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10th - 21st July 2024
Commandery Gardens
The Three Musketeers

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐The perfect summer night out at the Commandery Gardens!!

There's more than a touch of Gallic flair on display down at The Commandery as, courtesy of the Worcester Repertory Company, we are transported back to 17th century Paris and La Rochelle as The Three Musketeers aim to become Four with D'Artagnan's endeavours to join Athos, Porthos and Aramis in their support for their King.

But wait! The cast of five includes only three men. Which means a twist to the plot is necessary. D'Artagnan is actually... a woman! The small cast and budget also means that the audience is enlisted to provide the sound effects. And the siege of La Rochelle is represented by a mass of invisible soldiers. Allons-y!

Initially the Three Musketeers introduce themselves in French before, thankfully, they realise that no-one will understand them so revert to English although various French words and phrases pop up throughout the show (and yes, "couilles" is a naughty French word!). None more so than with Rob Holman's funny portrayal of Cardinal Richelieu. All the cast members play various roles which require some quick costume changes. It also ebtails some imaginative scripting to explain why sometimes only two Musketeers are on stage when for example, the Cardinal or King Louis or Monsieur Le Treville or The Duke of Buckingham (amongst others) are also on stage...

Apart from the aforementioned Rob Holman, who also plays Athos, there is Charlie Ryan as Porthos, Nathan Blyth as Aramis, Alexandra Whitworth as the scheming Lady de Winter and Queen Anne and Hollie Christian-Brookes as not just D'Artagnan but also love interest Constance.

Outside shows like these inevitably make use of as little stage furniture as possible and this is the case here with just a few boxes to hide behind (and change costumes) and a cupboard to use for exiting the stage. Little more is needed except of course... the swords, used in some well-staged sword fights. There are also a few horses (!) and some panto-style water guns. You've been warned!

This is a very enjoyable romp through a period of French history which was actually written 180 years ago. By the end, of course, Three do become Four and for what happens next, you will need to dig out Alexandre Dumas's sequels. It has been also, to some extent, a history lesson. Who knew that the famous Fleur de Lys symbol was used as a branding on slaves to show that they had committed an offence (their ears were chopped off for good measure!)?

So far, the weather has been fairly kind during the run - indeed the sun actually came during Friday's performance! - but fear not, there are contingency plans in place should the normal British summer weather return. 

http://www.facebook.com/TheViewFromTheStalls/posts/515015550865770


 

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9th - 13th July 2024
Malvern Theatres
What The Butler Saw

⭐⭐⭐⭐ The classic 1960s farce staged for a modern audience

London Classic Theatre’s run of plays continues with Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw in Malvern this week, on the back of their recent touring productions of Abigail’s Party and Faith Healer.

It is the mid 1960s and the setting for the entire show is a room in the private clinic of a certain Dr Prentice, who in interviewing a candidate for the post of secretary. It is not long before the potential secretary Geraldine Barclay is asked to strip for an examination (this is the 60s, don’t forget!). In true British farce style, Mrs Prentice then arrives unexpectedly followed by her blackmailing bellboy from her hotel, Nicholas Beckett, who has taken some intimate photos of her. The character list is completed by a government official Dr Rance and an ineffective policeman, Sergeant Match. All the actors played their roles well, especially given all the ducking and diving and changes of clothing which were required. Behind the farce though is the subtext of Orton’s own life as a gay man and the hypocrisy of society at the time.

At 43 years old, this was to be Orton’s final play, after Entertaining Mr Sloane and Loot had seen his popularity increase. The play was finished in 1967, as is clear from the language, the imagery and the setting, which has been faithfully reproduced by the company’s designer, Bek Palmer (including a huge Pythonesque hand pointing down from above...!). This is, above all else, a classic British farce with all the elements the audience expects: unexpected entrances and exits, mistaken identities (even if the audience isn’t fooled!), men dressed as women, women dressed as men, etc but it was written at a time when rape was, apparently, no big thing whilst homosexuality was illegal, elements which are part and parcel of the comedy.

Whilst 1966 was obviously a good year for Orton and his plays, with Loot winning a Best Drama award, the following year was anything but. He was murdered by his lover Kenneth Halliwell bringing to an end his talents which were only just being recognised and celebrated. What The Butler Saw remains therefore rather unique – a play based purely on the final written text as Orton never saw the play on stage and therefore had no chance to make any amendments to it. All of which gives the directors (in this case Michael Cabot) the opportunity to present the play on stage as Orton might have envisaged it himself. The chances are he would have enjoyed seeing it being performed by the talented cast some 50 years later as it retains all the fun and humour of a typical British farce.

http://www.facebook.com/TheViewFromTheStalls/posts/513302981037027

 

2nd - 6th July 2024
Alexandra Theatre
101 Dalmations - The Musical

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  Proof that you can never have too much puppy love!

