Shakespeare Memorial Room, Birmingham Central Library
DON'T Go Into the Cellar is a new Theatre Company with a growing reputation for period performance. The creative invention of Jonathan Goodwin and Rachel Green, tonight's presentation was of Gothic horror with “Gothicana”. Their current touring repertoire includes both more bawdy Victorian romp themes in “Ghouls Aloud”, and the Sherlock Holmes legend .
The setting, in the Shakespeare Memorial Room, part of the Birmingham Central Library complex could not have been more apposite or magnificent. A barrel vaulted ceiling looks down on towering glass fronted bookcases with books steeped in antiquity and learning. Wood panelling and marquetry abound.
Narrator and MC for the evening was Dave Francis as Dr Caligari, a tall, yet stooped, character with an eastern European accent seemingly from Transylvania who linked proceedings well, and injected some welcome humour into the evening. Local actress Lorna Meehan gave brooding performances of “A Burial” in a strong start, and later with, Emily Bronte's “The Night is Darkening”,a piece she clearly relished.
STYLE AND APLOMB
STYLE AND APLOMB
Centrepiece of the show was M.R.James's ghost story, "The Ash Tree” set at Castringham Hall in Suffolk. Jonathan Goodwin delivered the tale with style and aplomb in a wonderfully nuanced interpretation of the tale in which he held a hushed audience for almost half an hour, the physical surroundings helped the atmosphere enormously. The extended applause was richly deserved.
Following such an intense piece was going to be a tricky task but an Edgar Alan Poe section achieved that, first with Gary Archer as Poe with “A Letter to Virginia Poe” (and later to George Eveleth), and then with Jade Cole delivering my favourite piece of the evening with “The Raven”. Shrouded in black she stalked the floor, enthralled the audience, rattled the doors and generally did everything she could to bring a superb poem alive – she succeeded totally.
A splendid evening's entertainment, replete with
period costume and suitably haunting background music, “Gothicana” is an
original concept, very well realised. Together with “Ghouls Aloud”, it
runs on the last Tuesday and Thursday of the month, “Gothicana “ on the
Tuesday, with guest actors and artists rotating around the core cast to
ensure that each night's performance, and material, is unique. For more
information on the Company and forthcoming shows:
The Box Set
The Tardebigge, Redditch
THE stars are for
effort, rather than value: there are two men in two plays, written
by Carla Buckley and planned to launch a series of plays that are
threaded by a theme about boxes.
The venue did not help. The
audience of about 40 was mainly disported around individual tables,
and I had the misfortune to be virtually alongside a couple who
behaved as if they had never seen theatre before – the woman
particularly, was a smartly-dressed oafette who was given to
shouting unintelligibly at the stage from time to time, as if she
was at home, talking to the telly. There was also the odd snog.
On stage in Neale McGrath's première production,
and certainly more worth watching, were Nigel Buckley and Mike
Richardson, who worked hard, maintained a purposeful pace and did
all they could for the scripts proffered by Carla Buckley – who was
married to Nigel two days before the first night. Very best wishes
to them, but on this evidence there is work to be done, particularly
on The Box, the first of the two offerings.
Almost from the start, it was apparent that
inspiration had been drawn from alternative comedians – those who
provide an alternative to comedy but are now themselves classed as
comedians because there is little alternative to them. All
right, let's have a couple of F-words early on, to make sure we know
we are privy to the posturings of the not very intelligent – but
here they are laid on with a trowel, as if by a schoolboy who
has just discovered them.
It's a shame, because this is a double bill that
does contain some clever nuggets. The Box – a story of a
mystery box in a parcel that sends Nigel Buckley's character into a
frenzied panic, while Richard (Mike Richardson) does his best to
calm him down – is amusing enough without the need to dredge for
The second play, The Italian Assassin,
gives the evening a positive lift without threatening to make it
unduly memorable. Again, as in The Box, the two actors
demonstrate a talent for comedy when the internet session that one
of them is having with Perverted Pete – who is going to be added to
his favourites – is interrupted by the arrival of an alarming
citizen in black.
We learn that the pursuer of porn haunts women's
lavatories to watch it on his mobile phone. To the suggestion that
this is not normal, he points out that it's normal to him, and when
he holds a box of breakfast crunchies – it's that theme again –
across his chest in response to his visitor's pointed gun, the man
in black tells him he is an assassin, not a cereal killer.
