Review – The Burlesque Show, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 26th January 2018

Burlesque ShowIt’s always a pleasure to welcome back those boffins from the Ministry of Burlesque, the sexiest civil servants on two legs. Once a year they administrate their way into the Royal Theatre with a superb selection of comedy, magic and general allure and, for a couple of hours, one’s humdrum day to day life is transported to a world where everything is beautiful. Yes, even for half an hour or so on a Friday evening, you can think of magician Pete Firman as beautiful. At a stretch.

Marlene CheaptrickHaving enjoyed the sultry pleasures of Miss Lili la Scala hosting last year, this year we were commèred by die schöne Marlene Cheaptrick, also known as the one and only Abigail Collins from Dagenham. Frau Cheaptrick wove a spell of pure Germanic enchantment as she guided us through her box of Teutonic delights. A highlight as always with Abi Collins was her interaction with members of the audience; on Friday night it was young Jamie who got a little hot under the collar as he sat on the stage with Frau Cheaptrick’s kleine Vergnügungsscheide upside down in his face. But he was a gentleman and did not take advantage of her vulnerability, which was just as well as his mum and dad were watching. She also did her manic and fantastic hula hoop act, in which no items of savoury confectionary were harmed. Assisting the lovely Marlene was Mia Merode, whom we have seen on the very same stage performing some stunning Burlesque, here in the slightly less glamorous (but nonetheless vital) role of preparing the stage for the next act. When acts drop feathers, wine, underwear, blood, sweat and tears during the performance of their routines, you can understand how important it is to have someone responsible to clean up; and she does it beautifully.

Mia MerodeAll the acts appeared twice, once in the first half and once in the second. The Dramatis Personae was almost exactly the same as last year, not that it mattered; this year’s show was notable for the way it really stepped up the humour. Mrs Chrisparkle and I were basically roaring with laughter all the way from start to finish apart from when it was unseemly to do so in front of naked flesh.

lena-maeWe met the delectable Lena Mae, who first appeared covered in a costume made of balloons. These were never going to last, particularly as she also produced a carrot with a prick on the end. A few pricks later and the balloons had burst to reveal her hidden charms. In her second appearance she did a superb, traditional fan dance in an example of pure, classic Burlesque; a fabulous combination of the elegant and the provocative.

Robin DaleThen we met Robin Dale, whom we also saw last year, performing an incredible juggling and balancing act with an open bottle of wine and a couple of glasses. Mr Dale was standing on a table, wine glass on his forehead, another glass in one hand and bottle in the other, ready to bring to life the human wine equivalent of a chocolate fountain, when a woman in the balcony shouted out “Hey Baby!” which almost made him teeter off the top. But he held on and managed it perfectly, so kudos to him. When, in the second half, he is joined by his partner in juggling crime, I still haven’t quite worked out why Mr Dale suddenly becomes one half of Boon and Bailie; but there you are, that’s showbiz I guess. Once again the dapper twosome performed dextrous feats of juggling and balancing whilst slowly removing all their (and each other’s) clobber. They left their hats on, in the best Tom Jones style, but this time Mr Dale’s thong didn’t twang into the audience which must be of some mercy.

Hot PotatoesNext was a new act – hurrah – the Hot Potato Syncopators! Three elegant 1920s toffs who dish out the raciest, paciest tunes of their day by means of ukulele, a single piece of string tied to a stick of wood, and a saw. They’re dynamite! Huge fun, they really recreate the era with their monocles, plummy accents and inspired choice of music. Decadence on a shoestring, we loved it.

Pete FirmanOnce again we had the welcome return of magician Pete Firman, and precisely the same three tricks that he performed last year – the ever-growing numbers of cards in the pack, the cutting-a-rope trick, and the signed £20 note revealed zipped up in his wallet. I think I’ve seen these tricks maybe six times now, and I still haven’t got a scooby as to how he does them. As always, his gift of the gab is hilarious, and he really is the most entertaining magician, as he mercilessly rips the p*** out of his audience victims who just love it. This time he had the spangly-dressed Claire on stage to help with the rope trick, with Steve on the £20 notes and Roly on the monkey nuts. Very funny, very intriguing, very clever. I could watch him all night.

Betty Blue EyesWe were also treated to two divine and hilarious Burlesque routines from the incredible Miss Betty Blue Eyes. One was a stunningly beautiful appearance in blue which included an arrival in a spaceship, but my favourite was an homage to Liberace where, clad (or otherwise) in the black and white of a piano keyboard, she tucked herself in at a tiny toy piano to play chopsticks. Unsurprisingly, with such a mini stool to perch on, it took Ms Blue Eyes several attempts to get herself comfy, but she pulled it off. You can’t get better than Ms Blue Eyes for milking the humour out of traditional Burlesque!

Alexandra HofgartnerOur final act was the elegant and Berlinesque Alexandra Hofgartner, whom we have seen here many times before, performing her daring aerial acrobatics with just the aid of two strips of material and some womanly muscle. It’s a circus/variety skill but carried out with true Burlesque style. The audience loved it, as always.

boon-and-bailieThus drew another Burlesque Show to its conclusion; it’s always a feast for the eyes and a tonic for your laughter organs. This was a particularly funny reincarnation of the show and everyone was on magnificent form. Can’t wait for next year’s!

Review – Mamma Mia, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 24th January 2018

Mamma MiaI’m old enough to remember when the first “B” of “ABBA” got reversed; it infuriated the priggish little language purist in me because I thought it would confuse young people learning how to write their letters. Decades later I can now look at it as their trademark©, rather than their name, and read into it a visual interpretation of four people, two couples, each designated by their own initial, the middle two with their backs to each other, as if they were being driven apart by a magnetic force that would inexorably lead to their downfall. Or it could just be a pretty pattern.

Sophie and the girlsIt was back in 2005 that Mrs Chrisparkle and I first succumbed to the charms of Mamma Mia. It had already been around for ages – it actually opened in 1999 – but when we finally got around to seeing it, we loved it. Thirteen years is a decent interval to revisit an old favourite, so we were looking forward to dipping our toes back in the theatrical waters of that Greek isle, where every musical sentiment has been distilled through Stockholm’s greatest Pop machine, to create a perfect show tune every time.