Originally entitled “The Hundred and One Dalmatians”, Dodie Smith’s novel has been through a number of adaptations since its publication in 1956, including Walt Disney’s 1961 animated film version and, in 1996, the version starring Glenn Close as the arch-villain Cruella De Vil. Now it has become a major musical (with a live band) touring the UK with either Faye Tozer (from Steps) or Kym Marsh (from Hear’say) taking the lead role.

In Birmingham, it is Kym who takes centre stage in a production which cannot fail to delight audiences, full as it is of super-cute little puppies (life-size puppets in this case). Dogs certainly outnumber people in this show as the puppies have their own “handlers” who expertly manipulate the dogs to give them very realistic movements, expressions and actions. In fact, the two adult dogs, Pongo and Perdi, view their adult owners Danielle and Tom (Jessie Elland and Samuel Thomas) as their pets and comment on their behaviour, asking why they spend time doing sloppy things like kissing when they could just be sniffing bottoms!

Kym Marsh does a great job of being the rather frightening Cruella, which is no mean feat given what she wants to do with the puppies and their lovely young skins… Luckily she is thwarted from all angles by her own family (her nephews Casper and Jasper played superbly for laughs by Charles Brunton and Danny Hendrix) and by the animals working together, even including – shock horror! - a dog’s nemesis, a cat. In fact, three of them, beautifully puppeteered to perfectly reflect the aloofness which these felines have in real life. It’s a pity the puppeteers are mainly all billed as “ensemble” as they were far more than that – completely instrumental in bringing to life not just the little pups but also a range of other dogs and the cats as well as providing their voices throughout the show. It is so cleverly done that you forget the handlers are there and see only the animals.

As in the story, Pongo (Linford Johnson) and Perdi (Emma Thornett) have a litter of 15 puppies but this number expands once they are trapped in Cruella’s dungeon to the much larger number with the addition of all the others which she has secreted away. But wait! By the end, when the count is done, there are but 100 dalmatian puppies… Your heart will melt when number 101 arrives on stage!

This production, with its great sets, great acting and singing, but above all, superb puppeteering (or puppyteering?) provides a believable scenario whatever your age. Just ignore Cruella’s threat of skinning the puppies alive!

http://www.facebook.com/TheViewFromTheStalls/posts/509203068113685

 

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25th - 29th June 2024
Malvern Theatres
Party Games!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  A bang up to date satire on political life

The Gods must have been looking down favourably when Michael McManus’s new comedy Party Games! was scheduled to do its UK tour. Just a few weeks in and the country, unexpectedly, is going to the polls for a General Election. Which is what this comedy is all about. Set slightly into the future, the traditional parties have all but been eliminated leaving the newly-formed One Nation party to take up the challenge of running the country. The trouble is, it all looks rather familiar…

The new Prime Minister John Waggner (played by Matthew Cottle) is something of a buffoon, who can hardly believe that his party is in power, albeit needing an alliance with the SNP, and is likely to spout Latin at any moment. Sounds familiar? It should do, as McManus has many years of political experience under his belt and so is well placed to present to us a version of what we guess really does go on behind the closed doors of politics. So alongside him is his trusty but devious Chief of Staff and Spin Doctor Seth (Ryan Early) who would travel to Durham for an eye test without a qualm and his wife Anne (Natalie Dunn) who at least attempts to keep everything on an even keel. His Deputy is played by impressionist Debra Stephenson who is also the voice of the Alexa-soundalike Medianne with the rest of the PM’s political team made up of Krissi Bohn, Jason Callender William Oxborrow and Shaun Chambers. Most of the politicians of note from the past few years are mentioned in the script in one way or another – some of them becoming the name of a tarantula which has deadly consequences…

With so many real-life incidents to potentially include, it must have been a rare treat for the author to be able to choose from such ripe pickings. And the script is always evolving in a similar way to Drop The Dead Donkey did just before transmission. References are kept bang up to date, the latest mentions being for the date-of-election betting scandal whilst the script also includes, pantomime-style, references to both Great Malvern and Worcester. And a few farts for good measure!

