Adrian Mann Theatre - 15th - 18th May 2019
Sometimes when watching a musical you simply have to say "WOW". This was definitely one of those rare occasions. From the opening scene to the splendid finale this production gripped the senses in electrifying manner. Directed to near perfection by the visionary Jeffrey Chinappen, the show is based upon the award winning television drama of the same name by Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus in collaboration with Kath Gotts and Maggie Norris.
Somewhat to my amusement, I was asked if I was broad minded by a prominent member of the company when I attended. Indeed, this would not be a show for narrow minded or bigoted people and all the better for not being so! In fact, that mainstream TV and theatre audiences in general are now able to see and enjoy such a gritty and lifelike characterisation of life inside a women's prison speaks volumes for the success that theatre has helped to achieve in pushing aside the old narrow views that once were, sadly, commonplace. Vive la difference!
Quite irrespective of the admirable production and cast performances, Bad Girls stands as a top rate musical in its own right. Filled with catchy tunes and some memorable songs and beautifully written plot and characters, I consider this show to be among the first rank of great shows I have ever seen. Full marks, therefore, to BANOS for choosing this wonderful show.
With twenty scenes in all, it was imperative that set changes be swift, seamless and with a sensible lack of over bulky set in general in favour of smaller and easily portable items well managed by SM Sarah Wood and her team which ensured the all important scene continuity and speed.
Musical Director Dawn Tolley's five piece band did sterling work on the all important music and balance was excellent. Songs were sung with much feeling and conviction with a number of principal characters having fine singing voices.
Choreographers Kelly Neilson and Jeffrey Chinappen set some interesting and crisply danced routines, which made for a very good overall impression.
All the principal players gave outstanding performances and the depth of principal talent was rich and heartening to see. Jennie Morrison, as the headstrong and ill treated by the justice system, Nikki Wade, gave a brilliant, gritty and highly charismatic performance. Her mutual attraction to the honourable wing governor Helen Stewart - played to perfection by Victoria Swain - was a tale of burgeoning mutual love overcoming all obstacles and was, for my money, the most heart warming of the many interwoven plots and sub-plots in this beautifully written piece.
Two joint baddie roles, both wolves in ill disguised sheep's clothing as prison officers, were given by Kevin Hayes as the sleazy Jim Fenner and, pushing Kevin very hard in the performance stakes, was the admirable Sue Massingham as his partner in crime Sylvia (Bodybag) Hollamby. Kevin achieved a touch of greatness rarely seen in amateur theatre and to say I was impressed is a huge understatement.
The direction and portrayal of the chained to the bed scene where Fenner met his nemesis, courtesy of Shell, was a thing of wonder and perhaps the most powerfully played single scene I have seen this year.
It is difficult, even so, to pick this scene out as the single show highlight, so wonderful was the whole production.
Helen Burgess-Bartlett as the prison brutalised and hardened Shell Dockley, with her growling "pet Rottweiler" in tow in the guise of Denny Blood, inhabited rather than played by Catherine Quinnn, were both acting masterpieces.
And then there were the Two Julies! Julie Saunders and Julie Johnston, played by Carolyn Green and Nikki Sowe respectively were yet two more diamonds, sparkling among many others in this overflowing Pirates Treasure Chest.
If you are going to be a newbie prisoner who soon becomes top dog in a female prison, a large dollop of swagger, presence and sheer personality would seem to be a requirement. Anyone interested in playing such a role should first apply for permission to hire these qualities from Emma Pearson, as Yvonne Atkins. Emma owns the copyright !
But this show just kept on giving and it is a real task to find superlatives with which to adequately describe it.
Zak Negri, all bonhomie and decency as Officer Justin Mattison, with his embarrassing misjudgement of the inclinations of his friend and colleague Helen, played all his scenes with his customary skill and he is already, though still young, a performer of some renown.
Poor terrified and overwrought new prisoner Rachel Hicks whose grizzly fate was, if not actually predictable, hardly a surprise was given huge authenticity by the talented Emma Bullock.
Sadly, space prevents me spelling out the names and talents of all the other players on stage. However, smaller roles and cameos were given by all the other players in varying amounts and each one added lustre to this amazing show. I want though to especially praise the singing of Rosalind Holden as Crystal Gordon who opened Act Two in rare style with the well sung "Freedom Rd" with all the Prisoners.
