Saturday, 16 February 2019

REVIEW: The Lost Voice Guy - The Lowry theatre, Salford

It was Friday night, in Salford, at the Quays Theatre. The "full house" audience was buzzing. The electric atmosphere combined with an evening of top notch, refreshing comedy was the ideal ingredient for a worthwhile night out at the theatre. That it was.

For the first half of tonight's show, the audience were presented with Jonny Awsum. He spelt his last name wrong because in the best possible way, he was an idiot who could do whatever he wanted to. Jonny repeatedly said he was, "the warm up act", but to be honest it felt like he was selling himself short: he was just as excellent as Lost Voice Guy. Lost Voice Guy performed in the latter half of tonight's comedy set. His real name is Lee Ridley and he's famous for winning Britain's Got Talent and recently performed at The Royal Variety Performance.

First to take to the microphone, Jonny Awsum. His comedy style resembled Tim Minchin. He performed a set of songs on guitar, the hilariously naff lyrics conveyed various awkward and problematic scenarios we may have found ourselves in. You had pop songs, ballads, even musical theatre numbers. Cleverly, he reworded the lyrics to numerous, well known songs including, "Under The Sea" from The Little Mermaid and "Back For Good" by Take That. This was a hit with the audience.

His interaction with the crowd was second nature and he had entertaining ideas for participation too. There was a pleasant and clean sound to his guitar playing; performing songs with zeal. One of the highlights of the act was when he got most of the audience to get their phones out and switch their lights on, like at a concert. It was funny because this wasn't a large scale arena concert, in reality it was some mad guy trying to attempt to make it one - at the same time it was a delightful moment of audience and performer connection.

Last, but certainly not least, was Lost Voice Guy. Lee Ridley has Cerebral Palsy and cannot talk so his iPad does his talking for him, both in real life and on stage. In his own words: he is a struggling stand up comedian who struggles to stand up. His witty, cheeky, sarcastic, and dry style of comedy raises awareness of people with disabilities. The show makes light of a serious situation. His set was autobiographical and revolved around frequently asked questions people ask him.

The content of his script exposed perceptions about disabled people, and delved into topical, social and political issues. It fluctuated between comedy and something more serious. That shift in tone could be recognised in the audience's reaction. I loved the play on words and down to Earth humour throughout. There were some "laugh out loud" jokes regarding the electronic voice he uses to communicate. An electronic voice which sounds like the person doing the train announcements or when you're in the post office and the voice tells you to go to cashier number five. The play with technology in this performance was so effective: both clever and rib-tickiling.

Again, in Lost Voice Guy's own words, now that he has hit the big time, nothing will shut him up - except for a power cut. Lee Ridley uses dark comedy to raise awareness and educate people about individuals who live with disabilities. He employs comedy as a platform to examine what changes and attitude shifts need to be made in our current society. Lee Ridley has found his voice and it's a wholehearted and side-splitting one.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 15/2/19

REVIEW: Bodies - The Southwark Playhouse, London.

The year is 1978 and we are introduced to four characters, two couples - Helen and David, and Anne and Mervyn - in their respective suburban homes in Ealing and Esher. This is very much a play of two halves: the first being a series of direct addresses whereby other characters are occasionally brought into the intimate confessional ‘conversations’ that are being had with us; seamlessly cross-cutting between the present - this day in 1978 when the foursome are about to reconvene for a dinner party - and nine years previously.

