2015 Reviews














RATz pantomime



Director: Emlyn Moment

Choreographer: Danielle Beare

Date seen: Tuesday 22nd December 2015


There is no question that the RATz annual pantomime offering is always amongst the best in 4 North. They have a string of NODA Eastern Regional Awards to prove it and that includes 2014 where Snow White swept away all before it. As I took my seat for the 2015 presentation of Dave Jeanes’ adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, I was very aware that the quantity and the quality of this Area’s pantomimes were increasing.


It seems that Kevin Shippey and Emlyn Moment alternate with the Directorial responsibilities when it comes to panto and, this time out, it was Mr Moment in the hot seat. The story needs no re-telling although there was little of the original left in this seasonal romp. The set (design and artwork by Bob Ledger) was as good as ever with equally commendable sound (Robert Williams) and lighting (Jacob Gowler, Jonathan Salmon and Robert Williams). RATz costumes never fail to impress me and this year’s selection (Gay Hoyle) did not let the side down.


A sensibly proportioned chorus was full of enthusiasm as usual, with carefully considered choreography (Danielle Beare) filling every routine with action. Dance Captain, Chloe Johnson marshalled an able female dance troop who made good use of every occasion on stage. In the supporting roles, there was good work from Sophie Farr and Shaniece Roberts as the Little Elves, Lauren Cook as Father Christmas, Lauren Bird as the Troll and Kate Filart made a really good job of the Robber Queen. Another younger member of the cast, working hard, was Daniel Pease as Crowman, who was confident with his lines and looked to be in all the right places at all the right times.


In fact the abundance of cameo parts did not restrict themselves to the junior cast. James Wetherall did all he could with the part of the Snow Elf. Mr Wetherall is a very accomplished actor but the Snow Elf didn’t really have much to do with the plot and was clearly there only to counter the evil, filling the role usually reserved for the Fairy. The evil in this case came courtesy of Lewis Barnard as Black Ice who made the very most the part and never failed to solicit.  Romantic leads in this production were Gerda and Kai played with some style by Danielle Beare in the frock and  Joanne Johnson in the boots and tights as Principal Boy. They looked good together and sounded even better!


Red Vaughn is becoming more prominent over at Wisbech, it doesn’t seem ten minutes since I saw him for the first time as Fagin in Lionel Bart’s Oliver! This time he was… well I am not really sure. Certainly a goody and it was a comedy part but not the comic lead. In a script that was a little disorganised and rather overburdened with characters, working out the function of each character was not the easiest task I had to attempt over the Christmas period. Mercifully the comic leads were easy to spot. Two of RATz finest, and two of the funniest guys doing Panto anywhere in 4 North. Matthew Beare as Hammer and Joshua Shippey as Tongs, had to contend with a script that handed them very few gags and the wonderful opportunities they both take going off script seemed few and far between but such as the showmen they are, they made it work.


It is always a pleasure to see the enchanting Natalia Moment on stage, and, as the evil Snow Queen, she gave a flawless performance. Her delightful singing voice accessorised her perfectly cold characterisation in what was nearly - very nearly - the take home performance of the night.


..and so, once again, with a script definitely aimed at the very youngest element of the paying clientele and, with a limited amount for the grown-ups, it fell to Kevin Shippey to elevate things to a new level with another of his outstanding dames. It was Granny Featheridge this time, and with superb costumes and an unshakable confidence, Mr Shippey quietly stole (and maybe saved) the show. In truth, even he was on his best behaviour, looking at times as though he was sticking to the script. A shame really, because what this production really needed was one of his hilarious benders that really define pantomime in this town, or indeed any other. His focus in the part was well demonstrated when a well thrown bag of Haribos caught me right in the . . . stalls!


My compliments to Director, Emlyn Moment, whose technical direction was once again close to perfect. The script was weak, and for me, and the other over 10’s in the audience, way too safe. Family show I hear you cry, and I say  "Oh yes it is" … all of the family!!


