REVIEW | George’s Marvellous Medicine | West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

George's Marvellous Medicine

Image: Manuel Harlan

Following the success of previous Roald Dahl adaptations for the stage, Curve and Rose Theatre have joined forces once again with another fine collaboration worthy of Dahl’s classic creations. This production of George’s Marvellous Medicine marks David Wood’s eighth Dahl adaptation but his proliferation is in no way detrimental to this production and he continues to produce quality dramatisations for children.

Remaining faithful to Dahl’s original story, Wood only deviates from the original in the opening scene to introduce George and his family to the audience, typically through a child-friendly song, but he also establishes some context and validates Grandma’s reason for burdening herself on her hapless relatives.

Grandma is the antithesis of a vulnerable old lady. Feistily depicted by Lisa Howard, she arrives by a mobility scooter, clad in leopard print and updated as a gin-drinking brash northern anti-heroine. The more unpleasant Grandma becomes with her awkward demands, the more the audience sides with George as he attempts to transform her into the Grandma of his dreams via his magic potion.

George (played by the enthusiastic and effervescent Preston Nyman, who is perfectly suited to children’s theatre) is lacking in friends due to his reclusive upbringing on a remote farm and immerses himself in a fantasy escape world of reading. Inspired by the boy wizards from his books, George embarks on his own attempt at sorcery by combining the contents of his household cupboards, questioning with the audience everything from engine oil to flea powder (with the addition of brown shoe polish and gloss paint to authenticate the colour of Grandma’s usual medicine) to the encouragement of approving shrieks.

On feeding Grandma his crazy concoction, against her own advice to “never grow-up, always grow down” she shoots up to towering proportions, and although her transformation isn’t the most convincing, it is approached with humour, becoming ludicrous rather than credible. Chaos ensues with an oversized chicken producing colossal eggs, who has unsuspectingly met with the same treatment, portrayed hilariously and slightly hysterically by Chandni Mistry.

The animal testing and health and safety disaster are counterbalanced by a ‘Don’t try this at home’ song for the finale, presented with customary frivolity and high energy. Live music enhances the production played by talented multi-tasking performers, gentle audience participation assists George to replicate his spell, and alongside the requisite baddie and a wayward chicken, there is even a dash of satirical humour thrown in.

George’s Marvellous Medicine is fiendish fun for the whole family and ultimately everything turns out for the best. After all, Grandma was grumpy and bad-tempered.

Runs until 17th March 2018

This review was originally produced for The Reviews Hub and can be viewed here

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REVIEW | The Wizard of Oz | The Crucible, Sheffield

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Image: Johan Persson

Sheffield Theatres festive offering this year is the iconic The Wizard of Oz. This brand new production gives L. Frank Baum’s classic book a makeover, potentially appealing to a legion of new fans in the wake of Wicked, the record-breaking musical based on the untold story of the witches of Oz.

Although Baum’s original books were first published in 1900, it is the 1939 Judy Garland film that most people have as a definitive reference for The Wizard of Oz and the opening sequence of this production pays homage to that. The ensemble cast introduces the piece with a soundtrack evocative of 1940s harmonies in a decidedly cinematic introduction. The sepia Kansas from the film is reflected in the costume choices, as the characters recreate their world of picket fences and hillbilly banjo playing before it transforms into glorious technicolour.

Designer Janet Bird’s set is a masterpiece. It opens up like an oyster shell revealing its pearl; in this case, the treasure is the highly anticipated yellow brick road that lights up as the characters follow their path and ultimately their destiny. Similarly, Toto transforms from real-life terrier sidekick to a bright yellow puppet, which prompts Dorothy’s reaction, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

The arrival of the munchkins confirms this, with high energy routines and moments of comedy, this production providing something for everyone. The jokes are timeless and enduring as Scarecrow remarks, “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking”, reminiscent of a gentler time. There is even a comedic element brought to the cocktail-wielding Wicked Witch (Catrin Aaron), making her less intimidating for a younger audience.