There are, that is to say, moments that stand out. Perhaps they will stand out better in a better ambience when The Box Set moves to the Etcetera Theatre, in Camden. But before that, there is one more performance at The Tardebigge – on Friday, December 3.
In a word - a different world
Signs of a Star Shaped Diva
GRAEae Theatre Company
The Door, Birmingham Rep
Graeae have brought this mesmerising show from Theatre Royal Stratford East to the Door at Birmingham Rep, and what a radical experience it is. In every respect.
Words take on a different dimension as they parade centre stage, projected on a screen and moulded in the face and gestures of ‘sign song' diva extraordinaire, Caroline Parker.
Artistic Director Jenny Sealey wanted to find a vehicle that would embody Parker's remarkable talent for signing (not singing) songs into a dramatic narrative.
Together with writer, Nona Sheppard, she has created an engaging story that allows Parker to explore every shade and texture of the diva-famous classics, from soulful ballads to up-tempo show-stoppers. The humour is laugh out loud, in-yer-face hilarious. The pathos is gentle and perfectly timed.
We enter the world of demure, modestly dressed Sue, who leaves her world of darkened rooms and solitary teacups in a small-town northern funeral parlour to revel in the star-spangled glitter of show-time in Las Vegas. Donning wigs, eyelashes and stilettos before our eyes, Sue becomes her alter-ego Tammy and transforms the stage with hugely entertaining renditions of diva classics that will appeal to young and old alike, from Peggy Lee to Dusty Springfield to Amy Winehouse.
The whole show is interactive and last night's audience were definitely on side - clapping their hands and engaging with the humour of Parker's witty incarnations as her story unfolds. This collaborative element of the show is in itself remarkable because Parker is deaf, and as she admits in one of many moments of self-parody, lip-reading words can be a challenge in a world where “cotton sheets become cottage cheese”.
However in the language of signed song, this show is accessible to everyone. It places the non-spoken word centre stage and reveals just what a powerful art form that can be.
This is a virtuoso performance that challenges the way we hear, see and respond to the power of music.
Grab a ticket if you can. To 19-05-10
Jane Campion Hoye
Mum's The Word
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
MEN thinking about attending this comedy with their wives or partners should perhaps be recommended to take a sedative before entering the theatre.
If the five actresses on stage - all mothers - are to be believed, childbearing and all that follows can be almost as scary as a horror film.
Maybe that's the reason the vast majority of people in the audience are women who have experienced and understand the physical agonies of bringing babies into the world, and the show starts with Kaye Quinley giving a pretty graphic impression of a mum-to-be's final moments in a labour ward.
Replacing the ill Bernie Nolan, she forms a powerful quintet with Tracy Shaw, Sally Ann Matthews, Susie Fenwick and Mandy Holliday in a show which delivers pain and humour by the bucketfull.
Biggest laugh of the night? That's when chubby Mandy Holliday, playing a mum whose toddler has slipped away while she was struggling out of her soaked bathing costume, dashes stark naked across the stage....and a few minutes later streaks, screaming, in the opposite direction.
Not far behind that in the titter stakes was the scene where the ladies appear to be using their breasts as 'water pistols'.
The play, which opens with the fab five sitting on wooden seats facing the audience, was written by six Canadian actresses, once glamorous, but facing up to life as exhausted mothers of ten children under the age of six.
Gentlemen, work has to be the easier option! To 08.05.10
Harry's meetings still entertains
When Harry Met Sally
“WHEN you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible'
What a wonderfully thought provoking line in the play. It was this and other similar lines that had me entranced and hungry to see what the next scene was going to be.
The performance by both leading actors was truly addictive and entertaining. They both put on convincing American accents and played their characters well. Sally (Sarah Jayne Dunn) portrayed the character beautifully; annoyingly optimistic, whiny, but still intelligent. Harry (Rupert Hill), was entertaining as the initially emotionally unintelligent lawyer.
There were many funny moments during the play which kept it alive and moving at a pace. The end of the play the message was obvious, that differences really can work together.
The set was basic, but very appropriate and used very effectively to set the scene. It fitted with all the scenes and provided enough to get our imaginations going. The background music was especially recorded for the show by Jamie Cullum and his brother Ben and fits in with every scene
The atmosphere was light and everyone seemed to be relaxed and enjoying the show. It was easy to watch, light entertainment, an escape.
