A Kick in the Baubles – Lichfield Garrick Studio – Review

A Kick in the Baubles – Lichfield Studio Theatre

Lichfield Players

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Its mid-October – is it too early for Christmas? Based on the audience’s reaction at a Kick in the Baubles last night then definitely not!

Performed by the experienced local group the Lichfield Players, a Kick in the Baubles tells the story of a household where the Christmas spirt is definitely lacking. Husband Frank hates Christmas: he hates the Christmas Eve shopping queues at 5 in the morning, he hates brussel sprouts, he hates carol singers and he hates the bags of mixed nuts – he just hates Christmas. Not just that – he seems to hate life itself. He’s lost his job, he’s had to sell his car, his daughter has left home in a strop, he’s got no money and he’s got to have a holiday in a caravan – life just stinks!

He bickers constantly with his long-suffering wife Jean who loves Christmas but has a ‘fight against the tide’ battle with her Scrooge of a husband who deflates her Christmas balloons with every put down. As Christmas Day dawns they look forward to the arrival of the relatives – Jean’s snobbish, superior sister Doreen who’s ‘richer than you’ and her salesman hubby Harry who values everything by the number of 0000s at the end of every £ sign.

While the turkey simmers away tensions start to rise, Doreen starts to make her way through the gin bottle, and things don’t get any better with the arrival of next door neighbours from hell Gary, who has more tattoos than David Beckham, and the pneumatic Julie who catches the wandering eye of salesman Harry. Gary wants a karaoke Christmas and Frank’s day descends further into a Christmas hell.

But a final knock on their Christmas door may bring some unexpected cheer – is Frank and Jean’s day about to get better – and will Frank The Grinch turn into Frank the Christmas Fairy?

The play is a stocking-full of festive laughs and snappy one liners all performed with perfect timing by the experienced ensemble. Chris Stanley as Frank is perfect as the world-weary, frustrated, cynical Christmas (and life itself) hating husband and Sarah Stanley gives as good as she gets as the put-upon wife Jean, battling gamely to keep the household (and Christmas) together.
The supporting cast are all excellent especially Annie Blackwell as ‘nice-but-dim’ niece Alex who mangles her words delightfully and Paul McEvoy as unwanted neighbour Gary who loves to party and fancies himself as Freddie Mercury. Ably directed by Maureen George with a real feel for those that hate the happiest day of the year, she definitely brings out the best in the players who all clearly revel in the festive banter and bickering.

There are some great visual laughs as well, especially a long running gag about Frosty the Snowman which is both funny and clever and there is a musical background of festive songs and hits from Gary’s favourite group Queen – and look out for I Want to Break Free!

At the end of Christmas Day I always enjoy doing battle away with a bag of mixed nuts, it’s really hard to crack open the walnut with its rock hard case but when you do there is a soft, sweet, warming, tasty kernel centre. A Kick in the Baubles is just like a walnut – it’s got a hard exterior but, if you wait till the end, you’ll find the true spirit of Christmas lurking underneath.

I’d definitely recommend that you start Christmas early this year and go and see A Kick in the Baubles – it’s a right little Christmas cracker!

Limited tickets are still available – so book now:
Visit Lichfield Garrick box office on Castle Dyke, ring 01543 412121 or visit the website: www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/all-shows/kick-in-the-baubles/54

Our House – Madness Musical Lichfield Garrick – Review

Our House – the Madness Musical –
Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company

Lichfield Garrick: Dress Rehearsal Monday 16 October 2017

Went to the dress rehearsal of ‘Our House’ the stage musical using the music of 1980s band Madness last night at the Garrick Theatre. The musical is performed by the brilliant Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company who have a whole host of successful performances at the Garrick tucked under their belts including their last production here of Made in Dagenham.

Our House continues their golden touch with a high tempo, entertaining, toe-tapping (and at times foot stomping!) production with a soundtrack of classic Madness hits from the 1980s as the background music.

Our House tells the story of our hero – and villain – Joe who, after a brief altercation with the police over a minor offence, has to decide whether to give himself up and ‘do his porridge’ or run away and set off on a life where crime really does seem to pay. It’s a ‘Sliding Doors’ situation – we follow honest Joe (dressed in white shell suit) as he steps through one door in the direction of honesty mixed with continual disappointment and then we see villain Joe (dressed in black business suit) as he steps through the door towards dishonesty – but success and wealth. Both Joe’s struggle with their conscience as their mum’s old house (and her own life) become threatened by a greedy, desperate property developer – but will the real Joe stand-up – and who will win the day?

The songs of Madness are sprinkled throughout the two acts – there are songs that are thought-provoking with elements of pathos and teenage angst such as Embarrassment and My Girl but it’s the group ensemble pieces which really hit the mark. Baggy Trousers, Our House and Wings of a Dove are all fantastic and it’s bound to get you singing along and swinging your fists from side to side as you copycat the nutty dance moves of the Madness boys – but please be careful not to punch your seat neighbours!

Matt Branson takes on the double-hander role of ‘light’ Joe and ‘dark’ Joe Casey with aplomb, switching effortlessly between the two characters in a flurry of quick-fire costume changes (so that you do wonder at times if it is the same actor!), Sophie Hammond is lovely as Sarah, the childhood sweetheart of our ‘Joe’s’ and Ben Adams is suitably oily and greasy as the threatening Reecey who tries to drag both Joe’s down into the seedy underworld of Camden’s violence and crime.

The supporting cast, as ever with SCMTC, is very strong and there are plenty of laughs and one-liners from Joe and Sarah’s old school friends. All the cast throw themselves into the group dance and song numbers with typical enthusiasm and joie de vivre – I was exhausted just watching them!