Sky and the boysIt’s easy to scoff at Abba, but they produced memorable songs of extraordinary quality and it’s a joy to hear them on stage. I wouldn’t rank them as highly as The Beatles, of course, but they had a similar ability to convey all sorts of moods. For every Super Trouper there’s a Winner Takes It All. For every Ring Ring, there’s an S.O.S. I remember being at school in 1976 and overhearing a conversation between two of the rougher and tougher older geezer boys who could intimidate you with one brief stare. It went something like: “What music you into?” “Dancing Queen by Abba. Have you heard the production on that single, it’s ****ing amazing….” “Oh yeah, you’re right, it’s ****ing brilliant.”

Three FathersOne of the great achievements of this show is to dovetail those songs into a credible narrative. It’s a finer piece of construction than anything you’d get at IKEA. I’m sure you know the story, but, in a Swedish meatball: Sophie is getting married to her boyfriend Sky (I presume someone on the creative team was a fan of Guys and Dolls) and wants her father to give her away. Trouble is, there were three guys who slept with her tearaway mum around the time of her conception, and she doesn’t know which of them is the original owner of the sperm responsible. So, unbeknownst to her mum Donna, she invites them all to her wedding, thinking she’d instinctively discover who’s the daddy. But it’s not as simple as that, and all three candidates start getting fatherly feelings. Nowadays Donna runs a B&B taverna but in those days she used to rip it up in an all-girl group called the Dynamos. Her two partners in musical crime come out for the wedding, thus legitimising the retro latex and platform boots look that forms a not insubstantial part of the show. Do Sophie and Sky realise their true love? Will any of the Dynamos get lucky? And who is the daddy? You’ll have to watch the show to find out.

Super TrouperIt occurred to me that, stylistically, the show is now heading into a total retro spiral. The glam rock association with Abba comes from their Eurovision performance in 1974, which is, I suppose, how most people first came into contact with them. But for much of their career their stage and pop video appearance was very homely, very folky. When Donna and the Dynamos belt out Super Trouper they’re dressed like sex kittens from the Planet Zarg, but if you look at the picture of Abba on that album cover, they’re all dressed in formal white suits and the ladies are especially elegant and refined. That album was from 1980, long after glam rock was a thing of the past. When the original stage show of Mamma Mia appeared in 1999, it was already 25 years after Eurovision, so this style and look was already deeply retro. Today we’re another 19 years on – basically two generations have passed and we’re still revelling in that early 70s look. The show allows you to bask in the memory of those halcyon days. We can all get up and dance at the end to Waterloo without any concern for how ridiculous we might look – and then it’s all safely buttoned up and put away; a style that’s never going to hit the High Streets again, but which we all fall for hook line and sinker. It’s a pure nostalgia boost.

Sky Pepper and EddieIn the battle of the sexes, this is a show where the women rule the roost. Three powerful women (the Dynamos) are up against three largely powerless and confused men (the possible fathers). You sense in marriage that the wilful Sophie would make mincemeat out of the hapless Sky. Sophie, her friends and the younger girls are all smart and sassy; Sky and his mates are all numbskull jerks. Much of the choreography is based on women taking the lead, frequently ridiculing the men; the same goes for the costumes. It’s the fully dressed Donna who chastises the swimming trunk-clad Sky, Pepper and Eddie, the latter so much so that his bagpipes droop suggestively. When Sophie changes into her wedding dress, she does so wearing a discreet and tasteful full-length undergarment. When Sky gets changed into his scuba suit he has to strip down to his underpants. It’s maybe no surprise that a good 75% of the audience are female.

Does Your Mother KnowI remember from last time how relatively straightforward the staging is – the old Greek taverna, either seen from the outside or from an inside courtyard. The clear blue simplicity of the backdrops suggests sun and sea. You could almost expect to find Shirley Valentine talking to a rock in the corner. This allows the colourfulness of the characters and their costumes to draw our attention – and several of the big set piece scenes make a huge impact. The scene where the guys dance with their big flippers on their feet is genuinely hilarious – it’s a brilliant routine by choreographer Anthony van Laast that makes them look like human versions of cartoon frogs; further evidence that the men are always made to look ridiculous in this show. The Voulez-Vous scene that closes the first act is as dynamic and exciting as anything you could wish to see on the stage, the dancers performing with eye-boggling energy; you go off for your interval drink dripping with feelgood factor. Does Your Mother Know is sung to an impishly humorous dance routine where the sexually optimistic lad Pepper bites off more than he can chew in his dealings with the glamorous cougar Tanya, who puts him in his place. And, of course, the finale involves outlandish costume changes, super fun dance moves and one of the most successful Eurovision winners ever. What’s not to love?

The DynamosThe energetic cast clearly have a whale of a time onstage and that enthusiasm carries on out into the auditorium. Helen Hobson plays Donna with a great combination of world-weary mother and good-time girl who’s not passed it yet. She has a terrific voice for the hi-energy numbers but really milks the pathos out of Winner Takes It All too. This is someone who sure knows how to put on a show. I also really enjoyed the performance of Emma Clifford as Tanya; think W1A’s Anna Rampton but with added joie de vivre. She gives us loads of fun with her sophisticated knowing looks and air of experience. As a fine contrast, Gillian Hardie plays the other Dynamo, Rosie; also loads of fun but with all the sophistication of Jimmie Krankie and the facial expressions of Angela Merkel. Her re-interpretation of Take a Chance on Me is without doubt one of the highlights of the evening.

Flipper danceJamie Hogarth, Christopher Hollis and Jon Boydon are all very good as the three fathers but the roles are deliberately under-written so there aren’t so many opportunities for them to shine. Louis Stockil brings bags of cockiness to the role of Pepper in a very physically active and comedic performance – I’m sure he’d be a great clown as well as dancer. But maybe the star of the show is Musical Director Richard Weeden who gets the band to knock out superb arrangements of hit after hit for the best part of two and a half hours, never losing the energy or the sheer joy of the music.

Donna and SophieIt’s on at the Royal and Derngate until February 3rd, and then goes on to Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Hull, Portsmouth, Aylesbury and Manchester. A highly entertaining and energy-packed show that will leave you wanting more. No wonder it’s been such a worldwide smash.

