Latest reviews first...

9th - 13th April 2024
Alexandra Theatre
Shrek The Musical

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A spectacular show for all the family!

With pretty much everybody having seen at least the first (and best) Shrek movie, any attempt to convert this animated gem into a stage musical has a tough job. And given that all four main characters (Shrek, Princess Fiona, Donkey and Lord Farquaad) are essential to the plot, each having their own unique characteristics, the transfer to the stage will have to replicate them perfectly to work.

And so it is that with a huge cast of around two dozen, a live orchestra and really impressive staging, Shrek (Antony Lawrence), Princess Fiona (Joanne Clifton), Donkey (Brandon Lee Sears) and Lord Farquaad (James Gillan) are reborn as fully-fledged comic characters whose story of good banishing evil is told in song, more than 20 years after the original film which starred Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and John Lithgow in those same iconic roles.

There are many more characters in the show than actors to portray them so many of the cast take up to 5 separate parts so there must be some fast costume changes backstage. In many cases, these are the fairy tale characters who, as an ensemble, are very colourful and impressive. These include 3 blind mice, 3 little pigs, a cross-dressing big bad wolf, a white rabbit, Peter Pan, the Pied Piper, the wicked witch and Pinocchio. All characters which will be instantly recognisable to a younger audience. There is also a very funny sparring sequence between Shrek and Princess Fiona as their friendship develops via the song "I think I got you beat" which ends up as a farting and belching contest which kids will love - you can never get enough toilet humour in a comedy!

The massive backdrop shows just how much digital technology has come on in recent years, replacing the need for extensive set changes by projecting really high quality realistic video images instead when a scene changes. But any show still relies on what is happening in front of those backdrops and the cast do a tremendous job of bringing the story to life in front of your very eyes with even a massive puppeteered Dragon in one sequence. No doubt everyone will have their favourite character but, as in the film, a standout one for many is definitely the energetic and loveable Donkey.

At the end, it was time for everyone to be up on their feet to clap and sing along to the Monkees' classic, I'm A Believer, the climax to a show which, if you want to take away any message from it, is that love is more than skin deep and don't judge people by their appearances.

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8th - 13th April 2024
Malvern Theatres
Sleuth

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Prepare to be taken for a ride!

If there is one thing to be taken away from this show, it is No Spoilers, please!

And if you have never seen the film version from 1972 which starred Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, don't be tempted to look up the plot. For there are mind games going on here that will certainly both fool and surprise you…

Anthony Shaffer was one of a pair of Liverpudlian playwriting twins (his brother Peter most famously wrote Equus) and this is perhaps his most well-known work. Starring Todd Boyce (Stephen Reid in Coronation Street) and Neil McDermott (Ryan Malloy in Eastenders), the first half is a two-hander between Andrew Wyke, an author who lives a charmed life in a well-appointed mansion with some strange memorabilia dotted around and Milo Tindle, son of an Italian immigrant who has moved in nearby and who wishes to marry Wyke's (presumably ex-) wife. 

In order for the somewhat impoverished Tindle to keep the wife in the manner to which she has become accustomed, Wyke arranges a scenario in which some jewellery can be stolen for insurance purposes and sold on abroad thus giving Tindle the income he will need and Wyke the returns from his deceit. Of course, the police will become involved (more of that in the second half…)

It is a case of always questioning what you see as things are not quite as simple as they appear…

Both Boyce and McDermott play their roles well (though on a technical note, Boyce's concealed microphone gave him a muffled echoey sound in stark contrast to McDermott's which was nice and clear) and the set certainly provided a few surprises. And there is a trigger warning if you don't like clowns (or loud bangs for that matter).

This is definitely a show that will keep you guessing…

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2nd - 6th April 2024
Malvern Theatres
A Midsummer Night's Dream

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ An absolute joy!

If you ever thought Shakespeare wasn't your cup of tea, be prepared to have those preconceptions challenged. The Everyman Theatre's joyous version of A Midsummer Night's Dream will blow any trepidation out of the water. Whilst the play is a comedy, here the humour and fun are taken to new heights and this is in no small part due to the fact that they have a professional clown in their midst... And that is obvious from the start when Tweedy barges in through the foyer's door with a long wooden plank and proceeds to perform the first of the slapstick sequences (you can guess what happens there!). Tweedy is a very accomplished clown in Gifford's Circus, a regular in Everyman's pantomimes and here is also the production's "comedy advisor" which accounts for the leaning towards fun in the show.

Tweedy takes the role of Bottom (with and without a donkey head!) and definitely makes the most of his skills in entertaining the audience as Shakespeare's fool and even if you have not seen him perform before, you very quickly warm to his seemingly effortless slapstick, especially knowing just how much work goes into making it look effortless. Every so often, he would come on stage exclaiming "Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse!"and do a little routine - the deckchair and horse routines were brilliant and, in the finest panto tradition, the front row gets very unexpectedly wet...

Puck is another character key to the humour in the show (played here by Jeremy Stockwell) and there is more fun from the "rude mechanicals", a group of skilled artisans wanting to put on a play for Royalty. The same actors are also involved in some wonderful fairy scenes, colourful and musical, especially the final scenes which had the audience clapping along. The somewhat convoluted story involving star-crossed lovers and a good amount of fairy dust is wonderfully brought to life.

