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Crimes on the Christmas Express – Review – Lichfield Garrick Studio

Crimes on the Christmas Express
by New Old Friends

Lichfield Garrick Studio Theatre – Friday 8 December 2017

Having seen the panto Aladdin at the Garrick on Tuesday night I went along to the Studio Theatre on Friday to see an alternate Christmas performance – Crimes on the Christmas Express by the company ‘New Old Friends’.

The New Old Friends appeared at the Garrick in December 2016 with ‘Crimes against Christmas’, set on a remote island where the body count mounts (with overtones of a typical Agatha Christie plot) and the Christmas Express also references one of Christie’s plots with a madcap, screwball comedy caper with more than a nod and a wink to Agatha’s Murder on the Orient Express.

The play is all set on a train travelling across Europe with a Christmas selection box of odd-ball characters – a troupe of Russian circus performers; French train guards; Interpol agents; a Scottish con artist and two barmy rival, stupidly rich British noblemen. Most of them are trying to steal, or protect, two diamonds, both the size of the Star of India – apart from Phillipe and Stephanie who are far too busy trying to steal each other’s hearts! As the train makes its way across Europe there is crime, passion, broken windows, broken hearts, snowstorms, cops chasing robbers, Philippe chasing Stephanie – and…murder…! But who is the mysterious master criminal Pseudonym? And who is the killer? And who has got the diamonds? And does true love prevail?

The cast of New Old Friends (Heather Westwall, Feargus Woods Dunlop, James McLean and Doron Davidson) play a bewildering number of characters, with a bewildering number of accents (from the steppes of Russia to the steppes of Doncaster…) and a bewildering number of costume changes. The stage set is basically four pieces of equipment which the cast twirl and whirl round the stage to ingeniously create train carriages, bar, sleeping car and snow-covered mountain range, and they use props such as poles, picture frames, suitcases and (lots of!) false snow to create a carefully crafted illusion of a train travelling through frozen Europe – all very clever! There is a fantastic scene, this time with a nod to a typical James Bond movie, when the Interpol agent Toverstaz chases the illusive baddie Pseudonym across the tops of the train carriage cars, set to the piano back-drop of a 1920’s silent movie – and all within the confines of the Garrick Studio stage!

The script (by cast member Feargus) is icicle sharp, with lots of one liners (including one about their ‘noisy neighbours’ next door at the panto!) and laugh out loud moments. There are visual gags and slapstick galore and some magic tricks that will make you gasp!
The direction, by out-going Artistic Director Tim Ford is spot-on, the music (by Dave Culling, also responsible for the music at the Aladdin panto) is fun and fast paced and the magical intimacy of the studio theatre allows you to interact with the actors onstage – although perhaps not as closely as one audience member on the night did, who had taken the spirit of Christmas an egg nog or two too far…

Crimes on the Christmas Express is a festive whodunit, a love story, a comic caper, a nod to Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming and Paul Zenon – it’s the perfect alternative to the superb panto in the main theatre and is the prickly holly to the panto’s silken ivy!

As I stepped out of the theatre after the performance the sharp, frozen, crystal-clear carpet of the December evening snow lay all around the Garrick – and that summed up the essence of Crimes on the Christmas Express to me. It may not be as comfy and reassuring as the Aladdin panto – but it has a Christmas message of sparkling wit, mischievous fun and crazy crackers about it – so if you love the idea of an alternative Christmas message this year – I’d book a seat on the Christmas Express!

Crimes on the Christmas Express is on at the Garrick Studio Theatre until Saturday 6 January 2018 and you can book tickets online at:
www.lichfieldgarrick.com
or by ringing 01543 412121 or by visiting the Box Office during usual opening times at Castle Dyke, Wade Street, Lichfield.

Aladdin at the Lichfield Garrick – Giant Genies and Giant Laughs!

Aladdin the Panto at the Lichfield Garrick – Review – Tuesday December 5 2017

This Lichfield Aladdin of the Lamp is filled with laughter, life, loons and love! Where else could you see a 20ft tall Egyptian mummy, a flying panto Dame, a genie as high as an elephant’s eye…oh…and a giant elephant too!  

