A wealth of young talent at Thomas Hardye School variety show

There was a wealth of young talent on display on Friday night in Dorchester at the Thomas Hardye School year 12 variety show.

Two teams of performers were given the challenge to produce an evening of entertainment, to raise funds for the next Rock Challenge competition, with the Blue team plumping for the theme ‘A Night at the Movies’ and the Pink team choosing to perform ‘A Night Through the Decades’. Each side was given a budget and had to source all of the material, performers and everything else that makes up a professional theatrical production.

The Blues were first up with a feast of film fun and opened the show with a rousing dance routine to the Austin Powers theme tune. Thomas Bastian made a dapper Austin Powers, while the rest of the company energetically supported him with some psychedelic verve.

There were some other remarkable ensemble numbers later in the programme too,  with performances to tracks including ‘Lady Marmalade’ from Moulin Rouge and ‘The Hanging Tree’ from The Hunger Games, both boasting extremely impressive choreography by Zoe Cochrane and Steph Wright.

Comedy was provided by some hilarious home movies and affectionate parodies of The Chariots of Fire and Shrek, with the small cast proving they were all versatile performers.

Other highlights included ‘How far I’ll Go’ from Disney’s Moana – sung beautifully by Georgie Harwood, with Jenna Taylor providing a graceful dance accompaniment – and a wonderfully executed tap dance to ‘Hot Honey Rag’ from Chicago.

Audiences were then transported back in time by the Pink team for Act two with a much more vaudevillian style show.

They were first entertained by some impressive singing from Susie Kibuga, accompanied by virtuoso pianist Elliot Warburton, before being astounded by some intricate card tricks.

There were some sensational dance numbers including a tap routine to the classic ‘Putting on the Ritz’ and to the rocking ‘Hot Patootie, as well as a hugely impressive mime by a group called Panic Button.

It was additionally a real treat to hear the Les Misérables classic ‘On my Own’ sung with the original French lyrics by Carys Evans, who showed an enormous amount of confidence by taking to the stage and performing entirely unaccompanied.

All in all this was an extremely well performed and executed evening of entertainment, which as the students go into their final year of studies, bodes well for them to have a future in the performing arts.

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Review: “A hilarious display of stage wizardry and slapstick showmanship”★★★★ The Play That Goes Wrong, Exeter Northcott

Anyone who has been involved in live theatre knows the thrill. The excitement that at any given point something could wrong and that each time you set foot on the stage it’s as if you are stepping over the precipice. Mischief Theatre has made an art form of the impeding misadventure, which befalls those who embark on making theatre.

Their first foray into the world of disaster performance The Play That Goes Wrong has gained a plethora of plaudits and recently received a Broadway Transfer. The production, which is still packing them in at the Duchess Theatre in London’s West End is also enjoying a hugely popular nationwide tour and is delivering buckets full of hilarity to the Exeter Northcott Theatre this week.

We are called to witness Cornley Polytechnic Drama Club’s attempt to stage a 1920s murder mystery entitled Murder at Haversham Hall. As you can gauge from the title of the production, everything does not go to plan and with a catalogue of mishaps and misdemeanors the show erupts into a hilarious display of stage wizardry and slapstick showmanship.

The panic felt by a company when a production doesn’t go to plan is perfectly illustrated with pregnant pauses and terrified faces from the excellent ensemble cast, who expertly deliver an intricate team performance. Alastair Kirton as Cecil, and Katie Bernstein as a very willing stagehand really stand out, but the interplay between all of the cast members is first-rate.

Nigel Hook’s astonishingly adept set design provides the platform for some heart stopping spoofs and the ingenious detail on each prop makes even the smallest mishap become a hilarious scene-stealer.

The continuous fast paced and silly physical comedy may not tickle everyone’s funny bone, but for those who like their slapstick in large helpings, this is a must see.

The Play That Goes Wrong at Exeter Northcott Theatre until 20 May 

Review: “Likely to become a cult classic” Wonderland, Bristol Hippodrome

Why do we go to the theatre? For most of us, it’s to take a break from the monotony of our existence and just, for a few hours enter a world of pure escapism. For musical theatre fans, it’s a place where people inexplicably erupt into song to express themselves and where fantastical stories become relevant through dreamy expectations.