The company has managed to deliver something quite unique - a show which is understandable, really clever and funny and all this without compromising the plot, the characters or the language of Shakespeare. There is no attempt to "update" the story or location and with just 10 actors and 22 characters, they are kept busy changing characters and costumes. No mean feat given that just reading the synopsis of Shakespeare's play can give you a headache! It is definitely a show which will appeal to a younger audience as a great introduction to the works of the Bard, though other shows are unlikely to be as well done as this one!

Shakespeare - stuffy and incomprehensible? Certainly not here! This is a real joy to watch and a game-changer in how Shakespeare can be very accessible to all ages, even to hard-core Shakespeare fans.


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27th - 30th March 2024
Swan Studio Theatre
Quartet

⭐⭐⭐⭐ A lovely stage version of the film

Ronald Harwood's Quartet is possibly best known for the 2012 film version starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon. It is a gentle and at times very perceptive comedy particularly suited to amateur companies such as the Swan Theatre Amateur Company having, rather obviously just 4 characters and easily compacted staging.

These characters live in a home for retired musicians though most would clearly rather be anywhere but there. The first three who appear have all been there less than a year, old folks forced to live together by circumstance but who, so as to keep some kind of amicable existence, endeavour to get on with other. Wilf (Martin Bourne) is a gentle widowed soul who nonetheless has more than just a twinkle in his eye when it comes to the ladies (and delivers some of the funniest lines as a result), Reggie (Nigel Hales) a rather uptight chap who on more than one occasion displays his fiery temper and Cissy (Susan Hawkins) is often in a world of her own listening to music through her headphones and believing that the others have just returned from Karachi. But the relative peace of this trio comes crashing down with the arrival of new "inmate" Jean (Sue Smith) who just happen to have been married, albeit briefly, to Reggie and who left him for a string of other husbands. Which at least goes some way to explain his distress when she arrives unannounced. The thought of them working together to celebrate Verdi's birthday becomes ever more distant. Given that none of them have sung for decades, a plan is needed to achieve that aim, in spite of Jean's avowed intention of not participating.

The humour runs through the play until the final, more serious scene where there is frantic action to get dressed in suitable garb (in front of the audience!) and secrets are revealed before the stage is set for their performance of Verdi's Quartet from Rigoletto…

Another successful outing for the company who, after this run at the Swan Studio, will be taking it to Malvern Coach House from 11th to 13th April.

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26th - 30th March 2024
Malvern Theatres
The Glass Menagerie

⭐⭐⭐⭐ A modern take on a classic story

Although first premiered in 1944, Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie has been given a complete modern facelift for the current production by presenting it on a huge glossy circle with collections of small glass animals on its outer edge and, later, a mass of jonquils (daffodils) and candles. But the stand-out item on the stage is a huge neon sign indicating PARADISE which, for most of the play is revolving at different speeds. The scene is just about as far from actual Tennessee that you could imagine. 

There are 4 characters in this play. The mother Amanda Wingfield (Geraldine Somerville), son Tom (Kasper Hilton-Hille), daughter Laura (Natalie Kimmerling) and "gentleman caller" Jim O’Connor (Zacchaeus Kayode). The husband, whilst mentioned, has long since departed.

The mother regrets her position in life, having married a man who did not give her the Southern Belle lifestyle she might have expected since her husband just worked for a telephone company. Her son works in a local warehouse whilst her daughter, who is disabled, stays at home and is painfully shy and pretty much a recluse. Jim, on the other hand, is a fellow worker in the warehouse, known to both son and daughter, and it is he who brings some happiness, albeit temporary and fleeting, to the house.

The characters wander on, off and around the stage with a natural fluidity, unencumbered by anything on the set (there are just a few chairs and that is it - everything else is imagined). The Paradise sign refers to a nearby dance hall and it is dance that brings together Jim and Laura who finally loses her shyness and gets involved in a most beautifully-choreographed sequence, danced to Whitney Houston's One Moment In Time. 

This is one of the author's most personal stories, written a year after his sister had an ill-fated lobotomy which left her incapacitated for life. It is an example of a "memory play" (a term created by Williams) in which a lead character narrates the events of the play, which are drawn from the character's memory. And memories can, of course, be accurate or deceiving but always real to the person reflecting on past events.

The excellent acting and staging work together to bring a modern feel to a tale told through memories. 

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25th March 2024
Malvern Cinema
Seize Them!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A well-scripted comedy about a royal downfall…

Seize Them! is shortly to be released in cinemas but, thanks to the lovely people at Escapes in conjunction with the BFI and the National Lottery, it has been made available in local cinemas before the official release date.

It is a very British comedy with a host of well-known faces from the comedy circuit. 

Aimee Lou Wood plays Queen Dagan who sees her reign crumble along with her followers as the country decides that Humble Joan (Nicola Coughlan) best represents their future. Even her nearest companion Leofwine (Jessica Hynes) decides to jump ship and leave them. 

Somewhat annoyed at this lack of respect which has turned her into a fugitive in her own country, Queen Dagan sets off with erstwhile companion Shulmay (Ghosts' Lolly Adefope) to find a couple of hilarious Scandinavian rulers, King Ivarr (Paul Kaye) and King Guthrum (John Macmillan) somewhere on the coast, bumping into a naïve character called Bobik (wonderfully played by Nick Frost and whose "profession" leads to umpteen poo jokes!) who tags along with them. On the way, they meet a pots and pans seller, Felix (James Acaster). When Shulmay reveals the secret she has been hiding, this changes her relationship with the Queen dramatically. So will she ever regain her crown from the increasingly despotic Humble Joan…?

It is a pretty stellar cast of comics and a script to match - together they have turned out a really funny and well-made film, directed by Curtis Vowell.

