it’s all about me…and mostly Reviews

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April 4- 8

On tour until May 20


Liverpool Playhouse


There’s a nod here to ‘Whistle down the wind': an unconscious stranger, discovered on the beach in occupied Guernsey, is brought to a farmhouse for shelter. And a touch of the classic poltergeist set up, with four generations of women including a volatile, unhappy teenager; when the play opens, she is engrossed in casting a spell. The Becquets: mother, daughter, and daughter-in-law, along with housekeeper, Lake, have been forced to relinquish their grand home; the last, with matriarch, Jeanne, scrape a living via the Black Market.

A rickety set, creatively done, represents the oppressive, uneasy atmosphere: cellar, kitchen and bedroom standing for Hell, Earth and Heaven. However, the stairs to the latter seem to turn into an escalator with characters shooting up and down, yet sometimes, they take ages. Maybe picky, but that is not the worst of it. That’s the over-indulgence of irony, via misunderstanding and misdirection. It works pretty well the first time, in the scene introducing Jeanne and von Pfunz, except for the caveat that an actor of McGann’s calibre is not going to be used in a virtually non-speaking role. But this device is constantly repeated, fatally so, literally, at the most dramatic moment, stage right, when the focus is stage left. The ending pretty much fizzles out, and even the publicity could be misleading because it looks like McGann is actually Gabriel.

Fortunately, plenty of humour in the caustic dialogue balances the underlying tragedy and helps to lighten proceedings. And the cast are largely quite exceptional, particularly Belinda Lang as Jeanne, splendidly arrogant, sarcastic and brave; prepared to go to any lengths to protect her family, resulting in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome with Von Pfunz, although too bizarre to be wholly convincing. Her partner in crime, Lake, played by Jules Melvin, is admirably stoical and down to earth, in contrast to the mercurial and rebellious Estelle; Venice van Someren’s is a poignant portrayal of a rather exasperating teenager. Sarah Schoenbeck is perhaps the bravest of them all as Lily, a Jewess in constant fear for her life.

Good to see a wartime drama with four strong female roles, each woman, hard-working (in their own way; Jeanne’s ways are nothing like the others), determined and loyal to a fault.

Then there’s the two mystery men, both of them with the potential to turn the world upside down. Robin Morrissey as Gabriel, speaking both English and German perfectly, eventually comes round, yet does not altogether come to life. He does however successfully convey anguish, at the loss of identity, then at two dreadful revelations. And whilst many actors relish the opportunity of playing the villain, McGann has to grapple with an unbelievably complex character: a poetic Nazi; buffoon and bully. The occasional silly giggle does nothing to indicate something sinister, yet he is unquestionably in command, in every way, of every scene in which he appears.

It is he who brings the crowds in, but this first play from Moira Buffini, from 20 years ago, is an early indication of her talent. Overall, plenty to provide intriguing entertainment for the audience, and to tell their friends about.

March 28 – April 1

Liverpool Playhouse


Let’s start at the very end, which seems appropriate because of Matthew Bourne’s mischievous fondness and clever knack for turning the everyday and established topsy turvy. After all, his Q&A session seemed to have had the biggest ever turn out, and included a lot about his background as

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March 14 – 25


Liverpool Playhouse


Cyrano de Bergerac is one of those larger than life characters – well, his nose is certainly: a Renaissance Man, skilled in warfare as well as words,

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February 7-11

(On tour until February 25)

Pride and Prejudice

Liverpool Playhouse


A regular Regency romp, played for laughs… Such a rollercoaster of comedy may not seem quite in keeping with Miss Austen’s noted wit,

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February 14-18

(On tour until February 25)

Glasgow Girls

Liverpool Playhouse


It’s always interesting coming to see a play about which you know next to nothing, and a surprise when it turns out that you cannot recall anything

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December 10-31

Snow White

Liverpool Empire


Seen one panto, seen them all – it can sometimes feel like that, particularly when you’re on to your umpteenth Cinderella or

(photo: Mark McNulty)

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December 9-January 14

The Star: An entertainment by Michael Wynne

Liverpool Playhouse


You pays your money and you takes your seat, and what do you get? A mixture as rich as the best quality Christmas cake. This is an absolutely

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November 26-January 21

Beauty & The Beast

Everyman Liverpool


The Everyman Rock ‘N’ Roll Panto has long mastered the tricky art of balancing ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and coming up with something new, which always takes colossal liberties. The great thing about this is that both cast and audience relish the old favourites along with the latest innovations, the in jokes, the running gags and ad libs, including the ones which when you do take the time to think about it, make no sense at all… They all come thick and fast, exceedingly witty plus the full quota of groaning puns.

The stage is lavishly decorated as a palace (cum island), with the obligatory staircase and trapdoor. Costumes, on the one hand (and the rest of the body of course), are as sparkly and glamorous as you could wave a magic wand at, and on the other, garishly outlandish. All enhanced to the usual high standard by the music which the virtuoso cast produce with huge enthusiasm and talent.

As for the cast, some cracking cameos from Danny Burns as the Chat Show Host with the most extraordinary line of patter, all clichés and catchphrases. Mirror Antoinette, a name which in itself sums up the level of humour, is a dead ringer for Ruth Jones, and Emmy Stonelake also shines as Cobweb and Taboo.

