Director: Kevin Shippey
Vocal Coach: Josh Shippey
Choreographer: Danielle Beare
Date seen: Thursday December 22nd 2016
It is a cliché I know but, as I took my seat in the magical Angles Theatre, I could not believe another year had passed. 12 months ago to the day I was here for ‘The Snow Queen’ and here I was, not so Slim Shady, back, back again for ‘Aladdin’. My seat on the front row felt dangerously vulnerable, so excitement was tinged with trepidation as I convinced myself I was ready for anything!
No need to recap the story, you would have to be a Tibetan hermit not to be familiar with it. The set (design by Kerry Shippey and built by Phil Griggs, John Fletcher, Bob Kinnersley and Gary Johnson with scenic artistry by legendary Bob Ledger) was bang on as usual. Technical Design (Rob Williams) could not be faulted and that inspiration was brought to life by the sound and lighting operators (Mathilde Tranter and Jacob Gowler). Costumes (Gay Hoyle , Val Greig, Amy Milligan, Rosie Turley and Heidi Faulkner) were brilliant, with complimentary wigs and make up (Kerry Shippey and Jema Seekings) adding greatly to the spectacle. Incidental props (Linda Brittin) were plentiful and did everything they needed to do.
The chorus was sensibly proportioned and in the younger age range. They were well drilled and there was no shortage of enthusiasm from any of them as they were given plenty to do through the proceedings. The dedicated dance troupe featured Ellen Thrasher, Chloe Johnson, Kate Filart, Kala Amor, Phoebe Follen, Chelsea Handley, Eva Crofts and Louise Chaplain and they too had plenty to deliver during the production. This they did with control and some considerable style aided, in no small part to some excellent choreography from Danielle Beare.
In the supporting roles I loved Chloe Johnson and Lily Bailey as the Narrators and Chelsea Handley as the Vizier with a superb performance from Ellen Thrasher as the Slave of the Ring. The comic leads of Hu (Daniel Pease) and Mi (Molly Ashman) were excellent, with nice use of the “who and me” running gag. Rheanon Hanks was in good form as lady-in-waiting and secondary love interest, So Shi.
In the more prominent parts, you could not fault the incredibly talented Eden Carver as the Princess Jasmine, who brought credibility and a lovely singing voice to the part. I was (once again) captivated by the enchanting Kate Filart as The Genie of the Lamp. No 16 stone bruiser in this Panto, but a young lady (17 I was told) who could easily get a half-fare on the X1 to King’s Lynn even during daylight hours. Miss Filart is a performer with enormous potential and the characterisation she delivered was perfect for this part. Using her face at all times she was difficult not to watch even when she was not the main focus on stage.
Matt Beare is a fantastic performer, especially in pantomime and in this production he worked tirelessly. It has to be said that the script gave him very little and he was under-used in a production that would have benefited from more laughs. Having said that, he found humour at every opportunity and the audience loved him as much as I did. Thank goodness for Josh Shippey in the title role of Aladdin. One of the best comic actors in the area and perfectly teamed with Mr Beare to find all the available laughs. Mr Shippey also has the most incredible singing voice which I would have liked to have heard more often. It has to be noted that just like Mr Beare, the audience were completely behind Mr Shippey Junior, enjoying everything he did. It was indeed an interesting piece of casting putting Lorraine Carver in as Abanazar. Mrs Carver was simply outstanding - oozing evil from every pore and soliciting the correct amount of boo and hiss at every entrance and exit. It’s always a pleasure to see Kevin Shippey doing dame. A wonderful sense of the absurd and an ability to work an audience like no other. Mercifully, he left me alone this year picking instead on a gentleman further along the row to great effect and the audience’s amusement.
The quality of the performers was universally good in this production but there was one relatively insignificant cameo part that simply took my breath away. The part of the Emperor is not really a starring role, but, when the actor playing that role is Billy Garner, you just can’t overlook him. It was a masterclass in character acting, comedy manipulation and stage presence that I will not forget in a hurry. My only question remains as it did after Avenue Q, how is this guy not a professional? Mr Garner, penultimate paragraph honours are yours, and well deserved!
My compliments to Director, Kevin Shippey for getting the best out of another disappointing script. The audience loved it, that was certain and it is for families after all. Maybe it’s just me but the danger and unpredictability of Shippey, Shippey and Beare continues to diminish year on year which is a shame. Having said that this is still the area’s benchmark pantomime and my congratulations go to all concerned for kicking off my marathon pantomime tour with a winner.