This show was an enjoyable experience and have already recommended it to others, a must see! to 08-05-10.
* * *
CAN a man and woman really be just good friends? That's the question posed by Nora Ephron's romantic comedy adapted for the stage from the award-winning film starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.
For 12 years of their on-off-on relationship it seems that Harry and Sally will never click in a physical sense as they date other people, argue and Harry marries someone else, then divorces.
The play has some delightful dialogue between the couple, she just out of college and he fresh from law school, and of course there is that famous scene in a diner when, to the amazement of other customers, Sally suddenly breaks off a discussion with Harry to fake an orgasm with much gasping, groaning and writhing.
In the film it happens in a packed restaurant, so inevitably the the stage version loses some of its impact because the witnesses are just one female customer and a waiter.
Rupert Hill, who plays Jamie Baldwin in Coronation Street, is superb as the articulate Harry, while Sarah Jayne Dunn sparkles in the role of the romantic Sally, and there is a touching scene when love finally blossoms for a happy ending.
I saw the play on Wednesday night when, sadly, there was a tiny audience. They witnessed a bit of unexpected entertainment, though, just as the action started and a stocky pensioner in the third row of the stalls for some reason decided to climb over the seats into the second row. He found himself with one leg trapped on top of the seats until a man in the front row heard his predicament and leaned over to release the man's leg.
Harry continues meeting Sally until Saturday night 08.05.10
A night of wartime memories
We'll Meet Again
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
GREAT wartime songs were packed into this nostalgic concert which proved a real tear-jerker for the many pensioners in the audience.
And they joined in enthusiastically with the five singers for many of those Hitler-slugging hits, particularly when stunning young blonde Lucia Matisse gave her tribute the forces's sweetheart Vera Lynn.
White Cliffs of Dover and, of course, Well Meet Again piled on the emotion, and the cast helped bring memories flooding back by wearing army, navay and air force uniforms for some of the numbers.
And what a performance from Andy Eastwood, Britain's foremost exponent of the ukulele. He played the instrument brilliantly in his George Formby medley, including the trademark song When I'm Cleaning Windows.
The old Workers Playtime radio show was given an airing, with the cast playing the likes of Arthur Askey, Tessie O'Shea, Gracie Fields and that Cheeky Chappie, Max Miller, and if some gags were as old as gas masks, no-one cared.
Steve Barclay, Tony Leyton and Mervyn Francis made strong contributions, with Martyn St James and Phil Jeffrey providing the music on keyboard and drums for the three performances. To 30.04.10
Honour killing brings bite to gritty drama
If you like gritty, hard-hitting plays
with a punch then Respect does just that. As the title says, it's
about how much respect passionately matters to second generation
migrants (in this case Turkish) who are desperately trying to fit in
with their Western German counterparts.
Respect is also a story of a real-life honour killing
that inspired writer Lutz Hübner but offended German authorities so much
it led to a two year ban on the play. This social realism adds to
the play's sense of menace, reinforced by Rae Mcken's taut production,
laced with motifs of shadows slashed on walls, layered staging from
light down to darkness, and rushes of metallic noise that grate like the
swish of a knife.
Libby Watson's set imaginatively suspends the stark bright-white cell of an interrogation room above the stage, where police psychologist Kobert (Tim Wyatt) tries to make sense of the fragments of this murder mystery. Except here the questions are not so much whodunit, but why?
As Kobart painstakingly draws out the varied accounts from Turkish boys
Cem (Naoufal Ousellam) and Sinan (Simon Silva) we watch, through a
series of flashbacks, the story of what happened when the boys take two
girls, Elena and Ulli, out on a day trip to Cologne. It's a
violent game of power-struggles that end with one girl dead, and the
other badly injured after a frenzied stabbing.
The teenagers are all convincingly portrayed, but it is Ousellam that
stands out. As the volatile Cem, he explores every shade of rage -
from sinister brooding to psychotic explosion – in a performance that
lingers in the memory after the play finishes.
However, the highly structured set also stifles some of the
performances, most notably Wyatt who, cooped in the prison cell, has to
play far too many scenes from a sideways view. It's only when the
set and characters converge in the last twenty minutes that the play
draws to a brilliant, heart-beat stopping climax.