Shows like Wicked and Into the Woods perfectly illustrate our love for fantasies set to music and Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland joins this acclaimed list as another musical, which evokes feelings of positivity, while promising happy endings in a world filled with negative media representations of life.

Kerry Ellis plays Alice in Wonderland

 

Wonderland has its roots in Lewis Carrolls’ tales about a magical world filled with colourful characters and in this contemporary adaptation we a meet a 40-year-old Alice (Kerry Ellis), who has come to a full stop in her unfulfilling life. Longing for a change, her teenage daughter (Naomi Morris) happens upon a mystical White Rabbit (Dave Willetts )and after following the hapless timekeeper down a disused lift shaft; the pair – along with their neighbour – embark on an adventure of self-fulfillment.

Along the way we are introduced to a community of ex ‘real-worlders’ who have taken the decision to live in an alternate universe rather than face the trials of life. They include The Mad Hatter (Natalie McQueen), the Cheshire Cat (Dominic Owen) and, of course, the devilish Queen of Hearts (Wendi Peters); a jam tart guzzling dictator, hell-bent on keeping Wonderland under her control.

The truly stellar cast leads us on a theatrical expedition of fun and playfulness, with an exceptional soundtrack adding some momentous musical interludes to the excursion.

Stephen Webb as Jack and Kerry Ellis as Alice

Kerry Ellis’ Alice is both relevant and endearing, with the acclaimed performer’s exquisite vocals seamlessly maneuvering between rock and musical theatre standards. She is well matched by Natalie McQueen’s Mad Hatter, filled with quirky mannerisms, while exhibiting an astonishing vocal prowess of her own. The pair’s act two duet, “This Is Who I Am”, is worth the ticket price alone.

Wendi Peters makes the most of her limited contribution as the Queen of Hearts, steeling the show with every entrance and Naomi Morris is a real star of the future, hilariously capturing an awkward sullen adolescent and displaying a stagecraft, which belies her years.

 

Wendi Peters and Dave Willets in Wonderland

There’s great support from the ensemble too, with stand out performances from Kayi Ushe as the Caterpillar and Ben Kerr as the March Hare, while Andrew Riley’s set design provides a simplistic yet attractive backdrop.

Yes, it’s all a bit superficial and the introduction of a love story is not really needed, but it’s nice to see something without hidden meaning that is simply presented to entertain rather than to provoke reaction.

Wonderland is a fabulously fun musical, with great music performed with style by an ultra talented cast and it’s likely to become a cult classic.

Wonderland is at Bristol Hippodrome until 13 May, but continues to tour to other venues around the country.

Interview: We talk to two of the stars of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour

Following an almost frenzied response from both critics and theatregoers to the production at the National Theatre in 2016, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour will storm into the West End later this month and is expected to command similar reaction.

The musical has been adapted by Lee Hall from Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos and features music by the Electric light Orchestra (ELO). It gained a cult following from its acclaimed opening at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, subsequent UK tour and sell-out run last summer at the National Theatre. Vicky Featherstone’s smash-hit production reunites original cast members when it opens at the Duke of York Theatre later this month and we caught up with two of them.

The story follows six Catholic schoolgirls from Oban, let loose in Edinburgh for the day. Kirsty MacLaren plays a slightly naïve member of the group called Manda and told us, “They go on a journey from Oban to Edinburgh to take part in a choir competition.”

The teenagers are desperate to lose the competition so they can get back to Oban in time for the last dance at the local nightclub, appropriately called The Man Trap, which they believe to be filled with sailors and Kristy said, “It’s the story of their day, of how they find themselves and how they explore what their sexuality means. It’s about how they can just forget about what’s coming next and live in the moment.”

Alan Warner’s satirical novel became revered for its candid depiction of rampaging teenagers and with the input of Lee Hall – who is best known for writing Billy Elliot – the stage show is likely to boast an abundance of hilarious gritty accuracies.