We learned that Anne - outwardly composed and seemingly well put- together - quite unprepared and almost out of the blue (“it felt like time was running out...I was looking for a meaning”) had an affair nearly a decade before with David: the husband of her best friend, Helen. David - a “carelessly rising trendy executive” smugly confessed that he felt he had done nothing wrong. Mervyn, an ex-English teacher turned rather hopeless headmaster who had clearly had numerous affairs with other women, hit on Helen on a car journey home from a night out as a foursome, beginning the ‘other’ affair in the story. “I’d always assumed she was an attractive woman … most of them are!” he drools. And finally Helen - drawing us into her world of the disappointment of living with David and the brief thrill of her liaison with Mervyn, with a touching honesty. The tension built as a combination of retelling and re-enactment revealed the mutual discovery of their infidelities and the unpleasant fall-out that followed. It was a disastrous period that damaged them all, leading to David’s nervous breakdown, Helen and David’s swift exodus to America, and a very expensive enlisting into’ The Therapy’ programme: to reprogramme their minds, let go of the past and the feelings associated with it... and live more comfortably, albeit virtually ‘emotion-free’ in the present.

Back to 1978 and David and Helen were back in Esher after 9 years away and pretty much zero contact. Learning of this Mervyn, much to the horror of the other three, invited them over for a dinner party. Anne, who to some extent had moved on (although still angry with Mervyn at his “dishonest justifications”) was aghast at this arrangement. Helen feeling supremely awkward at the prospect of a reunion, again drew us in with a degree of vulnerability as the first half reached its thrilling climax: the jangle of the doorbell, the dimming of the lights ….well, we almost didn’t want the interval to happen!

As the effectively divided set of two homes became one, what started as a reasonably polite and convivial evening descended into complete carnage as the juxtaposition of the two couples became apparent. On the one hand the sober Helen and David, purified by their therapy experience who had - as Melvyn put it - “ stopped being busy, stopped drinking and stopped twitching.” Meanwhile Mervyn was knocking back his 4-quid-a-bottle scotch with gusto, joined in by the normally sensible Anne - deeply frustrated by her ex-lover’s self-satisfied claim that “happiness and indeed any emotional life is unnecessary” combined with her husband’s long, rambling, contentiously provocative speeches, passionately arguing the case for a Keates-ian approach to life whilst damming ALL psychology - “we neurotics wear coats of many colours - all you’ve got is the reality of yourselves - WHAT A YAWN!”

There was so much to commend in this brilliant production. From the flawlessly timed, precision direction of Tricia Thorn (the crescendo just before the interval was pitched perfectly) to the four superbly crafted and at times very funny performances: not least Tim Welton’s knock-out drunken vocal and bendy toy-like physical portrayal of Mervyn, that deserves huge recognition. James Saunder’s watertight script with its rich, thought-provoking and very original dialogue was a joy to behold. A gripping read in its own right I suspect, and I am baffled why it’s not performed more often.

Although set in the very different worlds of the 60s and 70s ‘Bodies’ has so much relevance to now. Our relationships, our infidelities, our ability to deal with our past mistakes and in Anne’s words “wasted time” - to confront our inner need to find at least some meaning to our lives. Plus - and very relevant to now - a timely comment on the Personal Development movement: its penchant for sucking people in, at a price, and the consequences of such immersing experiences... good or not so good (depending on your viewpoint). My companion described it as a “turbo-charged Abigail’s party” and indeed there are also fitting parallels with elements of Edward Albie’s two-couple carnage ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ and even the popular 70’s tv series ‘The Good Life’ (Anne certainly reminded us of a slightly more risquee Margot Leadbetter!)

All in all ‘Bodies’ is a perfectly pitched, thought-provoking and a no less than compelling piece of theatre. Highly recommended!

Reviewer - Georgina Elliott
On - 15/2/19

REVIEW: Collabro: Road To The Royal Albert Hall - The Opera House, Buxton

Billed as ‘The World’s Most Successful Musical Theatre Group’ - after touring the globe for the past 5 years(!) - Britain’s Got Talent winners Collabro were in Buxton for their fourth tour and album, on the  'Road To The Royal Albert Hall’, taking on 52 dates across every part of the country. From a start in South Shields and Valentine’s Night in Matt’s hometown of Carlisle (where he will be returning to pantomime there in December to play the Prince in Snow White), we were delighted to have the town’s opulent Opera House as the venue for day three and they didn’t disappoint.

