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Posts Tagged ‘Amy Booth-Steel’

A gold star to the Curve Theatre Leicester for putting a new British musical by a relatively unknown team on their main stage. The fact that both Sue Townsend, the writer of the original book, and her main character hail from their city means it truly belongs there, and there is much to enjoy in this world première.

Adrian tells us the story of one year of his life (most of the first of what became eight books!) from one New Years Eve to the next, during which his mum runs away with Mr Lucas, his dad gets together with Doreen Slater, he gets bullied by Barry Kent, he befriends left-wing pensioner Bert Baxter and he falls in love with Pandora Braithwaite. Oh, the trials of puberty and growing up, particularly when you’re an intellectual lost at sea in Leicester.

Adrian’s diary is now an iconic book and for those of us who read this first (and later) instalments in real time, this is all very nostalgic. It works well as a musical, with a book by Jake Brunger and a simple tuneful score by Pippa Cleary and lyrics by both which contribute to telling the story. The second half has more pace than the first, reaching its peak in an unforgettable scene where Adrian gives us his version of a Nativity play.

I very much liked Tom Rogers design of houses that open out to provide interiors and giant pens and pencils which nod to the source. The thirteen characters are played by four extraordinarily talented children (I don’t know which of the 3 / 4 of each we had on Saturday evening) and six adult actors including the excellent Neil Ditt and Kirsty Hoiles as Adrian’s dad and mum, Amy Booth-Steel tripling up brilliantly as teacher, Mrs Lucas and Doreen Slater and Rosemary Ashe no less as Grandma Mole. Some haven’t taken to the adults playing child ‘extras’ but I thought it was rather fun. Director Luke Sheppard marshals his resources well and MD Mark Collins 5-piece band played with zest.

It’s the first showing of the work, so we shouldn’t perhaps expect a fully finished piece, but it’s a welcome and successful musical adaptation which brings Adrian to a new generation and will no doubt improve with age.

 

 

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I was flabbergasted when this lovely show closed early in the West End. Now the enterprising Mercury Theatre in Colchester launches a 5-month tour of this scaled-down version which has lost none of its quintessential British charm and eccentricity.

It’s set in 1947 post-war, still rationed, Britain just as Princess Elizabeth is about to marry Phillip. Chiropodist Gilbert, his wife Joyce and her ‘Mother Dear’ are new to Shepardsford and are finding it hard to fit in, and even harder to get meat. Butchers keep closing as Meat Inspector Wormold has them arrested for corruption whilst the town worthies are secretly breeding a pig for the royal wedding banquet, though one of them has named it Betty and rather fallen for it. Gilbert, somewhat uncharacteristically, steals Betty, which causes much chaos at home, what with the smells and all. The show turns farcical as mother gets confused and the worthies get suspicious. Gilbert eventually hands over Betty to be roasted for the banquet, to which they are now invited, signalling their arrival in this closed society.

It’s adapted from Alan Bennett’s film The Private Function by a pair of Americans(!), Ron Cowen & Daniel Lipman, with a score by Stiles & Drew which seemed even better than I remembered. It takes a short while to get going, but when it lifts off its great fun, with the second half working particularly well. Daniel Buckroyd’s staging and Andrew Wright’s choreography are fresh and sprightly and Sara Parks multi-level set enables speedy scene changes.

Amy Booth-Steel and Haydn Oakley (a dead ringer for Alan Bennett!) are excellent leads and there’s a lovely turn as ‘Mother Dear’ from Sally Mates. Matt Harrop is a hoot mooning over Betty and Kit Benjamin’s ears are almost steaming in his frequent rages as Dr Swaby. Tobias Beer is a suitably grotesque baddie as Wormwold. They’re all supported by a fine ensemble. The West End’s animatronic pig is replaced by a much more charming puppet, ably manipulated by Lauren Logan, which brought lots of ‘ah’s’ from an adoring audience. Richard Reeday’s quartet is supplemented by six of the cast playing instruments.

It’s great to see this show again and great that it’s going to be seen by more people around the country in such a high quality production. Gold star to the Mercury team, I’d say.

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Our now annual outing to the lovely Watermill Theatre near Newbury turns out to be another treat – despite the fact it’s not a particularly good show. It’s amazing how you can breathe life into something by design, staging and performance.

It started as a film with music in 1967 and only became a stage musical, with this score,  in 2000.  I have less than fond memories of the West End transfer of the original 2002 Broadway production 9 years ago, featuring a wooden Amanda Holden as Millie and Maureen Lipman (uncharacteristically) doing comedy-by-numbers. With a fraction of the resources, this production is so much better.

Director Caroline Leslie and designer Tom Rogers were behind last year’s Radio Times (about to embark on a UK tour – don’t miss it!) and again they produce something fresh and funny with just enough of its tongue in its cheek. The design is a hugely inventive use of this pocket-handkerchief space. The backdrop, a black & white map of Manhattan, turns out to have two staircases which you don’t at first see. Doors, windows, curtains and office furniture slide in from the sides (not always smoothly at this third preview – the cast managed to get a few extra laughs from that!). The 30’s costumes are terrific and as they are also largely black & white, when we get splashes of colour they stand out brightly. They even manage to stage a skyscraper window ledge scene effectively!

It’s one of those ‘I’m-sure-I’ve-heard-it-before’ stories (Wonderful Town, anyone?) about a naive country girl (Kansas on this occasion) coming to NYC to start a new life. She has her eyes set on her boss as a husband but instead gets a lovable loser – or is he?  It doesn’t really matter, as it’s a good enough vehicle for lots of laughs (most coming from the superb Amy Booth-Steel as both Mrs. Meers and the office manager), dance routines and general chirpiness.

The now familiar Watermill house style sees the cast doubling up as the band, providing a sound that isn’t technically perfect but is good enough. After a shaky start, Eleanor Brown came into her own as Millie and was well matched by Lee Honey-Jones as Jimmy. Staging it with just 12 actor / musicians is nothing short of miraculous and they all deserve a mention.

The Watermill’s summer musicals prove consistently good, even though we’re now on the third (?) creative team. Well worth a trip west.

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