The after-show chat with both the author and Joanna Read, the show’s Director, gave the audience the welcome opportunity to delve further into the origins of the show and how it has developed since it first started touring in ways which could not have been imagined during the initial writing stage. 

You might think “it couldn’t happen here”. Watch this space over the next week or so!

http://www.facebook.com/TheViewFromTheStalls/posts/506202395080419

 

11th - 15th June 2024
Alexandra Theatre
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Colourful, lively and great fun – another success for BMOS

Given that the show has only been available to amateur companies to perform since March of this year, it is certainly a bit of a coup for BMOS Musical Theatre Company to have Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as their summer show for 2024. And what a glorious spectacle it is too!

Roald Dahl’s tale naturally lends itself to a colourful and imaginative production, especially inside the factory itself, and the company has taken this fully on board with beautiful costumes and sets as well as incorporating impressive digital technology effects which would have been well beyond their reach just a few years ago. Having said that, it was the arrival on stage of the little Oompa Loompas which drew the biggest audience response, surprised at how it was achieved – no digital trickery there and definitely an inspired piece of theatre!

The story, of course revolves around a certain Mr Wonka – an initially somewhat unpleasant character who owns the huge chocolate factory but gives nothing away to the young Charlie who comes from a poor family (and whose grandparents are a right laugh!) and gets a chocolate bar but once a year on his birthday. The pairing of Robbie Love as Wonka and Theodore Traat as Charlie works very well with young Theo showing great confidence in the all-important starring role, especially as this is his debut with BMOS. (For certain performances, James Cowley takes on the role of Charlie).

The first half of the show introduces us to the winners of the first four Golden Tickets – the sausage-loving Augustus Gloop, the petulant Russian Veruca Salt, the gum-chewing Miss Beauregard and the screen-loving Mike Teavee - whilst Charlie waits patiently to see if he can find one. The second half sees the very funny demise of these contestants and there is definitely a surprise in store where we discover where the Bavarian Gloop hides his sausages! The story is very up to date (even Twitter and Trump are mentioned!) so these characters are easily recognisable.

This being BMOS, with well over 40 people in the cast and a whole host of backstage helpers plus the orchestra, we can expect the singing and choreography to be of a high standard and that was certainly the case here. These guys know how to put on a great show and this is most certainly a very family-friendly one with plenty of kids in the audience and plenty going on to keep them entertained too. And, of course, the response gives them the incentive to go bigger and better for their next show…

http://www.facebook.com/TheViewFromTheStalls/posts/497180255982633

 

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11th - 15th June 2024
Malvern Theatres
Moby Dick

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A riveting and inventive staging of the classic book

Running at more than 500 pages, adapting Herman Melville’s Moby Dick for the stage must have been quite an undertaking. This new adaptation by Sebastian Armesto, staged by the Simple8 theatre ensemble, condenses the story to a show containing all of the key elements into less than two hours. 

Melville’s book is based on real life events of himself being a sailor in the 1840s and the actual demise of the whaling ship Essex in 1820 during the search for the notoriously hard-to-catch albino whale Mocha Dick. In terms of Moby Dick, there is just one survivor of the whaling ship Pequod captained by Ahab, who is out for revenge after losing a limb in a previous encounter. This allows for a perfect piece of casting for Guy Rhys. The sole survivor of the Pequod’s ill-fated journey is the novice deckhand Ishmael (Mark Arends) who becomes the story’s narrator and who teams up with the somewhat mysterious yet gentle and more knowledgeable Queequeg (Tom Swale) as they battle against the elements and against the will of the captain who is determined at all costs and in all weathers to kill the wretched mammal that took his leg.

It is by no means a standard adaptation either. The staging leaves a lot to the imagination and the sense of being at sea is heightened by a series of sea shanties along with musical accompaniment throughout. Initially on stage there are just two sets of scaffolding and four steps leading to a raised stage. During the show, this is made full use of with other simple elements introduced to reflect the action such as makeshift rowing boats and the grisly cutting up of their first kill. Most brilliant of all is the actual re-creation on stage of a whale – simply but very cleverly done, involving the entire cast and giving us a biology lesson to boot!

If you think that the novel itself, which was actually a commercial failure when first published, will lead to a complicated long stage play, think again. The way it has been adapted not only conveys the story of this whaling adventure but also brings the audience right to the heart of what it must have been like to have been a sailor in those arduous times with Ishmael’s direct to the audience narration making it feel personal and believable.

http://www.facebook.com/TheViewFromTheStalls/posts/496595272707798

 

 

4th - 8th June 2024
Alexandra Theatre
The 39 Steps

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A cracking fast-paced show hitting all the right comedic buttons!

