Review – La Cage Aux Folles, Milton Keynes Theatre, 12th August 2017

La Cage Aux FollesHere’s an old favourite that never fails to please. Mrs Chrisparkle and I first saw La Cage Aux Folles at the London Palladium in 1986 (she was Miss Duncansby then) with George Hearn and Denis Quilley in the lead roles, and wrestler turned actor Brian Glover (remember him?) as the ghastly Dindon. We next saw the Menier’s hugely successful production in 2009 at the Playhouse Theatre, with Roger Allam and Robert Maskell as Georges and Albin; and now the UK has its first ever touring production, which has been running all year and has finally reached Milton Keynes before its last two weeks coming up in Brighton.

LCAF They are what they areI’m sure you know the story – it’s based on the 1973 French stage farce by Jean Poiret, and the subsequent smash hit film which appeared in 1978. Georges runs La Cage Aux Folles, a St-Tropez nightclub of dubious reputation and glamorous girls (the Cagelles, who are really boys), headed by the one and only Zaza, who, from nine to five is Albin, Georges’ husband. On one aberrant night of bliss twenty-four years earlier, Georges had a fling with Sybil, an English muffin who trapped the helpless chap (that’s Albin’s account anyway) into a spot of how’s-your-father; result: little Jean-Michel, whom Georges and Albin have brought up as a fine, upstanding and (shock, horror) heterosexual young man in love with Anne. LCAF Not sure if Georges is going to win this oneThe good news is that Anne is also in love with him; the bad news is that Anne’s father is Dindon, the head of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party. He’s a bully and a bigot, and his party’s stated aim is to close down all the drag clubs in town. You see the problem. Les Dindons want to meet Jean-Michel’s parents before giving their blessing to the liaison. The problem’s getting worse. With Sybil nowhere on the horizon, how are Georges and Albin (or rather, Georges and Zaza) going to handle it? You’ll have to watch it to find out.

LCAF Georges et AlbinThe music and lyrics are by Jerry Herman – yes, he of Hello Dolly and Mack and Mabel – and for the most part the songs are amongst his finest. With Anne on my Arm has all the naïve and simple charm of My Fair Lady’s On The Street Where You Live; Look Over There is a delicate, heartfelt description of what it feels like when you love someone else so much, that just to look at them tells you all you need to know. And there are two great showstoppers that elevate the art of musical theatre into another sphere: the loud and proud self-assertiveness anthem I Am What I Am; and, my personal favourite, The Best of Times, with its huge positive energy, reminding us all to live life for the present, to do what you love and to love what you do. I’ve not been able to stop singing it to myself since Saturday.

LCAF CagellesI’ve been thinking about the best word to use to describe this show. Professional? committed? exciting? extravagant? It’s all these; but above all, it’s a truly lovely production. It’s full of heart, and positivity, and kindness, and warmth. Yes, there is glamour, which frequently gets its balloon burst when the wigs come off and we see the Cagelles backstage as just ordinary working guys; and yes, there is humour, most spectacularly with the cringe-inducing dinner with the Dindons. There is pantomime, which surprised me; for example, when Dindon tells his wife to get their bags, the audience all respond with a long “oooooh”; and when she refuses, we all cheer. But above all there is a moral force behind it that says love always wins; therefore, lovely strikes me as by far the best description!

LCAF Big revealThe cast have loads of fun making it as enjoyable for us the audience as possible. You have to hand it to the Cagelles – each and every guy is a fantastic dancer and incredibly effective in drag; you really do have to look twice – sometimes three or four times – to be sure they haven’t sneaked some girls in. Their singing and dancing ensemble works really well and I loved how they had their own characteristics; Jordan Livesey as Hannah sure knows how to crack a whip, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a high kick as that of Oliver Proudlock-John’s Mercedes. The original production had twelve cagelles; this has seven, and I think that works better because you get to know each one just a little bit more.

LCAF Albin et les CagellesPaul F Monaghan’s Dindon is a truly repellent git (or should that be gîte); gruff, pompous, and a marvellous bellower of the word “homosexual!” as an insult. I really liked his interactions at the dinner table when he was being treated to more and more of the wine – very nicely done. Su Douglas is also great as his mousey downtrodden wife who toes the line – up to a point. Samson Ajewole stole every scene as the effervescent Jacob, redefining camp and thoroughly deserving his huge round of applause. And what a tall chap he is! LCAF Albin et les Cagelles en rougeI really enjoyed Dougie Carter and Alexandra Robinson as Jean-Michel and Anne; Mr Carter brought simple plaintive emotion to his songs, and it would be a tough cookie indeed who didn’t feel a little ocular moistness at his reprise of Look Over There. The magnificent Marti Webb brings power and presence to restaurateur Jacqueline; you wish the character had more songs, but you’ll never forget the way she takes up the challenge with The Best of Times.

LCAF Albin et JacquelineBut, of course, at the heart of the show is the relationship between Georges and Albin, here superbly portrayed by Adrian Zmed and John Partridge. I have to confess I’d never heard of Mr Zmed before – but one look at his photo in the programme and Mrs C was very enthusiastic, having been brought up on TJ Hooker. He’s got a great singing voice and brings a touch of natural class and elegance to the role of Georges, as well as smartly underplaying the humour of the part. But the evening belongs to John Partridge as Albin – surely the role he was born to play. I loved how he gently Manchesterised the character – his “hurt” Albin was much more believable than I’ve seen the character played before. LCAF Cagelles in flightThere are plenty of opportunities for him to really express himself on the stage – his hilarious Masculinity scene for instance, where he goes delightfully over the top trying to be a credible “bloke”, and his La Cage Aux Folles number where he just about holds on to his character whilst Zaza gets up close and personal with the audience, and the orchestra. After that the audience has absolutely no pretension to “good theatre behaviour” for the rest of the show; we just went with the flow and did whatever we felt like in response to what we saw on stage. I would imagine that’s a different scene almost every time.

LCAF Albin et GeorgesBut it was Mr P’s performance of I Am What I Am that absolutely takes your breath away. My goose bumps and had goose bumps. I had no idea you could reach down and find such emotion in that song: a heartache that turns to triumph as Albin/Zaza redoubles his determination to live his life, his way, and to hell with the rest of us. Mr Partridge holds perfect control through this epiphany sequence. It closes the first half of the show and the audience go into the interval dazed with its brilliance.