The arrival in the Emerald City is a lavish and classy affair, with skilful acrobatic performances from the cast, building the piece to a visual climax. It is very much an ensemble piece, with the supporting players providing everything from the munchkins, the soundtrack, the storm as the pieces of house are blown away and the intoxicating poppies that hypnotise our heroes to sleep.

The main characters of Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion perfectly encapsulate the fateful foursome alongside Dorothy (Gabrielle Brooks), who at times completely outshines everyone with her huge voice. Her speaking voice perfectly echoes the warble of Judy Garland but when she sings Over the Rainbow, despite the numerous cover versions, Brooks somehow manages to make this song her own. Her performance is outstanding and truly deserving of the standing ovation received for this production.

An ambitious piece to stage, Sheffield Theatres have well and truly triumphed. With the majestic set and stunning costumes, it is a very slick and polished production, equally matched by strong performances worthy of the West End stage.

With a few updates for the better, such as the winged monkeys travelling on roller skates and the ruby slippers being slightly more tasteful than the ones in the film, this is a fairly faithful reincarnation of this classic and familiar musical. The Wizard of Oz is faultless and a showstopper of a Christmas production. An ideal tonic for an alternative to traditional pantomime.

Runs until 20th January 2018

This review was originally produced for The Reviews Hub and can be viewed here

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REVIEW | The Red Shoes | Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

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Image: Johan Persson

Matthew Bourne’s latest masterpiece, which began it’s run in 2016 to much acclaim, is The Red Shoes. Never one for a traditional interpretation, Bourne uses the 1948 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film as the basis for his ballet, producing a spectacular cinematic experience live onstage, inspired by the golden age of motion pictures.

The story follows Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw), an aspiring ballerina keen to make her mark and attract the attention of Ballet Impresario, Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer). Despite his initial reluctance, Vicky catches it, fulfilling her dream and securing the lead role, following Prima Ballerina Irina Boronskaja’s misfortune when she sustains an injury.  Anjali Mehra is diva-like in her portrayal of Irina, perfectly encapsulating the film siren of the era, supported by performances from the cast that are melodramatic in style, the characters exaggerated to provide a comedic spin and perfectly capturing the essence of cinema’s heyday.

Following a play-within-a-play – or in this case, a ballet-within-a-ballet – the story unfolds through a backstage peek into the world of the artists, the onstage proscenium arch revolving depending on the perspective of the audience and providing scope for some wonderfully insightful moments of the characters waiting in the wings.

The internal version of The Red Shoes ballet played out by the characters is skilfully depicted in monochrome and evocative of a black and white film. The only hint of colour amongst the set and costumes are the red ballet shoes themselves and accents of red in the suit of the seducer, a mirror of Lermatov himself, a forewarning of what is to come.

Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company are perfectly suited to portray artists consumed by their work, seamlessly blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. The energy from every performer onstage never wanes, from the bustling ensemble scenes, reminiscent of Busby Berkeley and Esther Williams films with the corp de ballet in period swimwear, intricately choreographed so there is almost too much to absorb, to the more intimate pas de deux between Vicky and struggling composer, Julian Craster (Chris Trenfield) as their relationship deepens.

But herein lies Vicky’s demise and so begins her battle with love versus art. Following her heart, she rejects the fame and the French Riviera in favour of seedy East-End dancehalls, quickly realising this is not providing the fulfilment she craves. Desperate to find it again, she succumbs to the red shoes to become a marionette in the hands of puppeteer Lermatov.

Ashley Shaw’s portrayal of tragic heroine Vicky is near perfect, from her flawless appearance as a Ginger Rogers reincarnation, to her inherent desperation as she admits defeat and ultimately dances herself to her own inevitable demise. The strength of characterisation alongside Matthew Bourne’s vision for the piece, it’s filmic qualities brought to life by Lez Brotherston’s stunning set and costume design is what heightens this production: whilst the ballet itself is strong and precise, it becomes so much more than a dance piece. It becomes a spectacle, a feast of colour and excitement, yet with heart wrenching moments of tragedy. However, through Matthew Bourne, the red shoes will continue to dance on.