Worth watching. To 08-05-10
Jane Campion Hoye
English Touring Opera
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
THERE'S a lovely scene at the start of Donizetti's humorous opera when Keel Watson, playing Don Pasquale, stands in front of the theatre curtain and appears to be conducting, with passion, the orchestra in the pit below.
He makes a fine job of it, too, which is necessary because Pasquale is a wealthy conductor of international renown, though he soon finds himself dancing to the tune of the young woman he has decided to marry.
Watson was superb as the portly musician who, upset by his nephew's refusal to marry the woman he has chosen for him, decides to take a wife for himself with disastrous results.
In the amusing plot, Don Pasquale's agent, Malatesta, conspires with the nephew, Ernesto, to set up a fake marriage for the conductor which could enable Ernesto to eventually wed his lover, Norina, beautifully played by soprano Mary O'Sullivan.
Owen Gilhooly sparkled as Malatesta, with Nicholas Sharratt in fine voice as Ernesto.
Although the opera was sung in English, it was impossible to pick up every word and you wonder whether the electronic surtitle board should be used in all operas to help the audience follow what is going on.
Don Pasquale was staged on Monday, with Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro on Tuesday.
Comedy with pick and shovel edge
TURNING a film into a play is never easy. Films are episodic, visual, collections of brief scenes but director Chris Rolls and designer Aaron Marsden have done a fine job with this 1996 political commentary on the destruction of the coal industry.
There is plenty of humour in this pro-am production between Lichfield Rep and and Lichfield Players but underlying it all is the despair and bitterness of the miners of Grimley as their still profitable pit, their livelihood and their heritage is about to become history.
Grimley was a thinly disguised Grimethorpe whose pit had just closed and whose world famous brass band provided the players and soundtrack for the film.
The setting is 1994, ten years after the disastrous miner's strike when a Thatcher Government and NUM leader Arthur Scargill had fought to the political death. The miners had lost.
The strike still had bitter memories and recriminations while what little was left of the coal industry was still being destroyed with pits closing and mining communities left destitute and devastated.
All the anger, fears, hopes, poverty, humanity, bitterness and despair are told through the eyes of the colliery band and its first chance to reach the national finals in its history.
There were some excellent performances from the pro half of the production with Charlie Buckland as the debt-ridden miner Phil, son of the bandmaster, with a part time job as a clown. His wife Sandra (Janet Bamford) conveys the worry of poverty and debt finally leaving when bailiffs leave the family with just one chair.
There is Rachel Matthews as Gloria, the girl who left Grimley and has returned working for the colliery and fallen again for her schoolboy crush Andy (Matthew Stathers) who is now a snooker playing miner who finds his passion Gloria drowning in his hatred of management.
Among the amateurs Barrie Atchison shows the ideological illogical mind of the old fashioned militant as Jim while Ian Parkes as Harry bumbles through as a solid union member. Stephen Brunton is believable as the dying musical director Danny, who hails from Bradford incidentally, so had no problems with the accent. Danny sees the band as the be all and end all of Grimley, more important than even the pit and the jobs under threat.
And running through it all is that Grimley Band, played beautifully by the prizewinning Amington Brass Band.
The set was interesting using the black expanse of the Garrick stage with no scenery just bare walls which served as everything from the hall for band practice, the streets of the Moorland villages around Oldham and even a hospital with the cast sitting in the gloom around the edges waiting for their cues.
More important though, it also gave the impression of a coal mine deep beneath the earth particularly when a string of bare electric lights appeared in the blackness like the stark illumination along a pit underground roadway.
The production lacks a little bit of pace between scenes, and there are a lot of them, but that should improve as the week goes on, while some of the the northern accents would stand out a bit tha'knows int' real South Yorkshire pit villages.
It was an entertaining evening and even now, 14 years on, in the hands of a good cast like this it still has the ability to move. To 17-04-10.
Second shift . . .
CHEERS from the audience on opening night was music to the ears of the cast in this pro-am production featuring members of the Garrick Rep Company and the Lichfield Players.
A few tears, too, as people reacted to the emotion-charged story of how the talented Grimley Brass Band fought back when it seemed the heartbreaking closure of the local South Yorkshire pit might mean the end of its battle to reach the national championship final at the Royal Albert Hall.
Although it was staged without scenery, the smart uniforms of the award-winning Amington Brass Band provided plenty of colour and their music was frequently greeted with warm applause.
