Thursday, 14 July 2016

Puccini's Madama Butterfly, English National Opera, London Coliseum

I recently enjoyed English National Opera's Madam Butterfly at the London Coliseum.  We were treated to a three act opera which is based on John Lutterlong's Madame Butterfly.   

English National Opera's Madam Butterfly

Lyrics written by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica and the opera was originally premièred in 1904 at Milan's infamous La Scala.  This production, courtesy of David Parry's translation, was sung in English and starred Rena Harms as Madam Butterfly and David Butt Philip as Pinkerton.

I adored the staging of the opera, particularly Michael Levine's sets, Peter Mumford's lighting and Han Feng's costumes particularly the ones Harms wore for Madam Butterfly.  I wasn't convinced about the puppetry but on the whole a great performance - sung heartedly and passionately by the singers portraying the characters.

What a beautiful production with the hope of Un bel di (One Beautiful Day) intertwined with the tragic story.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Barnbow Canaries, West Yorkshire Playhouse - 21st June 2016 (Reviewed on behalf of North West End)

This was originally reviewed for North West End and the link can be found here.

This eagerly awaited West Yorkshire Playhouse Production, Alice Nutter’s Barnbow Canaries, finally arrives at the Courtyard Theatre.
The story is about two sisters, Agnes (Colette O’Rourke) and Edith (Tilly Steele), who join the women at Barnbow munitions factory in Cross Gates, East Leeds. It is set during the height of the First World War when men were conscripted to serve at the front. This meant the women had to do jobs men would usually do including work in a munitions factory. Both Agnes and Edith are fully aware of the dangers being munitionettes but the high wages offered opportunities and hopes they probably wouldn’t have got otherwise. Only for them and fellow women to eventually receive the truth the work brings and tragically with catastrophic consequences.

At the beginning opportunities and aspirations are celebrated with patriotic pride and to them what the war means. This is celebrated with song We are the Barnbow Lasses and their lured beliefs in ‘Shells, shells and more shells’ and that ‘Plenty of ammunition saves lives’. In time the atmosphere and attitudes changes among the women. Particularly when ‘duty proud’ Edith (Steele) questions ‘only good could come out of the war’ following the disturbing discovery of her and her workers being poisoned from the TNT and going ‘yellow’ after the doctor (Joseph Tweedale) attempts to conceal the truth.
One must admire the incredible staging by Mark Bailey; the well drilled choreography and co-ordination of music and movement which gives a glimpse of the workers’ livelihoods in the factory and its grim working conditions.   What poignantly sticks out is the enactment of the 1916 explosion and its devastation on the stage. This is combined dramatically with dim lighting, smoke, effects and thunderous soundscapes courteous of Bailey, Katy Morrison and Dyfan Jones. 5thDecember 1916 is a date to be remembered for Leeds’ largest ever single loss of life.

Image credit: Anthony Robling
(Contributed imaged accessed from

Alice Nutter (My Generation) brings honestly and determinedly her authorial presence to this story about the spirited brave women who risked their lives and initially believed this will 
make a better world. Only to unfold for them those social attitudes towards women in a post war society remained the same as before. In contrast to the soldiers, the women were unrecognised for their efforts and were expected to continue on with their prescribed lives just as before the war. In a similar spirit to the suffragettes, they fought for such rights including compensation and benefits but only to be dismissed from the factories and were unfairly accused of taking ‘men’s jobs’.
Barnbow Canaries doesn’t primarily commemorate the centenary of the Great War. Instead it focuses on the working class women who played their part in being ‘behind the man behind the gun’ but only receiving half the pay of the men and also the story remembers the almost forgotten Barnbow factory explosion almost a century ago.
An excellent production, under the direction of Kate Wasserberg, with a fantastic cast and talented creative team who portrays with equilibrium poignancy, expectations, disappointments and hopes with performance and songs – featuring catchy Barnbow Girls and the philosophical Pack Up Your troubles in your old kit bag which is supported by a chorus of women from the communities of Leeds.
At the end of the Second Act the cast touchingly releases yellow balloons to remember the 35 women who were killed in the 1916 factory explosion. Reflections are shared how women’s empowerment and solidarity have slowly moved on in the 20th Century; including the right to vote, the choice of profession, property ownership and optimism for the future. In conclusion draws ‘our history is her history’.

Red Ladder's Leeds Lads

Product image
Photo Credit: Malcolm John
(Accessed from

My friend and I had an opportunity to see Red Ladder's Leeds Lads starring Jamie Jones-Buchanan last month.  The local story is about a local family who relooks at the past and particularly the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.  Tara's (Leah Francis) grandfather fought with Leeds Pals at the Battle of the Somme and her mother Susan (Emma Tugman) reminisces.  The story dips in and out of the First World War and links with modern warfare where Tara's brother, Liam (JJB) is serving as a soldier.  