Stephen P E Hayter
(Regional Representative – NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
ROCK OF AGES
Directors: Kevin Shippey and Emma Small
Musical director: Mark Checkley
Date seen: Thursday October 20th 2016
It is a strange phenomenon that the very thought of going to see an amateur production of ‘Oklahoma’ or ‘Oliver’ seems like a massive retrograde step or perhaps even a step into the past. The huge influx of new titles available to amateur groups means that, rather than the aforementioned classics, you are far more likely to see a ‘One Man Two Guvnor’s’, a ‘Legally Blonde’ or, as was the case on this occasion, the latest new release, ‘Rock Of Ages’. I had seen a production of this piece of 80’s Americana only three weeks ago and failed to really connect. As I took my seat at The Angles Theatre, I was hopeful that the RATz massive could engage me more thoroughly.
Chris D’Arienzo’s nostalgic juke box extravaganza ran for 2,328 performances on Broadway (the 27th longest recorded run) but barely managed 2 years on the West End. The 2012 film version received a luke-warm response in the UK and I had already started to wonder if the subject matter resonated with British audiences. The story is simple, even by musical standards, and is set in Hollywood in 1987. Lonny Barnett and Dennis Dupree run the Bourbon Lounge, a safe haven for 80’s vintage Rock. Amongst the odd assortment of employees are cleaner and aspiring rock singer, Drew Boley and newly arrived singer, Sherrie Christian. They fall in love, but wait …. spaced out Rock legend, Stacee Jaxx, European property developers Hertz Klinemann and his son Franz all conspire to reduce the (inevitably high) chances of a happy ending. Throw in protester Regina Hoontz and a secondary love tangle and …… well anything is possible.
The set (design by Kerry Shippey, construction by Phil Griggs, John Fletcher, Aaron Pett and Gary Johnson and scenic artistry by the legendary Bob Ledger) was right back to the standard I have come to expect from this group. Lighting (design by Rob Williams and execution by Jonathon Salmon) was undeniably “Stadium Tour” which suited proceedings perfectly. Sound (design by Rob Williams) was expertly balanced, exactly the right volume and, with the exception of rogue microphone malfunctions in the first 10 minutes, accomplished all its objectives. Costumes (Kerry Shippey. Lenner Mockford and Bernie Ward) were quite simply perfection with complimentary wigs that were never less than stunning. Incidental props (Linda Brittin and Karl Brittin) were plentiful with a stuffed Llama grabbing the headlines (don’t ask !)
Most of the ensemble in any RATz cast can sing, and with outstanding work from Vocal Coach, Emma Small and petite, but perfectly formed choreography from Laura-Jayne Shippey and Danielle Beare, the chorus and dancers (Danielle Beare, Conan Nichols, Rebecca Philips-Bartlett, Amy Milligan, Kate Filart, Chloe Johnson and Sheree May) did a fine job throughout with some really raunchy routines.
In the supporting roles, I enjoyed Kate Filart as Waitress Number One, Eden Carver as Constance and James Wetherall who was omnipresent as The Mayor, The Father and The Producer. Also doing a good shift were Ewan McConnachie as JA’Keith Gill and Joey Primo, and Lorraine Carver who was perfectly within her range as the Mother and more prominently, Justice Charlier. Conan Nicholas was on top form stealing the show as Candi (in drag) with a standard of dirty dancing that put some of the girls to shame! Sadly Mr Nicholas was upstaged right at the end by another Candie (this time with the additional e) who stole everyone’s hearts as the little dog in formal wear!
In the more substantial roles, Red Vaughan was excellent as devoted son and developer, Franz Klineman, with the very talented Rob Newton really giving a masterclass in character acting as his father and evil developer, Hertz, who finds ultimate redemption. This was not supposed to be a pivotal character but I can’t understate how Mr Newton’s performance elevated the part! Emma Small never lets you down and guess what… she was amazing as protester and idealist, Regina Hoontz, using her remarkable singing voice to really sell the part. Jamie Cook is such a nice guy and he seems to improve with each performance he does. A pretty fair actor and not a bad singer, he was well cast as sex symbol, rock legend, Stacee Jaxx, getting his fair share of the laughs along the way.
A young lady who never turns in a duff performance is Laura-Jayne Shippey who played the female romantic lead, Sherrie Christian, alongside Steve Yates as singer-songwriter and toilet cleaner, Drew. They both have incredible voices and the relationship was also totally believable. The characters are very 2 dimensional in what is an entirely surreal piece and so there wasn’t much for them to get their teeth into. However, what they found, and what they turned it into was brilliant.
