Sunday 29 November 2015

Kiss Me Kate

A What's Good To Do Review

We have seen many theatre productions and musicals over the years but we both agreed that this performance of Kiss Me, Kate was the very best show we have ever seen. 

Kiss Me Kate is a show based around a musical adaptation of The Taming of The Shrew with music by Cole Porter. We had heard of the musical but were not familiar with either the story or music; this didn’t matter at all as we knew from the very first scene that this was going to be an incredible show.

The story is set in a 1940’s theatre where Fred Graham (Quirijn de Lang) is producing, directing and starring in a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew.” The cast includes his ex-wife playing leading lady Lilli Vanessi (Jeni Bern) and a sexy, young actress, Lois Lane (Tiffany Graves) who has her eyes set on Broadway. 

Many shows make clever use of minimal sets and video projection to set the scene. Not so with this show, the sets were truly impressive and made full use of the large stage area. Kiss Me, Kate is a play within a play and the set superbly highlighted the two different strands, we had the dinginess of the backstage areas and changing rooms and then lavish and colourful set for the on-stage Shakespearian scenes. This is a huge production with around 40 people on stage at one point, it must be a nightmare to manage such large numbers but the choreography was perfect and everyone knew where they should be.
The costumes were outstanding, we had traditional Shakespearean doublet and hose for the Taming of The Shrew scenes and 40’s style clothes for the offstage action.

This is a production by Opera North but even without knowing that, it was obvious that the whole cast were skilled singers. Jeni Bern dazzled with her high notes and sheer power whilst Tiffany Graves was absolutely brilliant in my favourite tune of the night, “Always True to You in my Fashion” sung in a perfect American accent.

Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin also deserve a special mention as the two small time gangsters, performing as a great comic double act and also singing the hilarious “Brush up Your Shakespeare” - a real hit with the audience.

No matter how good the cast, what really makes a musical dazzle is the music. Opera North have their own orchestra, conducted by David Charles Abell, and their music filled the theatre, perfectly accompanying the actors and bringing the show to life.

The Lowry theatre is really easy to get to as it is just off the M602 motorway. There was a Christmas market outside the theatre which we enjoyed walking round prior to the show. There is plenty of parking in the Lowry centre car park and a good choice of restaurants should you wish to eat there.

This was a truly outstanding night out and we came away humming the tunes all the way home. 

The Winter’s Tale - The Dukes, Lancaster

We usually steer clear of Shakespeare, the last time I watched one of his plays was 25 years ago at school for English Literature and the only thing I can remember about it was that I hadn’t a clue what was going on throughout the whole play! It’s fair to say I didn’t enjoy it at all and I have never seen another Shakespeare play since. When we were offered the chance to see The Winter’s Tale we thought it would be a good opportunity to broaden our literary experiences, lots of people love Shakespeare so perhaps we should give it another try. Knowing that the language that Shakespeare uses can be a little tricky to follow we thought it best to do a little research beforehand to find out what the play was about. I am so glad we did because whilst we still found the language difficult to follow in places, knowing the outline of the story made it much easier to follow and know what was going on in the play.

The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s later works and is a tale of jealousy and mistrust, the first act is quite dark, showing King Leontes of Sicily (Conrad Nelson) turn on his pregnant wife Hermione (Hannah Barrie) with the unfounded suspicion that she has been unfaithful to him with his best friend King Polixenes of Bavaria (Jack Lord). Hermione apparently dies of shock following her trial and her newborn daughter is banished from the kingdom, presumed dead.

The second act is a complete contrast, set 16 years later in Bavaria where the infant Perdita has grown into a beautiful young woman. She has been cared for by a shepherd who found her as a baby and brought her up as his own.
The sets were simple but very effective and made clever use of video projection.
The acting throughout was fantastic, during the first act Conrad really stood out with his portrayal of the emotion and turmoil that King Leontes was going through. He convincingly showed the King’s jealousy, anger, grief and finally regret as he came to terms with the loss of his wife and children and then realised the error of his ways.
The second half was much livelier and the rest of the cast took their opportunity to shine. I especially enjoyed the scenes with the musicians on stage, their singing and musical abilities really enhanced the show.  

The Dukes is easy to find, situated close to the centre of Lancaster with plenty of parking nearby. The car park we used had an evening rate of £1.40 and was very close to the theatre.

Directed by Conrad Nelson this production from Northern Broadsides brings a less well known Shakespeare play to Lancaster and makes it very accessible to ordinary people. We really enjoyed our Shakespeare experience and won’t be leaving it 25 years to the next one!

The Glenn Miller Story

We have had a busy month reviewing shows for What's Good to Do and have seen a variety of different shows.