I think I saw my first pantomime aged 5 and must have seen well over forty through the years, from school productions right through to the massive, TV and film star-filled affairs of the 1980s – but the best pantos I’ve ever seen have been right here in Lichfield at the Garrick!

Last year’s production of Sleeping Beauty hit all the right notes – and Aladdin hits them all over again – but this time with an even more assured striking of the chords! It has everything you’d ever want in a panto – laughs, slapstick, slick dance routines, sing-a-long songs, groan-a-long gags and gizmos galore!

The key to the success of this panto is, undoubtedly, the experienced actors, production team and backstage theatre group many of whom worked on last year’s Sleeping Beauty and so ‘know the ropes’, know exactly what works – and know what a Lichfield theatre family audience wants.

The fabulous Sam Rabone, as Widow Twankey, and livewire Ben Thornton as Wishee Washee both return after their amazing performances last year and throw the same enthusiasm on (and rolling around!) the stage again, they clearly enjoy working together and the laughter levels always increase when they’re on stage. The quick-fire record (vinyl!) switching scene is fast paced and very clever and this, and the slippy-slidey water routine which results in everyone getting covered in gunge, water and foam (if you’re going to the performances I’d watch out if you’re in the front three rows – wear a hat!), provide two of the biggest cheers of the evening. There are also some ‘mistakes’ in timing, words and scene changes when Sam and Ben laugh at each other’s foul-ups – but you know what, I just can’t work out if they are for real or staged – so if you go to one of the shows let me know what you think!!!

The (very) strong supporting cast includes the lovely Cat Sandion from the children’s TV programme Cbeebies, Adrian Bevan as Aladdin, Robin Johnson as the baddie Abanazar, Ian Billings as the Emperor of China and James Mitchell as the knock-a-bout PC Pongo who rides a number of unlikely looking bikes, juggles and joins in the Dame’s and Wishee’s slip-sliding around stage act. Local Lichfield actress Lizzie Wofford is the Spirt of the Ring and Cameron Johnson is the Genie of the Lamp. I last saw Lizzie playing Emma, a troubled teenager, haunted by the spirit of Lichfield poet Anna Seward in the dramatic, spooky ‘Letters to Emma’ – but her Spirit in Aladdin is entirely different – a funny, lively, action packed yam-yam of a role played with a Black Country accent! Cameron Johnson as the Genie is a real hit of the show – he’s 6ft 7in tall and has a lovely strong, soulful voice as well as some body-popping dance movies – so I think a real hit with the ladies in the audience too!

The script, written by Paul Hendy, is fast, snappy and full of local references (local councils’ budget cuts and the Lichfield ice rink get mentions!), the production (Evolution Productions) value is very high and the direction is in the very capable, experienced hands of the Garrick’s Artistic Director Tim Ford. There are some great songs, with popular hits and original ones too, with musical arrangement by Dave Culling (the ukulele sketch in particular is cute and funny) the choreography by Ashley Nottingham is spot on (watch out for some of the young dancers in the ensemble pieces – I just love their enthusiasm, they love every second) and the lighting and special effects, including the flying magic carpet, and giant action figures are all really well done and have the audience gasping as well as laughing.

A great night’s entertainment, there is something for everyone and all good, clean family fun. The three year old sitting next to me was bouncing up and down on his chair, eyes as wide as saucers and laughing along with the slapstick – and I think that is what a good panto is all about.
It was a full house last night and I’m sure that they will have full houses for the whole of the run so I have two Garrick Genie Gems of advice for you:
1/ See if you can book In to the limited seats available for the rest of the run

2/ Whether you can or can’t get in to see Aladdin – book in for the winter 2018 production of Dick Whittington now – you’ll be able to get the best seats in the house for the best Panto in the Midlands!