There are clearly a number of ways to present John Buchan's classic book The 39 Steps. The master of the genre Alfred Hitchcock did it in his 1935 thriller (with comic touches) starring Robert Donat. The BBC did its own rather dry version in 2008 with Rupert Penry-Jones. And writer Patrick Barlow threw away the rule book and created a very funny version which successfully played in the West End for 9 years. This is the version which has now been relaunched as a touring production by Fiery Angel. And in spite of the many characters and multiple locations, the conceit here is that it was written for a cast of just four...

Inevitably, the actors have their work cut out to present the story of Richard Hannay who reluctantly becomes embroiled in a spy caper which was played out to enormous comic effect with clever, ever-changing stage props and many very quick costume changes, on and off stage. 

The comedy comes of course not from the plot itself but from the way the scenes have to be re-enacted, at speed, whether it be on board a train hurtling through the countryside heading for the Highlands (yes, there is an actual train on stage!), jumping from the Forth Bridge, on stage at the Palladium or in a wee Scottish hotel. Only Tom Byrne as Hannay plays a single role throughout ("quite good looking with a rather nice moustache") whilst Safeena Ladha, Eugene McCoy and Maddie Rice get to grips with a wide range of characters from a Cockney milkman to a pair of very funny clowns, a Femme Fatale, Scottish inn-keepers, policemen and rogues, train guards, newspaper sellers... the list goes on.

The script itself is remarkably respectful of and faithful to Hitchcock's version (even down to the train passengers and their range of ladies underwear!) despite using just four actors so whilst it was most definitely played for laughs - and frantically so - it was still exactly the same story as the original film. More than that, the show played subtle (and none-too-subtle!) homage to Hitchcock by including some very recognisable Hitchcock-isms – a shower curtain, an array of birds, being chased by a plane, his appearance in the show as in his films…

This type of madcap comedy is actually quite hard to achieve because of its rapid pace and the need for continuous perfect timing and changes of accents and costumes. Fortunately, it all works brilliantly and the good thing was that in spite of the undoubted effort required, the actors were clearly enjoying themselves and thoroughly deserved the cheers and applause at the end.

http://www.facebook.com/TheViewFromTheStalls/posts/492491439784848

 

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29th May - 1st June 2024
Malvern Theatres
The Kite Runner

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A stunning portrayal of a country and its people in turmoil

A decade ago, a show came to Malvern which we reviewed very favourably: “Sometimes a show can just blow you away… leaving the audience spellbound and the talented cast thoroughly deserved the standing ovation. Brilliant theatre on a far from common topic and culture”.

That show was The Kite Runner and it is back on stage this week in a version adapted by Matthew Spangler from the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini lives now in San Francisco and the story details his younger life in Afghanistan and how he came to be living in the States. It is a story of friendship, love, childhood dreams, religious intolerance, sadness and above all, betrayal and shame. It is a story which is stunningly portrayed.

Life back in the early 1970s was relatively peaceful for Amir, the central character, and his friend (and servant) Hassan. Having different ethnicities was not a particular problem for the pair as they were just kids who enjoyed mock gunfights, pretending to be John Wayne and especially kite flying. This was, until it was banned by the Taliban, a common pastime involving flying kites where the string itself is the key to success, covered as it was in small pieces of cut glass allowing the flyer to swoop down on his competitor’s kite and slice through the string. The person who collected the spoils (in this case Hassan) was the Kite Runner.

Hassan (Yazdan Qafouri) is a meek and obviously devoted friend of Amir (Stuart Vincent) who would do anything for him which leads ultimately to his downfall and both actors play their parts superbly. The story is narrated directly to the audience by an adult Amir so Vincent has to play the dual role of adult and child, which works very well. It is not only Hassan who must carry shame throughout his life but his father Baba too (played by Dean Rehman) who retains a secret until the end of his days. Many of the cast are involved in the kite flying scenes on stage – simple but very effective – and transform themselves from Afghans to all-American kids in Act Two where the story moves to the States, along with a brief interlude of 1980s disco music. Other than that, much of the music is played live on a tabla by Hanif Khan, even as the audience are arriving (a rare case of a round of applause being earned and given before the show actually starts!).

Afghanistan is typically depicted negatively but by starting the story in more innocent times after many decades of peace before revolution replaced the King, Soviet invasion and the Taliban’s unerring strict control, it at least gives an impression of life as it was and how it could be. As in the novel, it does not shy away from controversy for those individuals who wish to make it controversial, containing as it does what may be deemed offensive and sexually-explicit acts and language and a portrayal of ethnic-based bullying.