The best of times is now. Or at least, for another two weeks. It closes in Brighton on 26th August. We loved it. If you can, go!

Production photos by Pamela Raith

Review – Chicago, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 23rd May 2016

ChicagoSpeaking as the ultimate A Chorus Line fan, I’m not entirely certain why I keep going to see Chicago. Whilst, on the face of it, you might think the two have a lot in common, being 1970s American musicals featuring the expertise of the top two choreographers of the age, well… yes, but that’s about it. A Chorus Line wears its heart on its sleeve as it exposes the reality of the dancers’ lives and cuts away the crap from people to reveal their true souls; Chicago, on the other hand, aggrandises sham. It relishes the glitzy, show-offy facades of its characters in the quest for ultimate celebrity. A Chorus Line strives to present you good, decent, real people in real time auditioning in the same theatre where you are sitting; Chicago celebrates law-breakers who attempt to get off scot-free by fluttering their manipulative, sexually provocative eyelashes at the court and (more importantly) the media. A Chorus Line asserts that everyone is special; Chicago pokes fun at failures.

Lindsey TierneyYou’ve also got that massive difference in choreographic and costume style. Michael Bennett gave his dancers subtlety and style; exhilaration for sure, but happy, tasteful exhilaration; and, above all, artistry. Bob Fosse gave his Chicagoans open legs and bending over backwards to satisfy. Bennett’s dancers wore audition gear and then silver and gold spangles for their finale; Fosse’s wear black chiffon and fishnets, somewhere in the Cabaret/Rocky Horror spectrum. Chicago seems to represent almost everything that A Chorus Line isn’t. It kind of therefore follows that, as a huge lover of Chorus Line, I really don’t like Chicago – the show – at all. Its saving grace is its songs – particularly the tunes – which are punchy and fun and memorable.

Sophie Carmen-JonesNevertheless, I went to the Royal and Derngate full of enthusiasm and expectation because I was hoping for a top quality production that would emphasise all the good things about the show. I know I’m a Bennett boy and not a Fosse follower but, at the end of the day, you have to admit it, Bob Fosse was a creative genius. Sadly, I thought the show overall was – as the young people of today might say – a bit meh. IMHO there’s a big problem with the orchestra pod jutting too far out into the stage to provide a satisfactory dance space. With no depth to the stage, everything has to be wide and shallow; and when this causes actors and dancers with this level of talent to bump into each other – something’s not right.

Sam BaileySecondly there is – dare I say it – the choreography. There were two elements to my disappointment. The first problem stares at you from the programme: “Original Choreography by Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse; Re-creation of Original Choreography by Gary Chryst”. It’s as though Fosse’s vision has been passed down the line in a series of Chinese Whispers – I felt what I saw was a very watered down version of how good it could have been; Fosse-lite. Secondly, we’ve now been spoilt by that splendid young dancemaster Drew McOnie having seen his Leicester Curve Chicago in 2013. You don’t need to have a contest between the two about who’s the best choreographer – but what you did get from the Leicester production was the first-hand vision of what the presentation should be like, not third- or fourth-hand. And it shows.

John PartridgeAs for the performances – let’s start high and recognise that, in the show we saw, Roxie was played by the understudy Lindsey Tierney and she was absolutely magnificent. Cool as a cucumber, choreographically spot on, a great vocal performance, and completely looking the part. We both thought she was terrific. I also really enjoyed Sophie Carmen-Jones as Velma, full of attitude and spirit, a great singer and dancer, nice comic delivery and, what’s the point of denying it, she’s pretty cute too. Much has been made of X-Factor winner Sam Bailey appearing as Mama Morton. I’m afraid we don’t watch that so I hadn’t a clue who she was. She has a strong stage presence and can certainly belt out a song, but I don’t think she conveyed enough of the character’s deviousness or financial greed. In the past I have felt that Mama Morton might have a certain sexual curiosity about her girls too, which gives the character a bit of extra depth; but there was no suggestion of that here.

Neil DittI’m a great admirer of John Partridge, who plays the lawyer Billy Flynn, but I had heard conflicting reports about his performance. Billy Flynn is one of those characters that you can interpret in many ways. When I saw Chicago in 1979 the role was taken by Ben Cross and he played it (if I remember rightly) fairly serious and arrogant on stage. In the Leicester version David Leonard played Flynn as a completely lascivious sleazebag. Here, Mr Partridge portrays him absolutely true to the spirit of this production – the height of façade, of celebrity pretence; of total amorality. He plays up to the crowd, he adopts a smarmy grin, he calls out for applause for his long sustained note, he milks the showbizziness of the role for all it’s worth. It’s all show-off and look-at-me. But when you get right to the heart of the character – which, if he has one, is money – if you come between him and his $5000, he’ll cut you dead and no sympathy. When Roxie clearly becomes a more lucrative client than Velma, this Flynn delights in squishing the latter’s courtroom appeal chances. If you were going to try to tap into this Flynn’s generous nature – you’d spend a long time tapping. Of course, Mr Partridge is a song and dance man par excellence, and his vocals and stage presence are great as always. It’s a shame he doesn’t have any remotely challenging or artistic dancing to do until the second act – but Razzle Dazzle is definitely worth waiting for.

A D RichardsonNeil Ditt makes a good Amos, although (and I know comparisons are odious) he’s much more a figure of fun than in previous productions I’ve seen, where the pathos of Mr Cellophane could bring a tear to your eye. A D Richardson sang the Mary Sunshine role absolutely splendidly and in many respects this was the most realistic performance of this role I’ve ever seen; but I was surprised how flat and undramatic her “reveal” scene turned out to be. Maybe a little rushed? Ben Atkinson’s orchestra throw themselves into John Kander’s fantastic tunes with immense gusto and appropriate irreverence – I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed supine conducting before.

So despite some very good aspects, I still left feeling slightly deflated. I think it’s the amorality that depresses me. What can I say? If amorality is your spice of life, you’ll love it! The tour continues throughout the country right through to December.