Aladdin at the Lichfield Garrick runs until 6 January 2018 you can book online at their website: www.lichfieldgarrick.com ring 01543 412121 or call into the Box Office (during normal opening hours) on Castle Dyke, Lichfield.

Dick Whittington runs from 30 November 2018 to 31 December 2018 – and 2017 prices are held if you book by 31 December 2017.

 

The Lichfield Gardens of Remembrance – 1920 to 2017

The Lichfield Gardens of Remembrance –
From Early Beginnings to 2017

On the opposite side of Lichfield’s Beacon Park, close to the waters of Minster Pool, stands the Remembrance Gardens, now a very familiar Lichfield landmark. Each year, on the 11th of the 11th at 11am a service of commemoration takes place while a similar service takes place on the nearest Sunday to the 11th, both in honour of the Fallen, remembering those who have lost their lives in conflict over the years and especially in World War One and Two.

But how did the Remembrance Gardens and the War Memorial come about? When where the Gardens built and how were they funded?

On Monday March 1 1919 a meeting took place in the Lichfield Guildhall to discuss the possibility of providing a war memorial somewhere in Lichfield and also provide a celebration of peace at the conclusion of the Great War of 1914-18. The Mayor, Councillor Henry Hall (who owned a family butcher’s on Conduit Street, now the Superdrug store), Sheriff, Deputy Mayor, a number of members of the City Council, representatives from the Chamber of Trade and several demobilised soldiers met to discuss the plans.

At the initial meeting a number of options were discussed with several members of the group proposing and supporting an Institute, or Club, where young people could be provided with entertainment as it was recognised that there was very little for young people to do in Lichfield (does that resonate with today’s situation?). However the Mayor, Henry Hall, suggested that a permanent war memorial had also been suggested and that there was an area of land by Minster Pool that might be available. The garden area had been part owned by the late Mr Alan Chinn, of Number 2 The Close, and also part owned by the Corporation (the Council).

After further discussion it was agreed that they would support the proposal of a permanent war memorial. There was then a further debate about also supporting a peace celebration. It was agreed that the two funds should be managed separately, with the citizens of Lichfield choosing which fund they wanted to support and donate monies to. In typical fashion they decided to setup a central committee to control the whole project, two sub-committee’s to manage each funding pot and several other committees to manage all aspects of the two projects – you see, nothing ever changes!

The decision to set up two separate funds was challenged by various people at the time but the Lichfield Mercury editorial of April 1919 argued that although it was an unfortunate situation it was the only sensible and reasonable approach.

By April 1919 donations to each fund has been steadily rising, with over £1.100 being pledged towards the war memorial and £275 for the peace celebrations. By December of 1919 the General Committee had approved the overall scheme to erect a permanent war memorial on the Minster Pool site. Proposed works to be carried out were: Alterations to the walls between the Memorial Gardens and the houses of Canon Penny and Archdeacon Blakeway and the erection of a new wall between the Memorial Garden and the former home of Mr Alan Chinn at No 2 The Close;

The original high wall running along Beacon Street before the new low level wall was installed – you can see a workman perched on his ladder! 

The memorial itself; the erection of a balustrade and steps brought from Shenstone Court (the family home of Sir Richard Cooper) and a wrought iron gate.

The Clerk of the Council, W.Brockson, requested via the Lichfield Mercury for any relative, friend or colleague of a Lichfield man who had lost his life in the War to provide him with the full details of the deceased including name, regimental number, rank, date and place of death (with the rather sad override of ‘if known’ – many soldiers were never identified, as in the ‘Unknown Soldier’) so that they could be included on the memorial inscriptions.