Runs until 3rd June 2017 at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre click here to book tickets.

For more information about Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and the production of The Red Shoes click here

Reviewed on 30th May 2017 

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REVIEW | Gangsta Granny | The Grand, Leeds

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Image: Contributed

Birmingham Stage Company, the team behind Horrible Histories have worked their magic again – although granted, turning David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny into a fun-filled adaptation for the stage is somewhat less of a challenge.

The skill of the shows adaptor, Neal Foster shines through, as it transitions seamlessly from Walliams’ 2011 best-seller to the stage, with its short scenes and slick pace to keep a young audience interested. Bright visuals literally bring the page to life, with colourful sets unfolding like pop-up book illustrations.

Ben (Ashley Cousins) and his Granny’s relationship deepens as their adventure unites them; Ben believing Granny (Gilly Tompkins) has an alter-ego as a hugely successful international jewel thief. Fridays quickly turn from “the worst day of the week” into “the best day of the week”. Following his discovery about her past life, Ben now looks forward to spending time with Granny, who becomes a significant person in his life, the only one believing in his dream to become a plumber. He sees her with new eyes as a real person rather than someone who has always just been old and “boring”.

It is the endearing relationship between Ben and degenerative Granny, which gives credibility to this somewhat far-fetched plot line where the pair scheme to steal the Crown Jewels. Walliams’ use of characters that span the generations provides scope for addressing a serious concern about the intolerance of society towards the older generation. A total disregard is displayed by Ben’s self-absorbed dancing obsessed parents, who have no time for Granny other than for her uses as babysitter so they can indulge in their Friday night dancing ritual, child-free.

Moments of real poignancy and heartfelt scenes are juxtaposed with the vibrancy and humour of the piece, manically interspersed with ballroom dancing scenes. The show never loses sight of its target audience, who hoot and applaud approvingly at jokes about Granny’s cabbage diet related flatulence.

Tompkins exuberant portrayal of stereotypical Scrabble-playing, hanky-spitting Granny is spectacular, never dipping in energy and providing plenty of laughs as mobility scooter wielding ninja in a rather dubious getaway vehicle.

The audience interaction scenes with Ben’s mum’s idol Flávio are well received, recreating good old fashioned Saturday night entertainment, Ben’s parents sitting amongst the audience for this time. Typically the “bum” and “bottom” references have the younger age-group erupting, yet the contrasting raw honesty of the treatment of elderly people, provides a much welcomed serious note, makes this a truly all-encompassing family show.

Reviewed on 3rd May 2017

This review was originally produced for The Reviews Hub and can be viewed here

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REVIEW | Jane Eyre | Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

jane eyre

Image: Contributed

2017 marks the 170th anniversary of the first publication of Charlotte Brontë’s most famous work. Fittingly, Bristol Old Vic in collaboration with The National Theatre has brought Sally Cookson’s devised adaptation to the stage in a ground-breaking reimagining for modern audiences.

As an enduring and landmark piece of writing from its era, Jane Eyre’s forward thinking protagonist becomes every bit as relevant today in this interpretation. Nadia Clifford makes sense of the character in her near perfect portrayal of the slightly plain, small character (much like Brontë herself).

Rather than merely evoking sympathy and pity for Jane, Clifford depicts her journey, from abandoned orphan to slightly impertinent, inquisitive child, to strong minded, independent woman seeking freedom and refusing to be dictated to. Always questioning and unafraid to challenge superiors or the system (she refuses to call Mrs Reed ‘Aunt’) Jane’s most influential meeting is with Helen Burns at Lowood School, who teaches her “there are no wicked people, just deeds”.

