The Nutcracker

On a snowy Friday night, is there any better adventure than a night at the ballet watching the most magical, festive show ‘The Nutcracker’? I do not think so, and that was exactly how I spent my Friday night with my Mum.

I last saw ‘The Nutcracker’ when I was 5 years old. I remember the evening so fondly, especially as I wore my favourite princess dress and remember feeling so grown up being at the theatre in the evening.

This 2017 production (because let’s not work out how long ago I was 5) by the Birmingham Royal Ballet did not burst the festive bubble I hold ‘The Nutcracker’ in.

The moment the music strikes up, you are transported to the festive wonderland. The thing that amazes me throughout a ballet is that the music and dance have to tell the story. The skill of each dancer and musician is always amazing and you are into the tale of ‘The Nutcracker’ and all its adventures.

I was mesmerised throughout; everything gelled so beautifully from start to finish. However, the ‘best’ moments (if I dare to be so brash) were the dances in the magical land, performed as a reward for the bravery of our heroine Clara.

Clara, and the audience, witness some of the most beautiful and magical dances of all time. Let’s be honest, as has pretty much every girl who has ever done ballet, I would have loved to have been the Sugar Plum Fairy too. Well, to be honest, I would have pretty much have loved to have been any one of those dancers in such an iconic piece of ballet.

I enjoyed every single moment of this production. ‘The Nutcracker’ remains one of my all-time favourite pieces of theatre. Let the festive season well and truly begin!

#LoveTheatreDay

So, today is #LoveTheatreDay, and that is pretty much my dream day! Shame that I could not really celebrate with a theatre trip, but I thought I would share with you all my top 5 shows of all time. (At this current moment at time, because I really struggle to ever make this definitive, and I change my mind all the time as I change the criteria).

1. Matilda – The Musical

This is one show that will always make any list about theatre that I love. This stunning adaptation of the much-loved Roald Dahl book is a show that I have seen 3 times and I am always considering seeing it again (after all, it is touring next year). My love of this show is based on so much! It is a fabulous story from the mind of one of the greatest storytellers of all time, with a wonderfully colourful collection of characters. The songs are simply wonderful; it is probably one of my most played albums on my iPod, as they contain all the humour and sensitivity of the story. And the set…oh the set is a beauty, perfect for setting the scene for the story. I could go on and on about my love of this show, but I think that is a taster of why I am such a fan of this wonderful show.

2. Nativity! – The Musical

This is a very new show to the musical theatre scene and I have already written a post about how wonderful it is (please, feel free to pop over and have a read), but it still needs another mention here. Nativity! – The Musical is based on the much-loved Christmas film and it is simply a joy. You will not leave the theatre without smiling and singing, if you were to see it. This is one of the happiest shows I have ever seen, so if you can catch it this festive season, I would really recommend it.

3. Love’s Labours Lost and Much Ado About Nothing (Love’s Labours Won)

I have cheated here – I know! This is technically two shows but they were produced by the RSC as  a pair that, really, you need to see together to appreciate. These two productions were both absolutely stunning; so much humour and warmth in both. However, they also had a very important message about World War One and the impact that it had on so many. The ensemble who brought both plays to life were a joy to watch. This was, again, perfect proof of how versatile the stories of Shakespeare can be as they transcend the generations.

4. All New People

This was a play by the wonderful Zach Braff that I was so determined to see I went all the way to Glasgow to see it. It did not disappoint! I am a huge Zach Braff fan and the thought of, one, seeing him on stage and, two, in something that was his own work was just too much to miss for me, and it was great. Such skilled writing and acting, and a great tale about what can happen when a random selection of people are thrown together.

5. Spamalot

This is a show that holds a special place in my heart as my dad is a huge Monty Python fan (as is Mr BookwormandTheatreMouse), and it is a musical that I have seen with them both. This is just classic, silly comedy that sweeps you away on the most ridiculous adventure, but every moment is so entertaining. The affectionate mick-take of musical theatre that runs all the way through the production is also so much part of the fun. I have seen professional and amateur productions of this, and both were so entertaining and brought so much joy to the audience that it was a real reminder of why theatre is such a great part of our culture.

There you go; that is – at this precise moment – 5 of the best for #LoveTheatreDay, but I have been lucky enough to see so many amazing productions and made so many happy memories at the theatre with friends and family that I would just urge you all to enjoy as much live theatre as you can!