Supported by various special guests throughout their journey to the ultimate venue in London; Michael, Matt, Tom and Jamie, have tried to get to every area of the nation to see and perform to as many fans as they can, singing tracks from their latest album. Whilst I saw them support the great Barry Manilow on his tour last year, I couldn’t help but think that something was missing, their former fifth member Richard who left back in 2016 due to differences is now pursuing a successful solo career (we wish him well, miss him, and look forward to following his progress).

As well as featuring and providing an opportunity for high quality choirs, including local youth ensemble Perfect Pitch, the tour features sections from and including a West End leading lady in either Kerry Ellis or Lauren Samuels and support from Georgia and the Vintage Youth. We, however, were extremely honoured and blown away to have not just Kerry (known for Wicked, etc.) but an incredible artiste in Larissa Eddie, and her brother Jay on keys (apparently she has 4 brothers but usually performs with 3 of them). We were honoured not just because of their amazing talent and musicality but because Larissa is only doing three dates of the tour (Valentine’s Day, Buxton and the big one at the Royal Albert Hall..which she deserves).

Larissa and Jay were brilliant performers and their style is perfectly in-sync, captivating and relaxing. With an EP out, they are certainly a group to keep an eye on (having trained at Brighton Institute of Modern Music - BIMM), if even whilst she is a judge (with Matt and Jamie from Collabro) on BBC One’s All Together Now. With such stage presence and power, it is no surprise that she was chosen for this/these gig(s). Having performed with the likes of Lionel Ritchie, with songs like ‘Where I Belong’ and ‘Loving You’ (which she wrote with Matt Cardle), it was great to hear and see them here and I look forward to their future gigs and releases. Her other songs included ‘People Change (I Wasn’t Wrong(?))’, ‘Hold Me’, ‘Treading Water’ and ‘Give It/Get Up For Nothing’

Backed by a band of five accomplished musicians, including Musical Director producers Ed Rugman and co-producer/drummer Chris Carter (of Ten Forward), their programme of showstopping musical theatre songs came from some of the biggest shows that have been performed and the lighting design matched each beat perfectly and should be recognised.

Starting with Frankie Valli’s ‘Grease Is The Word’, the crowds were warmed up and well up for it, before the poignant ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ from Sunset Boulevard, a different variation of ‘Maria’ from West Side Story and ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ from Evita.

Welcomed as “the first lady of Musical Theatre” (which I thought was Elaine Paige), Kerry Ellis delivered stunning performances of ‘The Way We Were’ (made famous by Barbra Streisand) and ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from Les Misérables, before the boys joined her on-stage at timed intervals for ‘On My Own’, also from Les Misérables. Despite being a ‘big name’, Ms Ellis does seem to do a lot of one-off shows and join other people on tour, including Queen legend Brian May, but she also has a single available on iTunes of ‘Million Dreams’ from The Greatest Showman, recorded earlier in the year, with proceeds going to Childline.

The boys then sang ‘Why God’ from Miss Saigon before a tribute to The Jersey Boys which contained ‘Who Loves You’, ‘Walk Like A Man’, ‘Sherry’, ‘Working My Way Back’ and ‘Oh What A Night (December 63)’. After the interval came the choir made up of 31 young people aged 12+ who made a powerful impression as they joined the boys for Elton John’s ‘Electricity’ from Billy Elliot and Glee’s version of Faithfully (originally by Journey). Michael spoke to choir member Ruby who sang a extract from a show at Buxton Opera House she will be in where she will play the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz.

The surprise (again for those who haven’t seen/heard it online) of the night came in the form of the performance of their only original song ‘Lighthouse’ which they wrote with A1’s Ben Adams. The song sounds very much like ‘A Place To Call Home’ and ‘The Wassailing Mice’ from Stiles and Drewe’s The Wind In The Willows. This, and the other songs performed are on their latest album. They sang ‘Bring Him Home’, again from Les Misérables, with just Ed on piano, before Kerry Ellis returned to invite us to indulge in what couldn’t not have been included...The Greatest Showman, performing ‘This Is Me’ and her aforementioned charity single (which was recorded with a youth choir), followed by the boys' ‘Never Enough’ (a number they performed at their album launch at The Other Palace) which they dedicated to their fans to whom they are eternally grateful.