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19th - 23rd March 2024
Malvern Theatres
The boy at the back of the class

⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A truly thought-provoking tale for our times presenting a different perspective

It is, it has to be said, quite unusual to have a play written and performed from the viewpoint of a a group of children but that is exactly what happens in Nick Ahad's adaptation of Onjali Q. Rauf's The Boy At The Back Of The Class. The story plays out on a simple but multi-functional set which represents, amongst other things, the sea, the classroom, a gymnasium and the gates of Buckingham Palace (!).

The class in question is a bunch of 9 year-olds who suddenly find themselves with an empty seat at the back of the class. This is to be where newly-arrived Ahmet, a "filthy refugee boy" according to the class bully Brendan (Joe McNamara), is to sit when their teacher introduces him. Ahmet is indeed a refugee, from Syria and speaks no English, only Kurdish. So it is down to the rest of the class to attempt to welcome him into this new world, always curious about his back story.

Fortunately, he has little Alexa (Sasha Desouza-Willock) on his side as she finds that she has some things in common with him, in spite of the language barrier. Along with her small group of friends, football is key to them all forming a bond and their decision to try and help him find his missing parents. To do this, they need a project and amusingly, when the exuberant American Tom (Gordon Millar) proposes the name "The A-Team", the rest complain, wanting something they at least have heard of as they are "only nine"! The name sticks, however, but the backing track to their activities is then Mission Impossible, leading to some very well-choreographed moves on stage. The football game with the invisible ball is equally as entertaining.

One surprising element is that whilst within the confines of the school, Ahmet's language remains impenetrable to the others, at the end of the first act, he comes to the front of the stage, breaking the fourth wall and declares to the audience "you understand me", cleverly making the audience part of the journey. From then on, his broken English allows his tale to be told to the class and at the start of the second act, half a dozen big drawings on stage tell his sad story.

Whilst the outcome of the story, involving none other than Queen Elizabeth II (voiced by Dame Vanessa Redgrave) may be somewhat unlikely, the route there is full of humour, pathos and kids-being-kids, making the audience genuinely care for his plight. Ahmet (superbly played by Farshid Rokey who himself hails from Afghanistan) presents a totally believable shy, fish out of water 9 year old whilst the rest of the kids have to unsurprisingly deal with adults who are not always sympathetic to their cause (but who ultimately get their comeuppance). In some cases, the same actors play both the children and the adults.

It is a story which resonates today perhaps even more strongly that when it was first written. It is a story which unashamedly presents a political issue directly to its young target audience and, whilst it make be criticised by some for doing that, it is only through their young, more innocent eyes, that the true horror of what innocent refugee children go through can be challenged and changed. A child is a child whatever his circumstances. Giving adults the opportunity to see what kids see may change their minds too.

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18th - 23rd Mar 2024
Alexandra Theatre
Peter Pan Goes Wrong

⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐ A brilliantly inventive comedy and a triumphant amateur production (!)

The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Company is proud to bring their new show "Peter Pan" to the Alexandra Theatre, promising a ride to Neverland like never before!

Which is exactly what the audience gets as the show, even before it starts, is a catalogue of mishaps of catastrophic proportions.

Fortunately this is the exact intention as if you caught Mischief Theatre's previous show "The Play That Goes Wrong" or their tv series "The Goes Wrong Show", now is the time to see them in action again as the favourite seasonal offering Peter Pan comes to town and, well, Goes Wrong!

Be warned though - the performance starts long before the show actually starts as the cast - mostly the "stage crew" - are out in the audience welcoming them, looking for a hammer and trying to get the stage lighting to work by passing a very, very long extension cable through the audience from the stage to a socket on the auditorium's back wall... You know immediately that this is not going to be a "normal" comedy. But then the clue is in the name. Oh, and it might just be your birthday…

The Cornley company depicted here is a mixed bunch of amateurs, from one (specifically Max) who only gets a part because of the family money which is funding it to Robert, who obviously aspires to far greater things than AmDram, from Dennis who relies on getting his cues and lines through a pair of large headphones (which inadvertently keep picking up radio stations and taxi calls) to Lucy who unfortunately suffers from stage fright and cannot say a word. And director Chris definitely does not see this as pantomime, even though the entire audience keeps on insisting that it is! And then there is Trevor, the Stage Manager, who really shouldn't be allowed to touch anything on stage… Every character has a strong back story to work with but of course they also need reliable and tough stage scenery, something which is definitely lacking here! 

The set itself is a three-scene revolving one which inevitably does not always perform as expected and the finale is a brilliantly-choreographed piece of absolute bedlam where it is truly surprising that no-one got injured. But then that is exactly what this very talented company do best - producing some very dodgy-looking and potentially dangerous scenery breakdowns with consummate ease and flying sequences which even experienced aerial acrobats would be proud of. 

Kudos too to the cast as the show had to be halted temporarily due to a (real) medical emergency in the circle and they had to pick up exactly where they had left off, in the middle of a particularly funny piece of pandemonium.

This is two hours of continuous laughter with so many things going on that it's amazing that they can keep up! And at the end, there was a standing ovation firstly for the amateur cast of the show, then the actors who played them and then the real stage crew who made it all possible.

Amateur theatre done as only the professionals can - brilliantly.

And everybody just loves Max!

Better still, Mischief will be back with more comedic capers from May 27th to 29th with their new show Mind Mangler.

