Theatre

Sunny Afternoon – Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton 

Originally published on The Reviews Hub 

‘But will they still play it in 30 years’ time?’ asks The Kinks frontman Ray Davies of his song Sunny Afternoon. Indeed, more than 50 years later, the renowned hit is the titular track of a multi-award winning musical, telling the captivating story of the iconic British rock band in a near faultless production.

Boasting an incredible soundtrack including Lola, You Really Got Me, Dedicated Follower of Fashion and Dead End Street, the show charts the rise, fall and rise again of four working class boys from North London, who took the 1960s pop charts by storm and helped to shape the most influential era of British music.

Told through the eyes of Ray Davies, the musical vividly recreates the sounds, style and spirit of the sixties. The group’s hit records are seamlessly woven into the narrative or recreated in concert scenes, and by casting actors who are also talented musicians, director Edward Hall has created an energetic and authentic-feeling biopic.

Ryan O’Donnell is superb as Ray, showing both intensity and vulnerability in his voice and characterisation as the genius songwriter. Equally good is Mark Newnham as Ray’s younger brother, Dave ‘the Rave’. Dave enjoys all the trappings of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and often clashes with his more serious brother over his lifestyle and position in the band. Although at times slightly Kevin and Perry-esque, Newnham provides a lot of the laughs as the belligerent loose cannon.

Showing himself to be a terrific drummer, Andrew Gallo is well cast as Mick Avory and Garmon Rhys gives a touching portrayal as reserved bassist Pete Quaife. Praise must also go to Lisa Wright as Ray’s spirited wife Rasa – her duets with O’Donnell and solo performance of the romantic ballad I Go To Sleep are beautiful.

There are many highlights – we see how the raucous guitar riff of You Really Got Me came to be, how the group got themselves banned from America, relive England’s 1966 World Cup victory with Sunny Afternoon, there’s a stunning a cappella rendition of Days and a rousing Lola finale which has the audience up on its feet.

A large set constructed of multiple speakers provides a suitable backdrop, multi-tasking as required to represent a bedroom, concert hall or recording studio. Talking of speakers, at times it feels there is a sound conflict between instruments and vocals, with the latter being slightly drowned out. That said, this is dark and dirty rock ‘n’ roll, and if it isn’t loud, it doesn’t count.

More than just a jolly jukebox musical, Sunny Afternoon packs an emotional punch, exploring the pitfalls of success, battles with management and tensions within the band – particularly the difficult relationship between the two Davies brothers. There is a raw, emotive quality to Ray Davies’ lyrics, reflecting not only his reality but the reality of many, which is perhaps why the music and story of The Kinks have transferred so well to theatre and continues to capture the imagination of audiences.

Vibrantly nostalgic, funny and heartfelt, the current UK tour is due to wrap up in May, be sure to catch it.

Clare

Runs until 22 April 2017 and on tour

Image: Kevin Cummins

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Theatre

The Play That Goes Wrong – Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton 

This review was originally published on The Reviews Hub

Mischief Theatre Company’s The Play That Goes Wrong started life as a one-act play, performed in a tiny room above a pub. Back in 2012, LAMDA graduates Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields worked in Gourmet Burger Kitchen, a call centre and behind a bar during the day and performed their play at night. Fast forward five years and the hit comedy has received multiple awards and is currently enjoying successful runs in the West End, on Broadway and in theatres around the UK.

In a good-natured parody of amateur theatre, mayhem ensues when The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society attempt to stage 1920s murder mystery Murder at Haversham Manor. The hapless players lurch from one disaster to the next, and everything that can go wrong, does go wrong – there are doors that won’t open, cues that are missed, a leading lady with concussion and a set teetering on the brink of collapse.

Right from the off, it’s genuinely laugh-out-loud funny and clear to see why this play-within-a- play has been such a hit. Starting before the audience has even taken their seats, the society’s director Chris Bean (Patrick Warner) runs around the theatre foyer in a blind panic, setting the tone for the hysteria that is to follow.

On stage, there is seriously fast-paced comedy, slapstick and farce. A bit like Mr Bean meets Monty Python, it’s utterly silly but really good fun, and technically, spot on. Expertly choreographed by director Mark Bell, parts of the set collapse and various cast members are knocked out cold but the show must go on, and in true British-style, they soldier on, determined to finish what they started.