By October 1919 the war memorial and Garden of Rest had been completed and on Wednesday 20 October it was formally launched in a dedication ceremony. The Mercury reported that:

The Last Post was sounded, wreaths were laid at the base of the new memorial and the band of the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry plated the ‘mournful yet inspiring’ March Funebre by Chopin. The dedication ceremony was led by the Mayor, Councillor Henry Hall, the Sheriff Councillor S Heath and the Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Reverend JA Kempthorne and attended by a whole host of local dignitaries and guests. The 6th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, including their buglers, lined the paths of the Garden of Rest
The ceremony started with the hymn ‘Oh God Our Help in Ages Past’ and then the chair of the Memorial Committee, Major C. Longstaff (who had served in the war) provided the unveiling speech. He mentioned two key things – that the names of the men listed had been Lichfield City residents or had a strong connection to Lichfield City and that it was not possible, or practical, to list the names of men from outside the boundaries of Lichfield City.  Secondly he stressed that the Council had made every reasonable attempt to identify every man in Lichfield City who had lost his life in the Great War and had advertised, as we know, in the local newspapers for family members and friends to come forward with details and that he stated that there was no more that they (the council) could have done. Finally he mentioned that he had known a number of the men who had perished in the war personally and he felt very grateful that he had played a part in providing the memorial to them.
At this point the Union Jack flag, which to this point had been draped across the memorial, was removed by the Mayor to unveil the memorial. A ceremonial key, crafted by Mr JC Culwick was presented to the Mayor.
The Bishop of Lichfield provided a moving speech paying tribute to the dead and focusing on the children who had lost their fathers, or had been affected by the horrors of the war. The ceremony closed by the whole congregation singing the National Anthem.

Meanwhile the Peace Celebration project continued to progress – although perhaps not as peacefully and harmoniously as it should have done. The celebrations included a meal for the demobilised soldiers and a street lantern parade. In May 1919 news of the proposed events, and amounts of monies to be spent, had reached the press and the demobilised soldiers were not impressed. At a meeting of the National Federation of Disabled and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers (a lengthy title!)  held at the Anglesey Hotel they expressed their dissatisfaction with the arrangements – each ex-serviceman was to be allocated just 3 shillings and 6 sixpence for a meal and drinks which they suggested was nowhere near a suitable amount to recognise their contribution to the war effort and was a ‘paltry’ offer. They were also upset that the allocated money offer had been issued to the press rather than being discussed directly with them. Furthermore they also wanted to choose the person to lead the procession on their behalf rather than have that person selected by the council committee. In addition the staff at the hotels where the commemoration dinners were to be held refused to work on the actual day itself (a Saturday) and so the meal had to be changed to the Friday evening instead. The celebrations took place in July 1919 and included the meal for the ex-servicemen  who by then had relented and agreed to join in the celebrations  – even with their meagre 3 shilling and six pence meal!

The Lichfield Mercury published a letter, in 1920, from a resident of Elmhurst, signed as coming from ‘A Mother’ who said that her son had perished during the conflict but that his name did not appear on the memorial. The editorial team pointed out that, as per the speech given by Major Longstaff at the unveiling, that the memorial was only for men who had lost their lives from the boundaries of Lichfield City itself.

In October 1921 a further nine names of fallen Lichfield soldiers were added to the memorial at this time, whose details were unavailable when the names were originally added and these late additions can be spotted if you look at the memorial closely.

In 1924 the sixth Armistice Day (this was the more usual title of the commemoration at the time, which gradually transferred over to the more current Remembrance Day) took place, they held a two minutes silence at that time (rather than the one minute that is more generally used today) and it was noted that the silence was observed more poignantly than ever before – vehicle traffic stopped in the middle of the streets, pedestrians bowed their heads in a mark of respect and the Mayor, Sheriff and councillors stood, heads bowed, in the Market Square. A significant ceremony took place at Lichfield Cathedral and it is interesting to note that the ceremony at the Gardens of Remembrance was described as ‘small’ with the laying of wreaths and minimal civic / civilian attendance – definitely different from what happens today.

By 1935 the situation had changed – a large crowd gathered at the Gardens of Remembrance. The procession of councillors, city officials, citizen and schoolchildren marched from the Lichfield Guildhall to Minster Pool and as the two minutes silence was dutifully observed.