Stephen Hayter

(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)

















9 to 5


Director: Kevin Shippey

Date seen: Wednesday 14th October 2015


The last musical I had seen from RATz was ‘Oliver’ which was great, and before that the incredible ‘Hairspray’ which was really great. It would have won Best Musical in 4 North any other year (G and S! Who saw that coming?), but this time out, in line with almost everyone else, another new title,. 9 to 5 by the legendary Dolly Parton. It had a Broadway showing, a yearlong UK tour, but never made it to the West End. I knew nothing about it other than it was derived from the excellent film (of the same name) and featured that very catchy song. Technical issues had caused the cancellation of opening night so, with ticket sales good for the rest of the run, the Angles Theatre was packed as I took my seat.


The set was a little disappointing. It did everything it needed to do, but I just felt it could have done with a little more time spent on it. Lighting by Robert Williams was spot on and sound by Matt Peploe (resting after  Rocky Horror) was perfection. Of course it should have been as Mr Peploe did the 9 to 5 UK professional tour! Costumes, wigs and make-up all hit the spot and, as usual, I had to check that Musical Director, Simon Pearce’s 7 piece band was indeed live and not a backing track as they didn’t put a foot wrong.


The story is well thought out as three female office workers struggle for equality with a chauvinistic, egocentric boss who thinks men should get all the good jobs. Circumstances lead them to take him hostage and run the office pretending he is still there. Everything improves and there is a suitably happy ending for almost everyone. It actually has more substance that most musicals, and the potential was certainly there. The chorus were more senior than usual, but a smattering of really good dancers helped things along. With so many props on stage there was never much room to do anything too spectacular so choreography (Laura-Jayne Shippey, Emma Small and Danielle Beare) was functional.


Of the supporting cast there was a good showing from Kevin Shippey as Dick, Liam Nixon as Josh and Lisa Melton as Missy Hart together with Rachel Shepherd as Margaret, Steven Yates as Dwayne and Danielle Beare as Kathy.


In the more prominent roles, Josh Shippey showed his class again engaging in a lovely little romantic sub-plot with his character, Joe. It’s not everyone who can make a side parting work, but this guy can! This guy can make anything work! Good to see Rob Newton back after his excellent Wilbur (Hairspray) with a first rate interpretation of the despotic CEO. His wonderful singing voice gave things a real lift.


In the three main female roles of Violet, Judy and Doralee, Lorraine Carver, Holly George and Laura-Jayne Shippey could not be faulted. Mrs Carver sings well and Holly George and Laura-Jayne Shippey sing very, very well so every song sounded wonderful. There was enough dialogue to give all three a real chance to expand their characters and I felt that they really let me know who they were. They were a tight group and worked together well, most notably during the pharmaceutically induced dream sequence.


I admit it is generally something of an indictment of a show where the obvious comedy lead picks up penultimate paragraph honours, but for a number of reasons that has to be the case here. Emma Small is an immense talent. She dances, and sings like no other and has a comic touch that is of a professional standard. As if that weren’t enough, she has a mighty stage presence and a creativity that us mere mortals would kill for. In a show that struggled for high points, here virtuoso rendition of ‘Heart to Hart’ had me (and the rest of the audience) crying with laughter. . .


. . . and there is the main problem. The show trotted along well enough thanks to competent direction from Kevin Shippey, but always at an even pace. Aside from the title number which I already knew, I could not hum a single song on my way home. The songs were nice enough, the lyrics appropriate and clever in places, it just lacked a sparkle. The production had been forced to confront some technical issues which made it uncharacteristically ragged for a RATz opening night and the relief of the cast to have just got through it was obvious when I spoke to then. It wasn’t a terrible show, and it certainly wasn’t a terrible production, but it just felt a little like the championship, after the premiership performances that had gone before it. The band were superb, individual performers and performances were excellent and the choral singing (Emma Small once again) had some precision harmonies delivered to a very high standard … but I was not inspired as I have been at this venue in the past. I am confident that it will be a far better show by Saturday night, although I was there on Wednesday.