With such a special guest as Kerry Ellis, it was odd they they didn’t include her in their ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked but it was well-received nonetheless.

Finishing with the song that started it all (their career), ‘Stars’, also from Les Mis, they thanked all of the team who played a part in making the show and ended with a medley of what I thought was The Jackson 5 but I suspect was from Motown The Musical, which included ‘Can You Feel It’, ‘I Want You Back’, ‘Signed Sealed Delivered’, ‘Get Ready’ and ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’.

As the original founding members of the group it was odd to see such a contrast between Michael and Jamie (whose voice I thought was the weakest of the four) but it is great to see that they all still have chemistry after half a decade(!) but Michael is clearly the organised one and leader of the pack. Aptly the only song they performed from Sunset Boulevard ends with the words “we taught the world new ways to dream”. Damn right you have boys, and if you ever want to revert to five members, I am readily available and well-versed in harmony and the world of Musical Theatre! (ha ha).

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 15/2/19

REVIEW: Brendan Cole: Show Man - The Lighthouse, Poole.

Strictly Come Dancing Star, Brendan Cole, has begun his 5th UK tour: Show Man! Including tunes from the new hit musical, The Greatest Showman, Cole’s performance follows the birth of show business taking us right back to old fashioned theatre. With a live band, 7 stunning dancers, a local choir and, Brendan Cole himself; this show is an absolute sensation. Directed, produced and choreographed and presented by Cole, you might wonder if this man ever sleeps.

Each dance had its own individual and beautiful story written by Cole. This made for an endearing and heartfelt eclectic mix, from love stories, to the profound adventure of his daughter’s childhood. This dance, Cinderella’s Story, was perfect. Cole’s performance was magical and I was able to resonate as he reminded me of my own father. The slow ballroom was poignant and when a young girl, Anya, stepped on stage to dance with Cole I felt the hairs on my arms stand up. In his performance it became clear how much this performance meant to him, and I felt honoured to watch the story unfold.

Cole presented the show, whilst also performing in it, which may seem impossible. But, actually, it made for a more organic performance and allowed him the chance to tell the stories behind a few of his favourite dances. It also meant he ran on a few times still doing up his tie, but this was some how charming. The show was by no means flawless, but it felt natural and Cole’s commentary was charismatic and his cheesy humour was particularly alluring. Along with his chiselled physique, I would have been surprised if there was anyone in the audience who wasn’t in love with him by the end of the show. This explains the close knit relationships of the cast which really brought the show together. Ever member of that cast had a love for performing and a love for each other.

Undoubtedly, the costumes in ‘Show Man’ were striking. The three female dancers held magnificent material wings dotted with firefly lights, extending their arms and allowing your eyes to follow their graceful flow and movement. The use of drapes was a gorgeous touch and added mystery to the performance. And my favourite part, the capes. The capes used in ‘Live And Let Die’ were truly magic. Their strong movement and swirl captivated the audience and increased the passion and desire of the piece.

The choreography of the show was faultless. Every dance fitted the song and every song fitted the story. And, the dancers brought Cole’s dream alive, creating romance, delicacy and beauty. Watching the men lifting the women above their heads and beginning to turn, I became lost in the heat, mesmerised. The elegance of every arm and every tilt was exquisite and each movement was deliberate, without exception.

Whether you are a 'Strictly' fan or not, this performance is brilliant and I can promise you, you will leave the theatre with a buzz! You simply must see Show Man!

Reviewer : Grace McNicholas
on - 15/2/19

REVIEW: Take On Me - Broughton Leisure Centre, Salford

Take On Me was a site specific piece taking place in Broughton Leisure Centre, Salford, unfortunately not after hours as advertised, which became apparent later.

