RATz BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Directors: Rob Williams, Kevin Shippey and Laura Jayne Shippey • Choreographer: Laura Jayne Shippey • Vocal Coach: Marie Cunningham
Seen on Thursday December 12th, 2017
There are two givens when it comes to the RATz pantomime. Firstly, that it will sell well, and secondly the standard will never fall below an acceptable level. You might argue (and I certainly would) that number three must be that everyone in the vast audiences has a great time. The consistency never ceases to impress me, and I have come to accept that using pretty much the same performers each year is a big part of this. As I nervously took my seat at the mighty Right Angles Theatre, the mixed emotions of impending euphoria and doom swept over me like the draught from the side door used by the cast to enter the auditorium. I am never sure here, if I am to watch a panto, or be in one. It was ‘Beauty and the Beast’ this year and, with clean underwear and a gleaming medallion, I was ready for all eventualities.
Most pantomimes have a simple, largely unimportant storyline so trivial and well known that it never gets in the way of any embellishment or silliness. There are however 3 titles that do not conform. These hybrids benefit from strong stories with box office titles and often show up on the panto scene. They are; ‘The Wizard of Oz’, ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’. My opinion (others are available) is that the first two rarely work well in the genre, but ‘Beauty and the Beast’ does. When Mr Disney assimilated the title and re-set the benchmark, it ended up largely a panto anyway, and a very good one at that. So why not! The set (design uncredited but with construction by Phil Griggs, John Fletcher and Gary Johnson, with scenic artistry courtesy of Bob Ledg er OBE) was typically RATz. Just enough to tell the tale (as old as time) without encroaching on the space needed to bust some quality dance moves from Choreographer Laura Jayne Shippey. Supporting incidental props (the delightful Matilde Tranter) were excellent, with the slowly diminishing rose (Craig and Alex Tolley) worth the ticket price on its own! Lighting (design by Jacob Gowler and execution by the aforementioned Miss Tranter) was completely perfect in every way! A well-considered accessory to everything on stage but never …. ever obtrusive. Sound (design by Rob Williams and delivery by Jacob Gowler) caused no offence whatsoever and was free of any pops, bangs or crackles as far as I could tell. Costumes (Gay Hoyle, Heidi Faulkner, Paula Milligan, Any Milligan, Lenner Mockford, Bernie Ward and Dame Kerry Shippey) were universally excellent and complimentary hair and make-up (Dame Kerry again) a triumph, as you would have expected.
A tertiary glance through my complimentary programme caused me to notice that one or two of the usual suspects were missing. But the cast looked to be a good size and the limited space is always well filled at this venue. I was reliably informed that we would be having team B. Two Junior dancers (Eva Croft and Evie Ahern and an enthusiastic and well discipline chorus of Viknash Nimalon, Shira Nimalon, Ugne Fenton, Louise Chaplain, Emilia Riley, Hetty Hoyles, Phoenix Blake and Evie Crowson. Combining beautifully with the permanent senior dance team of Kala Amor (Dance Captain), Rheanon Hanks, Ellen Thrasher, Rebecca Phillips-Bartlett, Chloe Johnson and Clodagh Williams, all of which executed their assorted duties in with some style. Miss Phillips-Bartlett standing out very slightly as usual. Doubling as (in no particular order) Anette, Babette, Claudette, Cosette, Georgette, Ginette, Nanette, Odette and Rosette they established a great running gag with Danton, whose ‘Gillette’ gag was, for me at least, the premium joke of the show! Sadly, for them but not surprisingly, they were all blown to Upwell and back by Phoebe Green, who almost caused me to dribble down my suit as I gasped for breath whist laughing at her wonderful comic timing as Broomhelga. The audience were a little slow in getting onboard but once they got there, Miss Green just got funnier and funnier.
Of the supporting roles, Lizzie Bryant was pure class (when isn’t she) as the Enchantress, using her sublime singing voice to great effect. Aiden Wallace continues to improve and delivered a very good characterisation as Alphonse, Father of the heroine and inventor of dubious sanity. I always love watching Jenny Bryant who, with only a small amount to do, was as solid as a rock as the Baroness. Likewise, Liam Nixon always comes up with the goods and I don’t think I have ever seen him work harder as he attempted to bring home the limited (in quality and quantity) number of gags.