Minimalist setting provides the backdrop for this renowned story – more multi-level climbing frame, which the characters access via ladders and steps, morphing into the many backdrops of Jane’s troubled life: her sanctuary in the library at Gateshead Hall; the imposing Thornfield with its many windows; the attic which hides Rochester’s most guarded secret.

At times the set appears a hindrance, the cast desperate to fully utilise it, slowing the pace and flow of this slick-paced piece, despite its hefty content and nearly three-hour running time. A soundtrack of inclement weather is enough to depict the rainy moorlands of Bronte’s Yorkshire, yet whilst this neutral staging is used to good effect, the piece transcending time and place, it highlights inconsistencies.

The character of Bertha is masterfully played by Melanie Marshall, her ‘madness’ or differences highlighted by her contrasting portrayal in which she sings her fairly static performance, as opposed to the rest of the ensemble who are very physical in their depictions. Marshall provides pitch-perfect renditions of Mad About the Boy and Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy with her commanding voice, and whilst they fit harmoniously within the piece, the anachronism is only questionable as the characters are all wearing period costume.

Despite a minor quibble, this production is otherwise flawless. The energy of the more than capable cast is to be applauded as they accelerate through several characters each (including Paul Mundell’s comedic depiction of Pilot, Rochester’s faithful dog), Jane Eyre and Rochester (Tim Delap) onstage for almost the entire performance.

The supporting cast also provides a welcome enhancement, working as Jane’s inner monologue. Physical theatre is creatively used, bringing the piece to life in moments where Jane wanders through the corridors of Thornfield lit by single bulbs moved in place by the ensemble, denoting travelling scenes and skilfully creating a breeze using sheets and perfect timing as Jane opens a window.

This is a brave adaptation – a powerful and relevant reworking to celebrate Bronte’s 170th anniversary of her trailblazing heroine.

Reviewed on 18th April 2017

This review was originally produced for The Reviews Hub and can be viewed here

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REVIEW | Northern Ballet: Casanova | The Grand, Leeds

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Image: Guy Farrow

The name Casanova is synonymous with womaniser, philanderer and seducer; more a derogatory term than an historical figure. Northern Ballet prove he was much more than this in Kenneth Tindell’s original adaptation for the company, readdressing this and highlighting Casanova (based on a selection of his memoirs, his life story too vast to encapsulate every element) as academic, gambler, diplomat, entrepreneur, author, musician and failed aspiring priest (due to an encounter with two sisters at a young age).

All the while, Casanova’s journey is presented as the most extravagant and seductive pieces of modern ballet in an incredibly luxurious performance. Christopher Oram’s opulent set is stunning; shafts of light stream through the chapel ceiling in the opening scenes, the costumes like bijoux jewels shimmering amongst it, and perfectly harmonious dyed costumes, from pointe shoe to mask.

The powerful scenes are exuberantly performed by the dancers. The opener is more contemporary in movement in a classical setting, before following with traditional ballet in the masked ensemble scenes. The corps de ballet create a visual treat in stockings and racy masquerade wear, set to a backdrop of deep purple tones with gold and black. A thrilling spectacle, the stage comes alive. This is how ballet should be performed.

There are still a number of traditional and emotive pas de deux performed between Casanova and the aristocratic nun, M.M. (Ailen Ramos Betancourt) as she seduces Casanova for the voyeuristic benefit of her lover hidden behind a screen, but in particular with his one true love, the doomed Henriette (Hannah Bateman). There are tender and emotional scenes between this pairing, as Casanova attempts to rescue Henriette as she flees from her violent husband, dressing as a man in order to do so. After being tracked down by her husband, Henriette is forced to leave with him only to return to Casanova to find her fears confirmed as he is amidst numerous metaphorical faceless lovers.

In a world of ballet that is dominated by female ballerinas showcased and merely supported by men, Northern Ballet have a history of turning this notion on its head with previous strong male leads such as the spectacular Dracula, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and to a certain extent with Heathcliffe in the more recent Wuthering Heights. Here it is the turn of Casanova’s Giuliano Contadi to be celebrated: he was born to play the lead, with magnificent physical strength; obnoxious yet with just enough vulnerability when needed, producing breathtaking final scenes as his life appears before him.