Let’s be honest, it’s never easy to have father and son play best friends who become gay lovers …. and not surprisingly Kevin Shippey as Dennis Dupree and Josh Shippey as Lonny resisted the temptation to kiss at that …. pivotal moment! I have to say, Mr Shippey and Mr Shippey Jnr were both on top of their games with Josh taking the lion’s share of penultimate paragraph honours with a virtuoso performance that helped me understand better and appreciate more the story that he (and the cast) were telling. He sings like a pro and has a comic timing I would kill for! In addition, when Rock of Ages turned to Pantomime (which was quite often) he could work the audience with ease.
I am still not convinced that Rock of Ages is a masterpiece. It is fairly silly and not outrageously funny. But the songs I did know were like old friends and, just like the previous production I had seen, hearing ‘Believe’ by Journey was worth the ticket price on its own. The production was slick and everyone knew what they were doing and Directors Kevin Shippey and Emma Small should be pleased with what they have achieved. Musical Director Mark A J Checkley and his four- piece combo delivered a fantastically rich Rock sound, capturing without exception the spirit of every classic song. It wasn’t Les Mis, but I had a swell time watching good friends not taking themselves too seriously.
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM
Director: Emlyn Moment
Date seen: Friday September 22nd 2015
There is always something of the pioneering spirit associated with The Right Angle Theatre Company (RATz). They attempt niche shows that no one else would even consider and they grab with both hands any and all new releases as soon as they become available. Such was the case this night as I took my seat at The Angles Theatre, Wisbech for David Wood’s adaptation of the Michelle Magorian novel, Goodnight Mister Tom.
This title will perhaps always be best remembered for the outstanding television film of 1998 staring John Thaw as Tom Oakley, but David Wood’s stage play continues to tour, with a countrywide outing only this year. The story revolves around a reclusive old widower who is persuaded to take in a shy and vulnerable evacuee called William Beech. The emotional journey they take together changes them both, and through a mixture of joy and sadness sees them forever united. It really is a charming tale that is both tragic and uplifting.
The set (John Fletcher, Gary Johnson, David Warnes and Aaron Petts) fell a little short of what I have come to expect at this venue. Although every piece of the scenery had to double or treble to cover the large number of locations. Incidental props (Christopher Moment) did all they needed to do and costumes (Rosie Turley and Geraldine Moment) caused me no offense at all. I would just say that young Jonathan Harding would probably have been grateful for a pair of boots that were easier to get in to! Lighting (Jonathan Salmon and Rob Williams) and sound (Matilde Tranter and Rob Williams) did all they needed to and managed it without incident.
In the supporting cast (youth element) I enjoyed Clodagh Williams as Carrie and Zara Walden as Ginnie with a strong showing from Aiden Cook as George, with the three of them making up three of the other four evacuees in the village. The fourth of the troop, being Zach, played magnificently by irrepressible Daniel Pease, who all but stole the show right up to his tragic death in an air-raid back in London.
The adult supporting cast called for a lot of multiple parts and I enjoyed Chloe Johnson as Mrs Hartridge and a Nurse, Ellen Thrasher as Mrs Fletcher and the Sister, Rebecca Phillips-Bartlett as the Billeting Officer, Glad, and a Social Officer and Lewis Barnard as … well … everyone else!
Taking the slightly more prominent parts, there were two superb characterisations from ever-improving Neil Staveley as Thorne and Mr Miller, and a wonderful piece of diverse character acting from Christopher Moment as Sammy (the puppet dog) and the delightful Vicar. The puppet for Sammy was excellent and the way Mr Moment handled him made it difficult to watch anyone, or anything else. Alison Shippey seems to be becoming something of a regular at this venue once again, and she was in fine form as William Beech’s bullying and depressed mother who was as close as this piece came to a villain. Her presentation of a dangerous schizophrenic was both moving and chilling. RATz Senior Management were mortified when I pointed out her omission from the programme, an oversight quickly corrected for the rest of the run. One of the many performers I always enjoy watching at this venue is James Wetherall who, alongside his cameo as an ARP Warden, did an amazing job in bringing to life the local medic Dr Little. A brilliant piece of casting had Mr Wetherall playing perfectly within his range where he offered a delicate but compelling piece of quality acting.
I believe I have seen Jonathan Harding here before but it must have been in a small role as I didn’t immediately recognise him. Another example of perfect casting saw him playing the abused and introvert evacuee, William Beech. Mr Harding didn’t look like the most experienced performer on the stage but he was solid with his lines and showed some true professionalism as he wrestled with his boot for three pages of dialogue. A delightful performance and someone to watch for the future.