WeddingP. S. Everyone knows the Abba songs. Everyone thinks they can sing. It’s fine for you to quietly sing along with the big noisy numbers in this show; no one will hear you, and Valhalla knows there are a lot of them. But really? Singing along to Our Last Summer? Slipping Through My Fingers? Yes, we’re all impressed that you know the words, people in the middle of row H last night. But next time you’re tempted to sing along during the quiet bits in a musical, please remember these wise words, and I mean them most respectfully: Shut the f*** up.

Tanya and PepperP. P. S. “Mamma Mia” is of course the expletive you utter when they tell you how much the programme costs. I sent Mrs C with a big handful of pound coins, 50p’s and other assorted financial shrapnel scooped from the depth of my pocket to purchase same whilst I organised the G&Ts. She came back with a programme, a 20p coin and a stunned expression. Still, she said, she was very grateful to the merchandise seller for accepting all her coins. So that’s the derivation of Stockholm Syndrome.

Production photos of the 2017 Cast Tour by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Three London Comedy Clubs – a Review Round-Up

rose-and-crown-frontOver the past couple of months my pal the Squire of Sidcup and I have attended three comedy nights in various locations round London. I probably should have reviewed them individually earlier, but for some weird reason I haven’t found them that easy to write about. Was it the perplexity of the venues? The quality of the comedy? The level of alcohol consumed? I couldn’t possibly comment.

James LoveridgeOur first event was on 4th December last year when we went to the Rose and Crown in Kentish Town, home of the Pegasus Comedy Club. The Rose and Crown is a rather nice pub and the comedy club is held in its basement. It doesn’t seat many people, and we were quite surprised to be two of about fifteen people in attendance – I thought that was quite good for a little place and for a Monday night of comics giving us some Work In Progress sessions. What we were most surprised to discover was that of those fifteen people we were the only ones not appearing on stage! So in fact it was a cast of thirteen each doing about five minutes’ material to an audience of two. Still, it was free to get in, so I’m certainly not complaining.

Darren WalshOne consequence of that is that the host, Richard, didn’t always make the names of all the performers clear, as they were basically all friends together. As a result, I don’t have many of the names to hand. Two of the performers – and probably the two with the best delivery and material – were comics I had seen before (the Squire didn’t know any of them at all.) James Loveridge, of Edinburgh Spank (you love it!) fame, had some excellent new stuff about spending time with his fiancée; and Darren Walsh (whom Mrs Chrisparkle and I had also seen in Edinburgh) had another punful bundle of one-liners that made his five minutes fly by. We’re seeing him at the Leicester Comedy Festival next month and the omens are looking good.

Alex MartiniThere was one other comic who was new to me but who impressed – Alex Martini; a naturally very funny man with a very engaging personality. Of the rest, there were plenty who raised a number of smiles and only one who was absolutely dire.

Top SecretFast forward through the Christmas period and the Squire and I had another foray in the world of London Comedy, this time at the Top Secret Club in Drury Lane on 16th January. I could give you more information as to where it is, but then I’d have to kill you and I don’t want to risk losing my readership. Another basement affair, but this time in a room that grows and grows the more people arrive. The Squire and I sat in the front row and paid the penalty with some joshing from the excellent compere, Nico Yearwood, and also one of the comics, Leo Kearse, who challenged me to think of my chat-up tactics; Nico Yearwoodas I said on the night, but it’s been so long… We also enjoyed Stephen Carlin, who had good material but lacked a little warmth, I felt; the amazing Russell Hicks, who just went off on a tangent as he always does, with fantastic consequences; and headliner Tim Renkow, who brilliantly converts his cerebral palsy into comedy gold, and if you think that sounds inappropriate, well, you obviously haven’t seen his act. A very comfortable and enjoyable venue, and a really great show. Entry was only £1, but getting out was more expensive.

Russell HicksThen last night the Squire and I met up with his beloved, the Wise Woman of Wembley, and, after a dreadful meal at Café Rouge (they should be ashamed of themselves) we hit the 99 Club at the Ruby Blue, just off Leicester Square. Instead of descending into a bunker we ascended up the stairs into a bright and pizzazzy bar area, with a comedy room off to the left. A rather strange set up, because it was very wide and very shallow, probably only about five rows deep but extending way out to the side, where I’m sure you would feel thoroughly distanced from the comedy vibe.

Tim RenkowComedically, this was a game of two halves, as we were lulled into a false sense of security by our excellent compere Tom Webb, whose welcome is genial and who plays off the audience really well. He established, for example, that Trev, who was celebrating his 55th birthday, who was provocatively seated in the front row, was an Elvis Impersonator by trade. That was bold. Tom WebbHaving set us up nicely, Mr Webb introduced first act, Mike Gunn, and I’m afraid we all agreed that he didn’t tickle our funnybones at all. A few uncomfortable silences and half-hearted responses suggested we weren’t the only ones; although I sensed there was a language problem in the audience – one of the downsides of a comedy club in a very touristy area is that you will have a number of punters for whom English is not their first language and who don’t always get the nuances. athena-kugblenuNever mind, we knew that the excellent Athena Kugblenu, who was brilliant when we saw her at the Ark, would lift the mood. But no, she too struggled to get us difficult crowd to raise a smile.

Dane BaptisteI was beginning to feel guilty at having asked my friends out to see this disappointing show. Fortunately our headline act was the National Treasure-In-Waiting, Dane Baptiste. I’ve seen Monsieur Baptiste a few times, including his Gold Oil Drugs show in Edinburgh last summer, which he is still touring – and I was delighted to see that it was all new material last night. He smashed it out of court, to use the vernacular, and went down a storm. As an encore, Tom Webb got Trev to get up and do an Elvis playout and the good chap obliged, so more power to his elbow. But I didn’t feel that the layout worked at all for this little stage area and at £9 a ticket plus booking fee, for what was only a little over an hour-and-a-half’s show, (and distinctly London prices for the drinks) this was the most expensive of the three comedy nights.