Themes such as equality, camaraderie, gender, patriotism, politics and sociology intertwining with societal values which shaped in the past and now shaping the present and future.  Characters, past and present, relive the past and share how multicultural Leeds have become today.  Leeds Lads certainly explores and reflects how fears, hope and love amidst conflict past and present can affect family and friends.

Ali Allen's staging and Tim Shelley's lighting compliments one another.  Space is utilised with smooth transitions between each scene and each plot is co-ordinates.  There is no feeling of the stage being 'cluttered' particularly with simultaneous actions.

Live music by Boff Whalley, Beccy Owen and Sam Butterfield accompanies the production with song and mood.  The singing determines how one can appreciate the past and present events which were important and even more important now.  An excellent production which offers one a lot more about the Battle of the Somme.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Personal Thoughts on Scottish Ballet's Swan Lake - Saturday 4th June 2016, Liverpool Empire

Scottish Ballet's Swan Lake
(Imaged accessed from

This is my first even Scottish Ballet production I've seen on stage.  What appealed to me is to see David Dawson's ambition adaptation.  An unassuming production which hasn't been done before!

His aim was met; the production performed on a stage that has been stripped bare and the dancers worked with a minimum of props and in some scenes, none!

The chosen story is about Siegfried (danced by Andrew Peasgood) and his lonely existence.  Only to have his solitude interrupted by Odette the Swan Queen (danced by Constance Devernay) whose human like and swan lake like presence graces and catches his captivation.  Mutual feelings develop and a a pact of trust and loyalty is agreed in form of a keepsake jewel.

Act Two is a similar vein to how the story is interpreted from many productions.  Siegfried foolishly falls for Odile.  The new conclusion is for him to face very sad and tragic consequences in which the encounter between them finishes and vanishes forever.

It was a truly beautiful production with the stark colour contrasts with the staging and dancers. The dancers wore simple modern bright costume...the colours worn had this silhouette feel as if they are the focal point at different stages of the story.

One suggestion is to reconsider the fabric for some of the male character costumes.  Odette and the swans' costumes were beautiful; original, white and crisp feel to them and works well in the dancing and choreography.

The cast for the matinee interpreted beautifully the tragic story; which moved many in the audience as evident in their applauses at end of each act and finale.  Tchaikovsky's beautiful and dramatic musical score was not compromised and fitted nicely in this contemporary adaptation.

An unmissable production with retelling Swan Lake at is best!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Blood Brothers (The Play), Wakefield Theatre Royal (On behalf of North West End)

This was originally reviewed for North West End and the link can be found here.

Wakefield Little Theatre proudly presents Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers for one evening during the 2016 Wakefield Drama Festival. The production is Willy Russell’s original play, not the smash hit musical production that ran for a long time in London’s West End.

The story is about Mrs Johnston (Helen Grace), a working-class mother, who has seven children and is expecting twins. She works for Mrs Lyons (Lucy Cruddas), a lonely middle-class mother who is unable to have children. Mrs Lyons suggested that one twin is given to her and promises to give the twin everything Mrs Johnston wishes for her child to have. With Mrs Johnston’s reluctance they both make a pact; swear on the bible and Mrs Lyons has a twin. The children, Mickey and Eddie (Andrew Crossland and Dean Booth), unexpectedly meet when they are seven and a bond is formed and their lives are tied one way or another, only to face tragic consequences.
Various themes rise in the play including class, wealth, power and influence. Russell paints a picture how money and material things doesn’t bring happiness as seen from the characters.   Mrs Johnston is a deserted wife with children and Mrs Lyons is a lonely wife with a husband who works away. Mental health and paranoia are also highlighted. There is a lot of food for thought and also reasons to observe the characters’ perceptions particularly superstition.
The cast on the whole are fantastic. Everyone gives a heartfelt performance and portray sensitively and appropriately the featured characters. Although it is the original play, a couple of well known musical numbers including Marilyn Monroe are sung. Helen Grace sings them convincingly and musically without musical accompaniment.
The narrator is present throughout the play and reminds the audience what both Mrs Johnston and Mrs Lyon did is condemnable and selfish. At the beginning he invites the audience to judge for themselves the ‘tale of the Johnston twins’. Paul Haley fits into this role and his silence and demeanour towards both mothers is not unnoticed. Haley is also responsible for the staging, lighting and sounds which link to the mood of the action at different stages.
This production is realistic – movable and lovable from the beginning to the end. Many will certainly remember the ‘tale of the Johnston twins’ and ‘how one was kept, one given away’.