I had heard good things about the company, Dante Or Die, and this production in particular, and I had been waiting in anticipation of seeing this sold out play. But my excitement soon waned in the reception area of the leisure centre, as the entirety of the audience crowded in, the space became hotter and the smells of other people unpleasant. It appeared there were several delays made apparent by frantic pacing of individuals involved with the show. Several of the staff involved with the production did their best to make sure we were aware tea and coffee were available and to set a friendly atmosphere.

As we waited in the reception area staff presented us with red or blue sweat bands, this gave cause for many a pre-show selfie and made it easy for staff to split us into two groups to be led around the leisure centre. Early scenes took place in spaces so warm it was very uncomfortable and detracted from the action happening.

The 80's themed band comprised of George Hicks, Elanor Isherwood and Sophie Gunn were highlights of the show; singing, playing musical instruments and signing BSL they were the most charismatic persons in the performance. These Musical Angels led the audience around the space to the tune of well loved 80's pop music, their voices stood in for the omnipotent voice of the gym management and they engaged with the audience, I couldn't imagine this show working without them.

During one part of the show a movement sequence took place on a treadmill, Fiona Watson's character Lisa walked on the slowly revolving belt and other actors weaved on to the same machine to pass her giving the effect of playing scenes from her life with her deceased husband. Great innovative use of the space we were in for dramatic purpose, it was a beautiful scene and the best of Watson's performances. Technically I worried for physical safety of several of the actors and there were slight wobbles of balance and difficulty with spacing on the machine.

Watson's very near literal Swan Song of the performance was the climatic pool scene, the audience gathered at the side of the pool and watched on edge as gripped by grief Watson's character saw visions of her husband in full business attire fall into the pool calling her name only to emerge out of the water with members of the public in their swimming costumes. An impressive powerful moment but unfortunately immediately let down as the other actors lack of urgency as they called for the life guard, their pleas of help, were flat and unfelt. Supporting roles in this production were played by members of the public their performances who often didn't meet the drama they were trying to portray, there was a lack of technical ability and little connectivity between scene partners, I really didn't believe any emotion flowed between them. Apart from, a brief moment of joy from the actor playing Tom Cruise who stole the scene he all too briefly appeared in, energetic and well timed responses to cues, he was a laugh out loud performance.

DK Ugonna's likeable Life Guard literally came to rescue Lisa and the scene, triumphantly saved the day and got the filmic 'scene ending kiss' to loud applause and cheers from the audience a great cliché of 80's films but after the drama and issues surrounding Lisa's grief and almost drowning not being addressed, I felt disappointed and cheated.

Actors began striking costumes and were out of character before the applause had finished, a nice community project and enjoyable way to challenge conceived notions of what theatre is, but I left feeling I had not enjoyed the show as a whole.

It seemed more poignant that evening the moment that regular gym goers, who came to their community gym that night were turned away.

Reviewer – Jane Smith
on – 15/2/19

REVIEW: Valentine's Day Special - The Frog And Bucket, Manchester

The Frog and Bucket’s Valentine’s Day Special featured a selection of comedians from across the country and the audience was diverse too, with couples having travelled as far as Cumbria.

Hosted by Oldham-born Mick Ferry, who is clearly an experienced and in-demand compere, we knew we were in for a good night as he got to know those in the close vicinity of the stage and made everyone feel at ease, unless they heckled.

First, was North Lancashire-born Dan Nightingale, who recently won Best Act at the North West Comedy Awards, who was the highlight for me (equal to Mick) with his routine around life: stag do antics with his brother-in-law and a group or more common and slightly less-intellectual men, the recollection of a gig in South Kensington and how it compares with home, and the C word...Cancer, and the other one. He is straight, married but camp on (many) occasions and impresses with his relaxed intellectuality.

Pete Selwood (Lawrence Batley New Yorkshire Comic of the Year) from Chester was next, briefly, and his act is also clever in that it is personal in that he seems to read the minds of the audience because of an element of his body that is different..