In the more senior roles, I really loved the nicest man in Wisbech playing the nastiest man in the panto! The irony was delicious and so was his characterisation as Jamie Cook did everything right as male chauvinist bad egg, Danton. It was a shame that we were missing Matt Beare and Josh Shippey, but although I did not see three Shippey’s come sailing by, we mercifully had retained two thirds. As comic lead and audience agitator, Jacques, Laura Jayne was a steady hand at the wheel as she managed to guess correctly (most of the time) what her father was going to do next. Kevin Shippey is a true force of nature and with a larger range than a lot of people think, he never looks more at home than in a frock and a spectacular hairpiece! As Madame Bidet he had the audience eating out of his hand from curtain up (metaphorically, as there is no curtain at this venue) to final blackout. The jokes are funny when he gets them right, and hilarious when he gets them wrong and may it ever be just that way in Wisbech.
On the one hand, Uber talented Robert Williams, could have phoned this performance in. For a performer of his ability this was child’s play but …. and this is what is on the other hand… he delivered a pinpoint characterisation of the Beast showing the full range of emotions including (but not limited to) rage, love, resignation and desperation, and held the story together from arrogance to redemption. I would have liked to hear more of his outstanding singing voice, but I understand there were shenanigans to consider.
Penultimate paragraph honours simply had to go to Catherine Missin. What a year that girl has had. Wendy Darling, Jesus and Beauty. Now that is what I call a trinity! As the heroine of this panto she had to sing like an angel and deliver demure and devoted whist everyone around her was being silly and of course, she did it flawlessly once again!
My compliments to the directorial team of Williams Shippey and Shippey for holding it all together, and to Vocal Coach Marie Cunningham for getting the cast through some demanding musical numbers. Another classic RATz panto has set me up for the festivities with a whip and a Nae Nae!
Stephen P E Hayter
(Regional Representative – NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
RATz SWEENEY TODD
Director: Kevin Shippey • MD: Marie Cunningham • Seen on Friday 13th October 2017
Stephen Sondheim shows are a bit like busses …. You wait ages for one… and then boom! two come along together. With the prospect of ‘Into the Woods’ looming in King’s Lynn later this month, I found myself in leafy Wisbech for probably Mr S’s best-known output, Sweeney Todd. The auditorium was completely sold out this Friday night (and the Saturday to follow) and I had wisely made full use of the conveniences as I remembered from my last exposure to the Demon Barber of Fleet Street …. It was going to be a long first half!
I can’t believe that anyone would need reminding of the story but, in short (and let’s be honest nothing associated with this production is particularly short) London barber, Benjamin Barker is rescued from a ship wreck having escaped from Australia where he has been deported. His extradition orchestrated by the evil magistrate Judge Turpin who has acquired Mr Barker’s young daughter Johanna and, as she reaches womanhood, has less than pure designs upon her. In a quest for vengeance and retribution he has changed his name to Sweeney Todd and sets up as a barber, waiting for the right time to despatch the Judge and his accomplice the Beadle Mr Bamford. While he waits, he forms an unholy alliance with a local purveyor of pies, Mrs Lovett, and as he slits the throats of anyone in London requiring a shave, she disposes of the bodies in a neat pastry coffin, cooked and served hot! It goes well, it goes badly, Sweeney murders Mrs Lovett and is then murdered himself, but it ends happily enough for anyone who is still alive!
The set (design by Kerry Shippey, construction by Phil Griggs, John Fletcher, Gary Johnson, Bob Kynnersley, Arthur Stromanis and Kim Speed, with embellishment by Alex Tolley and Bob Ledger) was a perfect fit for the space available and an interesting mix of literal staging and suggestive scenery which truly did everything it needed to do. Lighting (design by Jonathan Salmon and Robert Williams, execution by Craig Tolley) was perfectly suited to the adventures it illuminated on stage with a nice red wash to cover the various “shaving accidents”! Sound (design and operation by Craig Tolley) was flawless with no pops, bags or feedback that I noticed. Costumes (design by Lenner Mockford and Kerry Shippey, construction or procurement uncredited) were everything they needed to be with a nice mix of sensible, sober and sexy! Make up (uncredited although I think Kerry Shippey may have been involved) was excellent across the whole cast with plenty of thought having been put in to each- and-every character. Hair and wigs (uncredited but see previous brackets) were also outstanding and the whole show had a Rocky Horror/Edward Scissorhands motive that was surreal and extremely effective. Incidental props were few, but were always appropriate with the “convertible” barber’s chair worth the ticket price alone!
The chorus (as is customary with this Society) were all well drilled, extremely focused and very watchable. With songs of this type choreography was impossible but some of the set pieces were nicely constructed. Singing and harmonies amongst the chorus were loud and as pleasant on the ear as any Sondheim can be. In one or two minor moans about the direction of the directing I could not see any reason why the chorus were kept on stage when not in use. I have pondered greatly My S’s rationale, and am stumped. It did not do anything extra for me. Having said that, it didn’t cause me any great offence either. It should also be noted that there were some pretty big hitters in this ensemble… the likes of Lorraine Carver, Rebecca Phillips Bartlett and whilst not credited in the programme, I could swear I saw Billy Garner lurking in the London fog!
