Tag Archives: David Woodhead

REVIEW: Nativity! The Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

The clocks have gone back, Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night are over, so, of course, Christmas is here. Seven weeks early, but who’s complaining when it’s the stage version of Bafta Award-winning Debbie Isitt’s hugely loveable 2009 movie, Nativity?

For those familiar with the big-screen trilogy, the stage plot is lifted entirely from the first film. Mr. Maddens (Scott Garnham) is a less than effective primary school teacher, having previously been an even less than successful actor. With the festive season approaching, the school Nativity show looming and a broken heart courtesy of his ex-girlfriend Jennifer (Ashleigh Gray) who dumped him to pursue her career dreams in Hollywood, things can’t possibly get worse. Unfortunately they do. Competition arrives in the form of his former best friend, Gordon Shakespeare (Andy Brady), who is now receiving plaudits for his festive extravaganzas at a rival primary school. Maddens declares that a Hollywood producer is coming to film his Christmas show, needless to say they’re not, and mayhem ensues, aided and abetted by hyperactive classroom assistant Mr. Poppy (Simon Lipkin).

With such well-loved source material, the cast need to step up and fortunately they more than match, and in some cases exceed that of the film. For West End theatre buffs, this is dream casting. Scott Garnham is entirely believable as the lovelorn Mr. Maddens with a gorgeous voice to boot, Ashleigh Gray makes her mark in the relatively small role of Jennifer and manages to showcase her phenomenal vocal skills, Andy Brady is a suitably manic Mr. Shakespeare (his Herod is a gem) but it is the utterly irresistible Simon Lipkin as Mr. Poppy who thoroughly steals the show. Lipkin is a star in everything he’s in and here he gets to showcase his formidable talents while still bringing out the best in everyone around him.

But what about the kids?, after all, this really is a children’s show. The local children cast as the pupils of Oakwood Primary School are drilled to perfection, but the pupils of St. Bernadette’s are truly phenomenal. Added to an already spectacular cast, there’s also an irresistible pooch called Cracker to crank up the cute factor.

The production values are high and the set looks as good as anything your likely to see on a West End stage, and the choreography from the always reliable Andrew Wright is perfectly reflective of that of children in 2018. The roster of musical numbers has been significantly upped from the half a dozen songs in the movie and each is a catchy delight.

Nativity! starts on a high and the entertainment factor never diminishes for the entire running time. It knows how to tug at the heart strings without becoming over schmaltzy, you’d need to be hard-hearted indeed not to be touched by this. This is a show of infinite quality from start to finish and stands head and shoulders above most festive offerings.

It preaches a laudable message of the power of a positive mindset and that sometimes the good guys can win in the end. Ultimately it’s a festive, feel-good, feast for the eyes that fills you with the warm and fuzzies.

Beg, borrow or steal to get a ticket, this really is an unmissable show.

Runs until November 2018 | Image: Richard Davenport

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub. The UK’s leading and most prolific digital portal for the performing arts. With 150 reviewers spread across the UK, managed by 10 editors, The Reviews Hub publishes reviews, previews, features and interviews on entertainment throughout the whole country.

 

REVIEW: Strangers on a Train – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

A chance meeting on a train introduces Charles Bruno and Guy Haines, two wildly different men but with problems in common. As the journey progresses, a hypothetical plan is hatched between the pair: what if Bruno kills Haines unfaithful wife in return for Haines bumping off Bruno’s much-loathed father? When Bruno follows through on his side of the imagined bargain, Haines is subjected to stalking, intimidation and blackmail.

Mistress of mystery Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 novel, Strangers on a Train was an instant hit on publication, with the heavily adapted Alfred Hitchcock classic film noir following quickly on its heels one year later. Good old-fashioned thrillers, once so prevalent on the theatrical landscape, are woefully few and far between, so it’s refreshing to see this classic chiller on stage. Craig Warner’s stage adaptation, (which had a run in the West End under the filmic direction of Robert Allan Ackerman in 2013 with a star-studded cast and a hugely impressive set) has been given a more perfunctory treatment here. Though it must be said it is undoubtedly simplified by necessity in order to tour the UK.