99 clubI’m sure the Squire and I will do this again, and it’s fascinating to see the variety of comedy venues available in the capital. Even if some acts flop and others just aren’t your cup of tea, live comedy is a thing of beauty to be nurtured and cherished. If you haven’t tried it before, you really should!

Review – An Evening of Music and Dance with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Derngate, Northampton, 20th January 2018

An Evening of Music and DanceHaving an affinity for a particular theatre company, or dance company, or orchestra, is a matter of habit. For four years from 2003 to 2007 Mrs Chrisparkle and I were regulars at the Birmingham Royal Ballet. We would take our little nieces, or our Godchildren, plonk them down in the middle of the Birmingham Hippodrome stalls and they would be overwhelmed with the excitement, the colour, the beauty and the artistry of the dancers. We used to love it too. Then for some reason, we stopped. Mentally I still admired them from afar, but it’s taken ten full years since then to re-establish our proper and much missed acquaintance.

David Bintley

David Bintley

David Bintley, who compered this evening of Music and Dance, told us these shows were a regular phenomenon in Birmingham and have gone down a storm at the Symphony Hall for many years. For the first time they were stretching their wings and taking the show out of town – first stop (and indeed, only stop) Northampton. Thank you so much for thinking of us, BRB, because this was an evening of unmitigated delight that transported the audience from a wet January Saturday to a land of magic and escapism. Everything was beautiful at the ballet, sang the girls from A Chorus Line and if you ever needed proof of that, look no further.

Paul Murphy

Paul Murphy

When you enter the auditorium, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia are all in place on the stage and there’s a large empty area in front of them where the dancers can perform. Will the orchestra distract from the dancers? Will the dancers distract from the orchestra? Neither, somehow the staging seems to complement each other perfectly. Our conductor was Paul Murphy, an enthusiastic chap who’s not above encouraging the orchestra with a bit of jazz hands when a mere baton isn’t enough. He reminded me of a clean-shaven, smartened up and sober version of Father Jack. His utter delight in his work clearly transmits itself to the orchestra who in turn convey it to us. When you see an orchestral performance with a soloist on the violin or the piano, you know that the conductor has to split his attention 50:50 between orchestra and soloist. Similarly, it was fascinating to see how Mr Murphy had to keep one eye on the dancers as well as his musicians in order to keep perfect time with their moves. I’m sure that’s a particular skill that takes many years to achieve and he did it brilliantly.

SinfoniaThe structure of the show is that the Sinfonia performs one orchestral piece, then dancers come on stage and the Sinfonia play the accompaniment; then another piece, then another dance, alternating throughout the evening so that we enjoy twelve items in all – six orchestral pieces and six dances. To be honest, the balletomane in me would have been happy for each of the twelve pieces to have featured dance – I guess that’s what I was expecting – but I appreciate that the alternating pattern sustained the variety of the entertainment, which was probably wise. You can have too much of a good thing, after all.

Celine Gittens and Tyrone Singleton

Celine Gittens and Tyrone Singleton

We started with the cute confection that is the prelude to Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel – Mrs C was a little disappointed that this wasn’t an orchestral version of The Last Waltz – and then our first dance was the Act III pas de deux from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. Can’t beat a spot of Petipa, and Principal Dancers Céline Gittens and Tyrone Singleton danced it magnificently, decked out in stunning white brocaded costumes. It wasn’t until this first dance that I realised our third row seat gave us an unusually close view of classical ballet – normally with an orchestra in the pit in a large theatre even front stalls seats can feel quite distant from the dancers. Not so this time; and our proximity to the stage gave me an opportunity to concentrate on the technical achievements of the dancers – the balance, the strength, the accuracy, which I find irresistibly rewarding to observe.

Jenna Roberts as Juliet

Jenna Roberts as Juliet

Elgar’s Wand of Youth Suite no 2, The Wild Bears, followed; I’d never heard it before and I was impressed by the way the orchestra threw themselves into its frenzied excitement – one of those pieces that is just great fun. Then our next dance was the pas de deux from After the Rain, by Arvo Pärt, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. The poignant, elegant music is played by just the solo violin – Sinfonia leader Robert Gibbs – and solo piano, played by Jonathan Higgins, which made a solemn contrast with the liveliness of what had gone before. It was danced by Principals Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay on his very final show with the company; he’s been 19 years with the Birmingham Royal Ballet (I’m sure we saw him in Carmina Burana many years ago) and it turned out to be quite an emotional night. The dancers simply immersed themselves in the elegant choreography which managed to be both acrobatic and stately, and the power of the performance was literally breathtaking.

James Barton

James Barton

The next musical item was Korngold’s Adventures of Robin Hood Suite, another piece new to me that had something of a military march to it – I have to say it’s nothing like as evocative of Robin Hood as Carl Sigman’s TV theme, but then what do I know? I was more looking forward to the last dance before the interval, the famous and funny clog dance from La Fille mal gardée choreographed by Frederick Ashton. James Barton, fresh from his year dancing in An American in Paris, danced the role of the Widow, with a cheekily sprightly step and a scarcely suppressed titter. Four soloists, Yvette Knight, Laura Purkiss, Yaoqian Shang and Yijing Zhang completed the coquettishly clogging quintet. Enormous fun, and of course such a catchy piece of music played by the Sinfonia.

Cesar Morales

Cesar Morales

After the interval, we returned to hear Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance Op 46, No 8; the Slavonic Dances are among my favourite pieces of classical music and they gave it a blistering performance. Next up was Weber’s Spectre de la Rose, choreographed by Fokine and danced by Arancha Baselga and Cesar Morales. A very stylised piece, it features Ms Baselga languishing in a posh chair whilst Mr Morales leaps in through the (imaginary) window and cavorts around her. Despite occupying all the available dance space it still comes over as a remarkably intimate piece; and Mr Morales’ Nijinskyesque leaps were pretty phenomenal. A perfect balletic blend of the pure and fragile with the powerful and muscular – a superb performance.