In the supporting (named) roles I enjoyed Liam Nixon as Fogg. Always a pleasure to see him on this stage and the same is true of Red Vaughan who made a nice job of deposed barber, Adolpho Pirelli, managing two very plausible accents whist he did so! Eleanor Pettet continues to be a revelation to me and in the role of beggar woman (and undercover wife) she was amazing! A superb characterisation and a great singing voice which just seems to get better every time I hear it. In a production where the baddies are contemptable and the goodies are nearly as bad, one of the only two pure characters is that of Sweeney’s son-in-law elect, Anthony, played with complete innocence by the most completely innocent performer in Wisbech, Mr Jamie Cook. Mr Cook will be the first to admit he is not the greatest singer but he executed his vocal responsibilities well enough in this well-cast role.
While I am on the subject of revelations … I must refer once again to Watlington Player (or is it former Watlington Player) Aiden Wallace, who took the part of Tobias. I spoke to him afterwards to congratulate him on presenting such an endearing character. His delivery and timing were impeccable with only his singing voice drifting a little on occasions. As Mr Wallace continues to improve I would recommend a few singing lessons to get what is a very pleasant voice a little more consistent. This young man is one to watch very carefully for the future! I actually believe I may have said the same thing previously about Eden Carver (obviously using the word girl and not boy) and now everybody is saying it. She gets better and better with every part and is now one of the major RATz talents and an essential for any of their shows. This time out she took the part of Sweeney’s estranged daughter, Johanna, and did demure and devoted as if her life depended upon it. Her singing voice is outstanding and in Mr Sondheim’s rare moments of melodic stability, she excelled.
As I get older, it is interesting to observe that the children of this Society also get older. This has certainly proved to be true of Thomas Gregory. He blew me away as Nicely Nicely Johnson in ‘Guys and Dolls’ with a ‘Sit Down YRTB’ I will not readily forget. I thought he was miscast as the Artful Dodger in ‘Oliver’ but still delivered a confident performance. And then … here he was as second-string evil-doer, Beadle Bamford, and he was truly superb. His timing is sublime and as he switched from sinister to comedy and back again it reconfirmed to me what a remarkable actor he is. The keyboard playing scene with Mrs Lovett was the comedy moment of the show.
Penultimate paragraph honours were a little tricky this time out and one of the three main performances that were in contention was that delivered by Rob Newton as the unmitigated bounder, Judge Turpin. As mentioned above there were very few good people in this story and, when your heroes are vile, your villain has to be completely beyond redemption and utterly reprehensible. That was exactly what Mr Newton delivered and he literally made my skin crawl! I would briefly mention that for such an accomplished and experienced actor some of his stage craft was a little odd and it occurred to me that this may have been a directorial thing. He delivered a lot of his lines upstage with his face completely hidden from the audience and whilst I accept that this may have been by design … it just looked untidy to me. However, this did not detract greatly from a brilliant performance from a fantastic actor at the very top of his game.
In allocating the aforementioned last-but-one paragraph accolade it crossed my mind repeatedly that it should be split, but I bravely conceded that that would be the cowards way out. But I will allow the two stars of this production a paragraph each to recognise their achievements. I have reported repeatedly that I am still coming to terms with the talent of Mr Robert Williams. For years he was always the sound and lighting guy, and then he started performing (again) and wow! To be honest the character of Sweeney Todd is very two dimensional and having seen it done before I completely accept that the script, songs, story and the latent motivations don’t allow for any great flexibility. Mr Williams did a brilliant acting job and delivered the established characterisation. However, it was his singing voice that really lifted this production and when he let rip.….. Wow! He sulked, shouted and brooded to a very high standard and should be incredibly proud of his amazing achievement in this role.
The reason I leave this section in the hands of Laura Jayne Shippey is as much to do with the part given as the part delivered. Miss Shippey and Mr Williams were both on fire this night and I only lean toward LJ because I just loved her interaction with Tobias (Aiden Wallace you will recall). Such sensitivity and such superb facial acting that was quickly switched to comedy when required. Her work in the ‘pie’ song (‘A Little Priest’ to give it it’s proper name) was inspirational. While I am here.… directorial gripe number three.… no pies in the pie song! There were pies available.... I saw them…. but not in the pie song! Perplexing! Anyway, as Mrs Lovett, Miss Shippey was the icing on the cake and was as good as ever before.