Twelfth Night

There is always a buzz of excitement in this household when we know we are off to the RSC. There was a little addition to the excitement because Mr BookwormandTheatremouse has never seen Twelfth Night (this was my third adaptation) and, also, because Adrian Edmondson was in this production. Although, if I am honest, as a huge Archers fan (yes, I have admitted it), I was equally excited to see Michael Cochrane.

I always avoid looking at anything before a visit to an RSC production that might have given anything away about the adaptation. However, on this occasion, it was clear that it was a Victorian setting from the lovely production poster.

This production is, in fact, truly stunning. It is a real nod to the humour of the likes of Oscar Wilde and classic music hall entertainment of the later Victorian era. The setting and atmosphere created also leads to a gentle study of relationships of different kinds, and really made me appreciate that we live in a time in this country where ‘love is love’ and not a crime. Maybe I have over-thought that angle, but as a history teacher in my day job, it really struck a chord.

So, on a lighter note – this production is stunning (yes, I have said it again)! It is one of the most complex sets that I have seen at the RSC, as they take us through the tale and from town to country. However, it all moves seamlessly from scene to scene. The music hall vibe comes from the songs that are dotted throughout the play. As always, the music is beautifully performed and perfect for the setting of the play.

Adrian Edmondson is absolutely fabulous as Malvolio. Playing the character wonderfully stern but still with subtle humour, he manages to make Malvolio a character that you feel sympathy for. However, there is not an individual star in this production; the ensemble work together to make this a laugh-out-loud comedy with a sensitive side.

As we left the theatre, we could not help discussing how much we had enjoyed the production. It is cheeky but very thoughtful, and perfect for the festive season.

Nativity! The Musical

Last week was my 2nd wedding anniversary, and what other way is there for a Theatre blogger to celebrate than to see a play? Not just any play, but the Christmas favourite ‘Nativity! The Musical’.

Currently running at the REP in Birmingham, before it tours the country and lands in London, this is one of the most glorious musicals I have have ever seen. This production is an even more musical adaptation of the wonderful British film ‘Nativity!’. The tale is the same and still set in Coventry. Mr Maddens (Daniel Boys) and Mr Poppy (Simon Lipkin) need to help St Bernadette’s Primary School pull off a Nativity production fit for Hollywood (due to a slight misunderstanding). There are of course , twists and turns, and laughter and tears along the way, but it is a really charming tale with all the spirit of Christmas.

From the moment you walk into the theatre, the atmosphere is one of clear excitement. The audience of all ages were clearly huge fans of the film and could not wait for the performance to start. As the stage comes alive and the adventure begins you are swept away. Every member of the company (and especially the children) is clearly having the time of their life bringing the show to the audience. Simon Lipkin (who I was lucky enough to see earlier this year in Wind in the Willows) is the most fabulous Mr Poppy, playing the character with such humour and affection, In fact at one particularly emotional moment, a young member of the audience called out ‘I love you’ to Mr Poppy as he shed a tear.

I was also really pleased to have the chance to see Daniel Boys in a musical, as I was a big fan all those years ago when he was a contestant on ‘Any Dream Will Do’. (That is one off the bucket list as I have now seen my three favourites from that show in musicals – so easily pleased). He did not disappoint; such a lovely singing voice and overall fabulous performance.

However, the real stars were the children who injected so much enthusiasm and humour into their parts the audience was always cheering along with them.

I laughed all the way through the production (apart from the couple of moments where they don’t just tug but yank on the heartstrings and even Mr BookwormandTheatremouse might have had a lump in his throat) and leapt to my feet when the finale was on. In fact, it almost feels like you are celebrating with the cast.

Overall, this is a loyal adaptation of the film (all your favourite parts will be there) and it will leave you feeling very happy and very festive. Bravo to all!

This was the exact expression that I had on my face all the way through this dream of a show!

Theatre Club – 42nd Street

It is that time of year again, another reason why I love Autumn, the second Theatre Club of the year. This time it is my turn to be surprised and it was the best surprise – in fact it was the exact show I was hoping for – the glitzy and glamorous ’42nd Street’.

Now, I really admit that I did not have a clue what the musical was about, but I could just tell that it was going to be a smashing musical. We were in the gallery of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (a theatre we already love as we saw ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ there on another Theatre Club trip) and the view was perfect.