After the Second World War there appeared to be more reluctance to take part in the Armistice Day commemoration – in 1948 the local British Legion branch chairman suggested there was a general feeling of apathy towards the service with dwindling numbers of attendees and wreaths placed at the memorial and that they felt that the younger generation of citizens were particularly apathetic towards the day of remembrance.

These were the early beginnings of the ceremony that started in 1921 and is still strictly observed today. It is always a very moving experience and one that is a fitting tribute to the 209 men of Lichfield who lost their lives in World War One and the 83 who lost theirs in World War Two. Please try and attend a Remembrance Day service this weekend and pay your respects to those who gave their lives so that we can live our lives in peace – thank you.

We Shall Remember Them

Bali Ha’i! – South Pacific Review Lichfield Garrick

South Pacific Review – Lichfield Operatic Society

Lichfield Garrick Theatre  – Dress Rehearsal November 5 2017

South Pacific is one of the most celebrated of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s works and the Lichfield Operatic Society definitely does them proud with their vibrant, funny, moving, uplifting and sentimental version at the Garrick.

Set at the time of World War Two it tells the story of a group of American soldiers, sailors and officers on a remote Polynesian Island and their relationships with the local people, all under the cloud of the war as the battle with the Japanese forces carries on around them. It centres on the relationship between Emile De Becque, a French émigré who fled his native country after killing a man and Nellie Forbush, an American nurse who falls for Emile’s Gallic charms. A secondary love interest is between Lieutenant Joe Cable, on a special mission behind enemy lines to spy on Japanese troop movements, and Liat, a young Polynesian girl who meet on a ‘one night stand’ organised by Liat’s wily mother, Bloody Mary, then quickly fall in love.

South Pacific is, on this level, a sweet love story of boy meets girl but there is a darker undercurrent running throughout, when we discover that both Nellie and Joe are uncomfortable with their feelings for their respective partners.  In Nellie’s case it is because Emile has been married before and has two children – but this is not her main concern, it is because his wife, now deceased, was a Polynesian girl and Emile’s children are of mixed-race. Joe too has doubts about his relationship with a local girl and it is this feeling of racial awareness that gives the script a sharper edge. Written in 1949 by Hammerstein and Joseph Logan, it must have been very controversial in 1950s America – but despite this it ran for 1,925 consecutive performances when launched on Broadway.

The on-off love stories continue as both parties struggle with their feelings of what is right and wrong while the horrors of war have a direct impact on all concerned. But who will survive the attacks of the Japanese warplanes – and will true love win the day?

The Lichfield Operatic Society perform this wonderful show with their usual vim and vigour, displaying great vocal and acting talent. Phil Bourn as the troubled singleton Emile, struggling with his emotions and wondering if Nellie is the love of his life, provides some wonderful moments especially when performing the moving and show stopping ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and Kate Pinell as Nellie is spunky, funny and engaging, the highlight for me being the fantastic ‘I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’ complete with a realistic shower scene of bubbles, soap and water (and shower scenes are becoming part of the Lichfield Garrick’s repertoire after last year’s amazing panto!).

Pat Jervis and Ava Taroni provide great support as the ill-fated lovers Joe and Liat while Deb Middleton as Bloody Mary, Kevin Wright as stevedore Stew Pot and Jonathan Jaylon Blake as the spiv sailor Billis all provide plenty of laughs as the archetypal comedy characters – and Jonathan dressed in Polynesian drag (with a lovely pair of coconuts!) dancing with the girls is a true comedy classic! Final mention for two young local stars, Maizie Grew and Toby Clark as Emile’s children Ngana and Jerome, who both took their parts very well and sang the delightful ‘Dites-Moi’, a lovely, charming scene.

The show is jam-packed with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classics, as well as the above, there is ‘Bali Ha’I’; ‘Younger than Springtime’;  the sprightly ‘Happy Talk’ and of course the amazing ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’ which for those of you of a certain generation (mine!) will always make you think of the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show!

Very ably directed by Julie Mallaband with lively choreography by Charlotte Middleton and musical arrangement by Mark Timms it’s a show that is very easy on the eye and there are some clever use of lighting and audio props to illustrate the atmosphere of the time.

