to man is the only time Barnum quakes and hides behind his ringmaster with good reason as he receives the individual wrath of the said ‘creature’ revealed.

Both play out their relationship in a touching and complementary way. You hope that it was true that she had such an input to his success and that in fact it seems had society been different it would have been her success, her business decisions, that made him a worldwide sensation. The crisis their relationship goes through and the bittersweet way it ends makes it a very human as well as entertaining story.

The skill of all the performers in this show is without a doubt, from the singing by Kimberly Blake as Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale whose attempts at English on arriving in America are very funny as she repeats in a disgusted way Barnum’s attempts to get her pronunciation right and then rises in the air singing like an angel. The amazing acrobatics and singing from all the performers and the balance that Brian Conley displays as he tightropes across the stage, across to Jenny Lind, as his wife Chairy runs on to witness as he crosses a divide that he has never attempted before, knowing what all that means to her.

The set is very cleverly designed to enable the audience to appreciate all the different types and extremes of Barnum’s acts from the massive legs of Jumbo to the oversized chair that makes a normal sized man look like Tom Thumb. The action, movement and colours make you feel that the man who said that life is full of colours and who we are now watching the life of played out in music and dance and acrobatics, certainly was right. He certainly is still colouring the world and this production carries on with that legacy with integrity and just, well, fun.

There really is nothing as good as seeing real life people do stuff like this. It might’ve left the audience with the desire to backflip out of the theatre at the end and face life looking at things through new angles and humbugs or maybe just for that one night and that is no bad thing. Maybe the next day more people were walking across their office on tip toes or balancing on one leg at a blood pressure check up with an extra spring in their step – I hope so – I’m not telling you what I did but I thought the bannister was stronger than that and office chairs aren’t what they used to be, slower and spin less well than they used to it seems. We could all do with the right kind of a bit of circus in our lives and make them the greatest shows we ever take part in.

Barnum is on at New Victoria Theatre until Saturday 24 January 2015 tickets available on http://www.atgtickets.com

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Edward Scissorhands Springs Hope in Woking

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Woking saw the iconic Edward Scissorhands being brought to snip away at people’s heart strings at Matthew Bourne’s interpretation taking place at the New Victoria Theatre this week.

First off I need to come clean. This is the first time I have ever been to a ballet. My experience extends to three scenarios.

1. Fuzzy Felt Ballet set – fantastic and impressive, all tutus and black background

2. Being sent to Ballet when young, because the doctor said it would help my poor co-ordination. Ballet, and picking up pencils with my toes. It must have worked because I have no problem lifting a glass to my lips.

3. Accompanying my two girls who chose Ballet as their entry into the world of dance. Sometimes this was quite stressful, they often moaned about the leotards annoying their bums.

I didn’t know ballet etiquette but decided that sitting through in first position would be good. I had the option to change to fifth position if I needed the loo. (Practical applications of Ballet: Tip 1)

Settled in is where the magic then began. The scenery is stunning and the imagery brings to mind magic stories like watching a moving picture box, despite the size of the theatre, in a very intimate way.

Dominic North as Edward is endearing and vulnerable, as his creator dies shortly after his Frankenstein experiment to build a boy born from sadness and before he has the chance to give him hands, it is a very touching scene.

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Dominic North as Edward Scissorhands. Photo by Johan Persson

The whole production as a light and dark, the surface and depth of how we live, Hope Springs like Stepford and yet Edward’s birthplace reminiscent of the Addam’s Family more honest for it. The set and costumes designed by Lez Brotherston matched with the skill and expressive communication of the Company does this so well. The comic and tragic almost Shakespearean in the metaphysical background mixed with Gormenghast rising behind to Edward’s rise and inclusion in real warm family and village life and shunning again from it. Losing his love and yet, in the end never losing her.EDWARD SCISSORHANDS,

The comic moments were excellent, like I said, I have never been to a ballet and it wasn’t the place I expected to see a woman trembling on a twin tub to make her smile. Similarly I didn’t expect the emotion that emerged on seeing the vulnerable figure of Edward appear at the end as Dominic North came forward to take his applause.EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Dominic North as Edward Scissorhands, Madelaine Brennan as Peg Boggs and Tom Davies as Kevin Boggs. Photo by Johan Persson

Woking on a Tuesday in January isn’t the place you’d expect people jumping to their feet so impulsively to applaud a ballet and those that would didn’t look like the people who would applaud a Tim Burton styled production, but it was and  they did and the Company deserved it for a brilliantly moving and uplifting performance.