This was a production knee-deep in truly outstanding performances and the overall product was cracking. My compliments to Director, Kevin Shippey for a job well done. Ok, last moan, and directorial gripe number four, no blood! the bloodless throat cutting was in complete contrast to the last production I saw where it was literally spurting everywhere! Without the blood-letting, the impact of the many.… many murders were so drastically reduced I struggled to understand the reasoning. One thing that was indeed faultless was the three (and yes, I do mean three) piece orchestra of Marie Cunningham, Jane Missin … with onstage contributions from Catherine Missin. They delivered a sound that could have passed for ten … but why were they on stage? I could see no benefit in my being able to see the band. Enough! my biggest complaint has nothing to do with the Wisbech massive, it has to do with the 1 hour 40-minute first half and the 1 hour second half. Mr Sondheim … it is not necessary for you to send me home with the milkman! In response to this I offer my longest ever review so we are even! Well done RATz, a tough show to bring home.… yet brought home in style!
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
RATz GODSPELL (Youth Production)
Director: Robert Williams • Seen on Wednesday 13th September 2017
With the Summer Youth Challenge now in other (non-NODA) hands, I don’t get to see quite so much of the RATz Youth these days, which is a shame. It is also a shame that the colossus of amateur youth theatre, Emlyn Moment, takes a less active part these days, but in the Ying and Yang of am-dram… to balance up these tragedies we have …. Robert Williams! As I settled into my seat at the Angles Theatre it was indeed Mr Williams who was to deliver this Youth Production of John-Michael Tebelak’s (with new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz) left-field piece of Christian propaganda, “Godspell”.The most relevant part of the paragraph above is to do with Schwartz and the new material used to make this youth production another revamp / updating of this title credited to 2012, and so a lot of what I was expecting to see and hear …was not there. Although, on the positive side (Ying and Yang again) a lot of what I heard I was not expecting. Most of the productions of “Godspell” I have witnessed tend to extenuate the songs, improvisation and structure less aspects of this show and play down the Christian parable side of things. This latest version seemed to push the performers down an altogether more spiritual avenue and Director, Robert Williams, seemed (at least to me) to have wholly embraced this journey. The story … isn’t really a story at all but seems to happen in the last days of Christ with a cast of Disciples reviewing the most well-known of the Christian parables and explaining in lay-man’s terms, the Gospel message.
As I understand it, the staging of this title is left entirely in the hands of the Director and Mr Williams had chosen a King’s Cross Railway station motif to deliver the message. The concept was inspirational and the set itself (design by Robert Williams with construction disappointingly uncredited) was excellent. Lighting (design by Matt Peploe, operation uncredited) was extremely creative and helped greatly to turn this “Cabaret” style show into a real musical. The costumes (company) were contemporary which really does not do them justice. Each cast member had clearly spent (with Directorial supervision presumably) a great deal of time finding an outfit or outfits that truly complimented their character. They all looked great and I have no doubt that part of the reason they all looked so comfortable on stage was directly attributable to the way they felt they looked! Choreography (Laura-Jayne Shippey) was simple but effective …and actually, not as simple as the last production I saw where there was actually none. The basic moves were well executed and (again) lifted this floor show into the musical category. Sound (design by Rob Williams and execution uncredited) was everything it needed to be with no bangs, pops or sudden surges of feedback. Everyone who spoke or sang with amplification was perfectly miked and the volumes were expertly balanced.
This is the very embodiment of an ensemble piece with only the parts of Jesus and Judas actually identified. The other Disciples were a collective and to be honest that’s how it came across … all for one and one for all. Before I single anybody out for a special mention …, I will mention everybody else because... that is how this cast worked. Clodagh Williams, Evie Crowsom, Euan Samways, Michaela Matthews, Keira Samways, Rebecca Phillips-Bartlett, Rheannon Hanks, Kate Fillart, Phoebe Green - Guy’s, you were all brilliant with total focus throughout and a confidence in your lines and moves that meant that the action never slowed, and there were no awkward pauses or dodgy moments.
In the more prominent roles it was nice to see Ellie (Fradders) Fradley on a season long loan from The Watlington Players. I have never seen Miss Fradley take on such a headlining part and her red dress and short shorts combination all but stole the show. She sang, she danced … she was excellent! The same is very much true of another Watlington rental, Aiden Wallace. I don’t remember Mr Wallace singing previously … certainly not to this standard, but here he was totally in command of the stage every time he was on it.
It is no secret I am a massive fan of Danae Larham. She is such a professional … not only in her ability, but also in her whole performing ethos. This time out she was Judas and aside from singing like an angel she once again used her face to underscore every syllable that came out of her mouth - be it sung or spoken. She looked like she knew not only her moves, but those of everyone else around her on that stage. Another piece of information well-documented is my considerable admiration for the amazing Lizzie Bryant. A great actress, Miss Bryant has a voice … a breath-taking vocal ability that leaves you walking away from a theatre thinking … there was singing, and there was Lizzie! Once again, Miss B was in a class of her own proving (in addition) she actually knows how to use a mop and bucket!).