We started the month with The Glenn Miller Story which was a great show, our review is below.

My Grandma was a big fan of both Glenn Miller and Tommy Steele so I was looking forward to seeing this new show. We were certainly amongst the youngest members of the audience but with the main star being 78 this was perhaps to be expected! 

Tommy, playing Glenn also narrates the story, he starts the show with an American accent however his cheeky cockney accent made several reappearances throughout the show! His voice is still very powerful and whilst he didn’t join the younger members of the cast in the dance routines he moved about the stage like somebody 20 years his junior. 

The show opens with a short introduction by Tommy and is set just before Glenn takes his last flight. We are then taken back in time to Glenn’s earlier years as a struggling musician and his first meeting with Helen, played by Sarah Soetaert. Sarah was obviously a lot younger than Tommy and it did look a little odd, especially in the more tender scenes. 
The first half is quite slow paced and includes a good number of songs sung by Tommy with plenty of dancing by the much younger chorus. Once Glenn’s band had been formed the second half of the show picked up pace and the 16 piece orchestra took to the stage. We were treated to a powerful performance by talented musicians who played many of Glenn’s memorable hits as the story moved to the later war years and Glenn’s time as a Major in the army.

The ending of the musical, and Glenn’s disappearance over the English Channel was dealt with movingly and the band's last number was Pennsylvania 6-5000, a theme that had repeated throughout the night.

Following a standing ovation, the cast returned to the stage for an encore with a medley of hits that the audience joined in with.
It is difficult to pick out one particular person as a highlight of the show, Tommy brought a great feeling of fun, Sarah, as Helen was perfectly cast and all the singers, dancers and musicians were faultless in their performance. 
It was a reasonably short play, we were leaving the theatre just after 9.30 and had we not needed to get back it would have been nice to sample some of Manchester city’s nightlife.

The Palace theatre is in the middle of Manchester and for those driving into the city there are plenty of car parks in the area. We parked in the adjacent NCP car park which has an evening rate of £6. One word of advice, those with larger cars might struggle in some of the rather snug parking bays.

I wouldn’t say we are into 40’s music but we really enjoyed the musical as it is such a treat to hear a big band playing live and it was obvious that the rest of the audience enjoyed it too.

Beauty & The Beast - The Dukes, Lancaster

Our family are real fans of The Dukes, the theatre in the centre of Lancaster, which specialises in bringing something a little different to the stage. We have seen a number of their productions and when we were asked by What's Good To Do to review Beauty & The Beast we were thrilled. Here is our review of the night.

This is the time of year when many families make perhaps their only visit to the theatre to see a pantomime. Most pantomimes simply follow the same traditional stories that have been told for many years; The Dukes break the mold taking a traditional story, putting it in a completely different setting and adding a twist or two along the way. Eddie Robson has skillfully created a masterpiece with his retelling of the classic Beauty & The Beast story and I much prefer his version!

The entrance to the theatre had been decorated with roses and a fake grass floor, setting the scene before we even reached our seats. The play is performed in The Round theatre which is a lovely setting for the production as all the audience are very close to the action. With a circular stage the cast are going to have their backs to the audience at some point in the story but the play is carefully directed to make use of the whole stage, eliminating this problem.

With a cast of just six actors but at least a dozen different roles, quick costume changes were required. I wouldn't highlight the performance of any particular actor as they were all top class and it is nice to see some familiar faces from previous Dukes productions. The opening song was very well choreographed and we knew from this first scene that this show was going be something special.

The costumes really made the production shine, the beast's outfit was wonderful with a mask, wig and fake skin all making a quite scary character although the younger girls sat next to us didn’t seem too scared by him! The other costumes varied from mundane everyday clothing to fanciful outfits for the enchanted characters; never has a more elaborate hatstand been seen! Our 10 year old particularly liked the suit of armour, especially when he didn’t want to take it off at the end!
Sound effects and video were used in the show to add atmosphere and also as an integral part of the story. The scene with the video film was very cleverly done and was my favourite part of the show. We thoroughly enjoyed our night out and it was the perfect start to the Christmas season.

Beauty and the Beast is playing until Saturday 2nd January so there is plenty of time to come and see this brilliant production.

The Dukes is a registered charity and they have set up a number of ways to support them to help safeguard the future of the theatre. Choose from Friends, Patrons or Guardians and you can find out all the details here.

Monday 9 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday

Yesterday we attended the Remembrance Sunday parade in the village. We had a fantastic turn out by the group, one of the best we have had for a long time. The weather had been terrible and I thought we were in for a wet and cold morning however we were very lucky and paraded into church and out again in between showers.