 Iain Mackay in Taming of the Shrew

Iain Mackay in Taming of the Shrew

The Sinfonia then played Sibelius’ Valse Triste, a delicate and moving little piece that sways along; perhaps a little faster than it is normally played, and I think all the better for it. Compere David Bintley returned to introduce Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay in what was to be his very final dance on stage in his career, Bintley’s own choreography to the much-loved Adagio from Spartacus by Khachaturian, a personal parting gift to the dancer from the director. Mr Mackay danced Spartacus and Ms Roberts his wife Phrygia, in a piece where she informs him she would be giving birth to his son. It was a truly wonderful piece of choreography; very moving, very joyous, and absolutely jam-packed with all different sorts of emotions. Fokine marvellous, in fact.

Momoko Hirata

Momoko Hirata

Before the final dance fireworks (Mr Bintley’s words – and so right he was), the Sinfonia performed two dances from Manuel de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat, the instruments positively buzzing with Falla’s fiery orchestrations. Our last item was the pas de deux and solos from Don Quixote; Petipa at his extravagant best. The dancers were Principals Momoko Hirata, performing those crowd-pleasing pirouettes with total joy, and Mathias Dingman who attacked those solo show-off sequences like there’s no tomorrow – his brisés in particular were immaculately executed.

Matthias Dingman

Matthias Dingman

The final standing ovation went for a very long time, with of course special hugs and appreciation for Iain Mackay’s two decades of duty with the company. What a hugely entertaining show; every orchestral piece brimmed with excitement, and every dance was in-your-face fantastic. It was a real privilege to be there. Birmingham Royal Ballet, I apologise for ignoring you over the last ten years. It’s been too long. Hope you’ll make this a regular date and even bring one of your full-length ballets our way some time soon.

The production photos are from a variety of online sources, and from different ballets from those performed in the concert; if they are yours, please let me know if you would like me to remove them.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 19th January 2018

Screaming Blue MurderNow that 2018 is in full swing, it’s great to see that the Screaming Blue Murder comedy nights are back with several superb line-ups between now and May. Our genial host Dan Evans is also back in situ, this week trying to keep control of a very motley crew. Even before the show started the front couple of rows had turned into party central with endless selfie competitions, and a challenge to see which girl could manage the loudest cackle.

Dan EvansIt wasn’t long before Dan identified her, and indeed she jumped up on stage with him at one point; poor lamb got a terrible fright (him, not her.) Our audience also boasted the man with the coolest job in the world, training the seals at Woburn Wildlife Park, and a firefighter who was having difficulty with Dry January. He felt embarrassed to mention it but we gave him a good cheer anyway.

Matthew OsbornSo on with the acts, and some new ones for us; first up was Matthew Osborn, whom we’d not seen before. He’s quite a dapper little chap, with some brilliant material, and that’s not just the cut of his suit. Imagine the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts doing stand-up. He has a wonderful confident delivery, happy to take it all at his own pace; and he trades on the fact that he looks and sounds totally respectable and then delivers some powerful and rather rude punchlines. I loved all his sex jokes – so much more inventive than the average comedian’s. His reaction to the girl who told him to treat her like a whore, what happened when he went down on one knee, and also when the Jehovah’s Witness tried to open the boot of his car – all really clever stuff. Very impressed, and he went down a storm!

Iszi LawrenceOur second act, and the only one we’d seen before, back in September 2014 was Iszi Lawrence. She creates a lot of humour based on her lesbian chic looks and her posh heritage, and has some great material about being bisexual, the unglamorous sexuality. To be fair, it was pretty much the same routine that we saw last time, but it works well, so I guess why change it? She sets up a slightly intriguing and challenging rapport with the audience but her quirky approach appealed to us and we very much enjoyed her set.

Brendon BurnsOur headline act, who apparently has been on the scene for decades, but I’ve never come across him, was Brendon Burns. He has attack by the bucketload, and quite an aggressive delivery but his material is superb. He’s a full-on agenda comic; pro-equality, he sees men who describe themselves as feminists as deliberately invading one of the few areas in life where women can take control. Much of his comedy is about sex but approaching it from angles that you wouldn’t normally consider funny (that’s the material, not the sex). He has great material about how teenagers today, in this Internet porn age, are being told in sex education to have realistic expectations from sex – definitely food for thought. At the end of his act, on the one hand you feel like you’ve been aggressively diatribed against; on the other you have the beauty of insightful, revelatory comedy. Most impressive, and he got a great reaction from the audience.

Next one is on 16th February. See you there!

Review – A Passage to India, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 17th January 2018

Passage to IndiaGentle reader, if you know me IRL, as the young people of today like to say, you’ll know that Mrs Chrisparkle and I are both Indophiles. We try to go there every year if possible, and there’s something about the country and its people that is beyond magical. So if there’s anything ever on offer that involves the concept of “India”, it’ll instantly grab my attention.

PTI11Thus I was excited at the prospect of this new adaptation of E. M. Forster’s A Passage To India, a book I was required to read at school when I was nothing like mature enough to understand it properly. But I have fond memories of the film, with Peggy Ashcroft struggling in the heat as Mrs Moore becomes oppressed with the caves and the echoes. You don’t need me to tell you that Forster was not only a superb writer but also had an amazing ability to write books that cry out for being made into films. PTI1And indeed plays – this is not the first time the book has been dramatised for the stage, with a play hitting the West End back in 1960 before transferring to Broadway two years later.

But that is a different play from the one currently on offer in Northampton before it embarks on a brief tour. This has been adapted by Simon Dormandy, and, for the most part, I would say it is pretty faithful to the original and, wisely, eschews the trappings of modern stage design by conveying caves, courtrooms and the teeming world of India with thePTI8 help of just a few packing cases and some bamboo rods. You wouldn’t believe how creatively you can present the illusion of an elephant, with ladies riding in the howdah, using just a few boxes, some sticks and a length of material. There’s a lot of psychology and imagination at work in the book, so it’s entirely appropriate for the audience to have to employ their own imagination fully to appreciate the setting for the play.

PTI2It’s 1910, the British Raj is in full control and there are some voices of dissent from the local people. The majority of the Brits in India are a snooty bunch who have no desire to integrate nor any intention of doing so. Furthermore, if they see any crossover between the two sides they do their best to dissuade any form of contact; using soft, persuasive tones on the polite English ladies, and barking cruelty to any native-born Indian who presumes to have Ideas Above His Station. One such man is Dr Aziz, respected in his own community but distrusted by the ruling magistrate, tax collector, chief of police and the like. Only one British man, Cyril Fielding, principal of the Government College to educate Indians, treats Aziz and the other local people with anything approximating common courtesy.