Penultimate paragraph honours were difficult to allocate this time. And that is a massive compliment not only to the cast, who completely had each other’s backs, but also to the production team who had taken the time to give everyone the chance to shine. It could have been Miss Larham, or Miss Bryant … but it was, by a short head the lead, Catherine Missin as Jesus. Miss Missin (Lizzie Bryant not withstanding) has an exceptional singing voice and an alluring stage presence. Falling in love with her on stage is not optional, and, as she did with Wendy Darling (Peter Pan) last time out, she captivated and mesmerised the audience with a powerful, but well considered, compassionate performance that lifted this show by 20 percent. Her acting within the group was perfection and as the dominant force, with her acting, she let it be known beyond doubt that she was in charge.
I went into this production excited to see what the RATz massive would do with this, but declaring myself to not be a huge fan of “Godspell”. Last time I saw it I thought it was thin, verging on trivial, and I struggled to connect with it. As a youth production in Wisbech, I really felt like I got the whole concept…. and loved every minute. My unreserved compliments to debutant Director, Rob Williams, for a faultless piece of technical direction and a show that was so full of ideas that it made your head spin. The cast were so impeccably drilled that the whole production flowed at a consistent speed from curtain-up to curtain call. Massive compliments also to Musical Director, Marie Cunningham, not only for heading up a completely awesome 6-piece combo who delivered a superb sound … but also for some killer harmonies that she taught to the children who delivered them pretty much flawlessly! Bravo RATz. Another remarkable youth production that was in complete contrast to last year’s “Les Mis”, but one that upheld all the finest qualities of that particular NODA Award winning production.
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
RATz BRIEF ENCOUNTER
Director: James Wetherall • Seen on Friday 27th May 2017
Strangely enough, I was reminded of the classic 1945 David Lean film of Noel Coward’s ‘Brief Encounter’ during a couple of recent outings to see the play version of ‘Dad’s Army’. The tragic episode called ‘Mum’s Army’ included the beautiful romance between Captain Mainwaring and Mrs Gray which was lifted right from the film with great pathos and no small amount of reverence. Memories of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson came flooding back and so, when I was invited to the high temple of drama (The Angles Theatre, Wisbech) by RATz, I grabbed my wide brimmed hat and my raincoat and set out for the Cambridgeshire bad lands. The other appeal was that this production came hot on the heels of a wonderful ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ and a spectacular ‘Peter Pan’ (the musical).
I am led to believe that the concept of the original film was to remind the many lonely wives of wartime servicemen that they should remain faithful until their heroes returned from overseas…. Which I am sure is exactly what they did. The story is straightforward enough and, set in 1938, involves the developing love affair between married mother, Laura Jesson, and single Doctor, Alex Harvey. They meet by accident in the café at Milford train station, which is common ground for them both as they travel between their respective homes in Catchworth and Chorley and the nearby town. Mrs Jesson’s husband is very much in evidence and not at all away anywhere as are the two children Margaret and Bobbie. The relationship eventually becomes a physical one and ultimately ends in the saddest, most unspectacular way, as the two protagonists decide to walk away in the best interests of everyone except themselves.
The set (built by Phil Griggs and John Fletcher and decoration by Sir Bob Ledger) was spot on. A split set removed the need for sweeping scene changes which would have been a problem for a play that had so very little going on. No distractions were required … and none were evident and I credit the Director with this masterstroke! The main area showed us the station café with the Jesson’s family home stage left. The centre back space was used later for the boating scene which had so much sexual tension I could actual feel my heart rate increasing to what I ultimately considered a dangerously high level! Lighting and Sound (design by Robert Williams and execution by Kevin Shippey and Jonathan Salmon) was subtle, perfect in a way that I can remember nothing about it, and that dear reader is as good as lighting for a play can get. Costumes (the cast) were everything they needed to be and Hair (Cynthia Maxey and Kerry Shippey) could not be faulted as usual. Incidental props were minimal but caused me no offence whatsoever !
Much to my surprise (and delight) there was a significant supporting cast and, whist they didn’t really have anything important to do, they provided a magnificent backdrop to the tragedy unfolding in front of them. They also gave some important historical reference points as well as an overview of the perceived and actual social acceptability’s of the time. The two children, Bobbie and Margaret, were played with some considerable style by Ted and Emma Fraser. For two young youth performers they showed a lot of discipline and allowed us to be reminded of the crushing implication of the main liaison whilst not making us hate the two characters involved. The aforementioned (crucially important) set dressing included some lovely cameos from Gay Hoyle as Usher, Waitress and Mrs Dolly Messiter, James Geddis (see below) as Stanley, Alex Lester as the good Doctor’s friend Stephen Lynn, as well as Johnnie and a waiter.