South Pacific has everything you want in a show – one of the best set of songs you will find by two of the most iconic writers of their day, lots of laughs, great dance routines and all set in a romantic, glamorous, idyllic Pacific island location. But it also has a steelier edge to it that you don’t find in most musicals – the horrors of war and underlying racial tensions give the audience something to think about as they walk home, in between humming the classic songs that they won’t be able to get ‘outta their heads’ for weeks to come.

I’ve seen the film many times but you just cannot beat live performance especially when you are in the very safe hands of the wonderful Lichfield Operatic Society – remaining seats are really limited for the week and I’d really recommend that you book in as soon as you can – you’ll definitely be guaranteed an ‘Enchanted Evening!

South Pacific is on at the Garrick Main Theatre from Tuesday 7 to Saturday 11 November starting at 7.30pm with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Tickets available in person from the Lichfield Garrick on Garrick Square, by phone on 01543 412121 or via their website:
www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/musicals/south-pacific/33

 

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
 

Magical Mesmerising Mysterious Midsummer! The Dreaming Review Lichfield Garrick July 31 2017

Lichfield Garrick: The Dreaming July 31 2017

2017 celebrates the 300th anniversary of the birth of that quintessential Shakespearean actor, David Garrick, a Lichfield man and after whom the Garrick theatre is, of course, named – and I’m sure DG would have loved to have taken part in the performance of The Dreaming last night!

The Dreaming is a musical retelling of the Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and follows the original script closely (quite rightly so!) so if you are a Shakespearean fan you will be able to follow the plotlines quite easily. Character names have been changed but Oberon (Angel) Puck (Jack) and Bottom (Cheek) and more of the central characters are all easily identifiable.

The performance is the second at the Garrick of the Community Musical following on from 2016’s The Hired Man so most of the cast have very little, and in some cases none, acting experience with lots of stage debutants.

Bearing this in mind it is a super, sparkly, shimmering, spritely and sumptuous show! David Garrick was painted once by Joshua Reynolds as ‘Between Comedy and Tragedy’ but The Dreaming (aka A Midsummer Night’s Dream) is a typical Shakespearean comedy full of misunderstandings, knockabout characters, slapstick moments, word play and double-entendres.

The actors all put in a stellar performance and, as usual with amateur performances at the Garrick, throw themselves into their roles with enthusiasm, dedication, good humour and an obvious delight in just being on stage. Chris Gilbey-Smith as Angel/Oberon, Macie Barrington as Jack/Puck and Olivia Deane as Sylvia/Titania are all excellent and there are lots of laughs whenever David (Linden Iliffe) and Alexander (Elliot Scott-Lolley) are on stage particularly when scrapping over Jennifer – and watch out for the flying handbag undercut – ouch!

As usual though I just love the ensemble pieces when the whole cast fill the stage and everything comes to life – there are lots of very good young actors and dancers in the cast and it is always worth casting your eye across the whole ensemble and seeing if you can spot some stars of the future! This suns up the Garrick to me – a local theatre, with a young, local cast and a local audience – what could be better!

The music score by the super Howard Goodall, creator of TV theme tunes for the Vicar of Dibley, Blackadder and more) is catchy, uplifting, poignant, funny and, at times, achingly sad with the words provided by Charles Hart, lyricist for the Phantom of the Opera – it’s a winning combination. The song Jennifer is a highlight for me, it’s infectious, matches the script and actors perfectly and makes a couple of ‘appearances’!

The stage set is fabulous, creating the imagery of a spooky, secretive, mysterious wood (and Shakespeare loved his woods!) to perfection, the lighting and special effects are spot-on and there is a surprise at the end of the show that will make you jump out of your seats!

Lovely direction by Craig Sanders and Tim Ford who have clearly got the best out of a young and inexperienced cast (and the after show cast get together in the Green Room showed the obvious camaraderie, joy and pride of taking part)  with musical direction by Angharad Sanders. With the usual professionalism of the ‘behind the scenes’ team at the Garrick including Artistic Director Tim Ford everything ran smoothly from start to finish.