The production is bubbly, bright and bouncy – just right for this type of musical – the backdrops and stage props (including Joe’s old banger of a car!) are all well done and the music is tight and full of 1980s rhythm and beat.

If you want to see a musical where you know every song, every lyric, every dance move (and every shell suit…), a musical which will transport you back to the 1980s of ska and pork pie hats and you want to see a young, enthusiastic cast enjoy every moment – then Our House is for you – I guarantee you’ll be singing, and dancing to, Baggy Trousers all the way home!

Our House runs from Tuesday 17 to Saturday 21 October 2017 (includes Saturday matinee) and tickets are available from the Lichfield Garrick box office on Castle Dyke, ring 01543 412121 for details or via their website at:
www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/musicals/our-house/59

 

Letters to Emma – Lichfield Garrick – Review

Lichfield Garrick Studio – Tuesday 3 October 2017

Swans, Spooks and Shakespeare in the Studio

I went to the Garrick Studio last night to see their current production of ‘Letters to Emma’ which runs until Saturday 7 October.

It’s billed as a ghost story, which it is, but it is much more than that – it has comedy, pathos, drama, history and romance and it makes you laugh, cry, gasp, speculate and ruminate.

The story spans the generations, linking Lichfield of the late 18th century to the Lichfield of 2017 and tells the story of 21st century local girl Emma and her desire to sort her troubled young life out in the complex, technical world of social media while attempting to become fit and healthy and write her university dissertation.

Emma has found herself isolated from her ‘real’ friends and family and has taken solace in the friendship of the virtual world, living her life through Facebook, twitter and Instagram.  As part of this she is tasked with writing her dissertation by her university lecturer and, after looking at the lives of key female figures in history, decides to write about Lichfield’s Anna Seward, the celebrated writer and poet, who lived in the Bishop’s Palace in the cathedral close and was an acquaintance of Samuel Johnson, Erasmus Darwin and David Garrick.

As she researches Anna she starts to become more and more fascinated by her subject and then starts to hear mysterious voices in her head and see ghostly images on her social media platforms – is this Anna herself, reaching out across the centuries to her young researcher?  Or is this Emma’s imagination playing tricks on her, caused by a mixture of depression, medication, lack of sleep and social and work deadlines that she cannot make?

Meanwhile, in the Lichfield of the 1790s, Anna Seward is writing letters to an imaginary friend, also called Emma, imploring her to live her life in the respectable way and follow the politically-correct conventions of a young girl in Georgian times. But is Anna writing directly to the 21st century Emma using the power of the internet?

The play is a two-hander with Lizzie Wofford as the modern day Emma and Heather Westwell as Anna Seward. They appear alongside each other on stage with Emma tapping away on the laptop keyboard and recording her life (and the life of her 71 year old gran!) on e-photos and tweets while Anna sits thoughtfully in her study recording her thoughts and opinions using quill and parchment. Initially they seem physically unaware of each other’s presence but the two generations do eventually come together in the second act for a wonderful meeting of minds as they both struggle (as do the audience!) to work out who is imaginary and who is real.

Lizzie Wofford is fantastic as Emma, showing all of the emotions of a young person in turmoil, in one moment leaping onto the treadmill to pound out her dream to run a marathon and the next slumped in front of the blue screen as she receives another harrowing e-message.
Heather Westwell’s role as Anna is very restrained, thoughtful and considered but with flashes of humour as well as indignation and frustration as a 18th century woman trapped by the restrictions of the male dominated times. Should she write the book and poems that she longs to create – or should she ‘know her place’ and play the harpsichord with her friend (and lover?) John Saville?

This play keeps you enthralled and entranced from start to finish and there are plenty of shocks, revelations, laughs, one liners, word-play, electronic wizardry and gizmos to keep all ages entertained. It is packed with historical references on a national and local level – as well as Johnson, Garrick, Seward and Darwin there are references to Garrick’s leading lady actresses Susannah Cibber, Hannah Pritchard and Sarah Siddons (who appeared on a temporary stage at the Lichfield Guildhall in the 1780s and encouraged her friend Anna Seward to campaign for a dedicated theatre to be built on Bore Street in 1790 – and who has a housing block named after her on Swan Road!).

At the end of the second act the audience are left with an 18th century-21st century ‘who-done-it’ conundrum. Who is real and who is not? Which of them exists and which doesn’t? We know what happens to Anna Seward from the history books – but what happens to young Emma?

The play is written by a local Lichfield writer Carolyn Scott Jeffs and is a complex, clever, witty, charming and thought provoking triumph. It’s directed with the usual aplomb by the Garrick’s Artistic Director Tim Ford and he makes sure that the tension and dramatic effects never let up from start to finish.  The play is performed in the Studio theatre which always makes for an intimate performance (I love the fact that you can see every emotion in the players’ faces) and the lighting and music (composed by Thomas Preston) perfectly complement the mood and atmosphere of the piece.

This is a story set in Lichfield, written by a Lichfield writer, starring a Lichfield actor with a host of historical Lichfield references and characters and about a hugely influential Lichfield writer and poet of the 18th century – the Muse of Britain, the Swan of Lichfield – Anna Seward. If you love drama, love a mystery, love local theatre, love poetry, love a ghost story, love suspense, love history and love Lichfield – then Letters to Emma is for you!

Letters to Emma is on at the Studio theatre, Lichfied Garrick nightly until Saturday 7 October 2017 – tickets and information are available at:
www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/drama/letters-to-emma/53