I have watched Ellen Thrasher a lot on this stage (floor) and whilst I don’t think she has a massive range she always seems to find herself a part she can do really well. On this occasion she had two parts. Beryl Walters and Hermione both of which she played ….. really well! Noel Coward emphasises the circumstance of the central clandestine relationship by showing us a juvenile couple, Beryl and Stanley, together with a mature couple, Mertyl and Albert, both of which have to keep their relationships off the radar for different reasons. As Café major-domo Mertyl Bagot, wonderful Lorraine Carver was … wonderful, interacting brilliantly with the equally wonderful Bob Ledger as Albert Godby. These two provided a little comic relief that helped reduce the pressure cooker of emotions from the main event!
May I just take moment here to take off my hat to (I think) Josh Baker as the cuckolded husband, Fred Jesson. I say “I think” as the part is credited to Mr Baker but the picture in the programme is most certainly not him. Either the photos of Mr Baker and Mr Geddis have been mixed up or… the photos are right but in the wrong place … still following me? …. anyway … if it was Mr Baker who played Fred Jesson he was brilliant. A very small amount of dialogue with each syllable so incredibly important to the story. The temptation to overplay must have been overwhelming but overplay it he did not! A disciplined and controlled performance from a very accomplished performer..
Penultimate paragraph honours proved to be a complicated decision with this production. The two leads were both truly amazing and so incredibly complementary I could not, with all conscience, split them. I recently saw Annie Larkin deliver an outstanding dancing (and singing) performance in the WAODS production of ‘Cats’ and could not escape the fact that Miss Larkin is devastatingly attractive. The part in ‘Cats’ called for overt sexuality of which she has a plentiful supply, but here, on this night in Wisbech, in the role of Laura Jesson, the sex is all implied and so, with the exception of the boating scene (tights Mr Director? Really? … no, no, no for a number of reasons) Miss Larkin was well covered. And yet, with the perfect hair style, the tailored clothes made her look far more alluring (in a demure and unattainable way) than the painted-on cat costume. That said, Annie Larkin is an amazing actress and she could walk into a West End play tomorrow and not look an inch out of place. She was completely confident with her lines and her face seemed to show the torture and torment of her circumstances every time she came on stage. I have also seen Adam Billet here a few times over the years, and whilst he is always solid enough ….. I confess to a massive panic attack when I saw his name in pole position in such a difficult and delicate play… all I can now say is sorry Adam. I was so very wrong in doubting you. As softly predatory Dr Alec Harvey, Mr Billet delivered (what I would consider) the performance of his amateur career. A perfect partner for Miss Larkin, he was equally comfortable with his lines and moves and it is just about sufficient to say that when I left the venue, I could not imagine anyone else playing the part. His manifestations of pathos were particularly impressive, especially as he never allowed the audience an opportunity to pity him, or to judge him too harshly for what he was dong. The casting of the leads was inspired and with so much of what I had seen down to just the two of them ….. a remarkable double act!
I have a feeling someone told me that this was James Wetherill’s directorial debut. Regardless of how much truth there may be in that, I take my hat off completely to him for a superb piece of direction. The scenes were perfectly framed and the performers well placed. The timing was also carefully considered with the food eating extremely well-paced. This was a classy piece of drama executed with precision by a talented cast of players. Well done RATz, it’s turned out nice again!
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
RATz PETER PAN
Director: Emlyn Moment • MD: Marie Cunningham • Choreographer: Cynthia Maxey
Seen on Thursday April 13th 2017
J. M. Barrie's evergreen classic children’s adventure story is one of those odd breed of tales that somehow straddles a selection of genres. It is a play, a pantomime and, on this particular occasion, an honest to goodness musical. As I headed out into the bad lands of Cambridgeshire (third layby on the left and straight on to Wisbech) I actually had no idea which of the three it was going to be …. And do you know what? I didn’t much care. It was the phenomenally talented (and enormously prolific) Right Angles Theatre Company (RATz) so it was going to be good whichever way the wind blew!
The musical version on offer was with notes from George Stiles, lyrics by Anthony Drewe and a book by Willis Hall and was a version unfamiliar to me. As I reflect upon it now, it was really quite an accomplished piece of work with the characters well (re) drawn, the story well told and full of songs you could whistle all the way home. I noted on arrival that it was a Josef Weinberger license so it boded well. I will not insult anyone by offering to re-tell the story. Suffice to say, boy who never grows up meets middle class girl growing up fast and together they confront Pirates, Indians and a crocodile! That is all you need to know, and probably knew already.