So I haven’t been to a ballet before but I definitely will be again and if you haven’t then try this one, it has all the classic themes, reminiscent nostalgia from the days of Sharks and Jets, Goth novels and Stepford, a real  mixture of 20th century iconic genres in one go from Caroline Thompson’s original screenplay to stage.

Yours, a ballet virgin aged 48 & 3/4

Edward Scissorhands is at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre until Saturday 17 January you can book on 0844 8717645 or http://www.atgtickets.com

Whip Crack A Way To The Windy City …..Now In Woking

Calamity Jane - Jodie Prenger as  Calamity Jane. Photo credit Manuel Harlan (2)

Calamity Jane rode into Woking’s New Victoria Theatre to an enthusiastic audience. The opening banjo tune of ‘Black Hills of Dakota’ had people humming along and from then on every familiar tune was met with a response from people reliving happy memories.

The cast were a strong ensemble with obvious rapport especially  between Jodie Prenger as Calamity and Tom Lister as Wild Bill Hickok, which worked in the scenes where they spark off each other during the story. Jodie Prenger leaves no one in any doubt about her vocal ability which fills the theatre. Taking on a role most familiar to many in the audience filled by Doris Day in the famous film would be daunting to many, she fills those shoes and dances all over the score making her own mark and making her Calamity a unique and tremendous performance. The character she brings to the role, the relationships with other characters make it a heartwarming event.

Sioned Saunders as Susan gives great musical performances and as a character bringing the strands of the story through from introducing Calamity at the beginning. She sets the scene as her Uncle Henry Miller, the theatre owner bursts through the curtain with his brass instrument aloft, the Deadwood stage roles into town and brings the wrong actor, Francis with an i with it. Calamity is goaded to search for the famous Adelaide Adams with the promise that Wild Bill will appear as the Queen of England if she does. She does bring an Adelaide she found, who turns out to be plain old Katie Brown played by Phoebe Street, not so plain after all and who snares Calamity’s crush Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin much to her chagrin. The ensuing high drama settles into all the people ending up with the right partners, guns back into holsters and Jane has found her man, who appreciates her as a sharpshooter and a woman.
Calamity Jane - Jodie Prenger as  Calamity Jane & Tom Lister as Wild  Bill Hickok. Photo credit Manuel Harlan  (2)There’s something about the era that musicals of this ilk come from, we think they are reactionary and yet they celebrate those wild women of the west who trail-blazed their way through a man’s world. Looks like those two ladies are drinking to that!Calamity Jane - Jodie Prenger as  Calamity Jane & Phoebe Street as Katie Brown. Photo Credit  - Manuel  Harlan

Calamity Jane is at the New Victoria Theatre from Tuesday 4 – Saturday 8 November tickets available from http://www.atgtickets.com

Annie Get Your Gun at The New Victoria Theatre Woking

The opening night of Annie Get Your Gun at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, I thought would make me feel a bit nostalgic, it was my Mum’s sort of thing. They type of musical that her and my aunts would talk about, if it was on TV she would stop during the ironing to watch, see the happy ever after. I wanted to see how it would be now. I just remembered the afternoons of TV, all of those musicals, all of those stars, nothing like our lives at all and when it was on and being younger loving it and being older, wearing black and avoiding the sun, rolling my eyes at these traditional things and old fashioned women.

Waiting for my 16 year old daughter in the foyer and seeing the other theatre goers walk in I knew I would have to head off the usual remarks that I got whenever I take them to accompany me on review nights so I sent her this text.

‘Just to say before you get here, this was the sort of thing we would’ve taken Grandma to. So remember that before you get sarky about the age group, and if you do get sarky, I’ll wet my knickers and pretend you are my carer. You may as well get used to it now.’

The thing about these musicals is they are the real deal, the actual thing about real people, before situations were made to be vehicles for a certain bands or artists songs as the more recent Mamma Mia and the like which brought the next generation of musical lovers to theatres. These were written by those who by the time we got to hear of them were the giants of their day – we didn’t know or consider their struggles to get where they were from the poverty they started. They were establishment and we were cynical and foolish it turns out.