A great way to spend an evening of Shakespearean Musical Dreaminess in a theatre named after one of the finest exponents of his work – I’d definitely recommend The Dreaming and I’m sure David Garrick would too!

As You Like It – Lichfield Shakespeare in the Park – Review 21 June 2017

From Lanterns to Levellers

The first performance of this year’s Shakespeare in the Park took place last night at Maple Hayes Hall near Lichfield. The chosen play for 2017 was As You Like It, one of the Bard’s merry, jolly, uplifting rom-coms – and wow was it good!
The al fresco setting is just perfect, a secluded, quiet and reflective wooded area of trees in an area of land between Lichfield and Burntwood. The audience sits on bales of hay (I found them to be quite comfy…although a cushion is a good idea!) on a slope looking down on the ‘stage’ and lighting is provided by spotlights and all types of LED string lights and lanterns – as the sun goes down and dusk falls it looks truly magical.
SITP (in its acronym form!) started in 1983 at Wychnor Hall Gardens before moving to its current home at Maple Hayes in 1985 so is in its 34th year and this was the third time the company have performed As You Like It – Maple Hayes woods is a great choice for the location as William set the original play in the Forest of Arden in Warwickshire.
The weather was ideal with not a breath of wind, warm without being stifling and nothing to disturb the actors bar the birds’ dusk chorus and the odd (annoying…) high revving motorbike boy racer!
The story is classic comic Shakespeare: boy meets girl, falls instantly in love, girl runs away and takes up a disguise, boy chases after girl, someone else falls in love with girl, lots of misunderstandings ensue, clutches of comic characters (including the essential jester!) revolve around the plot before everything works itself out, it finishes with the happy couples marrying their ideal partners and all ends happily…well that is an abridged version of events but something like that!
The play starts with two warring sibling princes and the fight, wrestling and duelling scenes are dramatic, realistic and the ‘darkest’ part of the whole production. After that it’s pretty much a comic romp to the end however. There are lots of physical and word-play gags and a whole array of comic characters – David Stonehouse as the jester Touchstone, Ellie Galvin as Celia, Greg Spencer as Jacques (with a bewildering line in accents including Brummie!) Paul McEvoy as Corin the shepherd and Fiona Willimott as Audrey the goat herd are all great fun and provide lots of laughs – and there’s a nice little cameo from Ron Hughes as William, the love-rival for the hand of Audrey!
Hannah Davies as Rosalind, the main love interest, was excellent, it’s a challenging role to switch between a lady of the court to her disguise as a man of the forests but she handles both roles really well. The woman disguised as a man has a long history in British drama and comedy, from the pantomime prince and dame to ‘Bob…’ in Blackadder – I wonder if Shakespeare was the originator of this classic comedy gender reversal?
In the lead male role as Orlando, Rosalind’s beau, Patrick Jervis was as strong and professional as always – I’ve seen him in a number of varying roles this year and he always brings depth and character to each role – you definitely know he is not going to let you down.
But, as usual, the whole cast, leading and support, young and not-so-young, female and male were all excellent and it’s why I love amateur dramatic groups – they put their heart and soul into it and (take a look at the photos!) you can tell that they genuinely love every second of it and that enthusiasm and warmth comes from the forest floor, rises up and washes over the audience on the straw bales – they’re all first class.
The actors are dressed in a combination of clothes from across the eras – from the doublet and hose of Elizabethan times to the gold medallions and pointed shirt collars of the fashionably challenged 1970’s. Some Shakespeare purists may not like this but I thought it looked colourful and fun and added to the feel-good factor. The performance is also full of guitars, drums (ancient and modern) and some traditional and not-so-traditional songs – who would have thought you could have mixed Under the Greenwood Tree by the esteemed William Shakespeare Esq with a hit for the Levellers in 1997 (so we have the English Civil War thrown in for good (measure-for) measure!).
The play is directed by the ‘first-time-for-SITP’ Sarah Stanley, who is an experienced actor and director with the Lichfield Players. Apparently she was nervous about directing her first SITP – but she needn’t have been, it was a great, innovative, entertaining and truly satisfying performance with a great ovation at the close and the audience left happy, if not a bit saddle ‘bale’ sore.
She was backed up by an expert production team and also front of house and stewarding teams. As I said SITP has been running for over 30 years and has several people in the off-stage team who have given many years of loyal service – and this continuity of experience and knowledge clearly shows through – from the parking stewards to the ticket office, to the volunteers and helpers it all runs really smoothly like a well-oiled machine!
I blush to say that this was my first ever SITP and as a lover of amateur dramatics, Shakespeare, al fresco performance and anything to do with history and Lichfield – I feel very embarrassed – so I’m going to make up for lost time and book up for 2018!
This is a fabulous way to enjoy a classic English summer’s evening – it’s a local group of local performers, in a local venue before a (mainly) local audience – and backed by the Lichfield Garrick -it’s a great Lichfield success story!
Performances run nightly until Saturday 24 June (with a 2pm a matinee on Saturday – it’s a family-friendly performance and one of Shakespeare’s more accessible plays – and the younger audience will love the sword fights!).
So please don’t make my mistake – book now for the remaining performances at the Lichfield Garrick website, www.lichfieldgarrick.com , call into the Box Office at Castle Dyke or ring 01543 412121.