The small ensemble cast is incredibly tight, executing perfectly timed slapstick and gags at a ferocious pace. There are no weak links, like a neat puzzle of an abstract picture; each member contributes to the hilarity and in turn, the success of the production. Alastair Kirton’s portrayal of the affable Max Bennett, who plays Cecil Haversham in the murder mystery is particularly fun, as is Katie Bernstein, as the stage manager/come unexpected understudy and Graeme Rooney as the lazy lighting and sound operator Trevor.

At times there is so much physical comedy happening on stage and the laughter from the audience justifiably loud, it’s difficult to catch all of the dialogue and some jokes are missed. However, it takes a lot of skill to make chaos look like chaos, without it actually just looking like a mess, and that is successfully achieved here. Yes, situations overplayed and roles are hammed up to the max, but with tongue firmly in cheek, it is a hilarious and inspired caricature of amateur dramatics.

Some of the jokes are a bit dragged out, and if you are after some sophisticated comedy, this might not be for you. However, it is funny, clever and thoroughly enjoyable and goes down a storm with the audience. The Play That Goes Wrong undoubtedly gets it right.

Clare

Runs until 8 April 2017

Image: Helen Murray

Books

Girl 99 by Andy Jones

Girl 99 is the new novel by Andy Jones, best-selling author of The Two of Us and The Trouble with Henry and Zoe.

51jezmyssml-_sx331_bo1204203200_1After a messy break up with his girlfriend Sadie on Christmas Eve, Tom realises that she wasn’t The One, she was just The One For Now. She was also, he realises, after listing all of his previous relationship/flings/liaisons – girl number 85.

When his best friend El challenges him to bring things to a nice round number and sleep with a 100 women by a certain date, Tom reluctantly agrees – mainly to get El off his back, but also because, well he’s a man and clearly a little slutty. Without really putting much effort into his mission, he ends up sleeping with a colleague, a friend of a friend, a stranger he meets on the tube, the estate agent selling his flat and more besides. Each encounter is meaningless, messy and awkward, and leaves Tom feeling empty and alone. He then meets Verity, who is more than just a number, and is forced to face up to his self-destructive behaviour.

Girl 99 is a perfectly observed tale of relationships in all their guises, dealing with issues of love, loss, morality and degenerative illness. Andy Jones is really good at creating realism, in both his characters and their experiences, while serving it all up with a razor-sharp dose of smart wit.

Tom is an all-round nice guy. He’s popular, has a good career and is touchingly protective over his dad and younger sister following the death of his mother a few years previous, but he is essentially lonely – often, the highlight of his day is drinking tea with his elderly neighbour Doug. He also has commitment issues and a slight tendency to over-analyse. You could almost take a dislike to him and his promiscuous ways, and his selfish disregard for women’s feelings, but deep down Tom is unfulfilled and lost.

I hate to use the ‘J’ word really, but Tom does go on a bit of a ‘journey’ of self-discovery. Relationships are complicated, whether friendship, relationship or relative and mistakes are often made along the way – Tom makes many (like breaking up with a girl over email – really Tom?!). It makes for a charmingly life-affirming and relatable tale.Thoroughly enjoyable.  

Clare

Published by Lake Union Publishing
Review copied supplied by Netgalley

Theatre

Sister Act – Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

This review was originally published on The Reviews Hub.

There is much to rejoice about in Sister Act. The musical stage adaptation of the popular 90s film starring Whoopi Goldberg is full of energy and fun – featuring an original score by Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, starring vocal powerhouse Alexandra Burke and including trombone-playing nuns. There’s little not to like.

Burke plays Deloris Van Cartier, a feisty lounge singer who is placed in witness protection for her own safety after witnessing a gangland killing by her mobster-boyfriend. Forced to hide out in a convent under the guise of Sister Mary Clarence, Deloris is horrified by the strict rules she must now abide by. She regularly clashes with Mother Superior over her rebellious attitude, until tasked with leading the abbey’s tone-deaf choir, where she discovers the power of sisterhood, both in the spiritual and friendship-sense.

