GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS

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October 9th || Bethan Shuff

They say things come in three’s, don’t they. Three girls, with three dilemmas; Potboiler presents Girls, Girls, Girls over three nights at The Exchange.

Walking into The Exchange basement, I am surprised at how spacious it seems. The stage is usually covered in kit; amps, guitars, drums… but this was not a usual weekend for The Exchange. Instead, the floor was clear, with a wooden platform just off the stage where music-lovers are usually throwing their pints around. Little white plastic garden chairs lined the rest of the floor as excited chatter circled the room as people wondered what to expect.

Set in 1997, Girls, Girls, Girls follows three teenagers, Badger, Fish Head and Baby Face as they go on their 18th birthday night out up ‘anley. I was super interested to find out how the three young actresses, Bethany-Jo Clews (Badger), Naomi Felton (Fish Head) and Ashleigh Cordery (Baby Face), would create an entire cast of characters with just themselves. Throughout the performance, the girls play parts such as bus drivers, bouncers, teachers, drunk nail technicians, boyfriends (in the loosest sense) and more, and the girls transform into these roles and make you have a right good giggle. Kat Boon has written this play so cleverly, having the girls narrate what’s going on through both words and actions without making it feel like narrative, you know exactly what’s going on and who’s playing who even with minimal set and actors.

Being set in Stoke-on-Trent, you find yourself wrapped in the nostalgia of Hanley nights out in Valentino’s with a Smirnoff ice. However, the night takes a terrible turn, away from the light-hearted comedy and into a darker thriller. The girls are split up, each with their own problems to try and fix. One of which being the return of a childhood friend, snatched from the streets as a child. There’s a shocking confession around every corner that is bound to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Bethany-Jo, Naomi and Ashleigh have such a wonderful and heart-warming charisma, which oozes confidence and professionalism. It was like watching a film, not a play. You become so immersed in the story that you don’t even realise that there are only three actresses, moving the set around themselves, setting up their own props, cleverly manoeuvring their space into something so versatile. This one wooden platform is a bed, a bus, a club, a loo cubical, a takeaway and it that moment, you really believe it. Kat Hughes has done a brilliant job of directing. With only two doors into The Exchange basement, at the back and the side, there seems to be limitations to how stage entrances may be carried out, but this is no task for the girls, who will surprise you time and time again. The narrative imagery makes you feel like you’re really in the story, and you become incredibly emotionally involved with the characters.

Friendship is the most important factor and it will prevail. ‘So, when’s the next night out?’.

Although it has now finished its three-day run at The Exchange, Potboiler hopes to tour Girls Girls Girls around the country next year. 

Kat Boon Talks GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS

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October 4th || Leah Hamer

GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS is the killer new production from the power team at Potboiler Theatre, all about the euphoric experiences of adolescence and the terrifying realisation that adulthood awaits us all. Ahead of its three-night run beginning on the 6th October at The Exchange, REBEL caught up with the mind behind it all, playwright, Kat Boon.

Set in 1997, it follows three friends, Badger, Fish Head and Baby Face, on their eighteenth birthday night out. The tale begins comedic before turning into a thriller, as a friend that disappeared when they were children, reappears on this night and they attempt to track her down and reconnect with their youth. ‘It’s a really fun, in your face production,’ Kat laughs, ‘but it’s got heart to it.’ Summed up it is ‘A coming of age story with a twist.’

Potboiler Theatre began in partnership with Appetite to trial theatre in local pubs throughout Stoke-On-Trent, before they moved onto testing the boundaries of their location selections by staging their productions in town halls and empty shops. For their fourth production, they have chosen the intimate, underground space of The Exchange, with the support from Arts Council England, Art City and Unity Theatre Trust.

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The plot has been inspired by Kat’s memories of her older sister, preparing for nights out in the nineties, ‘When I was a kid I remember her going to places like Maxims and Valentino’s,’ She recalls. As well as this, however, Kat has also raided the minds of other locals to collect their anecdotes from the era.

Together with some imagination, these tales form the basis for GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS- a story designed to conjure up a good old bit of nostalgia. Yet it also has a place to connect with a younger audience too. ‘That hopefulness and excitement about what is going to happen in the night, the routine of getting yourself ready and making yourself look really glamourous- that’s timeless. So it is for that nineties generation but it also relates to eighteen year olds now, especially young women. It’s a show about how you have to leave your youth behind and become an adult which is really scary and relevant at any age.’

As the title would presume, the show is of course centred on the lives of young women. ‘We are very passionate about giving opportunities to female actors and celebrating the female experience, which a lot of theatre companies don’t do.’ This drive to give more focus on females within the acting world derives from Kat’s years of experience within theatre.

With Stoke blood running through her veins, she moved away to university and began work as a playwright across several companies in Liverpool and Birmingham, before she returned home and met fellow director and Potboiler partner, Kat Hughes. Both had the same question about Stoke, after witnessing a thriving scene in other major cities, ‘Why not here?’