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14th - 16th Mar 2024
Regal Theatre Tenbury
Dad's Army

⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐A fun and accurate recreation of the TV series

Jimmy Perry and David Croft's Dad's Army is a much-loved long-running BBC series which started in the good old days of black and white telly in 1968, ran for 9 years and is still repeated and getting good viewing figures in prime time. Sadly none of the main cast or the writers are with us any longer but their legacy lives on.

So if you are going to attempt a stage version and present it to a modern audience, it had better be good or it will be embarrassingly bad.

Fortunately, in the hands of the Regal Community Theatre, it is most definitely the former which, given the obviously smaller pool of local talent to choose from, is no mean feat.

Amazingly, when you first see the main cast on stage, you immediately know which character is which, even before a word is spoken. And once the show starts, the mannerisms, catchphrases, body language, etc are all perfectly replicated by the actors as they present Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson, Lance Corporal Jones and Privates Godfrey, Pike, Walker and Frazer across 3 different episodes from the TV series:
    The Deadly Attachment (or, in Friends-speak, The One With The "Don't tell him, Pike!")
    Mum's Army (The One With The New Recruits With Big Thighs)
    The Godiva Affair (The One With Bells On Their Legs And The Naked Body)

The most fun of these for the cast, and a big surprise for the audience, was the one where the actors burst onto the stage as a motley bunch of Morris Dancers leading up to a big shock for Captain Mainwaring... Hilarious!

By the time they take their curtain call, you suddenly realise just how many people were in the cast covering all the remaining characters, with plenty of others in essential background roles too. Tenbury Wells must be teeming with thespians and creatives!

So, 3 episodes under their belt which leaves another 77 to do. Based on this outing, they have a talented cast who must surely be up to the challenge!

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14th - 17th Mar 2024
Alexandra Theatre
Madagascar The Musical

⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐ The perfect colourful and funny show for the whole family

From a parallel universe where a zebra is a lion's best friend comes Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria (lion, zebra, giraffe and hippo respectively) and an assortment of other creatures in the crowd-pleasing Madagascar The Musical. The first creature to appear is a monkey who threatens to throw poo at anyone in the audience using a mobile phone - you have been warned!

Based on the popular film from 2005, the show which is produced by the Theatre Royal Plymouth is back at the Alex for a short 4-day run. 

It revolves around a reluctantly-located lion as the animals from the Central Park Zoo (most of the first half of the show) find themselves "going wild" on the island of Madagascar (second half) where they meet a pack of lemurs, led by King Julien XIII along with his adviser, Maurice the aye-aye. Add a bunch of pesky penguins trying to head back to their native Antarctica into the mix and you have a cast of creatures guaranteed to amuse and entertain both kids and adults alike.

Starting in the zoo to the theme of Born Free (something for the older members of the audience there!), these are animals who do not want to be where they are and it is Marty the zebra's 10th birthday wish to be freed. He gets his wish and the whole troupe find themselves boxed in on a boat going who knows where. San Diego Zoo is one suggested destination, but when Alex the meat-eater finds to his disgust that the food on offer consists of seaweed, things are not quite what he was hoping for…

Using a combination of full-suited characters and puppetry, the audience soon warmed to the characters on stage, clapping along to the music and forgetting the humans which are working the characters. One song in particular had them up and dancing - I Like To Move It, initiated by King Julien (brilliantly played by Connor Keetley) who himself had the audience in stitches when he spoke to the other animals and especially the lemurs, and a song which was equally as popular in the rousing finale.

The film (along with its sequels) is recent enough to still be in the memory of most people and this lively and colourful production brings it alive on stage.

One for the kids? Definitely!

One for the adults? Definitely!

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12th - 16th March 2024
Malvern Theatres
Oh What A Lovely War

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Oh what a lovely show!

"Oh what a lovely war" must be the most ironic title of any show. Developed by Joan Littlewood from a radio musical entitled "The Long Long Trail", it was first staged in 1963 and is anything but a straightforward look at the events leading up to and during the First World War. Indeed, such was Littlewood's reputation (already banned by the BBC and, as a Communist, was being tracked by MI5) that attempts were made to undermine the show. Using the antiquated 1943 Theatres Act, she was twice prosecuted and fined because the said Act did not permit "improvisation" simply because all scripts had to be vetted in advance by the Lord Chamberlain's Office. Littlewood's show used not only improvisation but also "pierrots" (a stock pantomime character) to represent the real people whom she despised in all sorts of costumes rather than depicting the actual people themselves in their military regalia (mocking in particular Lord Haig).

A 1969 film version featured a truly stellar cast which included Maggie Smith, Dirk Bogarde, John Gielgud, John Mills, Kenneth More, Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave and Ralph Richardson).

Blackeyed Theatre's  show starts as a somewhat immersive experience, with the cast (all musicians and actors) playing around on stage and in the auditorium (something always guaranteed to get the audience on board). Like a troupe of travelling troubadours, they proceed, through each taking many different roles, to retell the sorry and shocking story of "the war to end all wars", along with the futility of the enormous death toll and the arrogance and incompetence of the officers in charge.

All the music is played live on stage and covers many of the songs which will be familiar from that era (often standards with their lyrics changed to reflect the war) and the progress of more than 5 years of conflict is effectively displayed by projecting images and text on the back of the set, not only of the men and key locations such as the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele, but the shocking statistics of the death toll (usually very high at each encounter with the British Expeditionary Force being completely wiped out) and the advance made by the British each time (often none at all).