Humour aplenty, too, and sometimes accidental....as in the incident when one of the amateurs miming with the band saw the mouthpiece fall from his instrument, briefly considered how to replace it, then popped it in his pocket with a shrug.
Excellent performances from the Rep members, Rachel Matthews (Gloria, the local girl returning to Grimley with a special agenda), Matthew Stathers, playing band member Andy who falls in love with her, and Charlie Buckland, the troubled miner in cash-troubled clashes with his worried wife, Sandra (Janet Bamford).
From the Players, Stephen Brunton excels in the role of the colliery band's ailing musical director, Danny, in danger putting the band's interests before the tragedy of the pit closure, and Barrie Atchison is upbeat as veteran bandsman, Jim.
What a performance, too, from 13-year-old Tamworth schoolboy William Stevenson. He plays Shane, son of Phil and Sandra, and is never overawed by the talent around him.
Brassed Off, directed by Chris Rolls, plays on till Saturday night, April 17. Tune in to this one.
Stop Messing About
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
EVEN if you had never experienced the joys of steam radio decades ago there was much to enjoy in this show.
The age range of the audiences for the three performances, however, told you there were many people looking for a bit of nostalgia, and they would not have been disappointed.
Set in a BBC recording studio, the sketches featured the extraordinary Kenneth Williams whose famous catchphrase provides the title for the wacky wireless series.
Robin Sebastian was superb as Williams, mastering that strange voice with its nasal twang and the shocked facial expressions to accompany some of his gags and risky innuendos.
He had great support, too, from India Fisher, playing Joan Sims, Nigel Harrison (Hugh Paddick and his many weird characters, including ancient Judge Sir Inigo Parchmutter) and Charles Armstrong as the beautifully spoken BBC announcer, Douglas Smith.
Some of the best laughs came with the sports report on the Army team that won the Tiddlewink Championship, a listeners' phone-in and a sketch on a spaghetti western featuring Pancho Villa, and his brother....Aston..
Written by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke, Stop Messing About was directed by Michael Kingsbury. 10-04-10
The Rape of Lucrece
Lichfield Garrick Studio
SHAKESPEARE'S most emotive narrative poem would not seem to be an obvious choice for the first production in the new look Garrick Studio which is laid out for cabaret for the next few weeks.
The choice and perhaps the fact it was Good Friday conspired to produce a disappointing audience for a compelling performance by RSC actor Gerard Logan who commands the stage for an hour as the narrator of Shakespeare's dissection of a brutal rape and the terrible toll it takes on everyone involved.
Logan has that ease with Shakespeare that makes the language sound like natural speech, albeit from the 16th century, rather than just recited verse and he manages to bring the narrative poem to life with all despair of and shame of Lucrece and the fears of her rapist, Tarquin.
This was a show winning awards at Edinburgh in 2008 and although the content might be an acquired taste there is no doubting the sheer quality of the acting and it is no surprise Logan is an Olivier Award nominee. Worth seeing for the acting alone.
Brendon's family fortunes
How Now Mrs Brown Cow
THE Mrs Brown series of comedy plays should carry a health warning - and by that I mean for the actors!
Irish comedian Brendan O'Carroll, who once again dons the frock for the role of Dublin family head Agnes Brown, mercilessly teases and torments the rest of the cast with hilarious ad-libbing.
And for poor Gary Hollywood, who plays Dino Doyle, it meant several seemingly unrehearsed slaps across the head with a tea towel.
Pity anyone who should actually mis-say a line, as did Brendan's own son Danny, who plays regular, Buster Brady.
Brendan, who devised and created Agnes Brown, certainly knows a good thing when he sees it, even admitting during a post-show chat with the audience that he is cashing in on the bandwagon.
No wonder that his original Mrs Brown trilogy has now evolved into five plays, whch have grossed more than £25 million at the UK box office alone, and with plans for a BBC television series starting later this year.
WORK FOR THE FAMILY
And it also ensures work for the family, with wife Jenny once again impressing as Mrs Brown's only daughter Cathy, Brendan's real daughter Fiona renewing her role as Agnes' daughter-in-law Maria, and sister Eilish McHugh again appearing as next door neighbour Winnie.
Brendan's latest offering is set in the run-up to Christmas, with Mrs Brown longing to see her son Trevor, who is working at a homeless shelter in America, for the first time in four years.
At the same time, the Brown children fear that one of them may be adopted.