Stephen Hayter

(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)



















Director: Emlyn Moment

Date seen: Thursday 24th September 2015


I love Emlyn Moment! Not just a supremely talented Director (multi NODA award winner) but honest and self-effacing. I asked him on arrival if he was involved in this production he said he had helped out a bit. As soon as I read my programme it was apparent that the “bit” he had helped out with - was directing. After the show he asked me if I thought it was a comedy. He had produced it as one, but was not at all sure if that had been the writer’s intention. I knew exactly what he meant, ‘Baskerville’ was an American piece with no discernible humour in the script but a construction just like the side-splittingly funny ‘39 Steps’ that both tours and has a current West End profile. As I took my seat at the wonderful Angles Theatre I only knew it was … like ‘The 39 Steps’, and I only knew that because he told me . . .


The story is the classic Sherlock Holmes, Baskerville “big dog” extravaganza and the aforementioned likeness to ‘The 39 Steps’ was due to the cast ratios: one Sherlock Holmes; one Doctor John Watson … and three further actors playing the other 36 parts! In short, it was hilarious, but as Mr Moment highlighted . . . it probably could have been presented as a serious quick-change drama. I, myself, was delighted that they simply milked every ounce of humour from it and left it dehydrated on the auditorium floor.


The set was perfect … in as much as they really didn’t have one. Back projection (with slides I am told, created by the Director) lighting and sound by the omnipresent Robert Williams did everything that was required. Incidental props were good, few . . . largely unnecessary with the many excellent and comedic costumes by Rosie Turley pretty much (but not quite) stealing the show.


This was a good cast, even by RATz standards with some of my Wisbech favourites. The only completely straight role went to Adam Billitt as the legendary Baker Street sleuth, who had sole responsibility for contributing the sensible side of the story. I was much impressed by Mr Billitt in last year’s ‘Journey’s End’ (The Wisbech Players) and he was solid throughout this production. He was overwhelmed of course by the farce that unfolded around him but it was a good performance from an improving actor. Last time out I had seen Red Vaughan breathe new life into Fagin, and whilst I struggled to embrace the revamp, I knew immediately this was a young actor with plenty of promise. A lot of that promise was on show this night with a mostly straight performance that grabbed a quick laugh whenever one was on offer. As the plays narrator it was Mr Vaughan’s job to hold it all together and give it a little structure which he did in fine style.


Taking only a modest 8 parts was RATz regular, Christopher Moment, who I don’t think I have seen so prominent before. The largest of the parts was as recently arrived beneficiary of the Baskerville Estate, Sir Henry Baskerville from America. It was a powerful comedy performance and he worked through the other parts with a new characterisation for each. I was still chuckling about his floor scrubbing routine some days later. I have been privileged to watch Mr Moment grow as a performer and this was his best showing to date. Another young performer full of promise is the fantastic Danae Larham. Her impressive 14 parts gave her a chance to demonstrate a nice range of accents and her comedy timing, which was impeccable. A very small point I would note is that her physical appearance didn’t always change sufficiently and by adapting her body shape more often the differences between the parts would have been amplified. Not at all a criticism of a brilliant performance, but perhaps a thought for the future.


To underscore my last comment, I have awarded penultimate paragraph honours to the sublime Matthew Beare. Even amongst such a competent ensemble he shone like a Baker Street gas lamp giving a virtuoso performance and a range of vocal and physical characterisations that were as diverse as they were hilarious. This boy is good, very good . . . and I don’t think I have seen him better!


Bravo Emlyn Moment! You took a pedestrian script and turned it into a laugh-out-loud comedy masterpiece getting the very best, from the very best. The script contained not one laugh that I can recall, but all that you added had the tears running down my cheeks. My congratulations to all the cast and crew for a pretty impressive, and innovative achievement, and for giving me another unforgettable Wisbech night out.


Stephen Hayter

(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)















Youth Summer Musical Challenge



Director: Emlyn Moment

Musical director: Gabriel Fitzsimmons

Choreographers: Katy Lilley and Liam Nixon

Date seen: Friday 15th August 2015


Every year, when RATz do the Summer Challenge, I have to keep reminding myself that they put the whole thing together in well under two weeks! A staggering achievement just to get it onto the stage, but with last year’s ‘Addams Family’, the quality just made the whole proposition inconceivable. The time has flown by and suddenly there I was again, and this year it was the very appropriate ‘Summer Holiday’.