The life of Casanova is so extensive, and a mammoth task to edit into a two-hour ballet, but Kenneth Tindall has done a triumphant job in creating this virtually faultless ballet. Of Northern Ballet’s recent portfolio of modern adaptations and interpretations, this is by far the most comprehensive. Kerry Muzzey’s score is perfectly matched, producing stand-alone pieces, evocative of the era. Majestic and thrilling, Northern Ballet have given ballet a much-welcomed shake-up, producing a modern masterpiece.

Casanova is one of the most exciting things to happen to ballet in a long time. Northern Ballet are true masters and pioneers in creating enduring accessible ballet.

Reviewed on 11 March 2017

This review was originally produced for The Reviews Hub and can be viewed here

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REVIEW | SURPRISE! (Work in Development) | Theatre in the Mill, Bradford

  
Lauren Silver’s therapist has diagnosed her as having ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder with sub types of Social, Anticipation and Death Anxiety’. To take herself out of her comfort zone and as therapy, Lauren has decided to throw herself a surprise party, and the audience are her party guests.

Lauren hates parties and she hates surprises. Part scripted performance, part social experiment, SURPRISE! is Silver’s attempt at slowly exposing herself to the one thing she is most scared of: relinquishing control. One of her biggest fears is of involuntary bodily reactions in public places and the nerves are noticeably audible in the wobble in her voice, a vulnerability detected as she speaks directly to the audience as she coaxes members onstage to choose her party outfit from an onstage suitcase she has provided.

Silver has a natural affinity with her audience as she chats to them easily, despite the nerves (due to a mixture of both her diagnosed prevalent anxiety disorder and also performing work in progress to a trial audience). The rawness and nerves, however, work in her favour. The scripted conversation she orchestrates with ‘Tim’, a fellow party guest is enhanced by this awkwardness rather than polished performance and demonstrates an unnatural, stilted and oh so familiar party conversation with a stranger, where the mind steps in with nagging doubts. 

Silver also takes on the role of her ‘Amygdala’ (an Almond-shaped group of neurons in the medial temporal lobes of the brain, which plays a central role in the processing and memory of emotions, especially fear). In Lauren’s case, her Amygdala is her sub-conscience and takes on in it’s own persona, which she adopts as she attempts to “get into my own head”. 

A gifted performer, she oozes comedic charm and talent, with natural timing and facial expressions, particularly evident as she performs Not While I’m Around from Sweeny Todd in the almond shaped Amygdala costume, demonstrating a more than capable voice.

The real gift in this piece is Silver herself. She reminds the audience numerous times how difficult it is for her not being fully in control (although technically she is, as all the surprises have been orchestrated by her). However, it is her awkwardness and effervescent nervous energy that brings this piece of innovative theatre to life.

Although her anxieties could be related to a feeling of being out of control on a larger scale in today’s political climate (Brexit; Trump and his latest manipulation of the world’s media), Silver deliberately keeps these issues localised and personal. She chooses instead to focus on her autobiographical monologue, caught up in her own trivialities, her far fetched worries and unlikely scenarios such as the man in her office walking past her desk who may snap her neck as he passes.

She concludes on a positive note: no cake being left for her doesn’t mean she’ll die friendless and alone; she won’t soil herself if a party popper goes off unexpectedly without warning. A few tweaks from the audience feedback session and pushing the boundaries of relinquishing control even further and SURPRISE! has the makings of a really great show – one that will potentially have the audience dancing round the auditorium in an upbeat ending, to dance away the demons.

Reviewed on 25th February 2017

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REVIEW | The Snowman & Other Tales | Town Hall, Huddersfield

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Image: Contributed

No Christmas is complete without Raymond Briggs’ classic tale of a boy and his snowman charmingly brought to life. This version of The Snowman is enhanced and magically brought to life with the addition of The Orchestra of Opera North.