Directed and choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, in a departure from the film version, the action takes place in the 1970s, which gives the production its own musical identity, capitalized on by composer Menken, fusing gospel and soul with some good old 70s disco funk.Revel Horwood knows how to fill a stage with interest and movement, cleverly casting actors who are also musicians and making them part of the orchestral ensemble live on stage. Gangsters strum guitars, a prostitute plays the violin and a nun squeezes away on an accordion. It’s an unusual move which at first feels a bit unnatural and clunky but is actually a really clever way of elevating characters and making music the core of this production.

Matthew Wright’s set is a spatial structure with dramatic archways, lending itself to appearing as a nightclub or a church, dressed up or down with disco lights and simple props as required.

Having previously filled the shoes of Whitney Houston in the stage version of The Bodyguard to critical acclaim, Burke takes on the role made famous by Whoopi Goldberg with equal success – she’s clearly very good at ‘big’ characters. A class act as wise-cracking diva Deloris, Burke’s portrayal is more playful, sassy and ambitious. At times her dialogue is a little rushed, but she has excellent comic timing, energy and her vocals are, excuse the pun, heaven-sent – emotive, strong and soulful. Her performances of Raise Your Voice and Sister Act are particularly goosebump-inducing.

Deloris’s ex Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert) and his inept gang, complete with plaid flares and suede jackets, are suitably roguish, but appear more comedic caricature-criminals than menacing mobsters, which makes their portrayal of Class A drug use during one number feel particularly uncomfortable and unnecessary.

Nice guy cop ‘sweaty’ Eddie, played by Joe Vetch is kept light for the laughs, and his disco-inspired solo I Could Be That Guy is a highlight.

The austere role of Mother Superior is brilliantly portrayed by Karen Mann. She has many of the best lines, gives a rousing rendition of Here Within These Walls and has hilariously fierce clashes with Deloris. There is also great characterisation within the core group of nuns – Sisters Mary Patrick, Mary Lazarus and Mary Robert, (Susannah Van Den Berg, Liz Kitchen and Sarah Goggin respectively) as the loud one, the rebel and the shy one who Deloris helps to find her voice.

Sister Act is a vibrant and uplifting production, boasting excellent vocal performances and bursting with good spirited fun. Hallelujah!

4.5 stars ✨ 

Runs until 4 March 2017

Image: Tristram Kenton 

Books

The Good Girlfriend’s Guide To Getting Even by Anna Bell

512vkrgbwbl-_sy346_1It’s true what they say; revenge really is a dish best served cold. When Lexi discovers her sports-mad boyfriend Will pretended to have food poisoning so he could miss her friend’s wedding and secretly go to a football match instead, she’s mad – really mad.

However Lexi then realises a good girlfriend doesn’t get mad, she gets even. Rather than confronting Will, she carries out acts of revenge, which include ‘lost’ tickets, a Sky box ‘accidently’ soaked in wine and a dead car battery – causing him to miss out on his precious fixtures.

While friends have got married and settled down, Lexi and Will, who have been together for seven years, find themselves stuck in a comfortable domestic no man’s land with no sign of an engagement ring, much to her mother’s disappointment. After her discovery of Will’s lie, Lexi is forced to re-evaluate her relationship, and realises that whether its football or Formula 1, she feels like she always takes second place to sport. Lexi uses her ‘getting even’ scheme to reinvigorate their relationship, but starts to wonder if she is flogging something well past its sell by date.

The genius of The Good Girlfriend’s Guide To Getting Even is that it is so relatable, whether you are a cricket/golf/tiddly winks widow or not. At some point we have all been in that relationship which feels a bit stale and neglected.

As the lead character, Lexi is likeable and again, really relatable. The exchanges between Lexi and her sex-mad best friend Cara are hilarious, awkward mealtimes with her parents are cringe-worthy and the connection between Lexi and her handsome work colleague Robin is intriguing – although he probably does the biggest 180 degree character change ever!

It is a charming novel, full of warmth and wit. Anna Bell’s writing style is snappy, conversational and really funny. Yes, some of the scenarios are a little far-fetched and I was amazed Will doesn’t twig what his girlfriend is up to sooner, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable, feel-good read.