P. S. Theatre etiquette observation #341a. The gentleman behind me decided that Miss Carmen-Jones’ voice was not sufficient for the task so sang along – without inhibition – to the song All That Jazz. Every so often he forgot the words and allowed the professional to take charge, but then he would remember them again and join in. I did three of my glares – each getting steadily more aggressive – but to no avail. I decided that if he also chose to sing along to the next song I would turn around and tell him to shut up (and suffer the consequences, if he then chose to harangue me for the rest of the evening.) Fortunately he wasn’t that well rehearsed with the rest of the show. Moral: if you’re in a show and one of your favourite songs comes on, remember that miming to it retains the mystery of your voice and we’ll never know quite how good you are at singing. Otherwise, shut the **** up.

Review – Cinderella, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 23rd December 2015

CinderellaThree cheers for the Prince Charming and the Princess Starlight! OK, maybe I’m working backwards, but at least that got your attention. Sorry if I’ve ruined the ending for you, by the way; but if that was a surprise then maybe you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a computer by yourself. And since when did the Princess Crystal become the Princess Starlight? It’s true that at just 2 hours and 5 minutes the cast fairly whizz through the show – maybe it’s the Starlight Express version? Anyway, here goes: Hip hip, hooray! Hip hip, hooray!… I’m sure we didn’t get a third cheer last night, but by then Mrs Chrisparkle and I had each polished off two large Shirazes, so it’s possible I am mistaken.

Charming and DandiniBetter than all the presents, all the turkey, all the mince pies, and all the tedious films on TV, Christmas doesn’t get better than a great panto. I love pantos. In fact, now that I have made out my spreadsheet of all the shows I’ve ever seen, I can confirm that in my 48 years of theatregoing I have now seen 21 pantos, only 3 of which were when I was a kid! Those 60s/70s pantos were complete magic to me, especially as they were at the London Palladium, which the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle always instilled in me was The Most Important Theatre In The World (and you didn’t argue with her!) So it’s great to see the tradition continuing today in splendid style and in the hands of some very expert practitioners.

Charming and StarlightThis year’s Qdos Panto at the Royal and Derngate is Cinderella; “the greatest pantomime of them all” boasts the programme. Not entirely sure that’s based on a Yougov poll, I suspect Jack and Dick would have something to say about that. And what about Abanazar? (Bless you). It is, nevertheless, a great show – lavishly mounted with fantastic sets, beautiful and funny costumes (Cinderella’s is beautiful, the Ugly Sisters’ are funny, not the other way round), well-staged musical numbers, many funny set pieces, and a talented and committed cast. Even so, I see David Cameron’s austerity society has reached Hardup Hall – Baron Hardup has been cut! Yes, this panto has no elderly, bumbling, stony broke father figure to make sense of the fact that Cinderella has to do all the hard work and they don’t employ a proper Downton-style staff. There’s no sense of poverty at Hardup Hall – it could just as easily be Money Manor or Cash Castle. Hashtag Just Saying.

Fairy GodmotherJohn Partridge leads the team as Prince Charming, an actor I have admired enormously ever since I saw him as Best Zach Ever in A Chorus Line. He has great command of the stage and has a glint in his eye that says let’s have some fun with this, but not to the detriment of the story. For while he is most definitely at home camping up the Princey character something rotten in the early part of the show, once he has found his Princess Starlight, he plays the loving romantic lead absolutely straight (no pun intended; well maybe a little pun). His voice is spot on and his energy contagious. You may have heard that he has a duet with Alison Jiear (the Fairy Godmother) that stuns you with its power and beauty. For once, you can believe the hype – that duet is very very good indeed.

Off the wallHe swaps identity with Dandini (as you do), in the shape of Sid Sloane from CBeebies, whom we saw in Sheffield’s Sleeping Beauty four years ago. He has a natural ability to get the kids on his side, and always keeps the show moving at a fun pace. Kudos to him (or should that be Qdos?) for getting through the “a shoe” routine with an immaculately straight face. Danny Posthill was our Buttons; despite his success on Britain’s Got Talent he was new to us (if you are my regular reader, hello again, and you’ll know we don’t see much TV – we’re always at the theatre) but he was full of fun and also a great hit with the kids. I really enjoyed his great sulk when Cinderella ditched him for the Prince. He did some excellent impersonations – his John Bishop in particular was absolutely perfect; and when he brought the kids up on the stage for a rendition of Old MacDonald, you could see how overwhelmingly happy they all were. He also trades a lot of joshing banter with Mr Partridge – hard to tell how much of it was scripted or not, but it certainly created a lot of good humoured corpsing. Alison Jiear – my comment heretofore regarding Britain’s Got Talent applies – makes a very traditional Fairy Godmother. In other Cinderellas I have seen, the FG has some kind of gimmick – Sheffield 2012 northern and cack-handed; Northampton 2012 worldly-wise and knowing; and Kettering 2011 Christine Hamilton (say no more). But Ms Jiear looks and sounds like a most respectable and personable fairy, without a foible in the world; she sings like a dream and exudes goodness wherever she goes. A paragon of a fairy.

Ugly SistersI really enjoyed Rachel Flynn’s performance as Cinderella; she’s very bright and charming, sings beautifully and invests the character with genuine emotion, and quite a bit of humour too. Also, crystal slippers look great on her. I absolutely loved the scene between her, Princey and Buttons when they were singing on the wall; beautifully timed humour and slapstick whilst still singing to perfection – that sure takes some doing. Ben Stock and Bobby Delaney play the Ugly Sisters as really funny grotesques; they carry off their wonderfully awful costumes with great aplomb and play out their (understandably) sex-starved fantasies with just sufficient innocence to keep it decent. The scene where the Ugly Sisters forced Cinderella to tear up her invitation to the ball was so well done that I forgot myself and shouted out to Cinderella not to do it – much to Mrs C’s chagrin. The singing and dancing ensemble look, sound and move great – often with nicely pitched comic overtones – and the little babes from the Mayhew School of Dance were full of attitude and charisma and did a great job.

Charming, Dandini and courtSpare a thought for the sound engineer (Sam Poulton I believe), whom I bumped into after the show and who described himself as “thoroughly knackered” (or words to that effect). No live musicians means all the music and sound effects are at the beck and call of his knobs, if you’ll pardon the expression. Over 160 sound cues I think he said. Well there wouldn’t be a show without you, and it all worked seamlessly – so well done to you, sir.