Penultimate paragraph honours could only go one way and that was in the direction of Bob Ledger as curmudgeonly old man of the country, Mister Tom Oakley. Mr Ledger, who is best known to me as the creator and decorator of many wonderful sets and pieces of scenery, turned out to be quite an accomplished actor. Comfortable in his character and confident with his lines I left Wisbech unable to think of any other amateur performer I would have preferred in the role. I only have the John Thaw characterisation for comparison but I did note that the films description of Mister Tom as an “aging recluse with a stony heart” did not fit with Mr Ledger’s/Mr Moment’s interpretation and the key redemption of the character was not as obvious as I had remembered.
It is always important when reading one of my reviews to understand the difference between my thoughts (and they are, as always, just my thoughts) on the play, and on the performance. Some of the criticisms I have could well be attributed to the play itself and not to the performance and there were several things I didn’t like. The first half was long .. and more importantly it felt long. The dialogue was sparse and I was fidgety by the time the interval came along. Bob Ledger’s beautifully measured and thoughtful delivery looked perfect to me so perhaps it was the script that dragged. Also, it felt a lot like opening night, which of course it was. It wasn’t untidy exactly, but it wasn’t crisp either. I don’t know if it really was the case but I had a feeling things may have come together late. I am however completely confident that each subsequent performance would have shown rapid improvement and I would like to have seen it again on the Saturday. My compliments as ever to Director, Emlyn Moment for a piece of theatre he should be very proud of.
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
RATz Summer Musical Challenge
THE FORBIDDEN PLANET
Workshop leader: Emlyn Moment
Choreographer: Cynthia Maxey
Musical Director: Marie Cunningham
Date seen: Friday 19th August 2016
It was that time again! The time of year when fearless Emlyn Moment and a dedicated team of enthusiasts attempt to cast, rehearse and perform a full musical production in under two weeks. This may be my third RATz Summer Challenge, but my appreciation for this incredible achievement has not diminished one jot. All of this year’s predecessors have stood on their own without any apologies for the limited timescale, and for the second year running, the title was one I have never seen on stage before. And so, with the froth of my pre-show Peroni still moist upon my lips (thank you John) I took my seat for Bob Carlton’s ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’.
In line with last year’s ‘Summer Holiday’, I was very familiar with the film of very nearly the same name but, I can report, after that title there were very few similarities. The story (largely irrelevant as usual) was consistent with the source material and involved Scientific Survey Flight Nine and its unexpectedly altered destination at the hands of a violent Asteroid storm. They fetch up on an unknown planet where they discover a mad scientist, his daughter and a robot called Ariel. The scientific officer on Flight Nine turns out to be the mad scientists wife and …… I have seen the film, read the plot summary and now seen the show and it makes little sense to me … and it really didn’t need to. What was important was that the stylised dialogue was in “Fakespeare”, Iambic Pentameter in the style of the Bard but with the words of the characters. Very clever and a nightmare to learn at any time but especially in such a short time!
The scenery (uncredited) was minimalist and a lot was required from the computer- generated projections. Lighting (Jacob Gowler) and sound (Robert Williams) caused me no offence whatsoever and Stage Manager, Christopher Moment had everything in hand at least as far as I could tell. Costumes (Gay Hoyle, Geraldine Moment and Rosie Turley) were excellent and the complementary hair (Cyn Maxey) and make up (cast) did all they needed to do. Incidental props were … incidental and they were all overshadowed by the impressive 360 degree space monster that surrounded the auditorium at the end of act one.
This was a smaller cast than in the past, and may even have been fewer than ‘Summer Holiday’ and this probably had much to do with the parts that this production contained. The Chorus (Lily Northrop, Dolly Deyna-Haywood, Chloe Stokes, Roisin Larham) were well drilled, very focused and never stopped acting no matter what nonsense was going on front and centre. So many of the younger faces were new to me but they worked incredibly hard throughout.
In the supporting roles, I enjoyed Navigation Officers Ella Northrop and Bridie Fraser with Miss Fraser particularly I enjoyed every line she delivered. The two Bosun’s (can you see what they did here?) Lauren Cook and Michaela Matthew both impressed me greatly for completely different reasons and collectively underpinning the entire premise on which Director Emlyn Moment bases this exercise. Miss Matthew looked at all times like an old hand and was confident and compelling throughout. Miss Cook, who just seemed to be having the time of her life, looked like she may have been on stage for the first time. She worked tirelessly to keep up with her partner and I sincerely hope she has caught that old am-dram bug and goes on to get better and better.