The main feature is preceded by tales of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs, in this instance using the versions from Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. Stories that the audience may think they know are set in a forest where nothing is quite as it seems. In this case, quite literally, as the Grandmother is an alcoholic with an Absinthe habit and Little Red Riding Hood masquerades as Paris Hilton. Peter Patterson’s music is mesmeric and fitting to accompany the humour in Dahl’s narrative and highlights the enrichment of the live orchestra.

John Savournin assumes an excellent presenter and narrator with his commanding yet not overbearing presence, his melodic and booming voice perfectly pitched as he introduces the young audience to the instruments within the orchestra in a suitably child-friendly introduction to classical music. The fables are illustrated by some fairly basic animation but it is enough to engage the younger children, providing enough intrigue and focus for their minds, ensuring they enjoy the suspense created by the music.

Although The Snowman needs no introduction, Savournin provides a very brief one that leads us into the main event. Despite the familiarity of the classic animated film that is ritually transmitted into the living rooms of the majority of families on Christmas Eve, this somehow seems how it was meant to be viewed, the experience seems complete. The extra dimension of the live music creates a new magic as if watching with a fresh pair of eyes.

The Orchestra of Opera North work their socks off and are thrilling to watch, particularly during the more animated aspects, where the boy and the snowman race around the snow-laden countryside on a motorbike leading up to the highly anticipated flying scenes. The climax does not disappoint, with a spectacular solo performance from a young chorister, earning him a rapturous and deserving applause.

Although the first half is slightly over-long for a very young audience, The Snowman and Other Tales is an emotive and festive must-see, a treat for the whole family.

Reviewed on 13 December 2016

This review was originally produced for The Reviews Hub and can be viewed here

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REVIEW | The Witches | West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

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Image: Anthony Robling

Marking what would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday this year, this latest production of The Witches proves Dahl’s writing has as much relevance and holds just as much mass appeal with modern audiences as when his work was first published during the last century. This adaptation by David Wood and produced in association with Curve Theatre, Leicester is Dahl’s darkest and probably most gruesome novel brought to life in a faithful and characteristic representation.

Produced very much with children in mind, the actors play to their audience, entering through the auditorium and introducing themselves onstage with a ‘Welcome Song’, lulling the audience into a false sense of security before the Roald Dahl magic begins. “Just remember however bad things get, everything will turn out alright – in most other stories. But this is not most other stories…”

Unafraid to explore the idea of death, The Witches begins with orphan Boy (Fox Jackson Keen) describing how he lost his parents in a car crash and has been sent to live with his witch-obsessed Grandma (Jenna Augen) in Norway. Whilst convalescing in the South Coast of England, the pair accidentally stumble across a convention of witches attempting to eradicate the country’s entire population of children. Between them, the Boy and his Grandma intercept the witches plan and foil the attempt, despite the Boy being turned into a mouse along the way.

The high energy performance is impressively executed by the very accomplished and talented ensemble cast of actor/musicians. They provide narration to cover the details of the more complex aspects of the storyline, whilst easily slipping into the musical numbers. Dougal Irvine’s compositions are a welcome addition to the piece by way of engaging children, with a number of catchy and fitting songs, and humour contrasts with the darker, scarier moments that may frighten younger children.

Although theatrically enhanced for an audience, mostly the scary moments can be attributed to Dahl’s writing and vivid descriptions, which has been skilfully brought to life in this visually stunning adaptation. A multicolour spectacular created through costumes, wigs, props and complementing lighting to showcase the creative set, it is the very antithesis of the stereotypical witches in black pointy hats, which according to Grandma, “only exist in fairy-tales”.