It all makes for a riotous fun-filled evening enjoyed by a packed first night audience that included former Aston Villa footballer and now television pundit Andy Townsend.
Particularly hilarious moments, apart from the ad-libs, involve a Taser, trying to get the star on the Christmas tree, and testing an array of consumer products on long-suffering granddad.
The Joy of Politics
IT is the best of times and the worst of times for political satire. The best because never have we had such an inept bunch of nest feathering, corrupt, lying, dishonest, self-serving political pygmies supposedly running the country . . . and the worst . . ?
Well on the basis that the most colourful of our MPs of whatever hue is a remarkably dull grey, clones of mediocrity, there is not much for a satirist to get their teeth into in a Britain where the only party of the common man is in the hands of Ann Summers or Tupperware.
Into this scorched earth political landscape arrive Ciaran Murtagh and Andrew Jones with The Joy of Politics.
This is a throwback to the days of satirical sketches in programmes such as That Was The Week That Was. But as those of a certain age still look back fondly upon the bite and irreverence of the groundbreaking TW3 it is worth remembering that quite a few of the sketches were real turkeys and the show only survived because there was a better one along soon and so it was with Murtagh and Jones and their curate's egg of a show.
It had the loose premise of a new, wet behind the ears MP, William WIlberforce, arriving at Westminster and learning the ropes so we had sketches on the meaning of the one, two and three line whip - oh how certain Tory MPs of the 70s and 80s would have loved that one - which was predictable but still funny.
There was also the lesson on how to not answer any question based on the test piece of “Is that your of is that your Kit Kat Chunky?” Again amusing but leaning towards Yes Minister. The universal political cartoon sketch had a point and was probably the most subtle dig of the night and Nick Griffin's appearance had its moments.
The pair kept it topical with snippets from the day's news as well as a clever impromptu sketch about a coalition minister of defence - a department decided upon by the audience - involving defeating the Taliban by the use of microwave ovens on the beaches.
There were sketches which were, frankly, non political such as the MPs surgery which had its moments but was overlong and several sketches had a few lines past their punchlines.
The songs were weaker moments with Murtagh's Mrs Thatcher singing (badly) Queen's Don't Stop Me Now and Jones's Churchill in MC Hammer garb telling Hitler You Can't Touch This. After the initial appearance the joke was gone with the lyrics neither strong enough nor performance good enough to sustain it.
The same could be said of the twin Karl Marx Village People Go Left routine to Go West as a finale to the first half. The joke was made in the first 10 seconds with the audience then left to laugh at two blokes dressed in silly wigs and beards being . . . silly. Mind you many a star has made a career out of such daft routines.
A sort of Whitehall Morris dance in bowler hats relating to some clause in a bill relating to herring fishing set to Maple Leaf Rag was particularly bizarre and pointless though and like the equally weak Origami session in the second set with the rest of the day's news it had the look of padding about it.
The show is evolving though and with a General Election looming for an electorate who lost the political will to live years ago there should be a lot more material available to edge the weaker sections into the long grass.
That being said there were plenty of laughs in the show and, like TW3, the less successful bits were soon overtaken by something better.
Return of the king of one man movies
One Man Lord of the Rings
I SUSPECT that few Tolkien fans out there realise that hidden within the Rings trilogy are references to Elvis, Edwin Starr and Johnny Cash.
They are easy to miss but thanks to Charles Ross, the Canadian master of the one man movie genre their true place is restored within the epic which he manages to condense to an hour and ten minutes.
We could have enjoyed this show five years ago had it not been for a legal wrangle with the movie makers which was only resolved last year just in time for the Edinburgh Festival where Ross was a sell out.
In just a black boiler suit and minimal lighting Ross brings the entire trilogy to life on stage with a staggering range of voices and sounds he creates without special effects and even had to overcome a microphone problem after about 20 minutes.
Ross though, rather than battle on, added a short break while he changed his mic and then slipped in references to it throughout the show.
He becomes Gollum, Sam, Frodo, Gandalf, Orcs, Ents . . . all the characters of Lord Of the Rings in what is part tribute, part storytelling and at times very funny with asides and references that the films somehow missed out. Strange that but all very obvious when Mr Ross points them out . . .
His one man Star Wars was critically acclaimed and this is its equal for sheer inventiveness and skill although the amazing thing was that there were people in the audience who had neither read the books nor seen the films. What they made of it all the Lord only knows. It must be a bit like going along to a book club to discuss a book you had never heard of.