The set (Phil Griggs, John Fletcher and Bob Ledger with beautiful scenic artistry by equally beautiful Bob Ledger ….so good I’ve named him twice) was excellent. A clever two-level affair that allowed a lot of scene changes, without any scenery changes. Lighting and sound (design by Rob Williams and execution by Mathilde Tranter on lights and Jacob Gowler on sound) was imaginative and extremely effective, adding additional depth to the bright colours incorporated in the scenery. Costumes (design by Josie Stevens with “support” by Ellen Thrasher, Tania Hanks and Rosie Turley) were outstanding, and the quality was matched by the extremely large quantity, with all the performers looking good in all the roles they took on. By the same token, incidental props (Mathilde Tranter),
make-up and wigs (Ellen Thrasher, Lewis Stevens and Cynthia Maxey) could not be faulted with Captain Hook’s wig worth the ticket price on its own!
The chorus was way too vast for me to mention everyone, but we had team B, and everyone involved was enthusiastic and very well disciplined. The singing was loud, and the dancing (choreography by Cynthia Maxey) well-conceived and competently executed. So many children often doubling (or even trebling) up as Lost Boys, Pirates and Indians with a couple of Mermaids thrown in for good measure.
In the supporting roles, I loved Chloe Stokes as Nana the dog (and a lost boy), Rheannon Hanks as Liza and Red Indian, Lauren Bird as Lost Boy, Tootles, Rebecca Phillips-Bartlett as Pirate, Cecco, with Aiden Wallace working hard to bring ‘right hook’ man Mr Smee to life. Bridie Fraser and Keegan Hanks did a wonderful job of portraying the two younger Darling children, John and Michael, and I could not take my eyes off Michaela Matthew as Gentleman Starkey as she used her incredible stage presence to dance and act in way that made her difficult not to watch. I was equally enchanted by Lilliana Izzo as the iconic fairy, Tinker Bell, who did a lot of acting without having a single audible line. Her face and body did all the work in a performance of significant quality. Now I think about it, another member of the supporting cast who had to do a lot of acting to make up for the lack of dialogue was Kala Amor (That is a West End name if ever I heard one !!) as the other woman in Peter Pan’s life Tiger Lily. Miss Amor was top notch throughout !
In the more prominent parts, I was completely blown away by Isobel Ward as Mrs Darling. Miss Ward gave a warm and compelling performance as the middle class mother and simply did not put a foot wrong. Her acting was superb and her singing was… just beautiful as she made ‘Just Beyond the Stars’ one of the highlights of my evening. As an aside, when commending Miss Ward’s performance after the show to one Robert Williams, he declared that I had “savaged her” in my review of ‘Guys and Dolls’! My dear Mr Williams, I have never ‘savaged’ anyone in any review but… for the avoidance of doubt (and in a desperate attempt to repair my damaged reputation) what I said was . . .
. . . “He was helped in no small part by Isobel Ward as long-suffering girlfriend, Miss Adelaide, who struggled just a bit with the acting but more than made up for it with a superb singing voice.”
For a man from Wisbech, where a savaging would generally lead to hospitalisation, I would say Mr Williams, this was a little less than that!! I do have to say that very much like Edward O’Connor in ‘Les Mis’ last year, Miss Ward has improved dramatically from a decent performer to a brilliant one!
In the other lead roles, I must spend a minute or two to lay prostrate at the feet of the incredible Lesley Mardle. I have seen Mrs Mardle over at Westacre and was always struck by her mighty stage-presence. In this production, she took the role of Storyteller and brought a level of gravitas to the part that simply lifted the whole production from the Championship, into the Champions League positions in the Premiership. An amazing performer and a mesmerising performance. I was also somewhat captivated by Kiera Samways as the hero of the piece, Peter Pan. The little boy who never grows up was in safe hands all night as Miss Samways delivered the perfect performance. The same is completely true of Catherine Missin as Wendy Darling, who was equally compelling and just seemed to have achieved a level of comprehension and understanding of what the part was all about. She succeeded again and again in showing Wendy’s strength and vulnerability in equal measures and always at the right times. Her excellent singing voice helped her nail completely all her songs with the reprise of “Just Beyond the Stars” reducing me to a blubbering jelly.
Once again, I may be going over old ground when I recall when Robert Williams was ‘just that bloke in black on the lights’. He is (of course) a lot more than that these days, and to him alone I award penultimate paragraph honours in this presentation. He made a lovely job of Mr Darling … but when he returned as the eponymous arch-villain, Captain Hook, he quite simply stole the show! A powerful, yet controlled, acting performance. A technical standard that was inch-perfect, and a booming and incredibly accurate singing voice that filled the Angles Theatre from basement to rafters. Mr Williams was in his element and it was his significant contribution that has made this production a real contender in the adult musical category. A feat not easily achieved with a predominantly kiddies show.