In the more prominent roles, I felt so sorry for Aiden Cook as Ariel the robot. The temperature in the theatre was about the same as the core of the sun and he was in an all-embracing robot suit. To his eternal credit he did a great job and managed not to pass out! I was fascinated by young (I can only guess how young) Catherine Adams who got the job as daughter, Miranda. The character called for a femme fatale and with (I suspect) limited experience of captivating men, Miss Adams worked her socks off to deliver each and every one of the character directions Mr Moment had clearly give her. She spoke clearly, looked lovely and is a young lady RATz would do well to keep hold of. The same can most definitely be said of Phoebe Green as Cookie (the cook … who saw that coming!) who had me riveted from start to finish. The over-the-top style was perfect for this production and she must have been exhausted by curtain down with the sheer physicality of the part. A strong, loud performance from a performer with plenty of potential.
The age range for the RATz Summer Challenge is 10 to 18 and I think James Aviss must have been one of the oldest in the cast. I have known James for many years and have still not fully recovered from the amazing job he did as Javert in ‘Les Mis’ earlier in the year. This time out it was very much into the surreal as Mr Aviss delivered a nicely measured performance as the crazy scientist, Prospero. His fine singing voice was one of the high points of the show. There is never a time when you are not glad to see a Phillips-Bartlett around the place and, with big sister in the audience, it was Rebecca’s time to take centre stage. Another incredibly surreal part for her as she delivered a cracking characterisation as the Science Officer and estranged wife, Gloria. With plenty of singing in the part her excellent voice really lifted the songs and supported the other singers.
Penultimate paragraph honours were only ever going one way, and that is the Lizzie Bryant way. A truly amazing singer and an accomplished actress, Miss Bryant was given the lynchpin role of Captain Tempest which she delivered flawlessly. Certainly one of the more experienced people on the stage, she always looked confident and in control even when things around her became less predictable. By that, I mean only technical stuff as the complicated dialogue, movement, singing and dancing was very rarely an obvious problem.
I have to say that the show itself did not really float my boat. Shakespearian style dialogue and loosely connected 60’s pop songs hung around a story of enormous preposterousness…. However the production was a triumph! … did I mention two weeks from start to finish including 25 songs to learn!!! Music by the six-piece combo was excellent and whilst I don’t know who the Musical Director was, I take my hat off to her or him. Last words for that man Moment. Emlyn Moment who does it all for the love of making the average look good, and the good look great. You pulled it off again St Emlyn of Wisbech, I have no idea how you do it. Congratulations RATz, this is turning into a vintage year.
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
RATz ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS
Director: Adam Billett
Date seen: Thursday 14th July 2016
I will not lie to you, there were times when I wondered if the RATz production of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ would actually ever happen. One postponement is unlucky, but two? You have to ask yourself what ever is going on. Well, on Thursday July 14th what was going on was Richard Bean’s Evening Standard Award winning comedy that had taken the West End by storm and really shot James Cordon to mega stardom!
I had never seen a production of this title, so really had little idea what to expect. I knew it had been a big hit, and I knew there was a lot of ad-lib and audience participation, but that was pretty much the full extent of my knowledge. The core story is simple enough. Francis Henshall becomes minder to small time East End gangster Roscoe Crabbe and goes with him to collect an outstanding debt of £6000 from his fiancé’s dad, Charlie Clench, an even smaller East End gangster. There is a lot of farcical confusion as it transpires that Roscoe is not Roscoe but actually his twin sister Rachel in disguise. Her own fiancé, Stanley Stubbers has killed Roscoe and is in hiding ….. Henshall ends up working for Stubbers as well and …..frankly the rest is too complicated to explain.
The set (design by Adam Billitt and Kerry Shippey, built by Phillip Griggs, John Fletcher, David Warnes and Gary Johnson) was perfection as usual. Just enough, but not at all too much. Sound and lighting (both uncredited) were everything you could want and costumes (uncredited) and incidental props (Linda Brittin) a joy to behold.
The first thing to say is that this was an ‘A list’ cast. The best of the Angles home team, combined with the cream of King’s Lynn and Downham ….. an unholy trinity I hear you cry but what an ensemble for the punters! Every member of this cast was on top form this night and although the sizes of the parts varied, the quality of the performances did not! . In the supporting roles, I enjoyed Natalia Moment in an assortment of parts, although the speed and volume of her delivery meant I had to concentrate hard to pick up every word. Danielle Beare was in fine form as love interest, Pauline Clench, showing a light comic touch in a role that was perfectly suited to her. Bob Kinnersley was also perfectly cast as family solicitor, Harry Dangle, looking a little unsure of his lines in one of the more complicated monologues but still bringing in a competent characterisation. In the part of Alfie, Neil Staveley was hilarious, including one of the most impressive (and convincing) comedy falls I have seen in a long time. The boy Staveley is turning into quite an actor! Not to be out-done, the incredibly talented Matthew Beare was laugh-out-loud funny every time he popped up on stage as white Jamaican chef, Lloyd Boateng. Mr Beare was, and is (usually) worth the ticket price all on his own.