Sadly it was at the Garrick for just one night but check the website to see if it will be appearing at a Shire near you. It is well worth seeing . . . if you have seen the films, DVDs or read the book of course - otherwise it is a man rushing, creeping and writhing across the stage doing silly voices for no apparent reason.
Ballet warms Siberian weather
Russian State Ballet of Siberia
MARIA Kuimova (above) must be every little girl's dream of a ballerina. She is slender, elegant, looks beautiful and glides across the stage as if floating on air.
As for her stunning series of arabesque penchee? It was enough to make grown men wince. Her balance, poise and flexibility is way beyond that of mere mortals who wobble just standing on one leg.
The 26-year-old danced the title character in Giselle, the opening night of a three night, three ballet run by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia who must have been impressed that the Grand made them feel so much at home by organising a blizzard for their arrival.
Giselle, first performed in Paris in 1841 is one of the classic 19th century romantic ballets which is all about love and betrayal with forest spirits thrown in and is set in the Rhineland of the middle ages. It all starts when Count Albrecht of Silesia (danced with a mix of boldness and sensitivity by Vladimir Tsybenov) disguises himself - not that well I might add - as a peasant, Loys, living in the village to sow a few wild oats before he marries his betrothed, Bathilde, the daughter of the Prince.
ALL POWER AND ANGST
Giselle falls for him although the local gamekeeper Hans, (Kirill Litvinenko, all power and angst) who also fancies Giselle, warns her that Loys is a bit dodgy. Hans is Hilarion in most productions, but what's in a name particularly in ballet.
Loys and Giselle dance a love duet with mum Berthe (Vera Surovtseva) trying to stop it because of her daughter's dicky heart. When the Prince and his entourage turn up and Giselle discovers the truth she tries to kill her self with Albrecht sword but before we get all that messy blood and gore her heart gives out and she dies just in time for the interval.
The second act set in a forest is more of a dancing spectacular. Just so you know Giselle is really dead there is a headstone with her name on that can be read from space.
Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, was beautifully danced by Anastasia Kazantseva, like Kuimova, a graduate of the Krasnoyarsk State Choreographic School.
She calls up the Wilis, a group of ghostly virgins who have died of unrequited love, who are a fine corps de ballet, 18 strong who, when reuired, move in perfect unison. They are there as Myrtha raises Giselle from her grave and then starts to initiate her into her ghosty band.
When Hans turns up the Wilis set him into an endless dance where he is finally forced into a lake exhausted and drowns - these virgin victims of unrequited love have a pretty strong revenge agenda against men and next start on Albrecht.
Giselle dances with him but as exhaustion is about to see him shuffle off his mortal coil to join Hans in the lake dawn breaks and the Wilis, like vampires, have no power in daylight so vanish back into the marsh and Albrecht is saved, Gisselle goes back to her grave and the poor old count is left alone grieving on her grave.
This is a traditional production revised by the RSBS's artistic director Serei Bobrov with the ballet attributed to the orginial choreographers Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot along with Marius Petipa, the choreographer for the Imperial Ballet who created the revivals at the turn of the 19th century and Leonid Levrovsky, the Bolshoi Ballet choreographer and director who was responsible for the celebrated 1944 production.
Like a lot of ballet the tale is all a bit vague when it gets on stage and you would struggle to know what was going on without a programme or knowledge of the ballet. It was a few mimes and scenes light of making things clear. That being said the dancing was more than good enough to engage your interest while the orchestra under Anatoly Tchepurnoy produced a pleasing, romantic interpretation of Adolphe Adam's score. You could just sit back, relax, watch, listen and enjoy.
One small point though, maybe it is Russian pointe shoes, but they do seem noisier then those of English and Western companies. Not a problem but interesting all the same.
20-02-10 Sleeping Beauty.
TCHAIKOVSKY'S sumptuous, lyrical score has helped make Swan Lake one of the best loved and widely known ballets in the world.
Almost every note is like an old friend so whether it was being back on familiar ground or simply the fact it had stopped snowing both the company and audience seemed to be more comfortable and at ease then with Giselle.
The opening in the palace might have had a bit more splendour and gravitas as the curtain went up but once into its stride the Russian State Ballet of Siberia production kept up a decent pace helped by their excellent orchestra under musical director Anatoliy Tchepurnoy. Whoever was responsible for the violin solos down in the bowels of the pit deserved their own round of applause with some memorable interpretations.