Three ScampsWhat’s not to love? Great fun – we both thought it was among the best pantos we’ve ever seen. Great production values and some terrific performances. Fun for everyone. On until 3rd January, so you’d better get booking rapido.

Review of the year 2013 – The Fourth Annual Chrisparkle Awards

About this time every year an esteemed panel including myself and no one else meets to assess the relative brilliance of all the shows we’ve seen the previous year so that we can recognise and celebrate the artistic fantasticity of the arts world in Northampton, Sheffield, Leicester and beyond! The coveted 2013 Chrisparkles relate to shows I have seen and blogged between 6th January 2013 and 16th January 2014. Let’s not keep anyone in further suspense – let the glittering ceremony begin!

As always, the first award is for Best Dance Production (Contemporary and Classical).

I saw nine dance productions last year, from which it was quite easy to shortlist a top five, but the top three are:

In 3rd place, the fantastic combination of skill and artistry embedded in the October programme by the Richard Alston Dance Company at the Derngate, Northampton.

In 2nd place, the hilarious but incredibly accurate and beautiful dancing of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, as seen at the Birmingham Hippodrome in February.

In 1st place, the consistently rewarding and fulfilling version of Swan Lake by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, that we saw at the Curve, Leicester, in November.

Classical Music Concert of the Year.

For some reason we only saw four concerts in 2013, and these are the top three:

In 3rd place, the Last Night of the Derngate Proms, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Derngate, in June.

In 2nd place, Janina Fialkowska plays Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto, plus Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, with the RPO at the Derngate in January.

In 1st place, Alexander Shelley conducts Scheherezade, together with Peter Jablonski’s performance of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with the RPO at the Derngate in April.

Best Entertainment Show of the Year.

This is the all-purpose, everything else category that includes pantos, circuses, reviews and anything else hard to classify.

In 3rd place, Jack and the Beanstalk at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, in January 2014.

In 2nd place, and maybe misclassified here but I can’t quite bring myself to call this artistic endeavour a play; Cooped, by Spymonkey, at the Royal, Northampton, in January 2013.

In 1st place, the stunning tango extravaganza that was Midnight Tango, with Vincent and Flavia off Strictly Come Dancing, at the Derngate in July.

Best Star Standup of the Year.

We saw seven big star name stand-up comedians this year, and they were all excellent, but these are my top four:

In 4th place, Jason Manford and his First World Problems, at the Derngate, in July.

In 3rd place, Jack Dee at the Derngate, in September.

In 2nd place, Stewart Lee in Much a-Stew About Nothing, also at the Derngate, in September, who was just pipped by

In 1st place, Micky Flanagan and his Back in the Game tour show at the Derngate in May.

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

Of the thirty or more comics that we’ve seen at Screaming Blue Murder last year seventeen made the shortlist, and the top five are:

In 5th place, an extremely funny guy with a quirky view on urban life, Nathan Caton (18th October)

In 4th place, with an almost unique ability to make a young audience rock with laughter without any swearing, Paul Kerensa (25th January)

In 3rd place, the fantastic mix of gay and Asperger’s that goes to create Robert White (8th February)

In 2nd place, musical comedy genius Christian Reilly (8th March)

In 1st place, the most mischievous comic on the circuit, Markus Birdman (8th November).

Best Musical.

Like last year, this is a combination of new musicals and revivals, and we had a dozen to choose from. The top four were easy to identify; but the fifth place show was really hard to decide from the sixth place show. However, the panel have made their decision, and I’m sticking with it.

In 5th place, the re-invigorated Chicago at the Leicester Curve in December.

In 4th place, the beautiful and moving The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory in August.

In 3rd place, the riveting revival of The Hired Man at the Leicester Curve Studio in April.

In 2nd place, the outrageous and hilarious The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in March.

In 1st place, which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, the painstakingly caring and reassuringly faithful revival of A Chorus Line at the London Palladium in March.

Best New Play.

As always, this is my definition of a new play – so it might have been around before but on its first UK tour, or a new adaptation of a work originally in another format. Six to choose from, these are the top three:

In 3rd place, despite its cackling disruptive audience, the very inventive play version of The Full Monty, at the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield in February.

In 2nd place, the thoughtful and imaginative Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre in May.

In 1st place, the timelessly relevant and beautifully adapted To Sir With Love at the Royal, Northampton, in September.

Best Revival of a Play.

A shortlist of sixteen productions, but in the end relatively easy to sort out the top five:

In 5th place, the first of three Michael Grandage productions as part of his long season at the Noel Coward Theatre, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in November.

In 4th place, the hard-hitting yet strangely funny Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Curve Studio, Leicester, in October.

In 3rd place, Michael Grandage’s production of Peter Nichols’ Privates on Parade at the Noel Coward in January.

In 2nd place, Michael Grandage’s stunning production of The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noel Coward in August.

In 1st place, the only production in 45 years of theatregoing that I loved so much that I had to see it again the next day, Cal McCrystal’s officially fabulous revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s Mr Whatnot at the Royal, Northampton in April.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical.

So many terrific performances to choose from but I have a top five:

In 5th place, Hayley Gallivan’s brutally treated Nancy in Oliver! at the Sheffield Crucible in January 2014.

In 4th place, Leigh Zimmerman’s indestructibly sassy Sheila in A Chorus Line at the London Palladium in March.

In 3rd place, Cynthia Erivo’s incredibly moving Celie in The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory in August.

In 2nd place, Julie Atherton’s tear-jerkingly superb Emily in The Hired Man at the Leicester Curve Studio in April.

In 1st place, Scarlett Strallen’s stunning Cassie in A Chorus Line at the London Palladium in March, and for her ebullient Cunegonde in Candide at the Menier Chocolate Factory in December.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical.

A really tough category and with so many great performances not getting a mention, but here’s my top five:

In 5th place, David Hunter’s triumphantly resilient John in The Hired Man at the Leicester Curve Studio in April.

In 4th place, Gavin Creel’s selfishly wonderful Elder Price in The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in March.

In 3rd place, Christopher Colquhoun’s savage then partly redeemed Mister in The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory in August.

In 2nd place, Jared Gertner for his gutsy buddy-from-hell performance as Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in March.