Clare 

Review copy supplied by NetGalley

Published by Zaffre

Ebook available from Amazon

Life

This Girl Can – Keep Calm & Spin

I’m too tired. I can’t find my trainers. My ‘old lady’ knees aren’t up to it. I’m allergic to Lycra. I don’t have time, I need to organise my sock drawer – just some of the excuses I have used to get out of doing exercise. This Girl Can give you a million feeble reasons why sitting on the sofa watching Hollyoaks with a KitKat Chunky takes priority over getting a sweat on.

I’ve never been ‘sporty’ and my fitness levels have generally been pretty poor. Like many people, I’d been left with the mental scars of horrible PE lessons at school – being picked last for teams, trying to play hockey in a snow blizzard and being winded in the stomach by a football (I genuinely thought I was going to die!), had resulted in associated memories of feeling self-conscious and inadequate, and hadn’t helped me find any enthusiasm for physical activity.

I’ve generally avoided exercise most of my adult life, finding any excuse not to do it (see above). The truth is, while I’m not one for competitive activities and don’t have a natural ability for sport, my main reason for dodging it is that I fundamentally, underlying everything, have a huge fear of making a fool of myself.

Over the years, my sister Helen, who is ‘the sporty one’ of the family and a real advocate for the benefits of physical activity, had made various attempts to cajole me into doing exercise. Then a couple of years ago, life gave me a bit of a kicking. As a result, my confidence hit rock bottom and I found myself sinking in a fog of anxiety and depression. It wasn’t a fun time, but my sister decided that I needed to get moving and in my limp disposition, I gave in.

thisgirlcan

First we tried swimming. Now, in my case, ‘swimming’ is essentially ‘trying not to drown’, and you can’t really think about much else when you are trying to do that. For the first time in weeks, mid-breast stroke, my mind cleared and I actually felt human. We also went walking – anywhere, as long as it was in the fresh air. Helen dragged me up the Wrekin (big hill) and around Attingham Park (big park). I respond quite well to bribery, so as long as there was a promise of tea/cake/sandwiches at some point, I would happily stride it out, and as it turns out, fresh air is really quite good for you. Who knew?!

We then tried spinning. I didn’t really have much idea about what I was letting myself in for and to say I was scared is an understatement. If you’re not familiar with spinning (otherwise known as BOOM cycle, Soul Cycle, Cycle Beat, etc.), let me set the scene. There are rows of exercise bikes, the room is dark and lit by disco lights, the music is loud and upbeat (anything from Rihanna to ACDC) and an instructor talks you through various routines while you peddle away on a bike for 45 minutes. It’s a full body workout and really good for burning calories. On my first attempt, I only kept up with 50% of the moves (Helen kept looking at me apologetically during a particularly tricky routine to Flo Rider), but by the end, despite the fact that I was utterly exhausted and my legs were like jelly, I felt AMAZING!

Like unicorns and sunny bank holidays, I used to think endorphins were a bit of a myth, but what do you know, those little neurotransmitters, produced in the brain and nervous system after aerobic activity, are miraculously real. It’s been well documented by clever sciencey-type people that regular exercise has a positive impact on your mental wellbeing; relieving stress, improving your memory, helping you sleep better and boosting your overall mood, and I’m a believer – physical activity really does give you the happy hormone.

I now spin once a week, and as a result, have more energy, feel stronger, my ‘old lady’ knees don’t give me jip anymore, and this might be too much information, but my backside is definitely firmer. But most importantly for me, the fog has cleared, the anxiety is under control and I feel ‘better’. The feel-good-factor exercise gives me is undeniable.

And spinning was just the start. I’ve since tried and enjoyed Clubbersize (clearly I have a thing for loud music and disco lights), Blockfit (invented by Chico, who was on the X Factor! I’m not joking, Google it!), Yoga (I have the flexibility of a lead pencil, but it’s so good for those endorphins), Body Balance (ditto flexibility/endorphins). I’ve even done a mud run! (Well a mud walk really, but I got a medal and everything).