PTI5Mrs Moore and Miss Adela Quested, who’s in line to become engaged to Ronny Heaslop, Mrs Moore’s son, arrive in India with a refreshing curiosity to see the place and not merely to be fobbed off with a life simply confined to the Britishers’ Club. The local beauty spot – and all-round location of intrigue and fascination – the Malabar Caves, is a short distance away and Dr Aziz promises to show the ladies around it, much to the mistrust of the local Raj supremos. The caves are dark and mysterious, and any sound creates an extraordinary echo that disconcerts visitors and plays on their fears and imaginations. Mrs Moore can’t take it, PTI10the place gives her claustrophobia and she makes an early departure. Miss Quested, on the other hand, seems lost inside the caves and when Aziz tries to find her can only spot her abandoned field glasses. When she is eventually found Miss Quested accuses Aziz of attempted rape (only expressed in much more Edwardian language) and the justice system slowly wheels into action. He denies it of course, but only Fielding among the Brits gives his story any credence. What tenuous relationships there are between the two sides break down and life will never be the same again. And did he do it? You’ll have to watch the play to find out.

PTI4The production is at its best when it is working on our imagination; such as meeting the aforementioned elephant, creating the Malabar Caves out of bamboo sticks, suggesting a full and antagonistic courtroom with a few boxes and half a dozen people. Although, to be fair, I thought the depiction of two rowing boats on the water and their collision was less successful – there was simply too much happening on stage at one time to take it all in. Gauzy material strips, dangling down in front of the back wall, part conceal, part reveal the people who walk behind, giving the impression of thronging multitudes in all their colours. PTI6Slightly offstage musicians Kuljit Bhamra and Asha McCarthy deliver trickles of Indian music at moments of suspense and intrigue and it really augments the atmosphere. But the most impactful sound in the play is the ensemble’s often repeated mumble grumble bumble aboom aboom aboom of the echo in caves. It unsettles the audience just in the same way that it would have disconcerted Miss Quested. It’s not – actually – enjoyable to listen to. It’s quite irritating, repetitive, potentially silly and childish; annoying even. Just as it would be to the English ladies. So I guess it’s doing its job properly.

PTI12However, I got thoroughly confused towards the end. One of us lost the plot – was it me, or was it the production? The story has moved to the province of Mau where Aziz has made a new life for himself. He is (largely) reconciled with Fielding; but then it all seems to go off-piste. What was all that bouncing around between the two men, being trapped by a ribbon at the side of the stage then flung out into the centre again by two teams of villagers? It was like a rogue episode of Jeux Sans Frontières had rocked up in Kashmir. I half expected Eddie Waring to introduce the Fil Rouge. It felt like the ending of the story had become unnecessarily complex and that consequently it was failing to portray it clearly. The curtain suddenly falls on darkness and silence and everyone in the audience wonders – is that it? I suppose if the creative team are taking the earlier emotions of disconcertion and carrying them on to the bitter end, then it was successful; otherwise, I have to confess, it didn’t do it for me.

PTI7At the heart of the play is a very engaging performance by Asif Khan as Aziz. A beautifully enthusiastic delivery, revelling in the linguistic details of all his lines, superbly portraying that essentially Indian characteristic where you want to pull out all the stops to impress your guests. Once the shine has gone off the relationship, he also conveys that bitterness of disappointment and a refusal to pander to others’ whims. I also loved the natural dignity that accompanied every aspect of the personality he was playing. A really excellent performance.

PTI3He is matched by a cracking performance by Richard Goulding as Fielding, exuding generosity and decency, and tangibly hurt when it isn’t reciprocated. Liz Crowther is also splendid as Mrs Moore, a character who is so much more than just an archetypal little old lady. I enjoyed Nigel Hastings’ performance as Turton the Collector, ostensibly amiable and reasonable but powerfully showing his vicious and vindictive nature. Edward Killingback also gives a strong portrayal of how a baby face can conceal a really nasty personality! But everyone gives a good performance and there are no weak links in the cast at all. Inventive, creative and thoroughly enjoyable, my only concern with the production is in how it seems to lose its way in the final furlong. After its brief run in Northampton it travels on to Salisbury, Bristol, Liverpool, Bromley and finally with five weeks at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park.

Review of the Year 2017 – The Eighth Annual Chrisparkle Awards

Once again the world of the arts is holding its bated breath to hear the results of who has won this year’s annual Chrisparkle Awards. The whole team has scurried away to a dark place (my study) to determine the identities of the chosen few. Eligibility for the awards means a) they were performed in the UK and b) I have to have seen the shows and blogged about them in the period 14th January 2017 to 11th January 2018.

Are you all sitting comfortably?

The first award is for Best Dance Production (Contemporary and Classical)

So we start off with a slight problem. Apart from at the Edinburgh Fringe, we only saw one dance production all year. One measly production! Not that it was a measly production but only seeing one is definitely measly. For a time the Committee wondered if, for this year, the award should be temporarily withdrawn, but that didn’t seem fair. So we have compromised, and included the two dance shows we saw in Edinburgh as well as the one, non-Fringe show we saw elsewhere. At least that gives us three shows to consider, and this is how they place:

In 3rd place, the honest and daring piece for two, Together Alone, from the Taiwan Season at Dance Base at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

In 2nd place, Really Nice Theatre Company’s funny and acrobatic production of Two Little Boxes at Greenside at Nicolson Square, at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

In 1st place, for the fifth time in six years, the skilful creativity of the impeccable Richard Alston Dance Company that we saw at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton in October.

Classical Music Concert of the Year.

We saw six classical concerts in 2017 and they were all excellent, so it was extremely difficult to whittle it down to a top three. Nevertheless, the impossible has been achieved, so they are:

In 3rd place, Christian Kluxen Conducts Tchaikovsky, with a brilliant programme of Italian, German and Russian music including Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6 and Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No 1 played by Martin Roscoe, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in May.

In 2nd place, Francesca Dego Performs Bruch, including wonderful performances of Brahms’ Symphony No 4 and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mathieu Herzog, at the Royal and Derngate, in November.