Lauren Pattison from the North East (Newcastle) was the only female act on the bill (not the TV series) and states that she moved to London to pursue a career in comedy full-time. Sadly the role of a comedian - if ever there was a need, being probably the only one who worked for them - in Boots is different from performing to an audience where you are in control, as she found through her time with the company. She also mentioned her family’s funniosities.

Josh Howie, the son of legendary PR guru Lynne Franks, who inspired Jennifer Saunders’ character Edina in Absolutely Fabulous. Raised as a Buddhist this ex-public schoolboy then trained as a Rabbi before being kicked off the programme for being caught with a naked (non-Jewish) girl, who started his own PR firm when he was just 16, received critical acclaim for writing and directing a short film for Channel 4, and has had a number of senior roles in music video production companies, was the final act and his style wasn’t for everyone. Crude and personal, a female couple made it known that they were leaving because of his content and he did struggle to rescue it from that point. I suppose his own diversity has influenced his routine and I commend that and did find some of his jokes funny, if abstract and unnecessary.

Overall, a welcome night’s entertainment enjoyed by the masses as it was sold out and it is no surprise. As part of the Thursday Night Live programme, we will certainly be back soon to see who else can tickle our funny bones.

Reviewer - John Kristof 
on - 14/2/19

REVIEW: The Jerseys: Oh What A Nite! - The Met Theatre, Bury.

Nobody will be surprised to learn that The Jerseys are a tribute to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons but unless you’ve seen them live you won’t know just how good they are – this was the second time I had seen them live in the last couple of years. The band is made up of Jack Wealthall, Max Fox, Daniel Cartwright and Frankie himself Dominic Creighton.

The first thing I noticed about the stage when I arrived was just how much had improved since the last time I saw them. The stage was very well lit with some top quality spotlights, the purple backdrop gave the whole stage a professional feel and there was a piano at the back – something that was new since my last experience. As the boys arrived on stage, they were also accompanied by dry ice and a musical entrance – their residence in Blackpool last Summer had clearly yielded some funds for investment in their show.

The band wasted no time in getting into the Frankie Valli back catalogue which included classics such as “Walk Like A Man”, “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Grease” – this quickly got the audience into the right mood and increased the noise levels at the end of each song. The show was a complete sell-out in the larger room at The Met Theatre in Bury.

The reason for the piano then became very clear as they went into a series of Frankie Valli ballads, accompanied only by the piano – a real highlight for me being “My Eyes Adored You”. Dominic Creighton then went on to perform the beautiful “Fallen Angel”, a song that was never released by Valli but covers the topic of his daughter who passed away from a drug overdose – it is a song Valli himself performs at all of his concerts.

It is very clear that Creighton is a huge fan of Frankie Valli and he educated us throughout the night with simple facts about the man himself. The most surprising facts involved songs that you may know but not associate with Valli – songs such as “Bye Bye Baby” (Bay City Rollers) and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (The Walker Brothers) which were released by Valli but were not successful.

The second half of the show kicked off in similar style to the first but instead of Valli material, the boys sung a number of Motown Hits – a tribute to the album released by Valli of his favourites from that era. The Jerseys then covered a number of other hits songs from the 60s and 70s with Creighton joking that these are probably favourite songs of Valli.

Creighton is without a doubt the leader of the band but they all make significant contributions. They have excellent individual voices but it is the harmonies that bring this show to life – they are world class. The band did deviate from purely Frankie Valli songs but this just showed off their significant vocal abilities – not least when they covered Il Divo’s version of “The Power of Love” sung in Spanish. This received a deserved standing ovation. This seemed like a good opportunity to announce that they will be touring later in the year with a show of musical theatre numbers rather than as the Jerseys – I suspect many of this audience will be in attendance.

The show’s finale involves the title of the show “Oh What A Night”, followed by a medley of Frankie Valli songs as the band return to the stage in sparkles and sequins. All in all this was a very good show with some excellent vocal performances and a huge sense of fun throughout.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 15/2/19