Yes, my face goes bright red and I’m sweating most unattractively, but so is everyone else. And yes, quite often everyone is going left and I’m going right, but it really doesn’t matter. The fear of looking like a fool was an issue I’d let build in my head from those school days of feeling like an inadequate lump, but people, it’s time we all let that baggage go. When I exercise now, I’m only in competition with myself – to sprint a bit faster on the spin bike, or to perfect that downward dog. Crucially, I’ve never once felt like an idiot, and dare I say it, it’s really FUN. I know, it’s a shock to me too.

this_girl_can_logo_pms_248-1024x1024-e1443023419906That’s why Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign was so inspiring and continues to capture the imagination of women and girls who, like me, have avoided exercise because they are worried about being judged on their ability and/or appearance. Let me tell you ladies, no one gives a damn, and neither should you.

I might be stating the obvious here, but I think it’s really important to find an activity you enjoy. If something feels like a chore, you’ll start to dread it and then the excuses will start. For example, pounding a treadmill in a gym does little for me – I give up almost as soon as I’ve started. I’ve found I’m better doing a fitness class, with a start and a finish time and an instructor, otherwise I’ll flake out. It might mean you have to try lots of different things out to see what clicks with you, but who knows, you might have a thing for aqua aerobics or be an undiscovered Zumba queen.

Ladies, it’s time we ditch those excuses and that fear of judgment and get moving. Embrace it, enjoy the benefits to your mind, body and soul and have fun. The sofa, Hollyoaks and that KitKat Chunky will be waiting for you when you get home.

Clare

This blog was originally written for Energize Shropshire Telford & Wrekin

Theatre

Review: Anita and Me – Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton 

This review was originally published on The Reviews Hub

Writer: Tanika Gupta from the book by Meera Syal
Director: Roxana Silbert

Following a sell-out run at Birmingham REP in 2015, Anita and Me returns for a 2017 spring tour, premiering at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton.

The popular semi-autobiographical novel by Wolverhampton-born writer and actress Meera Syal was made into a film in 2002 and is now a GSCE English text. An endearing coming-of-age tale, it follows the story of Meena, a young British Punjabi girl growing up in the fictional Midlands mining village of Tollington in the 1970s. While her proud Punjabi family is determined to preserve their culture and give their children the best opportunities, strong-willed Meena is eager to embrace western lifestyles and desperate to fit in with her cool and confident new friend Anita. Meena finds herself caught between two cultures while struggling to make sense of her place in the world.

Described as a ‘play with music’ rather than a musical, Tanika Gupta’s stage adaptation features original compositions by Ringham Brothers, which at times feel a bit out of place, but overall add to the atmosphere and narrative. Save The Heathen Souls sung by the local shopkeeper Mrs Ormerod (Rebekah Hinds) is particularly funny.

The play is difficult to define – a mishmash of tones and genres exploring issues of culture, adolescence and racism while touching on themes of domestic violence, postnatal depression and immigration, but also being offering a brilliantly comic observation of those tricky teenage years and of life in the Black Country in the 1970s. One minute Meena is trying to impress Anita by stealing sweets and weeing on a tyre and the next Mr Bhatra, an Asian counsellor, is brutally beaten in a racially motivated attack. The audience is taken on rollercoaster of emotions, and while occasionally confusing, it’s certainly never dull.

There are strong performances from the young leads Aasiya Shah and Laura Aramayo as Meena and Anita respectively. Shah captures the spirit of energetic Meena, while Aramayo’s portrayal of Anita is spot on – feisty and arrogant with an underlying vulnerability of a troubled teen. Ex-Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati and Robert Mountford are equally as good as Meena’s exasperated parents.

Culturally, the two girls are poles apart, but it’s their experience of family that highlights the differences between them. Meena comes from a loving, educated and flourishing extended family, while Anita is a neglected child living in poverty and yet, for the most part, Meena is desperate to be like her. Anita is abandoned by her selfish mother, while Meena is nurtured by strong female influences around her – her mother Daljit, played by the fabulous Gulati, her Aunty Shaila (Sejal Keshwala), caring neighbour Mrs Worrell (Therese Collins) and her formidable grandmother Nanima, hilariously portrayed by Rina Fatania.

The story is as relevant now as it was when the novel was published in 1996, a colourful portrayal of teenage troubles, fish fingers, friendship, with important messages about cultural diversity and identity and the added novelty of familiar Black Country humour. While at times confusing and chaotic, the production offers plenty of light and shade and at its heart is a poignant, honest and funny story. Bostin’.

Clare

⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Runs until 18 February 2017