In 1st place, John Partridge’s role-defining performance as the workaholic, passionate choreographer Zach in A Chorus Line at the London Palladium in March.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Play.

Some great performances here!

In 5th place, Isla Blair in The Lyons at the Menier Chocolate Factory in October.

In 4th place Felicity Kendal in Relatively Speaking at Wyndham’s Theatre in June.

In 3rd place Nora Connolly in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Curve Studio Leicester in October.

In 2nd place, the other half of that double act, Michele Moran in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Curve Studio Leicester in October and also for Dancing at Lughnasa at the Royal, Northampton in May.

In 1st place, and no surprise, Dame Judi Dench for her performance of consummate ease as Alice Liddell in Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre in May.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Play.

Eighteen actors in my shortlist, and I whittled it down to this:

In 5th place, Ansu Kabia for To Sir With Love at the Royal, Northampton, in September.

In 4th place, the magnetic stage presence of David Walliams as Bottom in Michael Grandage’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Noel Coward Theatre in November.

In 3rd place, Ben Whishaw for his threateningly unhinged performance as Baby in Mojo at the Harold Pinter Theatre in January 2014 and for his compellingly thoughtful performance as Peter Davies in Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre in May.

In 2nd place, Simon Russell Beale’s flamboyant performance as Terri Dennis in Privates on Parade at the Noel Coward Theatre in January 2013.

In 1st place, Daniel Radcliffe’s totally convincing performance as Billy in the Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noel Coward Theatre in August.

Theatre of the Year.

In addition to my usual shortlist of the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, Sheffield Theatres and the Menier Chocolate Factory, I have to add the Leicester Curve and also the Noel Coward Theatre for its Michael Grandage season. Taking everything into account – the standard of productions, the comfort of the theatre, the box-office experience, and the general feelgood feeling you get when you’re there, it’s a tight squeeze this year but I am again going to declare my favourite theatre of the year to be the Royal and Derngate, Northampton! God bless her and all who sail in her!

And thanks to you, gentle reader, for still coming back to read my random thoughts on all the shows we’re lucky enough to see. Hope you all have a very Happy New Theatregoing Year!

Review – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Birmingham Hippodrome, 11th January 2013

Snow White and the Seven DwarfsAnother pantomime, I hear you exclaim? Aren’t they all finished by now? No, indeed – Snow White runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 2nd February. Whereas many pantos start almost at the end of November, the Brum One only starts shortly before Christmas. Therefore you can always fit the Birmingham panto in, if you’re still feeling in the mood for some festive fun as the long days of January dwindle into February.

John PartridgeAnd festive fun is provided in abundance with this glamorous, showbizzy panto, with no expense seemingly spared on costumes, scenery, effects, music and a top quality cast. It boasts a funny script including some wickedly adult double entendres chucked in for good measure and excellent possibilities for hilarious audience participation from both older and younger theatregoers. The wicked queen’s dragon is a splendid effect, huge and vicious looking, hovering over us in the front stalls with the expectation it’s going to swoop down and take one of us away in its claws. Certainly from our viewpoint in Row E, there’s no way of seeing how it worked – I can only assume it’s theGok Wan same technology that had Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sailing through the air a few years ago. Any latent scariness of the dragon gets deflated later on when he’s revealed to have a bostin’ Black Country accent, which is a nice touch. There’s also a very unsettling appearance by an old crone suspended in the air – at first you think she’s some kind of hologram but as she got closer she looked pretty real to me. Spooky enough to make you think they should have used that trick in “The Woman in Black”.

Gary WilmotOf course, it’s all for fun, the majority of which comes from brothers Oddjob and Muddles and their Dame of a mother, Mrs Nora Crumble. This is Gary Wilmot’s first foray into Pantomime Damehood and he makes a smashing job of it. His eternally youthful infectious energy makes him one of my favourite song and dance stars anyway, and his two (self-penned I believe) songs, “Brummie Balti” and “Because You Love Them” are perfectly suited to the comedic and sentimental aspects of the role. I also loved his “OK, Alright” sequence, which took on a life of its own without any audience coaching. Matt Slack is a hilarious Oddjob, joking around the stage all the time, acting like a big kid which appeals to both the kids in the audience and the big kids in all of us. I loved his throwaway impersonations (his version of Joe Pasquale’s “injury at work” advice advert was brilliant) and he was delightfully dismissive of our being hopeless at greeting him with the agreed “Good job, Oddjob” – it’s an awfully difficult tongue-twister to remember Stephanie Beachamwhen you’re laughing. Paul Zerdin as Muddles, usually accompanied by his sidekick Sam, had an excellent rapport with the crowd, and is a highly skilled ventriloquist. Sam appears in a couple of guises, in one of which his mouth stuck in the wide open position in the show we saw, which led to increased hilarity as Mr Zerdin coped manfully with the technical problem. He’s also brilliant with the tiny kids who come on stage at the end – including a really funny vocal trick with the oldest one; and he also administrates a classic variety-style act with a couple from the audience who end up being dummies, doing a little sketch with fantastically funny lines. Congratulations to them too for throwing themselves so whole-heartedly into the fun.

Paul ZerdinI think the loudest appreciation, however, was for Gok Wan as the Man in the Mirror – yes, he who has to tell the wicked queen “who is the fairest of them all”. He certainly grabbed the part (so to speak) with all the flashy campness he could muster, and his advising the queen in exactly the same way he would advise all the women on his TV show (I’m guessing as I haven’t seen it) was extremely funny. I’m not sure the queen would normally respond to “girlfriend” as a term of endearment. Because his whole TV persona is based on advising women on their clothes and their looks, he’s always identifying with, and responding to, the girls in the audience; and, if I have a slight criticism, as a male audience member I felt slightly ignored by him. But then Mrs Chrisparkle did point out that I didn’t have any problem with Linda Lusardi projecting her assets towards the men in the Matt Slackaudience in Sleeping Beauty. Point taken. What was absolutely brilliant, however, was the sequence with all four of these guys doing this year’s version of “if I was not upon the stage, something else I’d rather be” – and this is the only one of this year’s pantos I’ve seen that has included this routine. Mr Slack definitely gets the worst of the deal this year with having to endure both Mr Wilmot’s feather duster popping up between his legs and Mr Wan’s policeman’s truncheon being thrust up his backside. To be honest, I could watch variations on that routine for hours. Mr Wan seemed to enjoy it so much that he it took him ages to be able to get back to the script!