Contributed image from

#ChipShoptheMusical, Wackers, York (On behalf of North West End)

This was originally reviewed for North West End and the link can be found here.

#ChipShoptheMusical advertises curiosity and intrigue. One wonders how it is possible for a musical to be based on fish and chips? There is and in a production presented jointly by Emma Hill Writes, Freedom Studios and the Octagon Theatre, Bolton.
First of all, a meal of fish and chips is served in the restaurant before the tables are cleared to become the performing space. The performance takes place in the heart of the restaurant where the audience is the centre of the action.

The hour long musical is about Gram who considers himself as a ‘Master of Chips’ and runs the family owned fish and chips shop/restaurant. He reluctantly agrees to Ayla helping out in the shop/restaurant providing she lays out the tables his way.
Darren Southworth excellently portrays Gram as a proud no nonsense owner who is passionate about tradition and Yorkshire brass. Remmie Milner puts in a stellar performance as a confident and grime music loving Ayla. Both characters cannot be any different in personalities and outlooks on life. Both Gram and Ayla clash and their feelings are expressed in rap, mc and songs. Frustrations from Gram are noted in songs, Just do as I bloody well say! and You can’t do it!
Southworth and Milner interact and engage well with the small audience; the performance space is certainly personal and intimate and the audience is certainly in the heart of it all with their tables ‘being arranged’, ‘orders taken’ and their ‘food brought’. The rapping and singing is to local brass and international grime with audience participation to the catchy Chip Shop The Musical song at the end.
#ChipShoptheMusical is traditional with a modern twist under the direction of Ben Occhipinti. Both Ayla and Gram may be totally different but their predicaments turn out to be same, with Gram asking How Can I break Free and Live my Life? Their life journeys are shared side by side in performance and song and subsequently brave together the elements of change and figuratively becoming fish and chips. It makes one wonder how holding onto traditions and forming those views can influence the modern world today particularly with family relationships in the past and present.
This innovative musical has begun in Bolton and is currently touring Yorkshire.

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Dracula, Wakefield Theatre Royal (On behalf of North West End)

This was originally reviewed for North West End and the link can be found here.

Liz Lochhead’s Dracula opens on the second evening of the Wakefield Drama Festival 2016. Barton Theatre Company, an amateur theatre group from Eccles, presents a 20th Century adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Gothic classic.

Firstly the cast enters from the back of the audience to the stage to begin proceedings; Dracula is set in the late 19th Century amidst a lot of social and industrial change in Britain which gave new waves of confidence and strength of power to the country. There were advancements in science and medicine as well as an appetite for the supernatural and superstition; not to mention the questioning of traditional views concerning class, gender and religion.
This production takes in consideration these themes throughout the production.   The staging is cleverly arranged which enables for the scenes to be switched smoothly from different locations including Heartwood House, Bedlam Asylum and Dracula’s castle, where the crucial action happens. The costumes suits the era however it is felt Dracula’s and the vampire brides’ costumes could be more gothic and flamboyant for selling the characters’ natures and personalities on stage.
The characters represent the contrasts Lochhead, under the direction of David Milne, wanted to bring out in this production such as day and night; sane and mad; life and death and crucially heart or head. It leaves the audience to ponder over these contrasts in order for them to draw their conclusions about this production.
The performance highlights certainly must be the excellent portrayals of Renfield and Lucy Westerman. Eric Atkinson’s Renfield is an exemplary portrayal of how patients at asylums were viewed of in the Victorian era and being used for experimentations, unfortunately some unethical. Atkinson projected the character’s colourful personality and it just shows that he is an individual like anyone else.   Mags Riding’s dramatic and beautiful portrayal of the spoilt and lively Lucy Westerman shows how much heart this character has for love which leads to frightening consequences beyond one’s imagination. There is a beautiful and intimate moment when Dracula (played by Mel Hawker) and Mina (played by Marit Schep) meets and their fulfilment of longing seduction and desire for one another.
Derek Ridings’ lighting is very good; it is used well for thunder, courtesy of Elaine McCann’s soundscapes, and lightening during Lucy’s sleepwalking.   Red lighting, signifying blood, is creatively used when Dracula and the vampire brides make their presence. The use of blood is lacked throughout the production and it feels that more usage of it could enhance the production more.
The company’s ambitious attempt in staging this play explores the themes and contrasts successfully through its characters and doesn’t at all compromise Stoker’s novel. It is felt however the production, three hour long, could be condensed and shortened – some of the scenes could be integrated in telling the audience (and capturing their attention) the crucial action.
Contributed image from