What a beautiful place, What a beautiful play and, as The Levellers sang, What a Beautiful Day!

p.s. you can see more pics on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/jonotourism

Haywire at the Lichfield Garrick April 12 2017 – a Review

The latest production by the Lichfield Players is ‘Haywire’ a farce by Eric Chappell and running at the brilliant Studio theatre at the Lichfield Garrick until Saturday 15 April.

Chappell is responsible for writing some of the greatest sitcoms of the 1970 and 80s – Rising Damp is his comedy jewel but he also wrote Duty Free, Singles and Only When I Laugh (to name but a few)  and he also wrote a whole raft of plays and farces – Haywire being a prime example.

The play is set in a flat above a bookshop where the owner, Alec, is planning an illicit Easter weekend away with his shop assistant, the voluptuous Liz, in Spain while his suspicious wife Maggie visits   Europe’s capitals on her own holiday excursion.

Everything seems to be going Alec’s way until the usual farce factors come to play and his plans start to unravel with disruptive interruptions from his long term student son, his ‘care home avoiding at all costs’ mother, his unmarried ‘in an interesting situation’ daughter, a seven mile tailback on the M25 – and a nauseous bilious Airedale puppy!

The Players’ cast are led by Phil Shaw as the long suffering, frustrated (in more ways than one!), world weary Alec who plays his part very well and has a host of classic Chappell one-liners to deliver which means there are laughs guaranteed in every scene.

The cast of six all perform strongly and clearly enjoy themselves, the relationship between Alec and his demanding, walking stick toting, son-baiting mother Phoebe (played, against casting, by Maureen George) is one of the highlights and even the (completely unseen) dog gets plenty of laughs!

Chappell’s comedy genius litters the script and you can see influences of Rising Damp’s Rigsby in Alec’s paranoia and echoes of Duty Free in the affair seeking holiday in Spain and there are plenty of comedic mishaps and misunderstandings to enjoy along the way.

It’s a typical British farce and is a bright, breezy way to spend an evening out in the intimate Studio theatre where can really get close up to the action and see every pained line on Alec’s face as he wrestles with his unravelling life – and with its topical theme it’s an ideal way to spend an evening (or afternoon) this Easter week!

Haywire runs every day from now until Saturday 15 April 2017 and includes a matinee on the Saturday at 2.30pm.

Tickets only £13.50 and available from the Garrick Box Office, ring 01543 412121 or email: info@lichfieldgarrick.com

*Photo copyright of the Lichfield Mercury