The show starts as it means to go on, with a beautifully choreographed tap routine. The tale is one of a young, talented potential star wanting to take on Broadway, as another ‘older’ star could be ready to give up the stage for the man she loves, as the company tries to get the show ready for the stage. Throughout the production, the performances were stunning. The singing was fabulous and all the dance routines were jaw dropping. I was certainly ready to put my dancing shoes on by the end of the show.

CJ Johnson was fabulous in the role of the established star Dorothy Brock and Clare Halse was absolutely stunning as Peggy Sawyer; he dance skills were mesmerising from start to finish. However, as always the whole cast, ensemble and orchestra made the show the memorable performance it was.

I can guarantee that if you take the opportunity to see this West End gem, you will come out tapping your feet and humming all the tunes.

So, the big question is, what to see for the next Theatre Club – any recommendations?

Coriolanus

I always look forward to my trips to the RSC. It is a tradition to attend with my mum, dad and Mr BookwormandTheatreMouse, and knowing we were off to see Coriolanus added huge excitement. My Mum studied Coriolanus at A-Level (a little while ago…hehe) and she had been going on and on about wanting to see it again, so I was keen to see why this play had captured her imagination.

We were all hooked from the moment that it began; as always, the action was immediate. And, with war as a central theme, there was a wonderfully choreographed fight scene between Coriolanus and Aufidius early on. However, their enthusiasm did seem to be a little too much, because after quite some encounter with the shutters, that formed a key part of the scenery, they no longer worked. This technical hitch did not spoil anyone’s enjoyment; in fact, after the slight interlude, the cast managed to make quite a joke of the situation as they returned to the stage and acted as though nothing had happened.

All seemed well as the tale continued and the power struggles developed, until in a moment of total darkness there was quite a crash as the shutters stopped the play again. I only mention this because of the amazing spirit of the cast, crew and RSC staff as they proved that the show must go on. All of this, in fact, led to us having an exclusive performance – as in it became a shutter-less performance. This did not remove from the story or the action at all; you would not have known that the shutters were missing, other than that it was a missing element of the industrial setting.

The play was one that had a clear theme of war and the struggle for power. Coriolanus has clearly been brought up to be a fighting machine, but the desire for power from the people around him exposes some of his weaknesses. This leads to an alliance that eventually ends in tragedy.

Sope Dirisu led the cast wonderfully in this production and really finds his stride as the play develops. As you would expect from an RSC production, the whole cast gel together to bring the story to life for the audience.

I think that this is a hidden gem in the Shakespeare collection and I am so glad that my dad is determined to collect a whole set to keep us all visiting the RSC.

 

 

The Book of Mormon

Last week was my birthday, and the only way that a Bookworm and Theatre Mouse wants to spend their birthday is at the theatre. I was lucky that Mr Bookworm and Theatre Mouse seemed to agree and, even more surprisingly, he agreed to a musical (slightly strange) – and then I discovered why: he had booked us tickets for The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London. Now, my thoughts (as echoed by a few of my friends) was that this was something that he wanted to see and may not be my cup of tea. Oh, how we were all wrong; I loved it, the way that I loved Avenue Q – it was a musical for adults.

From the moment the first note was struck, the audience seemed to be giggling and it did not take long for this to become almost hysterical laughter from some, including me at points. This musical is a friendly and harmless ribbing of the Mormon faith. It is all done in good humour from the writers of South Park. The comedy comes from the script, the songs and the excellent comedy timing of all the actors on the stage. The best laughs all seemed to be thanks to Elder Cunningham – his comic timing and sheer enthusiasm brought so much enjoyment to everyone, even those on the stage with him. However, the ensemble as a whole made the full experience thoroughly enjoyable (even if you did catch yourself laughing at things that you are not entirely sure you should be).

There are, of course, some clever comments on the society that we live in throughout the play, all done in good humour, but it does leave you thinking about the world that we are in and maybe some of our actions.

Although, before I arrived, I had no real idea about what to expect, I left humming the tunes and find myself reliving moments and having a bit of a giggle. Not always at the most appropriate times, but it is the sign of an excellent show if you are still thinking about it a long time after the curtain has dropped.

There was a standing ovation for this production and it was well deserved – it really was a piece of very happy escapism from the ever-so-slightly-crazy world we live in.

Titus Andronicus – Don’t eat the pie!