The despicable child-hating Grand High Witch is played to perfection by Sarah Ingram, who creates a series of traits synonymous with her character. Fox Jackson Keen’s relative inexperience in the role of Boy is only noticeable alongside the very strong cast of experienced actors but his enthusiasm and acrobatic skill more than makes up for this. There are comedic moments between the paring of Boy and ever hungry Bruno (Jonny Weldon) and the whole performance is delivered with an abundance of energy that is customary for children’s theatre.

The feel-good song at the end provides the requisite happy ending, placating children and adults alike. An all round crowd pleaser, this multi-layered production appeals on many levels, ensuring that Dahl’s legacy continues.

Reviewed on 7th December 2016 

This review was originally produced for The Reviews Hub and can be viewed here

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REVIEW | Ballet Black | Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds

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Image: Bill Cooper

Founded in 2001 by Cassa Pancho with the intention of providing a platform for dancers of black and Asian origin, Ballet Black has become much more than this, carving out a niche for themselves as a contemporary ballet company, their work encompassing both traditional and contemporary styles of dance, blurring the boundaries to create their own unique signature style of ballet.

Their current touring Triple Bill opens with Cristaux, an abstract piece choreographed by Arthur Pita in a break from his usual style of narrative led work. It is danced beautifully by Cira Robinson and Mthuthuzeli November. Robinson is the real jewel in the piece, merely being supported and her secure en pointe work showcased by November in the most traditional of the three ballets: an archetypal pas de deux containing the only tutu of entire evening. Robinson performs effortlessly in it, belying what must surely be a weighty appendage that adorns her body, entirely covered in crystals (kindly supported by Swarovski), performing effortlessly with no suggestion of any hindrance.

To Begin, Begin, inspired by the music of Dustin O’ Halloran takes a different approach, straddling the border of semi-narrative and abstract to provide a link between the three different styles showcased by Ballet Black in this triple bill. The music is hauntingly beautiful: fragile and delicate, yet full of emotion to allow the dancers scope to convey plenty of expression.

The piece opens with the performers using a large piece of blue silk to create a wave as it becomes part of the piece and heightens the fluidity of the movement. Performed by six of the eight artists working in a series of pairings, it allows plenty of interaction and engaging between them. Sayaka Ichikawa takes turns to dance with two male dancers, who in turn partner each other in a magnificent display of strength and power, coupled with a graceful elegance. To Begin, Begin is Christopher Marney’s sixth work for Ballet Black and the most contemporary of the pieces. Although the piece has no cohesive thread or conclusion it is carried and strengthened O’Halloran’s powerful music.

As the only narrative work of the programme, Storyville is set in New Orleans in 1915 and follows the journey of Nola, losing control of her life and her ultimate demise. It not a story that demands to be told but merely provides a framework for the piece to exist within. It allows for characterisation and theme development where the other pieces do not, enhanced by a silent film genre setting. Stylized captions are paraded across the stage to introduce the characters, ‘The Lover’ and ‘Mack’, announcing ‘One year later’ and although not entirely necessary in a ballet that is more than capable of conveying a story in its own right, it adds to the whole ambience, reiterating the era depicted. The soundtrack is perfectly attuned, Kurt Weill’s Mack the Knife is reworked to become congruous within the piece and the dancehall scenes are defined perfectly, despite the sparse stage set. The use of ballet and incorporation of conventional steps is never compromised. Cira Robinson and Sayaka Ichikawa as Nola and Lulu respectively, swing their hips and walk en pointe as if film sirens parading in high heels and look perfectly in context. Dream scenes utilising masked figures and voodoo dolls are especially strong, evoking a sense of black magic, Nola’s repression and a sense of impending death,

Christopher Hampson has already expanded Storyvile since its original incarnation in 2012 to allow the characters of Lulu, Nola and Mack to develop. Alongside the other two pieces in the Triple Bill it gives insight into what this company are capable of. A full length ballet from the exceptionally talented Ballet Black is one to look out for.

Reviewed on 14th October 2016

This review was originally produce for The Reviews Hub and can be viewed here

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