In 1st place, Jan Mráček Performs Mendelssohn, a stunning performance of the Violin Concerto together with a great rendition of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony with Martyn Brabbins conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Royal and Derngate, in June.

Best Entertainment Show of the Year.

This means anything that doesn’t fall into any other categories – for example pantos, circuses, revues and anything else hard to classify. Not so many contenders this year so we’ll stick with a top three:

In 3rd place, the inimitable Damian Williams starring as Mother Goose in the panto of the same name at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield in January 2018.

In 2nd place, the beautiful and hilarious combination of acts that make up the Burlesque Show at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton in January 2017.

In 1st place, the start to finish riot of near-knuckle hilarity that was Dick Whittington the panto at the London Palladium in December.

Best Star Standup of the Year.

We saw ten big-name stand-up comics this year, and I think it’s fair to say they were a varied bunch with a few disappointments. I listed a top five last year but this time a top three will suffice:

In 3rd place, the extraordinary experience of spending a late night 90 minutes in the company of the one and only Miss Whoopi Goldberg, at the London Palladium in February.

In 2nd place, the irrepressible silliness of Jimeoin in his Renonsense Man Tour, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in February.

In 1st place, by a whisker – or maybe two, a shared award; Tez Ilyas’ Made in Britain Tour, together with his fantastic support act Guz Khan, Underground at the Royal and Derngate in May.

Best Stand-up at the Screaming Blue Murder nights in Northampton.

Lots of great acts with a fighting chance of winning this award, but the winner was never in doubt. From a very, very long shortlist, here are the top five:

In 5th place, the parody musical magic of Christian Reilly (12th May)

In 4th place, for his amazing ability to make so much off the cuff humour from an audience member throwing up, Paul Thorne (3rd November)

In 3rd place, the mischievous intelligence of Markus Birdman (3rd February)

In 2nd place, seen many times but on this occasion absolutely on fire, Robert White (3rd March)

In 1st place, a new star is born, and receiving possibly the best reception in eight years of watching Screaming Blue Murders, Daliso Chaponda (28th April)

And now, a new category; as we have seen so many stand-up comedy acts in other clubs, such as the Leicester Comedy Festival, Bluelight Comedy, Upfront Comedy Shows and Edinburgh Try-outs in various locations, here’s the Best of the Rest Stand-up Award.

In 5th place, the larger than life unpredictability of Aurie Styla (Upfront Comedy – Comedy Summerslam), at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in June.

In 4th place, the thought-provoking, hard-hitting material in the Edinburgh Try-out of his show Your Wrong, Phil Nichol (Comedy Crate Festival) at the Black Prince, Northampton, in July.

In 3rd place, the challenging, calculating material and presence of Mickey Sharma (Upfront Comedy – Comedy Summerslam), at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in June.

In 2nd place, a hit from the previous year’s Edinburgh Fringe, the extraordinarily personal and moving show by Richard Gadd – Monkey See, Monkey Do (Leicester Comedy Festival at The Cookie, Leicester) in February.

In 1st place, for getting on for four hours of solid hilarity, Just The Tonic Comedy Club with Johnny Vegas, and guests Kevin Dewsbury, Guz Khan and Paul McCaffrey (Leicester Comedy Festival, Hansom Hall, Leicester) in February.

Best Musical.

Here’s where it gets really difficult. I saw fourteen musicals this year, mainly revivals but a few new shows as well. Competition is very fierce and some superb shows don’t get a mention. Here are the top five:

In 5th place, so good I saw it twice on consecutive days, the touring revival of the Kinks Musical Sunny Afternoon at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in January.

In 4th place, the breath of fresh air with its heart absolutely in the right place, the feelgood Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, at the Apollo Theatre, London, in December.

In 3rd place, the beautiful and emotional revival of Fiddler on the Roof, at the Festival Theatre, Chichester, that we saw in July.

In 2nd place, one of my favourite shows of all time, in a dynamic and exciting revival, Stephen Sondheim’s Follies at the National Theatre Olivier, in September.

In 1st place, with incredible impact and maybe because I’ve never seen it before, and it really took my breath away, the revival of Miss Saigon at the Curve Theatre Leicester in July.

Best New Play.

Just to clarify, this is my definition of a new play, which is something that’s new to me and to most of its audience – so it might have been around before but on its first UK tour, or a new adaptation of a work originally in another format. I’ve seen 21 new plays this year, and only a handful of them disappointed. So this is an extremely difficult decision, as you have to compare such different genres; but somehow I chose a top five from a shortlist of ten:

In 5th place, the funny and sad life laundry drama, The House They Grew Up In, at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, in July.

In 4th place, how to make a riveting play out of dry subject matter, Oslo at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London, in December.

In 3rd place, the gripping and exciting thriller based in 1980s Northern Ireland, The Ferryman at the Gielgud Theatre, London, in December.

In 2nd place, the emotional turmoil of The Kite Runner, at Wyndham’s Theatre, London, in February.

In 1st place, the extraordinary combination of political intrigue and carefree humour that forms both parts of the RSC’s Imperium, at the Swan Theatre, Stratford, in December.

Best Revival of a Play.

Saw twenty revivals, almost all of which were worthy of consideration. Nine made the shortlist; here’s the top five:

In 5th place, the high energy testosterone-fest that is Glengarry Glen Ross at the Playhouse Theatre, in November.

In 4th place, a feat of great stamina and a beautiful revival, The Norman Conquests at the Festival Theatre, Chichester, in October.

In 3rd place, the vividly re-imagined and exciting new production of Julius Caesar at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, in May.

In 2nd place, the spellbinding new production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London in April.

In 1st place, the production I’d been looking forward to all year and it was every bit as remarkable as one would have hoped, King Lear at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, in October.

As always, in the post-Christmas season, time to consider the turkey of the year – the one that missed the mark the most was the Royal and Derngate’s confused production of The Grapes of Wrath in May.