I actually have never seen the stage show. A rewrite of probably the campest film of all time that happens to be one of my favourites and intended as a vehicle (pun intended) for the then up-and-coming Darren Day. It has been padded out with lots of other Cliff Richard songs, not from the film, and has probably the least dialogue of any musical (other than those of an operatic style) that I have seen. I can’t believe the story needs retelling but, just in case, Driver Don wants to take a bus abroad to prove to the bus company that the opportunity exists for continental tours on a classic Routemaster. He takes with him his three best friends and, whilst in Europe, they pick up a three piece female vocal group who have broken down and a runaway American pop sensation disguised as a boy. The now fully loaded bus heads off for Athens with the mother of the singer trying to stop them at every turn for publicity reasons. All sorts of high jinks ensue, and guess what, it all concludes with an implausibly happy ending .


As you would expect from this prestigious company the set (Bob Ledger) was excellent. Brightly decorated walls and four detachable, easily manoeuvrable pieces that formed the bus (Emma Goode and Rhiannon Mundy) when needed and sat quietly against the wall at all other times. Lighting (Mathilde Tranter) was bang on, and the sound (Robert Williams - who aint no youth performer!) did everything it needed to with a live band on stage that had not been assembled without incident. Costumes (Rosie Turley and Geraldine Moment) were both colourful and plentiful with complementary hair and make-up finishing things off nicely.


I haven’t checked but this felt like a far smaller cast than last year, which made for a different kind of spectacle and focused you more on each of the characters. Four girls and four boys in four neat couples (ultimately) with a small supporting cast and a fair sized chorus who were well drilled and enthusiastic. Choreography (Katy Lilley and Liam Nixon) was nicely put together and perfect for the era, although I did feel that the routines were a touch samey, which is not unreasonable taking into account the allotted timescale.


In the supporting roles I enjoyed Chloe Johnson, Elvira Baranova, Rebecca Phillips-Bartlett, Niamh Mundy and Lauren Cook as the assorted police and customs officers of the various countries, and I loved 10 year old Charlie Edinburgh as Jerry, whose comedy wig just got funnier and funnier. Entrusted with some of the best one-liners, Mr Edinburgh managed the adult humour with some style! The same can be said of outstanding Georgia Beers as pushy “Mother of the star” Stella, who dominated the stage with every appearance and always looked confident and assured. There was lots of doubling up, with so many people delivering so many good performances, it was difficult to keep track with them all.


In the main parts the boys team of Edward Tranter as Edwin, Aiden Cook as Cyril and Liam Nixon as Steve all turned in solid performances with Mr Nixon on particularly good form playing a little out of his normal range and making a really good job of it. In the girls corner, Izzy Ward as Alma, Lizzie Bryant as Angie and Danae Larham as Mimsie just topped the boys to win the gender competition with three diverse and compelling characterisations and some excellent singing. I know I always single out Danae Larham, but with next to nothing to do in this show instead of sleepwalking through it, she worked her socks off maintaining the acting during every routine and when the lines were elsewhere, always looking busy with Liam Nixon in every scene.


Penultimate paragraph honours have to be shared this time out, almost equally between Edward O’Connor as Don (the Sir Cliff part and bus driver) and Eden Carver as Barbara (The Lauri Peters part … whatever happened to her ?) singer turned runaway. Mr O’Connor has a singing voice that just gets better and better but is less relaxed with his acting. Miss Carver is supremely confident and remarkably gifted in both areas and together they were superb, giving the show just the lift it needed.


My profound congratulations (Cliff reference intended) to director and Pied Piper, Emlyn Moment, for gathering the children together and beating them into a fighting unit in less time than it takes to go all inclusive in Sharm El Sheik. The direction was difficult to fault with some excellent and creative touches that made me smile. I also take off my hat to musical director, Gabriel Fitzsimmons for confronting so many songs in such a short rehearsal period, and as for the band . . . they were fine and even if it went right up to the wire.

Well done RATz, you are simply an inspiration!