The Rome Season from the RSC so far has been incredible, with their productions of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, so I had very high hopes for Titus Andronicus. My excitement levels had also been building since it had been announced that David Troughton would be taking the lead role. There are two reasons why this is big news for me: 1. (confession time) I am a huge Archers fan, and 2. (a more grown-up reason) he had been brilliant in King Lear as Gloucester, really making you believe that his eyes had been plucked out.

It was with great excitement that I arrived at the theatre; I was keen to see where this adaptation would take us. As it happens, it more or less brings us bang up to date – maybe a little worryingly so, considering the current situation in parts of the world, but the story does move seamlessly into the 21st century.

There are of course themes of conflict, power, wealth, deception and revenge; in fact, it is a very hard-hitting tale and maybe not one for the faint-hearted. The acting throughout from the whole cast was stunning; you were mesmerised by what was unfolding in front of you, even if at times it is slightly uncomfortable viewing. For me, it does contain one of the best acts of revenge in any Shakespeare (and possibly in any tale) but so as not to spoil it too much, I will simply warn you not to eat the pie – especially if it is being served to you by Titus himself!

This production was again a credit to the whole Royal Shakespeare Company and all the people it takes to bring such a production to the stage. It was truly brilliant and an excellent third installment in the Rome Season and a thoughtful reflection that the issues in modern-day society are not that far removed from those of thousands of years ago.

Coriolanus is the fourth part of this Rome Season, and I am excited to see what that has in store for us later this year.

The Wind in the Willows – Musical

Growing up, The Wind in the Willows was one of my favourite stories. So, when I spotted that a musical adaptation was heading to the London Palladium for the summer holidays, I had to grab a slice of the action.

The Twitterverse had also dropped so many hints about the show that, by the 3rd of August, my excitement was off the scale. Stiles and Drewe were providing the tunes, Julian Fellowes had written the adaptation, and Rufus Hound AND Gary Wilmot were starring – Exciting!!

Our seats were at the front of the upper circle; my favourite seats in the theatre. They give you a perfect view of the stage and it is easy to dodge the safety rail.

From the moment the first note was struck, you were transported from the city of London to the Riverbank. I and everyone around me had a massive grin on their face as we met the inhabitants of the Riverbank and Mole met Ratty.

The story unfolds as you would expect with Mr Toad and his speedy adventures, and the love of his friends, resulting in a very happy ending. Via some incidents with the Wild Wooders, and scrapes with the law, of course.

The performance of each member of the cast was wonderful. Fabulous singing and dancing all round and everyone looked truly happy to be on that stage. However, there has to be some special mentions for the amazing Mr Toad, played to full comic potential. Badger was a true mentor to all the creatures that he encountered. And Chief Weasel was the perfect baddie that you love to hate (well, only a tiny bit); he does also seem to have the catchiest tunes. Overall, though, it was a true team performance that had the audience enthralled.

In fact, it is all so fabulous that the cast recording has been on repeat since seeing the show. I cannot get enough of the songs and memories of this wonderful show.

This really is a musical for all ages, and if you have a chance to catch it, I would really recommend it – it is one of the best shows I have ever seen. Thank you to every single member of the cast, orchestra, creative team and theatre staff who made the whole thing such a wonderful experience.

 

Miss ‘Standing Ovation’ Saigon

I love a musical and therefore could not pass on the opportunity to see Miss Saigon when it landed at the Birmingham Hippodrome this month.

Now, I am going to be honest, I was not fully aware of the details of the story. I had an idea that it involved the Vietnam War and it was famed for a helicopter (the way that Les Mis is famed for a barricade), but that was about as far as it went. And I am, in fact, glad that was all I knew, because nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of the love story that unfolded before my eyes – and the powerful ending.

I was mesmerised from the moment the first note was struck. The performances were stunning by every single individual on the stage at all times. You felt the emotions of every character as the story develops. The songs are so powerful, almost choral in places, and are a real attraction of the play.

The set was unbelievable and so versatile. I fully understand why the helicopter is such a talking point, as it really adds to the passion of the one moment that changes the paths of Kim and Chris forever…

The show fully deserved the standing ovation, as everything was wonderful: the performers (with special mention to the leads), the musicians, the lighting – the whole thing! In fact, I have not stopped thinking about Miss Saigon since I left the theatre; I can certainly see why it is a favourite of so many theatre-goers.

So, is Miss Saigon one that makes it onto your favourite musicals list?