Now we come on to our four categories specifically for the Edinburgh Fringe. The first is:

Best play – Edinburgh

We saw 17 plays in Edinburgh, and here are the top 5:

In 5th place, the eerie and suspenseful psychological thriller Black Mountain produced by Paines Plough (Roundabout @ Summerhall)

In 4th place, the totally convincing portrayal of a relationship irreconcilably broken down with the snappy title The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People, written by Rosalind Blessed (Studio @ Space Triplex)

In 3rd place, the thought-provoking and opinion changing Bin Laden: The One Man Show produced by Knaive Theatre (C venues – C, Chambers Street)

In 2nd place, the riveting Gypsy Queen, written by Rob Ward (Front Room @ Assembly Rooms)

In 1st place, the play that taps into the Zeitgeist and doesn’t feel like a play, the horrifying, hilarious and brain-teasing Losers, produced by Tit4Twat Theatre (Underbelly, Cowgate)

Best Individual Performance in a Play – Edinburgh

One of the hardest categories to decide as so many Edinburgh plays are true ensemble efforts. Nevertheless, here are the top three:

In 3rd place, Rosalind Blessed for The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People (Studio @ Space Triplex)
In 2nd place, Rob Ward for Gypsy Queen (Front Room @ Assembly Rooms)
In 1st place, Sam Redway for Bin Laden: The One Man Show (C venues – C, Chambers Street)

Best stand-up comedy show – Edinburgh

Eleven shows and a shortlist of five gives this top three (which is very similar to last year’s!):

In 3rd place, for his intelligent observations and creative thinking, Dane Baptiste’s G. O. D. show (Pleasance Courtyard)
In 2nd place, for getting the political climate fully understood, with I Hope I Die Before I Start Voting Conservative, Joe Wells (Sneaky Pete’s)
In 1st place, yet again, the unmissable late night laughter line-up that is Spank! (Underbelly Cowgate)

Best of the rest – Edinburgh

Yet another really hard choice but I’ve managed to come up with a top five:

In 5th place, the superbly constructed and brilliantly characterised Bitchelors with Anna Morris (Voodoo Rooms)
In 4th place, dropping down a place from last year but still incredibly funny and audience members really have to be alert to stay safe! Foil Arms and Hog – Oink! (Underbelly George Square)
In 3rd place, the very racey acts – including the unforgettable Betty Grumble – that made up the burlesque extravaganza, Sweatshop (Assembly George Square Gardens)
In 2nd place, as last year, worth getting up early for a bizarre version of Macbeth with Shakespeare for Breakfast (C Venues, Chambers Street)
In 1st place, the brilliant material and voices of Jan Ravens in her Difficult Woman show (Gilded Balloon Teviot)

This year’s Edinburgh turkey, which was so clever-clever and up itself that you could hardly see it, was the pretentious immersive show about throwing a surprise party, Party Game.

Best Local Production

This includes the productions by the University of Northampton students, the Royal and Derngate Actors’ Company, the Youth Companies, local theatre groups and the National Theatre Connections.

In 5th place, from the Flash Festival, Can’t Stop Theatre’s untitled one-man play with Ben Sullivan
In 4th place, the Royal and Derngate’s Actors’ Company’s production of Great Expectations at the Royal Theatre
In 3rd place, Milton Keynes College’s National Theatre Connections production of Extremism
In 2nd place, the University’s production of Vinegar Tom at the Royal Theatre.
In 1st place, again from the Flash Festival, Out of Mind Theatre Company’s production of Broken

Best film

I saw seven films last year, which must be some kind of record! Two films that have received great general acclaim I really didn’t like at all – Manchester By The Sea and Blade Runner 2049. The Snowman just about limped home, both La La Land and Victoria and Abdul were entertaining and beautifully made, and Call Me By Your Name really ought to get the award for being outstanding in so many ways. However, the film I enjoyed the most and have no hesitation in naming as the recipient of this year’s award is – Paddington 2!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical.

Time to get personal. Fifteen contenders in the shortlist, so here are the top five:

In 5th place, Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in November.
In 4th place, Lucie Jones as Elle in Legally Blonde at the Royal and Derngate in October.
In 3rd place, Sooha Kim as Kim in Miss Saigon at the Curve Theatre Leicester in July.
In 2nd place, Janie Dee as Phyllis in Follies at the National Theatre Olivier in September.
In 1st place, Imelda Staunton as Sally in Follies at the National Theatre Olivier in September.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical.

Seven performances in the shortlist, producing this top three:

In 3rd place, Red Concepcion as The Engineer in Miss Saigon at the Curve Theatre Leicester in July.
In 2nd place, John McCrea as Jamie in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, at the Apollo Theatre, London, in December.
In 1st place, John Partridge as Albin/Zaza in La Cage Aux Folles at the Milton Keynes Theatre in August.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Play.

Very tough one, this one. Eight in the shortlist, but here’s the top five:

In 5th place, Samantha Spiro as Peppy in The House They Grew Up In, at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, in July.
In 4th place, Eve Best as Olivia in Love in Idleness, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, in April.
In 3rd place, Zoe Waites as Cassius in Julius Caesar at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, in May.
In 2nd place, Imelda Staunton as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London in April.
In 1st place, Olivia Colman as Jenny in Mosquitoes at the National Theatre Dorfman, in September.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Play.

A very hotly fought for award, with eighteen contenders in my shortlist, and I whittled it down to this:

In 5th place, Ben Turner as Amir in The Kite Runner, at Wyndham’s Theatre, London, in February.
In 4th place, Peter Polycarpou as Ahmed Qurie in Oslo, at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London, in December.
In 3rd place, Adrian Scarborough as Stan in Don Juan in Soho, at Wyndham’s Theatre, London, in May.
In 2nd place, Sir Ian McKellen as King Lear in King Lear at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, in October.
In 1st place, Richard McCabe as Cicero in the RSC’s Imperium, at the Swan Theatre, Stratford in December.

Theatre of the Year.

For the third year running there’s no change in the Number one and Number two theatres! Presenting an extraordinary range of drama and entertainment, this year’s Theatre of the Year is the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, with the Festival Theatre/Minerva Theatre in Chichester as runner-up.

It’s been another fantastic year, and I’ve seen more productions this year than I’ve ever seen in one year before – 190 productions in all. Thanks to you gentle reader for continuing to read my theatre reviews. Let’s look forward to another wonderful year of theatre in 2018!