Stephen Hayter

(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)



















Director: Amanda Stimpson

Date seen: Friday 29th May 2015


Roald Dahl may not have played any part in my childhood, but his contribution to the entertainment and development of my children was immense. Although he has never really gone out of fashion, he is extremely high profile at the moment with his books selling better than ever and two of his titles (Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) packing them in on the West End. It is always a pleasure to be seated in the Angles Theatre, Wisbech and on this night, the RATz gang had a slightly less well known Dahl on offer, ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’.


The set (Neil Spinks, John Fletcher, David Warnes and Gary Johnson) was just the job decorated (Bob Ledger) in true Quentin Blake style. Lighting was simple and effective and the sound effects on cue, and sounding great. A special mention for the scissor lift that elevated the Grandmother through the roof which was worth the ticket price on its own!

The cast was only four, five if you include (and you really should) Eleanor Jackson as a Giant Chicken. I’ll wager Sir Kenneth Branagh can’t even claim that on his CV! As the Mother, Susie Moore was perfection, doing no more than she had to, and offering a realistic characterisation amongst the surreal caricatures. In a similar vein, the continuously improving Lewis Barnard was in fine form as the Father, adding plenty of visual laughs to the scripted mayhem. I last saw Carl Ward present an excellent performance in the NODA award winning Journey’s End for the Wisbech Players and in this production he showed me that he could do high comedy as well as serious drama. In the title role as hero George, when the script took a turn towards pantomime, complete with audience participation, Mr Ward was more than capable of handling things. A confident delivery with no stutters or prompts. With a little more experience I think this young man will achieve a great deal more.


I am sure that the cast, and anyone who was in the audience with me, will understand when I say that penultimate paragraph honours were never easier to award than with this excellent production. Valerie Standen is quite simply amazing! A professional standard actress with an enormous acting range that is perhaps most impressive when she is doing comedy. As the Grandmother, she got to do a lot of comedy and did it to the very highest standard. After George, she had the bulk of the remaining dialogue and was surefooted, stumbling only once, but covering it so that no one would ever have known. The performance Mrs Standen gave could have come straight from the West End and it was a genuine honour to watch her steal the show.


My congratulations to debutante director, Amanda Stimpson for a good first outing. The technical direction couldn’t be faulted and the whole show rattled along at a good pace. The barely 40 minute first half and the 42 minute second half were absolutely perfect and although I think this script is aimed at children, the mostly adult audience were totally captivated and were shouting, stirring and rubbing their hands together with enthusiasm … and so was I! Well done RATz, nice job!


Stephen Hayter

(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)


















Director: Emlyn Moment

Vocal coach: Marie Cunningham

Date seen: Wednesday 8th April 2015


There is a very good reason why Lionel Bart’s evergreen classic Oliver gets more amateur outings than any other musical, with an endless stream of brilliant songs, it’s really rather good. On this occasion I was at the Angles Theatre, Wisbech to see local group RATz present Mr Bart’s finest two hours. Not surprisingly, the atmospheric set was superb, with complimentary lighting and sound that could not be faulted. Unusually for this group, music came via backing tracks and although it worked just fine, I felt that all those songs I had heard a hundred times before, were a bit faster this time around.


The chorus was vast, and Director Emlyn Moment’s remarkable achievement was amplified by his using two complete teams of children making a total cast of 48 (24 times 2) everyone knew what they were doing and on the big production numbers (Who Will Buy, Consider yourself and Oom Pah Pah) the volume and impact was amazing.


There were plenty of excellent performances in this production, too many to mention in one short review but amongst them were Chelsea Handley in the title role, Thomas Gregory as The Artful Dodger and yet another superb piece of work from delightful Danae Larham as Bet. Although slightly younger than you usually find, Red Vaughan delivered a quality characterisation as inveterate miser Fagin. Worthy of special mention were James Wetherall as Mr Bumble and Rachael Nicholls as Widow Corney who were brilliant individually, and sublime together. This production had a West End Standard performance from the breath-taking Jess Bates as “Heart of Gold” Nancy who acted, danced, and sang as if she had taken a bus straight from the Palladium.


This was Amateur Theatre at its very best, but then it was RATz, what else would you expect.


Stephen Hayter

(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)



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