And yet, at the same time as all this horror, the jollity (or naivety) of the British remained unabashed with the audience at one point actively encouraged to sing along panto-style (yes, the song's lyrics were projected onto the stage!) to the near-impossibly difficult version of "Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts…"

The show incorporated a wide variety of skills and effects, usually in fairly short bursts as the actors moved from scenario to scenario (the "dance" routine being one of the funniest), though you had to concentrate on the script which was sometimes hard to follow (not helped when, for around 15 minutes, a really loud humming noise inexplicably came through the speakers) and some of the speech was, necessarily in German and French but overall, Blackeyed Theatre pulled off a very enjoyable (if that is the right word!) and inventive  version of Joan Littlewood's "musical entertainment", a show which, in the words of director Nicky Allpress, was unsurprisingly (having seen the end result) "a beast to rehearse" and which stayed just the right side of being over the top.

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8th March 2024
Malvern Theatres
BANFF

⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐ It's exhausting just watching them!

Back for another evening of "extreme" sports film, the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour this time has two separate programmes a couple of months apart. 

The "red" list was made up of 6 films ranging in length from 12 to 41 minutes and covering a wide range of topics. 

"Soundscape" gave a real insight into how you can pursue a love of adventure even after becoming blind as, with his companion helping him along, Erik Weihenmayer took on climbing The Incredible Hulk in California's Sierra Madre. It becomes clear just how much sound is important to him in understanding and enjoying this environment and challenge. Having said that, he has form given that he was the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 2001…

The longest of the films was entitled Chronoception, where a group of French skiers and snowboarders decided to take on the Tien Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan on the old Silk Road. Not an area that the audience will be familiar with, its stunning beauty (the landscape, people and music) hides difficult terrain to traverse whether on foot, horseback or in vehicles. The result though is a spectacular descent from the top of one of the highest untouched peaks though pure pristine snow and across hard ice shelves. They are not called the 'celestial mountains' for nothing.

Crosscountry featured Kilian Bron cycling ridiculously fast through some amazing scenery across North America, from Hawaii to Canadian forests via New York City, searching for thrills that only solo racing can give.

A change of pace with Sheri, which displays the talents of Sheri Tingey whose passion for design and innovation got her, at the age of 50, creating paddle boats, in conjunction with her son, which effectively changed the way the sport was viewed. She used to make all his school clothes, something which did not impress him at all!

Reel Rock: DNA was again a French film, this time with Seb Bouin attempting to climb what appears to be the impossible, the vertical walls of Verdon Gorge in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of Southeastern France. He does have an ace up his sleeve however - his mother, clearly sharing the same DNA and desire to climb and happy to spend weeks together to achieve their aims.

The final film was a very funny one. Pioneers: Tandem XC skiing. After an unfortunate "incident" which resulted in Joe Dubay being stripped of his first place in the US Birkbeiner race (because he wore his mate Chris's bib instead of his own - a bit harsh!), they both decide 10 years later to "bend the rules" and re-enter, this time as a couple on a single set of skis. Having checked first, of course, that it didn’t break the regulations - in fact, no-one had even tried it before. And the result was both hilarious and, ultimately, successful and no doubt has brought tandem skiing to the fore.

6 films best seen from the comfort of a cinema seat. Unless you are particularly adventurous, of course…

The "blue" programme will be at the Malvern Forum on Saturday 18th May at 7:30pm whilst the Ocean Film Festival World Tour will be in Malvern on Thursday, 24th October at 7:30pm

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5th - 9th Mar 2024
Alexandra Theatre
And then there were none

⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐ Classic Christie done in a clever and inventive way. Thoroughly engrossing throughout.

One isolated island. Eight "guests". Two waiting staff. No host present. So that's the "ten". But how to get to "none"…

These are the elements which are the basis of Agatha' Christie's best-selling novel "And then there were none". It is also her most parodied story which is in itself an indication of how much it is held in high esteem across the world. It is a little-concealed fact that the location of the story is one of her favourite places, Burgh Island off the Devon coast (renamed here Soldier Island and pushed rather further out to sea), a haunt where she also took advantage of this Art Deco modernist retreat to write Evil Under The Sun. The book itself has various other names before Christie settled on this one - based around ten little soldier statues representing the ten characters, it was previously "Ten Little Indians" and before that something which we cannot mention these days…

A book where the characters can be developed over time is one thing but a stage play of just over two hours is something completely different, needing to convey the claustrophobic and threatening atmosphere quickly and successfully to win over the audience. And as each of these apparently randomly-selected guests has a back story, this needs to be conveyed as well. The clever stage design allows both aspects to be enacted and whilst it takes a while for the guests (unlike the audience) to realise their killer probably walks amongst them, this just adds to the intensity as their numbers reduce. The deaths are pretty varied - poison (one of Christie's favourite methods of demise, having a great knowledge of the propensity of various poisons to cause death), stabbing, a bee sting - all following the pattern determined by an old rhyme of which they are all aware. For example, this rather strange one (which at least explains what we first see on stage on entering the auditorium): "Three little Soldier Boys walking in the zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were two". So they know what the next fate will be but not who will succumb to it.

The characters cover a wide range of professions:  Mr Justice Wargrave, a retired criminal judge (David Yelland), William Blore, a former police inspector (Andrew Lancel, who gives us most of the humour in the play) , General Mackenzie (Jeffery Kissoon),  Philip Lombard, a soldier of fortune (Joseph Beattie), Emily Brent, an elderly pious spinster (Katy Stephens), Vera Claythorne, a secretary for the absent hosts (Sophie Walter), Doctor Armstrong (Bob Barrett), Anthony Marston (Oliver Clayton), the caretakers Georgina Rogers and Jane Pinchbeck (Lucy Tregear and Nicola May-Taylor). Then there is Fred Narracott, the delivery man (Matt Weyland). 