In the more prominent roles, Kevin Shippey looked assured as minor villain, Charlie Clench, also taking the role of bass player in the impromptu musical trio that popped up from time to time and really helped the play define its genre, and find its pace. Lorraine Carver is such a superb actress, especially in a comedy piece - it is always a shame when she loses the occasional line. I know it was opening night but she didn’t look quite as stage ready as some of those around her. Even so, her characterisation was outstanding as usual. King’s Lynn regular, Bryony Ding took the role of Rachel Crabbe (disguised as Roscoe Crabbe) and sporting masculine wig, jacket and trousers did well with both parts. She always looked confident with her lines and moves and brought a little heart to what was predominantly a high comedy piece. I love Joshua Shippey as a performer. He has such a wide range and can seemingly turn his hand to anything. More than that, he puts so much thought into every characterisation and uses not just his face but every moving body part to sell the lines he delivers. In this production he took the part of Alan Dangle, thespian of this parish and I cried with laughter … quite often just when he walked on or off. Mr Shippey is so professional in his approach to amateur theatre and always worth watching.
The same can also be said of Ross Woodhouse. Mr Woodhouse has matured into one of the area’s finest actors and, whilst so regularly given the romantic lead, I was delighted to see him with such a prominent character role. Just like Mr Shippey, he uses his body shape and his face to really drive home his performance and was as solid as a rock throughout this production, always looking like he owned the performance space. His work on percussion in the trio was also a comedy masterpiece - and speaking of comedy masterpieces - Tom Tree a relative newcomer to local amateur theatre, he is to be found in Downham, King’s Lynn and now Wisbech mixing with the area’s best and growing in confidence as a performer himself. In line with most of the casting in this production, Mr Tree was perfectly placed and his characterisation of the ‘One Man’ of the title was inspirational. Perennially hungry Francis Henshall spends as much time talking to the audience as he does talking to anyone else and Mr Tree has a God given ability to be likeable and to think on his feet at such a speed it doesn’t look like ad-lib at all. He puts so much thought and effort into his characters, combined with a level of physicality that caused me genuine concern during the luggage birthing scene, where I really thought he was going to have a seizure! Mr Tree was brilliant throughout and the backbone of the whole production.
Under any normal circumstances, Mr Shippey (Junior), Mr Woodhouse and Mr Tree would be fighting it out for penultimate paragraph honours, but this was a cast made almost entirely of friends and, whilst I have no problem criticising close acquaintances (even if it is just my personal opinion and others are available), picking one stand-out performance from so many good ones is not something I can easily do to people I am close to. Besides, there was one additional performance that demands the ultimate accolade. I saw Carol Storey at the Box Office getting her ticket and asked her if she was with anyone or had come to support any particular cast member. With a completely straight face she told me she just fancied the production and had come on her own! This was a bare-faced lie and Mrs Storey (who will never go to heaven) was the plant in the audience who gets covered in food waste … I never worked it out! Well played Mrs S, you fooled me, and to do that requires great acting!!
My congratulations to Director, Adam Billitt, for finally bringing home a complicated piece of theatre that clearly had not run a steady course throughout rehearsals. It was a farce, and anyone who has ever directed a farce will tell you how difficult it is to keep everyone in the right place at the right time. The technical direction managed (most of the time) to deliver each character to a suitable location in time to deliver their lines and allowed each performer to give a brilliant performance. I loved the innovation as well. The musical interludes were inspirational, really underlining the surreal nature of the piece and bringing forth as many laughs as the script. Criticisms were few, I am not sure the script is all that funny, and I am not sure it is my preferred style of comedy, but it was good, even if things were occasionally a little untidy on stage. I always try to go to a production on opening night because a show with a paying audience should be ready for the stage on opening night. This time, whilst the performance was fine, I wished I had not gone on opening night as I knew it would have been a lot tighter by Saturday. Well done RATz, another cracker!
Stephen P E Hayter
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region - Area 4 North)
RATz RETURN TO BROADWAY
Director: Robert Williams
Date seen: Thursday 9th June 2016
It is a fact that the musical review is making something of a comeback. So much so that NODA are considering giving this rather neglected genre its own category in the awards process. As I took my seat at the ever impressive Angles Theatre, Wisbech for RATz ‘Return to Broadway’ I could not think of any place I would rather see such a show.
‘Return to Broadway’ did just what it said on the can and delivered a varied selection of hits from musical theatre shows. Some I had heard of, and some that were completely new to me. The performing cast numbered just 5 but reassuringly featured some of my favourite RATz entertainers and a couple of ….. new faces. Robert Williams, Alison Shippey, Laura-Jayne Shippey, Jamie Cook and Joshua Shippey did it all, and did it very well.