Images of the Hitchcock movie are seared on the memory: the tennis match with its subtle homosexual undertones; the creepily gripping murder of Haines’ first wife reflected in the eyeglasses and the suspenseful finale. Unfortunately, under the direction of Anthony Banks, there’s an overall sluggishness that fails to ratchet up the tension sufficiently, and large parts of the action plod. At two hours 25 minutes, it’s a bit of an endurance test.

The directorial choices for the actors are also questionable at times. Populated by familiar TV faces, some emerge more convincingly than others: Coronation Street’s Chris Harper has the lion’s share of the dialogue and for the most part delivers a fully three-dimensional characterisation of Bruno however, his Tennessee Williams-like relationship with his louche mother does teeter too close to parody for comfort and the most emotional moments can read as too manic. Call the Midwife’s Jack Ashton’s delivers a coldly unemotional turn as Haines, failing to convey the character’s emotional descent: the words come out, the acting doesn’t convince. Hannah Tointon, best known for Mr. Selfridge, has a slim theatrical CV and it shows, while her role as Haines’ new wife is hideously underdeveloped, her delivery is quite frankly unforgivable, calling to mind the enthusiastic, but amateur thespian. Another crucial flaw in the proceeding is that both murders take place off-stage and any chance at thrills and chills are passed over.

David Woodhead’s set design comprises a series of sliding panels and projections and while functional and at times clever, suffers in scale. Many locations are confined to a tiny box on the main frame of the set. It does though evoke Edward Hopper’s classic paintings of mid-century American life, especially when coupled with Howard Hudson’s atmospheric lighting design.

This much-anticipated thriller fails to live up to its potential and ultimately there are too many flaws to make it truly enjoyable.

‘This review was originally published at: http://www.thereviewshub.com/strangers-on-a-train-theatre-royal-glasgow/

 

 

REVIEW: The Smallest Show on Earth – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Adapted from the 1957 British Lion film of the same name, with the classic hits of Irving Berlin weaved around the action, The Smallest Show on Earth is a wonderfully charming new musical from the pens of Thom Southerland and Paul Alexander. Packed full of warmth and wit, and executed with energy and enthusiasm by the first-rate cast, it is a welcome addition to the musical theatre canon.

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A classic underdog tale, David faces Goliath when struggling screenwriter Matthew Spenser (Haydn Oakley) and his wife, Jean (Laura Pitt-Pulford), inherit the decrepit Bijou Kinema. Across the road is the shiny new Grand Cinema run by the ruthless Ethel Hardcastle (Ricky Butt), a woman who’ll do anything to annihilate the competition. With employees as decrepit as the building, Jean pulls out all the stops to save the failing fleapit and its inhabitants.

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Set in the late 1950s, the script, set and lighting are beautifully evocative of a bygone era. The tunes, while at first glance a seemingly strange fit for a thoroughly British story, fit seamlessly and, while it would have been nice to have original songs, you know you are on to a winner when the first few bars of these much-loved tunes ring out, and the audience is quietly mouthing every word.

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Much of the success and a whole heap of its charm is due to the faultless cast and there’s a ridiculously high number of standouts: stage and small screen veterans Liza Goddard and Brian Capron as the redoubtable box office battleaxe Mrs Fazackalee and “well-oiled” projectionist Mr Quill lead. Goddard has the lion’s share of the best lines and her comic timing is spot-on and Capron is charming as the permanently sozzled projectionist with a broken heart. Laura Pitt-Pulford’s crystal clear voice is wonderfully era-evocative as is Haydn Oakley’s as husband Matthew. Sam O’Rourke (Tom) and Christina Bennington (Marlene) are utterly irresistible as the young lovers from rival families and are particularly impressive during Steppin’ Out With My Baby as is Matthew Crowe as the solicitor with a hankering for the stage.

Mention must be made too of Lee Proud’s choreography, which is refreshingly original and energetically executed throughout.

Writer/director Southerland has form breathing life into existing musicals and his sure-handedness shows here. This is a heart-warming and utterly charming show, which will have you leaving the theatre with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside – perfect for these cold, autumn evenings.

Runs until 31 October 2015 | Image: Alastair Muir

This article was originally written for and published by http://www.thereviewshub.com at: http://www.thereviewshub.com/the-smallest-show-on-earth-theatre-royal-glasgow/