Behind a gauze curtain, the reason for them being there is also revealed as we learn about their history as diverse as operating on a patient whilst drunk or the result of becoming pregnant out of wedlock. And the culmination of this killing spree is done in an incredibly dynamic and unsettling way. Definitely an ending which will haunt you for years to come…

Take your pick as to who might be the culprit. Only to find that your choice of killer is the next one to meet their maker! So who's left after all this carnage? Without giving too much away, the clue is in the title…

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4th - 9th March 2024
Malvern Theatres
Twelve Angry Men

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Totally riveting and compelling to watch

The concept is simple. Twelve men sitting around a table discussing the fate of a young suspected killer. This may not sound particularly exciting. But wait. These are twelve angry men and over the course of the show, their anger proves to be absolutely riveting.

Twelve Angry Men starts out with what appears to be a clear-cut case of familial homicide. According to the trial, the boy was seen and heard stabbing his father. So the Twelve, from different walks of life like any jury, could potentially come to a quick unanimous decision and send the boy to the electric chair. But one Juror (none of them have names) has his doubts - not saying the boy is either guilty or innocent but questioning everything - and this definitely puts the cat amongst the pigeons as slowly but surely the absolute conviction of the other jurors begins to be questioned. There are, in particular, three jurors who are especially angry and heavily prejudiced - Juror 3 (played by Tristan Gemmill), 7 (Michael Greco) and 10 (Gray O'Brien) who are all in stark contrast to the always calm, never ruffled Juror 8 (Jason Merrells). Ben Nealon and Gary Webster are amongst the others whose attitudes begin to be questioned, the others being played by Paul Beech, Samarge Hamilton, Mark Heenehan, Kenneth Jay, Paul Lavers and Owen Oldroyd with Jeffery Harmer as the Guard.

The play, which was originally created for television in 1954 before being rapidly adapted for stage and film, was written by Reginald Rose and it is cleverly situated in a hot stuffy room with no ventilation, guaranteed to create frayed tempers and bring out the worst in people. Casual racism, bullying and a desire to be anywhere but there are all present. And as the temperature rises, the insults and physical abuse get worse. The audience is left wondering if under these circumstances, a unanimous verdict can ever be achieved, so strong are the convictions of those who see the electric chair as the only outcome.

The acting is powerful and believable (with all having to portray Americans) with the individual characteristics ranging from quiet and questioning to bombastic and abusive, all perfectly portrayed. 

The activities of a typical jury, necessarily secretive, are more or less unknown to the public, except through plays like this. Coincidentally, Channel 4's recent series The Jury: Murder Trial brought the jury system into close focus with a reconstructed murder trial deliberated over by not one but two separate juries. Many of the characteristics and attitudes shown in Twelve Angry Men are obviously still present in today's society…

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23rd Feb - 2nd Mar 2024
Alexandra Theatre
An Officer and a Gentleman

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A great 1980s soundtrack telling the well-loved story of Zack and Paula

Very often, when a show is a "jukebox" type presentation, it revolves around a range of songs with a story concocted to link them together. In the case of "An Officer and a Gentleman", it is the other way round. We already know the story from the 1982 film starring Richard Gere, Debra Winger and Louis Gossett Jr. And it had its own soundtrack - most famously including "Up where we belong". That soundtrack has, apart from that particular song, been jettisoned for a more extensive range of music from the 1980's and so starts with the appropriately-retitled hit from Status Quo, "In the army now" - with "navy" replacing "army".

The locations do, however, remain the same. Pensacola, Florida and its Naval Aviation Training Facility and a nearby paper factory, full of girls looking to find a way out by way of meeting sailors. Into the former comes Zack Mayo (Luke Baker) wanting to be a navy jet fighter who, on a night out off base, meets Paula Pokrifki (Georgia Lennon). Another pairing involves Sid Worley (Paul French) and Lynette Pomeroy (Sinead Long). These two couples form the love interest of the show whilst the hand of Zack's father Byron (Tim Rogers), an alcoholic womaniser - and US Navy petty officer - is never far away nor is the guy charged with booting out those who will not make the grade, Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (Jamal Crawford). The one female hopeful is Casey Seegar (Olivia Foster-Browne) who, petite and feisty as she is, has a real battle on her hands.

And so to the music in this version. Luckily, there is a rich seam of well-known tracks to take advantage of (thankfully consigning "Tie a yellow ribbon" which was in the film to the bin!), ranging from "This is a Man's Man's Man's world", "Working for the weekend", "Girls Just wanna have fun", "Material Girl", "St Elmo's fire", "When the going gets tough", "The Final Countdown"… As the show progresses, it becomes clear that the song list has been carefully curated to reflect and tell the story itself, most surprisingly perhaps with the inclusion of the Mike Oldfield-penned "Family Man" (a hit for Hall & Oates) which perfectly explained the situation in the scene where Sid is desperate and can take no more… The singing throughout was strong and clear.

There is no big star name carrying the show - instead it is down to the talents of the two dozen actors and live band (sadly hidden under the stage!) and they certainly do a superb and convincing job (American accents maintained through and, as this is the navy, some extensive exercises on stage too). Judging by the rapturous reaction at the end, the cast and producers need not fear that the show is missing a star attraction to pull in the audiences as when word gets around, they are pretty much guaranteed a successful and enjoyable run in 2024, one which kicked off in Birmingham. 