Danielle HopeWith the benefit of hindsight, Muddles and Oddjob were never going to get a look-in with Snow White whilst Princey Prince John was on the scene – showman extraordinaire John Partridge in full-on hearty mode, leading all the singers and dancers in the showbizzy song and dance routines; although when he exhorted us to sing along in the first number because “we all know it”, I’m sorry I couldn’t as it was the first time I’d heard it. Apparently, it’s a song by someone called One Dimension, or something like that. OK I accept I’m probably not the expected demographic! Mr Partridge is a great singer and dancer and brought huge charisma to the part, and his occasional run-ins with Oddjob were hilarious. As the object of his affections, the nation’s Dorothy, Danielle Hope, was a beautiful and charming Snow White, who’s got a fantastically sweet voice and is the embodiment of innocence. Why oh why didn’t she take our advice – freely and loudly given – about not eating the apple? Still, one kiss from Princey and she was back up on her feet in no time. Stephanie Beacham brings a superior gravitas to the role of the queen; she’s unmistakably regal and vain, and carries off a wicked cackle probably better than she ought. She too has a great connection with the audience, as we feel her threats (“I know where you live”, “I’ll have you all sent to Walsall”) personally feel quite intimidating. A real villain to boo and hiss is always a treat.

Finally, where would Snow White be without her seven dwarfs? For this production they’ve chosen not to use real dwarfs but ordinary-sized actors on their knees in clever costumes that hide their real legs and appear to give them shorter, fake, muppet-style comedy legs. I can’t quite decide if this representation works well or not. Something inside made me feel it was slightly patronising, slightly freakish, which would not have been the case if they had simply used actors of restricted growth. It’s a no-win situation really. On the one hand, certainly the kids in the audience all seemed to enjoy their seven-dwarf experience; on the other, later that night Mrs C had a nightmare about them. Anyway, I do hope they were given good knee-padding.

The Birmingham Hippodrome prides itself on having the country’s biggest and brashest panto and I see no reason to dispute this claim. It’s a great show and you’re guaranteed a fun time. See it while you can!

Review – A Chorus Line – revisited – again – London Palladium, 17th July 2013

A Chorus LineForgive me Father for I have sinned; it’s been seven weeks since my last visit to A Chorus Line. All those excited #ACLoholic tweets crossing back and forth cyberspace were making me jealous, but I knew I was pushing my luck suggesting yet another trip with Mrs Chrisparkle. It’s not that she doesn’t love it – it’s just that she has a more balanced (i.e sane) outlook than me. Thus it was that yesterday I went to the matinee with my 16 year old Godson, Bad Wolf (it’s his twitter name, who am I to judge?)

Adam SalterLove for A Chorus Line was instilled in him through the placenta as his mother adores the show; she was introduced to it by her husband who, as a teenager, saw it with me four times during its run at Drury Lane. As Bad Wolf and I enjoyed our pre-theatre lunch in Bella Italia across the street from the Palladium, I asked, “so, are you looking forward to the show then?” He eyed me with teenage derision. “It’s A Chorus Line, isn’t it?” Then he shrugged his shoulders with that “don’t you know anything” look. I took that to mean, “yes I’m looking forward to it enormously Chris and thank you very much for treating me to this nice lunch.”

Ed CurrieIf you’re looking for an impartial, balanced review of A Chorus Line then I’m afraid you won’t find it here. If you check back on my blogs of our February and June visits, you’ll see how deeply rooted this show is in my soul, and if I were to pick away at any perceived structural flaws, self-indulgent aspects or character criticisms, then I might as well tear my own arm off. And I’m not going to do that. Trust me when I say it is the American Musical Supreme, but more than that, it’s an examination – nay celebration – of vulnerable people under pressure coming to terms with their careers, their relationships, their pasts, their futures, their lives. Add in Marvin Hamlisch’s incredible score, Michael Bennett’s exhilarating choreography and the cast’s superb talent and you’ve got an unforgettable work of theatrical art to cherish.

Frances Dee But sadly, it’s going to close early. A few weeks ago, Mrs C and I took a sneaky week’s Mediterranean cruise, and we were discussing theatre with our dining companions one evening, when I mentioned how fond I was of A Chorus Line. “Ach,” said our softly spoken Scottish friend, “it’s closin’ earrrly ‘cos apparently it’s no’ verry guid”. The poor woman didn’t know what had hit her. “Au contraire, it’s brilliant”, I remonstrated swiftly and sternly; “it’s a fantastic revival, probably better than the original. The main problem is the Palladium is such a huge theatre, and there’s not a lot of money out there at the moment. It’s just another sign of the times, Miss Jones.” I’m not sure she got my Blood Brothers reference.

Simon Hardwick So when Bad Wolf and I emerged into the stalls on Wednesday afternoon I was half-expecting the place to be empty. Not a bit of it. The centre stalls block appeared to be fully booked, the side stalls were reasonably full and from what I could see the Royal Circle was packed too. Being a midweek matinee, Pensioner Power was out in force; and, without for a moment suggesting any blanket attributes to a sector of the community, there was an awful lot of sweet paper rustling and low-level chit-chat throughout the afternoon. How fondly I recall the happy days of the mid-70s when well-to-do elderly ladies came to the Drury Lane to see that “nice” musical A Chorus Line, and spent the evening tutting with disgust at mentions of tits, ass, gonorrhoea, “I’d be hard” and “I looked like a f***ing nurse”. Today they seem to take that in their stride, if they can hear the words above the chewing clacking dentures.

Harry Francis Every performance of Chorus Line is different – cast members change emphases, cover performers do it slightly differently, audience reactions very enormously. When we saw it in June I was amazed that, at the moment when the lights dim at the end of the show, Zach having chosen his successful 8-strong chorus, there was no round of applause. Silence. Incredible! Never seen that before. Not so on Wednesday, when that moment (rightly) got a big round of applause – as it nearly always does. However, then, when the individual cast members come out and take their initial personal bow before going into the big “One” routine, the whole audience clapped along regularly to the rhythm of the tune, somewhat panto-esque, rather than just clapping each performer. I’ve never experienced that before either.