Whether dancing, singing, acting or whatever they were doing this was the single most impressive and richly talented cast I have had the pleasure of watching this season.
However, backstage talents are also vital to the success of this show and the skills and imaginative use of lighting and sound, courtesy of Amy Worral, John Aldis and Ben Jeffreys on lighting, together with Steve Clemo, Colin Hannah and Howard on sound, matched the talents on stage.
Set was an in house team effort and all the better for that. Luisa Puig coordinated costumes, which were eminently suitable and appropriate.
One tiny nit picky niggle is the well concealed single line mention of NODA in the easily readable programme. And that is all I could find to fault. It was a colossus of a show and an even more gigantic performance by the cast and whole production crew.
Show director Jeff Chinappen's vision and stagecraft were abundantly evident throughout this professional standard production and in true British understatement style, I quite liked it! Oh forget British understatement, who needs it! It was an evening of sheer magic and I salute you all BANOS, each and everyone of you!
NODA District 19
Epsom Playhouse - 17th May 2018
This now legendary show is so often performed at amateur level as it is a theatre filler and the many children used ensures a plentiful supply of seats sold to relatives and school friends.
Director Lynda Barrett-Mercer opted to use a basic balustrade set with prominent steps down to stages left and right and adapted as necessary to make this fit all the many changes of scene. With clever use of lighting, courtesy of Amy Worrall, this decision proved a wise one and thus the show flowed relatively seamlessly without wholesale cumbersome set changes.
Lynda used many individual touches to give character and individuality to scenes. I especially liked the "God is Love" sign as the orphan children were treated so cruelly. This spoke volumes about the huge and obvious gap between the haves and the have nots in Victorian London. This theme was highlighted throughout this production giving added drama to Dickens' great work, courtesy of Lionel Bart's own genius.
This production was underpinned by several top rate, even professional standard, principal performances. Francis Radford was a totally mesmeric Fagin with incredible face, hair and teeth make up. The make up team of Kirsten Massingham with Stevi Magik, Gina Gravenell, Abi Moore, Molly Bialkowski, Lindsay Massingham and Ella Addison did an amazing job on the whole cast.
All the main principals gave top class perforamances, especially Teri-Ann Carter as a feisty yet vulnerable Nancy, Holly Artis as Bet was a graceful foil. Tom Paine as a truly frightening Bill Sikes, Colin Bousfield as a pompous, cowardly Mr Bumble, Monica Turnbul as a schemingWidow Corney, Paul Bullock as a put upon Mr Sowerberry and Sue Massingham as a magnificent "haridan" Mrs Sowerberry.
Among the child players, Sean Munro really stood out as the Artful Dodger. This mere 11 year old boy has a quite obvious feel for the stage and, Fagin apart, was the star of this production. I predict a big future for him.
Another excellent performance was given by 10 year old William Wilson who was the epitome of what Oliver should be. I was also very impressed with his performance and his "Where is Love" was beautifully sung. Oliver Whiter as Dodger and Alfie Turnbull as Oliver shared these wonderful roles in other performances. Charlie Stewart did well too as Charlie Bates, again sharing the role on other performances with Zack Harding.
An honourable mention too for young James Goodman as the cowardly Noah Claypole and Emma Bullock as the simpering Charlotte.
I was pleased with the general standard of discipline and acting of the workhouse children.
Steve Clemo was a kindly Mr Brownlow, Carole Daniels was his dutiful housekeeper Mrs Bedwin and John Daniels as the delightfully ridiculous Dr Grimwig, one of Dickens' best cameo roles!
All gave sterling support - Judy Southey as Old Sally "died" so dramatically, which I loved!.
The singing was impressive in the main, especially Nancy, who had a lovely voice and could really act and move; Bet too! Francis milked his " Reviewing the Situation" for all it was worth, embellishing the ghastly, but still likeable - in some ways - character of Fagin with an individualism that only the cream of the crop can give. A performance of this magnitude is rare on the amateur stage!
Highly experienced musical director Brian D Steel with his hugely talented violinist wife Barbara along with five other dextrous musicians playing another nine instruments (eleven in all) gave a professional quality to the show's music. Much of it was hauntingly played, none better than the violin in "Reviewing". BANOS also boast the advantage of a vocal coach in the person of Sarah Higginbotham, who had clearly used her talents to fine effect.