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21st - 24th Feb 2024
Cobham Theatre Bromsgrove
Rent

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Beautifully staged, sung and acted version of a show with a real message

Rent is a musical written by Jonathan Larson and set firmly in the late 1980's but based loosely on the much older La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini. In Rent, it involves a group of impoverished young artists and miscreants who are struggling to survive in a rundown building in Lower Manhattan's East Village. Paying the rent is, to some extent, the least of their worries as they are also living in the spectre of a city hit by HIV/AIDS with the show enacting exactly one year in the lives, hopes and dreams from Christmas Eve to Christmas Eve.

Very much an ensemble piece, the show lends itself equally to some strong duets as the inhabitants live out their fractured lives and this production, by Dynamik Theatre at the Cobham Theatre in Bromsgrove, certainly makes the most of that aspect, given that the stage itself is necessarily a fairly bleak construction of scaffolding. The main protagonists are Mark (Aaron Gibson), a buddy cinematographer and the storyteller here and his pal Roger (Jack Higgins), a struggling musician. There is also Angel (Jaii Andrew), a drag artist who befriends an injured Tom (Ed Blann) as well as Maureen (Steph Westwood), Mimi (Yasmeen Shaaban) and Joanne (Ellie Creedon). The villain of the piece is Benny (Robbie Love) who owns the building. All get to sing either individually, in pairs or as an ensemble. Two songs really stand out in this, either side of the interval. Closing Act 1 is La Vie Bohème and opening Act 2 (and used as a refrain elsewhere in the act) is the beautiful (and beautifully sung) Seasons Of Love (525,600 minutes…)

The show is quite unusual in that there is virtually no spoken dialogue (other than a few telephone calls and Mark's telling of events). Everything is set to music, even conversations between two people and it is to the company's credit that they have got together a superb 6-piece band (somewhat hidden away unfortunately) as they have to play almost continuously for the 2 hours+ of the show and do so brilliantly. A live band can inevitably transform a musical into something spectacular.

No programme or cast bios were available so it is not clear how the actors were chosen or what their previous experience is. That said, it is a very talented group who gelled well on stage with strong singing whether solo or as a group, which bring the story (which does inevitably contain some adult themes) to life.

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19th - 24th Feb 2024
Malvern Theatres
Murder In The Dark

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A clever script and a rich vein of humour make for one fun show 

A good thriller/chiller/ghost story needs a rich seam of humour running through it as well and that is certainly the case for Murder In The Dark by Torben Betts. It also needs a great cast to carry it off, of course and in this production, it is down to the ever popular Tom Chambers and Susie Blake. Whilst Tom Chambers can successfully flit between straight acting and musicals (Top Hat, for example), Susie Blake has a CV in drama and comedy as long as your arm, perhaps best known as the sweet but acid-tongued continuity announcer in Victoria Wood's TV shows. And it is exactly that type of persona which is present here - a quiet, unassuming overly religious widowed farmer(!) who clearly, with a twinkle in her eye, has the hots for the unexpected visitor who, as in all the best stories, is a washed-up pop star, has crashed his car, been stranded in a snowdrift 20 miles from the nearest village and ends up on the widow's farm in an outhouse with a faulty electrical system which suddenly turns on the TV to play 3 Blind Mice…

To say much more would be to give away the plot (the audience is sworn to secrecy…) and that would be unfair as there is plenty to be revealed during the show until the surprising climax. Other characters appear in the show - family members mostly, including Rebecca Charles as the ex-wife, Jonny Green as the abandoned son, Owen Oakeshott as the big brother and Laura White as his current girlfriend. Is all as it seems though?

Director Philip Franks has taken a great script and, with Simon Kenny and Max Pappenheim (designers) created a creepy set and weaved in some effective special effects to produce a show which manages to keep the right balance of scary and humour.

Dark, twisted and very funny - totally enjoyable and best experienced in person…

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16th Feb 2024
Swan Theatre
Beauty and the Big Beast

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Another very naughty "big" show, pulled off with ease - exactly what the audience expects! 

It hardly seems a few weeks since the last "traditional" panto but it is already time for an increasingly popular "adult" version. This time from Hitchin's Market Theatre who now have a good track record of such pantos, having visited Worcester a number of times. Indeed, the fact that the show is now getting capacity audiences at the Swan speaks volumes about how enjoyable this evening has become.

Adult panto is a phenomenon that even normal pantos are latching onto, seeing the opportunity to dedicate at least one of their performances to an adult-only show by stripping out the child-friendly gags. However, this one is written from the start to be for adult audiences but based, of course, on a traditional panto storyline, in this case "Beauty and the Beast" in doing so becoming "Beauty and the Big Beast". No prizes for guessing that the "big" refers to!

As anyone who has seen their previous shows (and apparently for many in the audience, this was their first time), there is an initial check on the audience to see how low the bar is in Worcester. Pretty low as expected as Nick Hooton pounces on the front row with Trish and Sue (just "good friends") are chosen to represent the city's level of depravity along with a couple of other victims. They take it all in their stride which is lucky as their names will be mentioned dozens of times in all sorts of contexts throughout the show!

Nick is one of three cast members, ably assisted by regulars Jemma Carlisle and Eleanor Pead, and their characters range from Prince Cockalot and Countess Cumming to Gagon Bellend and the oh-so-innocent sounding (but absolutely not!) John Thomas… and those are just the ones that can be mentioned in print! In charge of all the special effects, sound and lighting is tour director and general good guy, Glyn.