Overall production design was credited to Robert Williams (more of him later) with lighting and sound operation courtesy of Jonathan Salmon and Jacob Gowler respectively. Both delivered all that they needed to, backed only by the music, and an ever-twinkling star cloth. There were a large number of rostra blocks giving some variable height to the set and that is all …and more importantly that is all that was required. On this night, it was about the music, and the singers.
The highlights were many and various as the five protagonists mixed and matched one song after another. In the first half I enjoyed’ Lady In The Long Black Dress’, the comedy song from ‘Sister Act’ and ‘I Know Him So Well’ the power ballad from ‘Chess’. The two ‘Les Mis’ classics, ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ followed by ‘Empty Chairs’ really hit the spot and Jamie Cook delivered a nice (Las Vegas Sinatra) version of ‘Luck Be A Lady’ from ‘Guys and Dolls’. The second half opening of ‘Seasons of Love’ from ‘Rent’ was breath-taking, followed immediately by Robert Williams scoring a massive hit with ‘Bui Doi’ from ‘Miss Saigon’. Josh Shippey brought the house down with the ‘Book of Mormon’ showstopper, ‘I Believe’ and the whole show ended on a massive high as the entire team completely nailed ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ from the award winning ‘Blood Brothers’.
Penultimate paragraph honours could perhaps have gone in the direction of Mr Shippey for his crowd pleasing comedy and his incredible voice but, on reflection, I have decided that Laura-Jayne Shippey takes the prize for a such a large quantity of wonderful songs, and assists, reaching a crescendo with the superb ‘The Wizard and I’ from ‘Wicked’, that simply left me speechless!
A well-structured, well-paced ensemble piece that gave everybody enough to do and re introduced the extremely talented Allison Shippey to me and to Wisbech even if she chose (or was given) all the “Somebody Done Somebody Wrong” songs. Every one of which she delivered with some style. This show also redefined the surprisingly talented Mr Robert Williams who had left someone else to twiddle all the knobs and push all the buttons choosing instead to belt out some real winners. Where has he been keeping that voice? Well done guys, even the bar staff seemed especially good this night ! There are not many societies who could have delivered that show better.
Stephen P E Hayter
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region - Area 4 North)
RATz Youth LES MISÉRABLES
Director: Emlyn Moment
Musical Director: Robert Williams
Date seen: Tuesday 1st March 2016
There is no way of getting away from the fact that the NODA year 2015 was a bit lean for The Right Angle Theatre Company (RATz). They have always set the benchmark for all stage productions and although their standards never drops very far, there was just a suggestion (to me at least) that quantity had taken over from quality. ‘Oliver’ had been fine, but ‘Summer Holiday’ and ‘9 to 5’ both a little untidy, so with my next Wisbech assignment, the much respected ‘Les Mis’ …. I was nervous!
The guy’s at RATz are some of the nicest people you would want to meet on the Am Dram circuit and I am unashamedly closer to them than almost any other group. In addition to that admission, I also have to tell you that I saw this show on the West End a couple of years back and, whilst I thought the music was stunning, I thought the show was endlessly depressing and lacking in the much discussed redemption and any spark. I have described it as a “sulky stomp-a-thon” and declared it to be …”no Legally Blonde”!
Now you are nervous too?
This truly incredible production has re-aligned my views of this society, changed my opinions of this show … and reminded me why Emlyn Moment is one of the finest Directors in Norfolk!
Warning, along with live gunshots and strobe lighting there will be plenty of superlatives and endless sycophantic appreciation in this review so switch of all mobile phones, make yourself a cuppa and settle back in your infinitely adjustable office chair.
The set (Phillip Griggs, John Fletcher, Gary Johnson, Aaron Petts, Craig and Alex Tolley with scenic art by the one and only Bob Ledger) . . . for goodness sake the set!!! It was staggering! The scale, the complexity, the ease with which it changed and . . . the set!!!! The lighting (Jonathan Salmon) … just see previous comments on the set . . . ! The sound (design by Robert Williams) was a triumph. I said to Rob on the way out, if anyone tells you to turn it down, don’t! The way it vibrated my rib cage just added to the ludicrous amount of emotion pouring into this show … and out of the audience. Costumes (Geraldine Moment and Rosie Turley) … were amongst the best I have ever seen … anywhere! So many and all so well-made and well-fitted, with excellent complimentary hair and make-up (Natalia Moment) that simply could not be faulted. Incidental props (Christopher Moment) did nothing to let the side down and added plenty to the already pleasing vista! … Did I mention the set?