Lois Hatt with her team provided fine costumes and all looked appropriately dressed in their various characters. The huge difference between the lavishly dressed governors and the workhouse kids in their "rags" was starkly displayed.
Director Lynda Barrett-Mercer used many individual touches during the performance. Widow Corney's "toy" cat and her cockney accent and flirting with the only too willing Bumble were top notch. I liked Oliver forced to hold his "Boy for Sale" sign too, which starkly showed the dreadful Victorian cruelty.
Kelly Neilson and Paige-Leanne Fayers choreographed and their dance routines were lively, crisp and well rehearsed. Company singing in general was good, though the ensemble in "Boy for Sale" was a little uneven.
In common with many show Olivers, the scene when an outraged between Oliver , goaded beyond endurance by Noah finally turned upon him was a little unrealistic. I realise health and safety forbids much, but it looked rather sloppy and not for real. "Consider Yourself" was an excellent company scene led by the admirable Dodger (again!), the audience clapping in time with the music showed their obvious appreciation. The freeze during Oliver's "stealing" of Brownlow's hankie worked well. Another highlight hankie scene was in Fagin's den with Oliver being taught how to pick pockets. Pick a Pocket or Two and Be Back Soon were marvellously staged and thrilling to behold.
Oom-Pah-Pah together with the whole company support ran these very close.
One aspect I did not think well done was Sikes' demise. It was scarcely noticeable and a most important dramatic moment in the show did not work well. "Who will buy" worked well, once we had the full chorus onstage, though all the main streetsellers sang well and looked the part.
Lighting by Amy Worrall was most effective, creating intense atmosphere, many of the darker scenes being very real too. Sound by Colin Hannah and Louise Carter was assured.
In all, this was a high class production with pace, flow, real characters, strong chorus support and good change of mood and use of atmosphere. It is among the very best of the very many "Olivers" I have seen.
NODA Area 19
Adrian Mann Theatre - 17th May 2017
This lively musical is based upon the real life strike at Ford Dagenham in 1968 and its raw, sometimes coarse language perfectly illustrated the down to earth attitudes and honesty of those who worked in the Ford plant.
The stage was reasonably sized with a narrow apron both left and right, but had virtually no wing space at all as I know from personal experience. The use that director Chris Malone made of the stage was wondrous to behold. A metal construction with high platforms left and right was cleverly used throughout for management meetings mostly and scenes were swiftly and smoothly changed. A simple, but effective opening set of the central character Rita's home featured her husband Eddie in bed (with the bed and Eddie actually vertical upon the stage left platform), while beneath on stage were Rita and their two kids eating breakfast and squabbling realistically at the kitchen table. Her ironing board was slightly stage right of the kitchen area. One felt really drawn into the stage, partly because of the wide but narrow layout of the auditorium. We had the women's sewing shop, men's car factory, a social club, a school, a Bernie Inn and even two Labour politicians' offices.
I am, regretfully, easily old enough to remember Barbara Castle, Employment Minister and her paper "In Place of Strife" together with the charismatic Prime Minister Harold Wilson, pipe and Gannex raincoat adorning him. Both their offices were simply furnished with an accurate old style telephone which many young people would now consider antique!
Helen Clark as Rita O'Grady was, frankly, superb in this role, the feisty, fair minded but vulnerable, self doubting leader of the women sewing machinists, who led the strike for equal pay with the men (something which the men eventually come round to supporting). She trod the delicate balance of loyalty to her fellow machinists and to her suffering husband with consummate artistry. This was raw and powerful theatre and consummate acting from the top drawer!
Steve Clemo as her faithful but torn husband Eddie O'Grady was a magnificent foil in every way and their loving, but difficult family relationship underpinned the whole story. Their young children on the night I attended were charmingly and realistically played by Samuel Millard-Burda as Graham and Lily Worby as Sharon. )The roles were shared on other performances with Zack Harding and Oenone Turner-Hearn.)
A host of fellow female factory workers gave sterling support to Rita early on in the insistent "This is what We Want", featuring Georgia Loosley as Sandra Beaumont; Denize Goulder-Perks as Beryl; Monica Turnbull as Cass; Teri-Ann Carter as Clare. Clare was given individual authenticity par excellence in "Wossname" together with all the women. Judy Southey was an excellent Connie Riley, a tough as teak Shop Steward. No wonder the ladies won the day with such as these in the vanguard. Others ladies also not to tangle with were the Cortina Girls, namely: Debbie Clemo, Roz Copeland, Alma Griffith, Sue Massingham and Helen Strong.