With the usual minimalist set (mainly just doors to be used for entrances and exits - when they can find the key), there are nonetheless plenty of costume changes, one of these being the funniest part of the show where they all appear as male country bumpkins, all a bit thick, leading to an extended session of very funny wordplay (and if that all went wrong, the audience would probably not notice anyway!).

The audience loved the show (even if we only had to shout Get Off! at various intervals) and those for whom it was the first time, will no doubt be leaving their adult panto virgin status behind them and joining in next year's show, which is… well, you will have wait and see but it just might apparently involve a big green plant!

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14th - 15th Feb 2024
Malvern Theatres
Death(s) At Sea

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Your classic "play goes wrong" show written and performed by local actors 

It was unfortunately one of the early casualties of Covid but now, finally, the Good Ship with no name finally sets sail into choppy waters which enable us to enjoy Death(s) At Sea. Coming from the local Our Star Theatre Company, this is billed as Sea, Sailors & Seriously Bad Acting! but before you get the wrong idea, the five actors from the company are playing the characters in a (decidedly!) amateur company which is putting on the play where one character is already dead before the show starts. This amateur company's name may give a clue as to their level of competence. They are the Chadburn Repertory Amateur Players…

There are some familiar faces in the show. Daniel Davis plays Michael who plays Professor Brooks, Ava Weetman plays Amy who plays Irene Throrn and Eleanor Catherine Smart who wrote the comedy also plays Hannah who plays Audrey Kettle (and who, in spite of scripting the show, ends up reading her character's lines from just about every prop and surface imaginable). New to the company for this show are Ricardo Alexander who plays Steve who plays Captain Carnaby (and an increasing number of other hilarious characters as the death toll mounts…) and George Cooper who plays Adam who plays Lord Dindigul and who, I am sure, will be auditioning for a certain part in the upcoming summer production of Fiddler on the Roof.

So the scene is set for a comedy where things go wrong. Microphones are left live, giving us an insight into what the actors really think of each other when talking backstage, animosity which also spills out on the stage. A sound and lighting director who fails to keep to his cues (ironically Our Star's own director Ben Mowbray!). Props that fail to perform on demand. And characters who cannot tell the difference between a bottle of gin and a bottle of poison. The animosity between the actors also spills out on the stage so we know what they really think of each other… But who out of these varied maniacal characters stuck on board a rudderless ship has the cause to be a murderer? All will be revealed…

This was the premiere of the show and, as far as can be ascertained from the viewpoint of an audience member, everything went as planned and things that should have gone wrong did go wrong. There is one more performance in Malvern before the show sets off around the country, including a stop at this year's Edinburgh Fringe.

And the joint production of Fiddler on the Roof as a Community Musical runs from 24th to 27th July

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13th - 17th Feb 2024
Malvern Theatres
The Circle

⭐⭐⭐⭐ A century old and still a classy play

From the pen of William Somerset Maugham comes The Circle, a play which was both written in 1921 and, in this production from Orange Tree Theatre, is set in the same year. It therefore remains, very deliberately, a period piece, with characters and a set to match and mentions of things such as the "Federated Malay States". Elegantly-dressed men and woman on a stage which is, to be honest, made up of plenty of chairs and a few tables plus a couple of doors to enter and exit from. 

So far, so simple, so classical. Add the talented cast and you have a play which, whilst a century old, still amuses and comes up with some surprises centred around attitudes of the time. Heading the cast is Jane Asher, resplendent in her gowns and bright copper red hair as Lady Catherine "Kitty" Champion-Cheney with Clive Francis as her estranged husband, Clive. The result of this marriage was Arnold, an MP, played by Pete Ashmore but sadly he drew the short straw when it came to relationships with his parents who he has not seen for decades whilst appearing to have followed them in the wedding stakes by marrying Elizabeth (Olivia Vinall) who now wants out.

She has fallen for the charms of Teddie Luton (Daniel Burke) in much the same way that Kitty fell for Lord Hughie Porteous (superbly played by Nicholas Le Prevost making the most of a character who has the best and funniest lines in the show, especially regarding dentures(!) and has some tender moments with Kitty). But whereas Kitty and Clive are "on a break" so to speak, divorce being out of the question, especially since her conversion to Catholicism, divorce is exactly what Elizabeth wants from Arnold. Arnold, on the other hand, seeing his status as an MP being irreparably damaged by such an action, is rather more reticent…

The cast is completed by a few appearances from Robert Maskell as a butler who, in saying little, speaks volumes.

Marriage must have been a curious beast to Somerset Maugham - despite marrying twice and fathering a daughter, he was gay and led a double life with a younger man Gerald Haxton which began before and ended after his period of marriage, a risky approach at the time. Creating a play of which the main thrust was dealing with two heterosexual couples who would obviously benefit from divorce themselves was probably a therapeutic experience for the writer as well as allowing him to continue a "respectable" life as a married man himself.

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6th - 10th February 2024
Alexandra Theatre
The Woman In Black

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A shockingly good edge-of-your-seat ghost story!

With its roots very much anchored in the North East (written by Scarborough-born Susan (now Dame Susan) Hill and premiering at Alan Ayckbourne's Stephen Joseph Theatre in the town back in 1987), The Woman In Black has been a remarkable and deservedly successful chilling piece of theatre. Once the idea had come about of adapting the original book as an inex