Our heroine, the delightful, dear little Rose White, is played by Stephanie Hockley with trademark helpings of the ditsy and the feisty, although perhaps she should not be grinning quite so gleefully in the fight sequence. But again, all topped off by that powerful singing voice,She is up against the Everyman speciality, the captivating enchantress, although as villainess Narcissus McSissus, Lucy Thatcher went in rather more for massive tantrums than sinister deeds. Nonetheless, she, along with everybody else, simply kept everybody spellbound.

Newcomer Raj Paul as King Tyrell, the tall, dark and handsome…Beast (well, beneath the Phantom of the Opera mask – there’s a lot of cheating going on here as it were but all part of the fun) is a find, acting, singing and dancing flawlessly. By contrast, a welcome return for Tom Connor, an almost terrifying lookalike Paul McCartney, as quirky Sir Cyril of the Wirral, while Lauren Silver is in glittering form as Poppy, Queen of the Fairies. Speaking of which, though I don’t suppose we should in this day and age – ah well: a double helping, you lucky people: the toothsome twosome of camp, Adam Keast and Francis Tucker playing twins, no less. As always, they had the audience enthralled, up to their old tricks whilst making the most of new inventions, and fortuitous ad libs.

Such is the wonderful atmosphere, the simplest comment is greeted with great hilarity: ‘Awkward’, is Prince Cyril’s response to every kind of situation, trivial or disastrous. And if you want an excellent evening out, the simplest thing is to come along and join in the fun. Christmas starts here – oh yes it does.

December 9 – 24

Little Red and the Big, Bad Wolf

Unity Theatre


The Unity pantomime is always that little bit different, homely, and, to be honest, homilies – but at least no water (or innuendo) is used in the making of this production just the usual supply of jokes and puns of course. So the big, bad wolf is not really wicked, just hungry, and angry because the woodcutter, Little Red’s mum, is cutting down the trees. And our heroine learns you should always try not to stray from the straight and narrow, although it is forgiveable because everybody ends up doing it.

The set is as inventive as ever if rather basic (as are the costumes). The trees come from Dunsinane Wood while shovels are at the ready to mark out the path then to help create Grandma’s house. And there are lots of delightful and crafty touches; when Red gets lost in the wood, she encounters lots of other nursery rhyme characters. And the audience participation bit, it has to be said (oh yes it does) is a howling success. Naturally, the children lapped up the more gory bits, but also appreciated the entertaining scene where Wolfie and his two sidekicks play games with Little Red. All of which is enhanced by song and dance and a cunning use of sound.

Luca Rutherford is lively and endearing as Little Red, part of the trio of remarkable women, along with her cunning, grumpy Grandma (Simone Lewis) and stern mother (Natalia Campbell). Then comes a role reversal for the last two as the dozy, dumb and dumber wolves under the command of Wolfie,Harvey Robinson. He by turn is suave and menacing but manages to be sympathetic as well; quite a feat.

An Action Transport production in association with LIPA, it’s as charming and enchanting as ever, for children of all ages. What’s the time, Mr Wolf? Time you took your family for a heartwarming night out.

November 7-12

The Woman in Black

Liverpool Playhouse


I too shall be haunted by ‘The Woman in Black’ – but the production from 20 years ago. Comparisons are odious, of course, and distracting, because of constantly trying to recall the similarities and the differences: the original was scary throughout. I’d taken my teenage daughter who insisted for the first time in years on holding my hand.

Apparently, the long running London production has considerable appeal for young people. Unfortunately, instead of being silenced, filled with terror, many of them burst out laughing from nervous tension, as did most of the audience. The special effects, those intended to scare, were more reminiscent of a pantomime, and how everybody resisted the temptation to shout out ‘She’s behind you’ remains a mystery.

According to the programme, playwright Stephen Mallatrait ‘developed and enhanced’ the book’ but if that means the framing device, it has you wondering why they can’t cut to the chase so that Kipps gets on with telling his tale. Instead, he seeks the assistance of an actor in order to perform a kind of excorcism and finally put the past behind him by regaling family and friends with the story. This all seems to drag on until finally, we reach the causeway leading to the haunted house, where Kipps must stay overnight to peruse the recently deceased’s papers. Thus, he discovers what happened to the Woman in Black. And the two actors cannot be faulted, in a neat irony which has Matthew Spencer as the actor playing Kipps while David Acton, the actual Kipps, plays all the other roles – they are the main reason for the star rating.

Leaving things to the imagination is one of the things which theatre should do best. Here, it proved a bit too demading; even mime often provoked giggles. Nonetheless, a large wicker basket serves admirably as desk, carriage, bed etc, and the backlit scenes revealing the house’s interior and exterior are quite creepy, with the locked door without a keyhole the most sinister. Similarly, the use of lighting and some of the sound effects; the first of which, the sudden thundering of a train through a station, made everybody jump, though again, resulted in laughter,

Humour may be the necessary counter-balance to tragedy, but not when mis-placed. There are plenty of laughs at the beginning, justifiably, when the Actor becomes so frustrated by the Acted as it were. But the hysterics which greeted every attempt at the spectral did not portend well. That said, the play was very well received by said audience, although it struck me as rather disappointing, particularly after last year’s exceptional ‘Haunting of Hill House’. However, if you are seeking something more atmospheric, attendance when the play can be fully appreciated is recommended.

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