Daisy Maywood This audience also reacted well to the show’s “gasp” moments. The main one is during that final elimination scene when Diana gets called forward and then Zach says “I’m wrong, back in line”. That got a great gasp. But there was also a very appreciative gasp at the tumbling sequence in Adam Salter’s absolutely spot-on performance of “I Can Do That”; and also during that wonderful glitzy performance of “One” just before the final chorus – that really high visual impact moment when the lights strengthen and line is in full view at the back of the stage – it was just superb.

Gary WatsonIt’s always so satisfying to see my favourite show in such capable and responsible hands. I have now seen many of the performers play their roles for a third time and they are so comfortable in those characters’ skins. I’ve already mentioned Adam Salter’s Mike, a really engaging performance of a character who is only lightly fleshed out in the text, but who, despite having the most self-confident dance routine has this surprising underlying anxiety (“I’d like to tell you to start at the end”). Ed Currie’s Bobby is now about as good as it gets, revealing the character’s quirkiness and complete shamelessness. When he’s talking about the kid whom he spray-painted and had to be taken to hospital, you got an increased insight into the weirdness of what he did by some subtle hand gestures – I’m guessing it wasn’t just the soles of his feet that were involved. And hat’s off to him for playing the role in that jumper on one of the hottest days of the year. Bobby really is quite a weirdo in many ways, and I think he might terrify you in real life, but Mr Currie gives the character so much warmth that it’s a delight to witness.

Michael Steedon When Bad Wolf and I were talking about the show beforehand, we both agreed that “Sing” is probably our least favourite number, because of its potential to irritate; just slightly. But it occurred to me whilst watching it, that it must be extraordinarily demanding for its performers. You need the verbal dexterity of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, coupled with immaculate comedy timing and, from Kristine, the ability to sing credibly off-key. Frances Dee plays Kristine with superb control and it’s wonderful to watch. We don’t know much about Kristine and Al apart from the littleJon Tsouras secrets they reveal during “Hello Twelve…” Al’s enigmatic “Dad would take Mum to Roseland, she’d come home with her shoes in her hand” is one of the most evocative lines in the show and you never really quite know what to make of it. Simon Hardwick gives the character real substance by superbly contrasting the more private and thoughtful aspects of Al with his macho Bronx façade – great stuff.

Katy Hards Harry Francis is still marvellous as the young Mark, trying so hard to make a good impression, the perfect blend of exuberance and embarrassment; and I still can’t get over what a great dancer he is. Even Bad Wolf spoke highly of his skills. Daisy Maywood is now a real revelation as Bebe. She performed At The Ballet with more emotion in that role than I have ever seen. It was such a thoughtful and reflective account of Bebe’s relationship with her mother – I got a sense that this Bebe was really wounded by her family life and that the scars haven’t healed yet. And I’m still loving Gary Watson’s Don recollecting his youthful experience with Lola Latores – when she drives up in her big pink Cadillac convertible and smiles you just can’t help smiling along with him. Supersub Michael Steedon was playing Paul at this performance – we’d seen him on our previous visit and he really impressed me. This time he was a complete star. It’s such a skilful performance of Paul’s monologue; assertive, clear, brave, proud – but when he breaks down at the end, the contrast is so strong and moving that, again, I got the tears, dammit. And I was additionally moved by the little shriek of sudden pain that accompanied Paul’s fall – something that’s normally done silently – that made it all the more realistic.

Genevieve Nicole It was the first time I’d seen Jon Tsouras as Greg – he’s normally the boy with the headband who refuses to look up. Andy Rees, who normally plays Greg, is absolutely brilliant in the role; but Mr Tsouras puts a fascinatingly different slant on some of Greg’s material. His Greg is very honest, perhaps less of a show-off than others I have seen, and his account of feeling Sally Ketchum’s boobs was laugh-out-loud convincing. This is a very realistic, less bravado-fuelled, more insightful Greg and I really enjoyed his performance. This was also the first time I’ve seen Katy Hards as Diana. A demanding role, I particularly enjoyed her performance of Nothing, which was both funny and moving in all the right places. And, I’m not sure, but I think it was Genevieve Nicole who was playing Vicki, one of the characters to be eliminated early; her unruly dance steps were hilarious!

John PartridgeThe big guns are still going great as well – John Partridge’s Zach was having a slightly more belligerent day, he wasn’t going to let anyone get away with anything. It’s down step, pivot step, not pivot step, pivot step for chrissake! He plays the role with so much conviction and attack, that even just hearing his voice from the back of the auditorium it’s one of the best acting performances you’ll ever be lucky enough to experience. He can invest the word “relax” with unnerving overtones – it could almost be the last words you hear before the Sinister Doctor Zach administers your fatal drug overdose. His sparring with Scarlett Strallen’s Cassie was on absolutely top form, and of course he completely shines in the finale. Miss Strallen was mesmerising in The Music and The Mirror, as usual, and I love the way she copes with Zach and their past relationship; the agony of the memory chokes her voice up and her pain is palpable.

Scarlett StrallenHonestly, what’s not to love? As Harold Hobson said in the Sunday Times in 1975, it’s a rare, devastating, joyous, astonishing stunner and I can’t see any reason to change that opinion. Funny, sad and human to its core and I’m honoured to have seen it again. You’ve got until 31st August to see it too.

Review – A Chorus Line – revisited – London Palladium, 2nd June 2013

A Chorus LineA few months ago – on 23rd February to be precise – Mrs Chrisparkle and I went to see A Chorus Line at the Palladium. It was the first non-preview Saturday night. I loved it, as I knew I would, having loved it ever since as a slightly insecure 16 year old I sat, by myself, in Row C of the stalls at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and became instantly captivated by this life-enhancing show that taught me so much about, well, everything really. £5.50 that ticket cost me; I must have saved up for weeks. One of the best investments I ever made.

Victoria Hamilton-BarrittAs I mentioned in my previous blog, I’ve kept the faith with this show basically all my life, seeing it not only in London, but also in Oxford, Sheffield and on Broadway. February’s trip was my 12th time of seeing it – and Mrs C’s 4th, bless her. She loves the show too – maybe not quite as fanatically as me. I guess we all have our own definition of “what I did for love”. Thanks to the kindness of a Third Party whom I shall not name – but if you’re reading this, thanks so much! – on Saturday we returned to see it again.