Aside from anything else, this production had yet another enormous cast and if I don’t mention everyone by name it is in no way intended as a slight … there were no weak links and everyone was at the very top of their game. The Chorus took many parts: street urchins, revolutionaries, wedding guests, factory workers and “Lovely Ladies”! They were all incredibly focused and moved around the stage with the precision of a military parade. Singing was loud, proud and almost entirely in tune and the limited choreography (uncredited, but I guess it was Emlyn Moment) was just enough to bring it all to life.
In the many supporting roles there was good work from Sophie Farr as Little Cosette, Phoebe Oram as Little Eponine and Daniel Pease, Jessica Goode, Aiden Cook and Kate Filart as the ‘Thenardier’ gang. The Student body also did an amazing job: Dominic O’Dwyer, Lizzie Bryant (always a crowd- pleaser), Lauren Bird, Loreto Mokate, Ellen Thrasher, Chloe Johnson and Ewan McConnachie, all singing and acting their socks off to provide the backbone to the chorus, and the show.
In the more prominent roles, Clodagh Williams was first rate as Gavroche, switching from mildly comedic to completely tragic in one unfettered stroke. In what is a very downbeat story the licensed duo of Monsieur and Madame Thenardier are the comedy turn and, in these parts, Lewis Barnard and Chloe Phillips-Bartlett were very much larger than life. Offering something of a caricature, they worked together brilliantly delivering some of the biggest presences in the show. Mr Barnard struggled a little with the songs but acted well complementing Miss Philips-Bartlett perfectly as she acted and sang to a very high standard.
So many of these junior performers are new to me and a case in point was Cerys Pughsley who was delightful as the tragic Fantine. A delicate portrayal and a charming singing voice really set the tone for standard in the early scenes.
One performer I know very well is James Aviss, but I did not know he could sing. As Inspector Javert, the misguided but dutiful Inspector, he was as strong as he was troubled as he sang and acted his way through one of the largest parts in the show.
Holly Chaplin is yet another of the cast who has a remarkable singing voice. As Cosette she was enchanting, delivering a superb and memorable performance in a production knee-deep in superb performances.
The same can be said of Adam Brown who took on the role of Marius, with a singing voice that sounded like it had come direct from the West End, combined with a powerful but sympathetic interpretation of the part.
I absolutely loved Rebecca Phillips-Bartlett as Eponine, I cried more at her songs and the whole unrequited love back-story than anything else. She had a naturally sweet singing voice that delivered the songs well enough but couldn’t quite keep up with some of the more accomplished singers.
Thomas Gregory is a mighty talent. I saw him wipe the floor with everyone in ‘Guys and Dolls’ but thought he may have been miscast as Dodger in ‘Oliver’. On that occasion he looked like a man playing a boy. No such problem in ‘Les Mis’, as swaggering confident Enjolras, he dominated the stage every time he set foot on it … just as it was intended.
On this night, the night, the whole night… goes to Edward O’Connor who brushed everyone else aside with a portrayal of Jean Valjean that was nearly, very nearly beyond words. I know Mr O’Connor well and I have heard him sing a bit over the years as well as acting to a pretty fair standard, but in this RATz production of Le Mis, he delivered a vulnerable and yet powerful characterisation of a man trying to redeem himself at any cost that was outstanding. As if that were not enough, he sang to a standard I have never heard him reach before, with “Bring Him Home” bringing the house down! I also noticed, his trademark nervous hand and feet movements were nowhere to be seen. It was as if he had somehow morphed into a confident all-conquering version of …. himself. The key to getting me on his side was indeed that redemption. I didn’t find it credible when I saw the professional production, but here in Wisbech … it all made sense, he made it make sense, and when he died . . . I blubbed and blubbed . . . and was still blubbing after the lights came up and I was staggering down the stairs . . . A wonderful and amazing performance by a young actor who has re-written my biography of him.
In truth, I had only just finished blubbing when I got to the bottom of the stairs, but Emlyn Moment was waiting there for me. He started and I started blubbing all over again! I simply said to him … no one else but you could have done this … and he magnanimously gestured to Rob Williams and said graciously … “And him too” My unreserved congratulations Emlyn for a truly breath-taking piece of direction that, on a technical level could not be faulted and on an emotional level …. Wow! It takes a very special kind of person to take such an enormous group of children with a varying range of abilities and turn them into such a tight knit company and then work them to a standard where they can deliver what verged on genius! I have never seen a walk down and bows with so many cast members crying uncontrollably. It is difficult to think that I will be privileged enough to witness a better piece of theatre this year, but it is only April. Welcome back to your best RATz, you have been missed!
Stephen P E Hayter
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region - Area 4 North)