On the platform, heatedly discussing factory business, were Mr Hopkins Managing Director, played in forceful style by Ken Smith; Sid, a truculent Union Shop Steward well played by Tom Jobson and Monty, a NUVB Convenor played with style by Roger Gibbs.
There was an effective scene in Wilson's office, Graeme Long doing very well as the Prime Minister from Huddersfield, Harold Wilson. I especially enjoyed the businesslike, but distinctly warm and practised portrayal of the redoubtable Barbara Castle by Valerie Carr - her scene with Rita being very powerful and actually moving. A well loved, yet feisty Cabinet Minister splendidly captured by Valerie, indeed a show high spot. Someone had done their homework on this character! The tango by the two aides was humorous and went over well.
Beginning at the boss's dining table, Fiona Radford as the posh, but warm hearted and honourable boss's wife, Lisa Hopkins, showed the class both of the character and the actor. Truly a woman with real compassion for those less fortunate than herself.
Francis Richard Radford was the awful, sleazy Ford "big white chief" himself, Mr Tooley, initially in the USA, then appearing in Dagenham. A true baddie with no redeeming personal qualities, Francis played this unlovely character, as his programme CV heavily suggests, with more than a hint of the most divisive current American politician, albeit a deal younger. Answers as to whom in a tweet please! Frances elevates every show he appears in and this was no exception. Charismatic, splendid, different class!! Believe me, this was acting firmly against type, par excellence!
The abiding strength and message this show sends out is of the innate decency and determination under difficult circumstances of pretty much all the female characters, be they refined in language or not. In contrast, some (only) of the men were real no hopers, though most eventually either chose to or were forced to accept the important staging post in the inevitable advancement of women's employment basic rights. The sensitive director Chris Malone clearly devised this show with this at the forefront and it was raw and powerful theatre in consequence. A true landmark in the long battle for female equal rights.
The Ford Social Club was well represented, a sexist comic Chubby Chuff given a coarse vitality by Sebastian Roughley and introduced by the typical MC type of that era in fine style by Colin Bousfield. Colin also did well as Personnel Director Gregory Humble, caught in the crossfire of the dispute and played Mr Buckton a strict schoolteacher (kids were still caned in the late sixties). Sebastian also played Cortina Man convincingly and Mr Tooley's rough security man Adams. Roy Comber was Ron Macer, the forceful production manager.
Other realistic roles were well portrayed by Michael Wallbridge as Bill (another Union Shop Steward) and Charlie Lambourne as an Apprentice Toolmaker. Michael and Sebastian were also two civil servants used to good effect in the Parliament offices scene. One really felt as if we were actually in the factory, so realistic were these men and also all of the many chirpy and indefatigable sewing machine girls, without exception.
Musical Director Dawn Tolley used her five piece band to good effect, though the band were too loud in the factory workers' in "Made in Dagenham" and I lost some singing lines.
I liked the Eastbourne scene a lot; it was lively and well worked. The tense build up to Rita's speech at the TUC and her final triumph was excellent and most realistic. The company gave marvellous support.
Choreographer Emma Rowland set some excellent routines which were slick and a high standard for an amateur show. BANOS would be well advised to hang on to this talented young lady.
Amy Worrall on lighting did a fine job with some good effects. Sound was also well handled by Colin Hannah and Louise Carter. Costumes which were well fitted and in the main just right for the period were a team effort by Sue Aldridge, Helen Strong, Giuseppina Tobin and Luisa Puig. Kirsten Massingham and Aimee Harris dealt with make up effectively and Luisa Puig had the all important but oft overlooked responsibility for props. A well earned mention therefore for Luisa. Roy Comber must also get huge credit for the set design and build. The way the set was used so imaginatively by the inspirational director Chris Malone was outstanding as was his whole direction of this gritty, real and thundering good show.
Finally, a special mention for the way above average programme with interesting and informative background and a welcome piece on NODA. Well done everybody.
NODA District 19
Following on from this great review we also won the NODA Award for the Best New Musical in Area 19 for our production of Made in Dagenham.
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