And when it came to interpretation Ekaterina Bulgutova was a fine Odette/Odile. As the Princess she was all grace and vulnerability with a moving pas de deux with Siegfried while as Von Rothbart's daughter Odile she steps it up a notch or two.
HANG IN THE AIR
Seigfried (Vyacheslav Kapustin) shows good use of the stage with his solos and managed some hang in the air jumps but one the highlights was the inventive dance with Von Rothbart shadowing him. It was a clever foil for the main female part with Seigfried in his white and silver almost like Odette dancing against her shadow of the black malevolence of the Evil Genius almost as Odile.
Von Rothbart was danced by Vladimir Tsbenov by the way, who was earning his corn after dancing Albrecht in Giselle and once again was the pick of the male dancers.
Another inventive touch in this Russian production was to split the Corps de ballet of 18 into half black and half white swans in the final scene.
This must go down to the company's Artistic Director Sergei Bobrov who is down as choreographer along with Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.
As the latter pair were responsible for the 1895 revival I think it is safe to say Bobrov can claim the credit for that one.
Other high spots included the dance of the cygnets which was exquisitely executed by Nadezhda Vlasova, Anna Germizeeva, Natalia Goroshko and Elena Tcherkashina.
Anastasia Koreshnikova as the Spanish bride gave us a lively dance as well.
All in all this was an entertaining and enjoyable production and even had an alternaive ending to the norm which leaves Odette grieving for her lost love who sacrifices himslef for her.
In footballing terms, and what most teams would give for players with feet that quick who could jump that high, the company might not be Champions' League yet but they are certainly pushing hard for a Europa League place.
FOR the second time in three nights Maria Kuimova was the undoubted star of the show, this time as Princess Aurora.
In her pas de deux with Prince Desire, (the accomplished and athletic Arkadiy Zinov), seen below, she is rather like one of those ballerinas you find dancing on mirrors on musical boxes, spinning and moving en pointe, fixed firmly to the spot.
She has the ability to make the difficult look effortless and her presence lifts what is a good production on to another level. She is that good.
Natalii Goroshko, a petite dancer, was also excellent as the Lilac Fairy. She is a tiny thing with a compact, elegant style almost floating around the stage.
There were some other fine performances including Anastasia
Koreshnikova who moved on from last night's Spanish Bride in Swan Lake
to the evil fairy Carabosse, a real pantomime villain with a hobble,
bent back, sneers and snarls at the audience and a cape the size of
Dudley to sweep across the stage.
Vladimire Tsybenov was back as well, this time filling in as a guard, a pretender to the heart of the princess as well as Bluebird - the lad must be really coining in the overtime.
Like Kuimova he does tend to lift the stage when he appears although his thunder was stolen a little in the fairytale section by Anastasia Kazantseva's very attractive white cat in an amusing dance with Denis Pogorely's Puss-in-boots.
It might not have had the technical range of Bluebird and Princess Florine (Anna Germizeeva) but it did add a bit of fun to proceedings.
The costumes were the most opulent of the run, a sort of Three Musketeers, meets Hunchback of Notre Dame meets Disney, a little garish if one is honest and very East European and the orchestra under Anatoliy Tchepurnoy were again in good form, although not quite up to their Swan Lake level, but somehow it was a production that fell just short of of where it could have been.
The second half in particular had a feel that some padding had been added and the pace was not helped by a long, long pause after Prince Desire had exited stage right downstage to reappear upstage stage left for his next solo. Whether he had just missed a bus, was sent the wrong way or took a wrong turn we never knew although the audience, the dancers assembled like statues on stage and the orchestra poised with pursed lips had plenty of time to think about it.
Even rearranging the spear carriers around the stage with a few waves, bows and curtsies would have given the audience something to look at while the prince made his way through the back streets of Wolverhampton.
A small point I know, but important all the same. That being said the Russian State Ballet of Siberia created a most enjoyable evening and perhaps as a reviewer you are looking more closely for good and bad points than the audience who clap loudly if they like it and politely if they don't.
At the end they were happy to applaud enthusiastically with boos for Carabosse and those richly deserved cheers, whistles and shouts for the wonderful Aurora until the house lights came on as a hint it was time to go home.