“Working with Lee Hall has been so inspiring. He really knows how to write for this demographic and he just brings so much truth to the piece. Although it’s a comedy there is so much sadness in it, so much pathos and he knows exactly how to hit that.”

Kirsty explains that most people can relate to the girls, who are on the cusp of adulthood and filled with raging hormones and teenage angst, “I think it’s why the story has been so well received because everybody who watches it has been through that experience of not quite knowing what tomorrow is going to bring and not quite knowing what your place in the world is. I think that makes you think about your own place in the world and how you’ve come to be the person you are.”

The six girls wreak havoc during their escapade, with copious amounts of alcohol consumed along the way – something the performers have had fun developing their representations of – but it’s not just young women who are portrayed by the talented sextet of triple threat performers, as they additionally depict a myriad of incidental characters within the show.

Karen Fishwick plays Kay Clarke, who is a bit more middle class than the rest of the members of the school choir and is frequently teased about her highfaluting lifestyle. Karen also finds herself frequently having to call upon her more masculine side throughout the show however, and commented, “I don’t how it worked out that I play more men than anyone else. I seem to be constantly shape shifting but it’s so much; I love doing that. From the start, in rehearsal, we all played all of the characters and we’ve explored all of these incredible creations that we discovered from the text. It’s another thing that makes the piece so fun and vibrant. I think that’s one of the most theatrical and enjoyable things about the show for me”

The music, which is weaved into the action, includes hits by ELO played by an all female band. In fact, the cast and musicians are all women, something, which Karen tells me is unusual, but is another element that sets it aside from other West End shows currently on offer, “It’s a celebration. The room is full of incredibly talented inspiring women and that so rarely happens. They are just amazing.”

Prepare thyself for 24 hours of holy chaos. Contains singing, hilarity, sambuca and strong language!

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour will run at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 9th May until the 2nd September.

Review: “An interminably engaging stage show, which is sure to lift the spirits”★★★★ La Strada at Exeter Northcott Theatre

Federico Fellini’s film La Strada became a cult classic after winning an Academy Award over 60 years ago and the cautionary tale, set in the unforgiving world of an Italian travelling circus has been reinvigorated to make a visually impressive and heart-warming stage show, writes Nicky Sweetland.

The new musical adaptation – which follows Gelsomina (Audrey Brisson) a poor urchin, who is sold by her mother to a thuggish circus strongman – is touring the UK prior to a run at The Other Palace and if the performance at the Exeter Northcott Theatre is anything to go by, Londoners are in for treat.

Director Sally Cookson has taken the classic film and created a piece of theatre which is faithful for those who loved the original, but somehow also manages to add a new dimension to trajectory of the tale.

Gelsomina is abused by her master, the brutish Zampanò (Stuart Goodwin) until she finds inner strength thanks to encouragement from an adorable circus fool (Bart Soroczynski).

In a story, which takes audiences on a journey of love and loss, Sally Clarkson’s perceptive interpretation almost sees the servant become the master, so the inventible tragedy has an even more powerful implication.

Much of the peripheral action is depicted using actor/musicians to create both the backdrop and the musical accompaniment, which cleverly brings the community feel of a circus troop into the fore and means there is a familial comfort even during the most traumatic moments.

Set on a wooden plinth, the 13 strong ensemble also utilise the props to create a circus tent, shoreline and even motorbike from the most simple objects and with Benji Bower’s haunting melodies, you’ll be transported to world where cruelty is offset by benevolence.

It’s the lead cast who really must be given praise however, with Audrey Brisson giving a slightly streetwise edge to the otherwise wholesome Gelsomina and Stuart Goodwin perfectly balancing Zampanò’s brusque exterior with his tormented soul.

It’s worth the ticket price just to see Bart Soroczynski’s unicycle routine, which is not only technically exceptional, but is performed with such an endearing charm, that you can’t help but fall in love with his Fool, Il Matto.

Thrilling and triumphant this adaptation of La Strada marries the traditional with the modern in perfect measure and the result is an interminably engaging stage show, which is sure to lift the spirits.

La Strada is at Exeter Northcott until 6 May and will run at The Other Palace from 30 May until 8 July