Before I conclude, must not forget to heap a generous amount of praise on Musical Director Marie Cunningham and her 3 piece combo. A deep rich sound that suggested a much larger number of musicians. Barely a note out of place and the perfect accomplishment to this production. All that is left to say is, If you are one of those amateur performers who do actually read the reviews and don’t just skim until you have found your own name, I am confident that having read to this point you will (without looking at the header) already know there is really only one person who could have directed this masterpiece. To Mr Emlyn Moment I simply have no more words of praise left that I haven’t attributed to him already. He is a prodigious genius who can motivate and herd large qualities of juveniles so that they perform like seasoned professionals - always delivering a quality product and a memorable experience. I never thought for a - Moment (pun intended) that he would top his incredible ‘Les Mis’ but my word … he came dangerously close. Well played RATz - cracking!
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
RATz JEEVES AND WOOSTER
Director: Billy Garner • Seen on Saturday 25th February 2017
Since I reached the age of twenty, and yes that was some years ago, I turned my back on the written word in favour of television and film. It has, since that time, been my contention that, if God had meant us to read books, he would not have invented the DVD. However, in the days before I reached my 20th year, I loved books, and more importantly, I loved P.G.Wodehouse! As I took my seat at The Angles Theatre, I was extremely excited to see my two of my favourite fictional characters, brought to life by three of my favourite amateur performers.
The set (design by Robert Williams, construction and management by Phil Griggs and John Fletcher) was perfection. This was a studio style production and the basic, infinitely changeable, scenery was just what was required. The embellishments and augmentations to the aforementioned scenery (Bob Legend .. sorry Ledger) added greatly to the spectacle and incidental props (cast and Theatre) whilst few, caused me no offence whatsoever. The costumes (cast and Theatre) did look to have been something of an afterthought and it did occur to me where the entire focus was on the performers … a little more effort might have been a good investment. However, Aunt Dahlia’s wig (Kerry Shippey) was well worth the ticket price alone!
My opening comments are most relevant as I had read this story and also seen the Fry and Laurie version on the small screen. It is a cracking yarn and this stage adaptation used a storytelling technique which was excellent. Socialite and man-about-town, Bertie Wooster, decides to recount the story to the audience with the help of omnipresent man servant, Jeeves and another butler, Seppings. Bertie remains himself whilst the two butlers play all the other parts. You don’t need to know any more about the plot, only that no comedy stone was left unturned!
Josh Shippey (married by the time this goes into circulation) is a fine comedy actor. His sense of the ridiculous is rivalled only by his father’s. His version of Jeeves was very different to those that had gone before but that is purely an observation and by no means a criticism. Amongst his many other parts, I nearly wet myself every time he turned up as Gussie Fink-Nottle. Mr Shippey was confident with his lines and tireless with his performance.
Matt Beare is very much like Josh Shippey. They share many of the same skills and I like nothing better than seeing them perform together. With Mr Shippey focussing on Jeeves, Mr Beare had free rein with a large quantity of the other characters in the story. He was particularly effective as Spode, the villain of the piece and hilarious as Aunt Dahlia. He simply milked every possible laugh from each of his manifestations and my face was aching as I left the theatre.
In a seven paragraph review it would be easy to dismiss the appropriation of penultimate paragraph honours, but you would do so at your peril. Chris Moment is a very endearing performer and was perfectly cast as the well-intentioned inbred, Bertie Wooster. It is impossible to enjoy Pelham Grenville Wodehouse unless you empathise with his central character and accept all his imperfections. Mr Moment made it easy, being not just enormously likeable, but in my humble opinion, perfectly capturing the very essence of the person he was playing. He is a brilliant comedy actor but on this night it was a lot more than that. His control, timing and the way he waded through mountains of dialogue without a hint of hesitation, deviation or repetition, that completely stole the show. He was always the straight man to the other two performers and the keystone to the whole production.
My profound congratulations and sincere thanks to debutante director, Billy Garner, for bringing me back to Mr J and Mr W. Mr Garner is a professional standard actor in his own right and this cabaret style, high comedy production was the perfect project for him to try his hand at directing. The technical direction was excellent and the creativity and innovation delightful. So many laughs, and so many ideas… and so much energy! The pinnacle of innovation was most definitely the unexpected appearance of Mr Shippey at one end of the theatre, when I was sure he was at the other end! My hat is completely off to all four of these gentleman for an amazing night of comedy that will have me smiling for months to come. Now, where did I leave my Fry and Laurie box-set?
Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North