As the real deal this doesn’t disappoint at all. The Irving Berlin musical predictably contains such old favourites as ‘There’s No Business like Show Business’ and ‘The Girl I Marry’ the songs that are in modern myth, you might not know where they are from but knows them regardless. The costumes and vocals were fantastic and Jason Donovan as Frank Butler plays with the aplomb of the greats of Broadway, the Howard Keels and the like. The bands accompaniment to the whole gave it a real old fashioned feel, but the night was stolen by Emma Williams. Her beautiful vocals, evoking tenderness, bravery, brashness and optimism and her perfect portrayal of a woman before her time yet vulnerable and strong by turns really made this role. The often ‘musical theatre’ vocal that is heard in musicals and makes me wince wasn’t present here just a pure, true voice.

Despairing at the Kardashian and TOWIE loving tastes in viewing my daughters have, little did I expect this to do the job for me showing them a story of an independent and skilled woman face the struggle of fulfilling her potential versus keeping her man happy, the land struggles of Native Americans and the racism they received as well. Annie 10, Kardashians 0 –  I did secret punch in the air as the bored ‘Oh yeah here I am, my turn to accompany Mum to one of her shows’ attitude changed and  I saw my daughter lean forward in her seat to see the decision Annie made on her own future. Yes, it happens all over, but she didn’t expect it here, and there was a bit of gloating as I pointed out that this was a real woman’s story. I think I blew the moment, the eyes rolled and shoulders shrugged. Again.

It really was a lovely night of music and song, a touching story. The women there my Mum’s age and had it been possible she would’ve been too,  I looked at again and remembered the days when these were the stories that lifted them out of the post war struggle and gave them a spring  in their young lives. These were the days when people walking off into the sunset was new and not a cliche and so lovely to see it happen again.

Annie Get Your Gun is at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre until Saturday 16 August. Jonathan Wilkes will be playing the role of Frank Butler on 16 August. Tickets can be booked via atgtickets.com/woking or 0844 8717645

20th Century Boy in 21st Century Woking

Woking hosted more glam rock classics when the story of Marc Bolan, 20th Century Boy opened last night in it’s New Victoria Theatre.

A hard edged opening, the headlines of the singer’s death plastered across the stage, firmly sets the context that this is a depiction of a real person’s life and death that is being played out.  By using the vehicle of a son’s quest to discover his father it doesn’t allow the nostalgia of sparkles and glam rock to make it a saccharine show of a story made up to showcase songs put through the musical theatre genre-ometer.

The energy is high the writing showing humour and pain; it’s easy to forget what we think of as rock n roll cliches were that because these ‘cool hipsters’ and Faces’ invented and used them. The lighting and visual effects are amazing against the plain back backdrop of the stage and as the story moves between different parts of Bolan’s life the stage is cleverly transformed.

Warren Sollars as Marc Bolan held his own with his mannerisms, especially when performing with TRex, and, a very Bolanesque switching between a vulnerability and incredible arrogance in the offstage persona that made the man the mythical figure he became also painted a picture for us. The story held the audience  at times guiltily at being there for the songs and then, many remembering those headlines, and the use of some songs such as Cosmic Dancer to illustrate key moments in the drama gave the production poignant depth and atmosphere.

Notably the vocal talents of Donna Hines (Gloria Jones) Lucy Sinclair (June Child) and Katia Sartini (Helen Shapiro) were outstanding and the way the play staged the Lyceum gig gave the audience a feeling of actually being at a live gig and me a reminder to quell irritation that an enactment of someone’s life story leads the audience to scratch their live gig itch. (try a real one, now, not a tribute act or story).

It is an event that covers adult themes and the dialogue reflects that, I was with my 14 year old, felt a bit nervous at the camper van scene and then remembered she watches TOWIE and at least this has good music in it. Parenting success – tick!

Musicals about a musician and their life often live or die by the quality of the musicians playing live, especially when it is a legendary figure, audiences can be unforgiving if a memory of theirs isn’t fulfilled. In this, the strength of the musicians playing satisfied this picky old bird. In particular the guitar parts played by Ryan Alex Farmery though physically he was in the background, gave a power and authenticity to this production that really deserve a mention. With the story coming to it’s inevitable painful close, the band stayed on to do a few songs and brought the shy Monday night audience to their feet, if the amount of feathers flying from the free feather boa’s handed out at the beginning as people danced are anything to go by, Friday and Saturday night’s performance will be like a flamingo moulting season. I’d see it again and take a grumpy punk with me too, even they would like it.

20th Century Boy is at The New Victoria Theatre Woking until Saturday 14 June tickets available from atgtickets.com/woking or 0844 871 7645

 

Elaine McGinty 10 June 2014