Whilst not claiming to be autobiographical, the story reflects many of Hosseini’s own experiences of growing up and leaving his country of birth. It is gratifying to see such a large audience enjoy a show about a totally different culture even on the first night and they gave to show a well-deserved standing ovation.

http://www.facebook.com/TheViewFromTheStalls/posts/488493080184684
 

Home

21st - 25th May 2024
Malvern Theatres
Romeo and Juliet

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Romeo and Juliet as you have never seen them before

Flabbergast Theatre have become regulars at Malvern Theatres with recent productions of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both performed in their own unique offbeat style. Their third production is possibly the Bard’s most enduring work – Romeo and Juliet.

Oddly, for this production, there was no programme available, no cast list or bios and, even more bizarrely, no mention of it at all on the company’s website either. A little bit of digging indicates that Lennie Longworth plays the diminutive cropped-haired Juliet whilst Kyll Anthony Thomas Cole is her doomed dreadlocked beau Romeo. There are in fact eight actors in the show which begins, in typical Flabbergast fashion, before the show kicks off with them all already on stage, identically dressed and wearing half-masks, performing various fighting scenes.

There is minimal scenery – in fact, no scenery at all really as all there is on stage is a large 3-level scaffolding which is used in various scenes. There is, however, music and singing, plenty of well-choreographed sword fighting and the expected dramatic conclusion as the two “star-crossed lovers” meet their fate. The actors wear largely the same costumes throughout with only the nurse having her own bespoke dress which certainly stands out.

This style of production won’t be to everyone’s taste, leaving a lot to the imagination during its 2 hours 30 minutes (excluding interval) and certainly if you do not know the story already, you might well be floundering with the narrative, wondering what exactly is going on and who is who within the two warring houses so at least read a synopsis first…

There is no doubt that Flabbergast enjoy pushing the limits to how traditional plays are presented and this is another example of taking a new approach whilst keeping the story intact.

http://www.facebook.com/TheViewFromTheStalls/posts/484462897254369

Home

14th - 18th May 2024
Malvern Theatres
The 39 Steps

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A cracking fast-paced show hitting all the right comedic buttons!

There are clearly a number of ways to present John Buchan's classic book The 39 Steps. The master of the genre Alfred Hitchcock did it in his 1935 thriller (with comic touches) starring Robert Donat. The BBC did its own rather dry version in 2008 with Rupert Penry-Jones. And writer Patrick Barlow threw away the rule book and created a very funny version which successfully played in the West End for 9 years. This is the version which has now been relaunched as a touring production by Fiery Angel. And in spite of the many characters and multiple locations, the conceit here is that it was written for a cast of just four...

Inevitably, the actors have their work cut out to present the story of Richard Hannay who reluctantly becomes embroiled in a spy caper which was played out to enormous comic effect with clever, ever-changing stage props and many very quick costume changes, on and off stage.

The comedy comes of course not from the plot itself but from the way the scenes have to be re-enacted, at speed, whether it be on board a train hurtling through the countryside heading for the Highlands (yes, there is an actual train on stage!), jumping from the Forth Bridge, on stage at the Palladium or in a wee Scottish hotel. Only Tom Byrne as Hannay plays a single role throughout ("quite good looking with a rather nice beard") whilst Safeena Ladha, Eugene McCoy and Maddie Rice get to grips with a wide range of characters from a Cockney milkman to a pair of very funny clowns, a Femme Fatale, Scottish inn-keepers, policemen and rogues, train guards, newspaper sellers... the list goes on.

The script itself is remarkably respectful of and faithful to Hitchcock's version (even down to the train passengers and their range of ladies underwear!) despite using just four actors so whilst it was most definitely played for laughs - and frantically so - it was still exactly the same story as the original film. More than that, the show played subtle homage to Hitchcock by including some very recognisable Hitchcock-isms – a shower curtain, an array of birds, being chased by a plane, his appearance in the show as in his films…

This type of madcap comedy is actually quite hard to achieve because of its rapid pace and the need for continuous perfect timing and changes of accents and costumes. Fortunately, it all works brilliantly and the good thing was that in spite of the undoubted effort required, the actors were clearly enjoying themselves and thoroughly deserved the cheers and applause at the end.

http://www.facebook.com/TheViewFromTheStalls/posts/480001321033860