John PartridgeI’ve always been a “front stalls” man; that’s my default setting. But for this 13th viewing of A Chorus Line, we sat in the dress circle, and I’ve never seen the show from this angle before. It’s very impressive! It goes without saying that from the dress circle (Row B) you get a fantastic view of the entire stage. Even though you’re further back and you can’t see the sweat and the spit, there are other aspects of onstage activity that become more apparent. Specific elements of the dance; for example, Diana’s thumping tap moves, in an attempt to make some kind of noise with her sneakers, came across as really funny; and you could see that the accidental twist that results in an injury to one of the dancers was executed absolutely perfectly. The view also brought out the anxiety and buzz of the dancers mingling stage right, whilst they’re waiting for Larry to call them on to dance, or for Zach to choose them for his final seventeen. Absolute big up at this point to Georgie Ashford for a fabulous performance as Trisha during that first number. The resigned crestfallen looks from the dancers not chosen, somehow clearer from above, was something I had never really appreciated before.

Scarlett StrallenIf anything, the show is even better than three months ago. Everything flows so naturally and seamlessly. The voices are perfect, the dance moves stupendous. I’ve always loved Michael Bennett’s original choreography, it’s so eloquent yet subtle in comparison with Bob Fosse’s brash showmanship that most other people seemed to prefer at the time. Despite the fact that, as Cassie says, “they’re all special”, some roles are still seen as “starrier” than others and they’re all still sublimely performed. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt especially now really excels herself as Diana. She has taken the song “Nothing” and totally made it her own. With some quirky vocal expression and changes of pace she tells the story of that stupid course and the dreadful Mr Karp with such passion that we can see how that experience has strengthened Diana and shaped the way she copes with life’s problems today. Her “What I Did For Love” still hits home with its plaintive honesty and the whole cast’s backing singing is just superb – major goosebump time.

Leigh ZimmermannJohn Partridge continues to invest Zach with a humanity I’ve not seen in previous actors’ interpretations. His questioning technique of the dancers is rarely straightforward – at times he’s sly, provocative, humorous, compassionate, irate; and his questions in turn seem to elicit a more emotional response from the auditionee. His stage presence is just astounding, and he’s still loving that big number at the end. When Larry asks Sheila for her “I love to dance smile”, it’s Mr Partridge to whom they should look for inspiration.

Gary WatsonAs Cassie, I loved Scarlett Strallen’s heightened emotions when she and Zach are raking over the old coals of their former relationship; I’ve never heard a Cassie quite so outraged by Zach’s pig-headed selfishness. She’s got to keep on the right side of him because she wants the job, but there are some things she’s just not going to let him get away with! The two actors work together incredibly well in those scenes. And Leigh Zimmermann’s Sheila is still a brilliant portrayal of the slightly temperamental, definitely cynical, at heart vulnerable, brassy lady who knows there aren’t many years left that she can continue to be a chorus cutie. Her last look to Zach still speaks volumes.

Ed CurrieThe whole cast are superb, but I wanted to mention a few others that I didn’t talk about last time. There’s a terrifically solid and honest performance by Gary Watson as Don, who really brings his experience with Lola Latores and her twin forty-fours to life; it’s fun to imagine the two of them zooming off into the sunset in her pink Cadillac. I also loved the way he reacted to the final casting decision – absolutely right for that character. Ed Currie seems to have now really got to the heart of Bobby, “real weird” in that nerdy jumper, outrageously sending up the wackier aspects of his character but in an absolutely credible way. Frances Dee is a wonderfully out of tune Kristine, no pantomime character this but a real person who genuinely gets uptight through nerves; and Alastair Postlethwaite, who we thought would be destined for great things after seeing him in So You Think You Can Dance, is giving Larry a real character dimension; not just the assistant but someone who has to have a proper working relationship with Zach and with whom you sense he doesn’t always see eye-to-eye. Andy Rees is still a hugely entertaining Greg, and Harry Francis’ Mark – the character I always identified with when I was young – is a brilliant combination of youthful exuberance and awkward embarrassment. His dance skill is astonishing; you sense he could dance rings round the others given half a chance.

Andy ReesIn the performance we saw, the role of Paul, in many ways the most sympathetic and moving role in the show, was played by Michael Steedon. Paul has a stunningly written monologue to perform, and every Paul plays it slightly differently, obviously drawing on the actor’s own insights and experience. Mr Steedon is absolutely one of the best. Beautifully paced, sincere; I know that speech like the back of my hand and still it brought tears to my eyes.

Harry FrancisA funny thing happened halfway through the show – everything stopped! Judy had just confessed to kissing other girls as a rehearsal for when she wanted to start kissing guys when all the lights went out. Everything went silent; a little torch appeared at the sides of the stage and you heard the shuffle off of retreating dancers. Then, in a tone of immaculate calm, a disembodied voice announced that due to a technical issue they’d had to suspend the show and would get it going again as soon as possible. Well it’s not often that a number literally stops the show! I felt the lighting had gone awry in the “Mother” sequence beforehand; I don’t know if that was the cause. Anyway, for the first time, A Chorus Line actually had an interval! It was about ten minutes before they resumed the show, picking up precisely from where they had left off; and huge admiration to Andy Rees for getting straight back in with Greg’s “Hard” routine without a flicker of anything being wrong. That must have been quite nerve-racking.

Have to go back again soonOne other observation about this production of A Chorus Line is that I really like the fact that we now get an additional curtain call at the end. It was always a source of frustration to the teenage me that the last we saw of the performers was when the lights faded on the high kicks at the end of “One” – you never really felt you were given the opportunity fully to express your appreciation. Apart from the very last night in 1979, that is, when the lights went back up at the end of the show to reveal a stage and auditorium full of weeping cast and aficionados. Now, once the lights have faded, the dancers remain on stage one more time for a proper curtain call. Result: satisfaction all round.

Going back to see it again has satisfied me that the cast are still looking after the show wonderfully well – it’s all in very safe hands. Trouble is, now I’m going to have to go yet again. I knew I’d have to!