Quirky venues are definitely one of the foundations of Potboiler, firstly for practical reasons- as studio space is limited in the area, but also for matters of passion. ‘We want to bring theatre to new audiences, so you have to go to where people are. People who go to pubs and clubs are a broad range of people, for example. Logistically it can be a nightmare but we’re passionate about it.’

The dream has grown into a much larger concept since the success of their first few plays. ‘We want to make shows in Stoke and then tour them around the country. Our work is routed here and about Stoke-On-Trent people, but why can’t it go and see the rest of the world? There’s no reason we can’t have stories of Stoke shown in London and Manchester.’

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As a Stoke based playwright, the City of Culture bid has definitely worked up Kat’s levels of excitement. ‘I think it’s already galvanised people and increased everyone’s pride and ambition. Even if we don’t get it, I think it’s already had a really positive effect, but if we do it will allow our art to be shown to an even bigger audience. So we’re totally behind the bid.’

Regardless of the bid outcome, the future is bright for Potboiler. ‘We’re hoping to do more at The Exchange- maybe something more regular, perhaps a monthly night, similar to an Open Mic where we can trial out some bits and do some casual story-telling. All that and of course we’re hoping to tour GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS too.’

But if you want to see the show’s debut in its hometown, then GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS will take place downstairs at The Exchange, Trinity St, Hanley, opening on Thursday 5 October at 7:30pm and running until Saturday 7 October. Tickets are from £6.50 and four friends can go for £30. Tickets can be booked via www.potboilertheatre.com.

Flashdance at The Regent Theatre

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September 27th || Bethan Shuff

In a world made of steel, made of stone, will Alex Owens ever reach her dream of becoming a dancer, despite her lack of professional training? This week at The Regent Theatre, the classic 80’s film Flashdance is being recreated on stage and you don’t want to miss it.

Alex Owens, played by Strictly Come Dancing champion, Joanne Clifton, works in Hurley’s steel mill, but dreams of performing and getting a scholarship at a top dance academy. Clifton plays a very powerful lead role; a strong-headed, empowering female front with a dry sense of humour that leaves you giggling throughout the show with her sarcasm.

Flashdance takes you back to the 80’s with its iconic fashion, from leg warmers to mom jeans – It’ll make you want to dig through your parent’s wardrobe. It all captures the era perfectly.

We first get to see Clifton show off her dancing as she whips off the mom jeans to reveal a classic dance costume of hot pants and sports bra for ‘She’s A Maniac’; a dance routine every 70’s and 80’s kid has tried to re-enact in their living room.

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Alex Owens’ boss, rich, pretty boy Nick Hurley played by A1 singer Ben Adams, falls for Alex and sees her potential, and uses his Hurley influence to secure her audition at Shipley’s Dance Academy. Being accepted onto reputable performance scholarships is something performers all over the world feel the pressures of, and know the feeling all too well. Even now, over 30 years on, it’s still a relevant and relatable story line.

All of the performers were so in-sync with each other and the choreography was perfect. All the classic moves from the film incorporated into the choreo and the live band gave such an energetic and charismatic platform for the singers to shine. Kiki, Tess and Gloria, played by Sia Dauda, Demmileigh Foster and Hollie-Ann Lowe all have phenomenal vocals that complement each other and can be both powerful in their solo pieces and subtle in the background of scenes. Impressive lifts and couple work are stunning to watch as the girls are flung about; Joanne Clifton’s Strictly training must have come in handy.

It’s not just Alex that has stress in this musical though; Nick needs to make financial cuts at the mill, resulting in some of Alex’s friends jobs hanging in the balance. Jimmy wants to go to New York and make it as a comedian, leaving poor Gloria behind, who leaves Harry’s classier bar to work at seady CC’s and gets into some nasty habits. Harry, played by Rikki Chamberlain, was portrayed wonderfully. Rikki’s acting was natural and effortless, creating such a lovely, fatherly kind of character to the girls, despite having his own issues with the club and business. Can normality be restored for all?

Alex may doubt herself in a series of unfortunate events, but she knows ‘it’s better to leap and fall than to never leap at all’ – can a welder, with no professional dance training, really get into one of the leading Performance schools with her three-minute audition piece? Find out. Watch Flashdance at The Regent Theatre this week from 25-30 September.

REGENT THEATRE OPENS IT'S DOORS FOR HERITAGE OPEN DAY

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On Saturday 9th SeptemberThe Regent Theatre will be throwing open its doors to welcome members of the public to come and look behind the scenes of a working theatre as part of the National Heritage Open Day initiative.

Activities will take place between 10am and 4pm, and include self-guided tours, technical demonstrations on the stage, and loads of fun for the little ones with face painting, a bouncy castle and a treasure hunt!

Whether you have danced before or you’re a complete beginner, you can take part in a free Thriller dance workshop at 2pm, or if cake and a coffee with good friends is more your thing, why not book on to the Afternoon Tea session at 1pm for just £15 per head. Tickets for our Afternoon tea are available at our Box Office counter, online or when you call 0844 871 7649.

Grace Challinor, Acting General Manager of The Regent Theatre and Victoria Hall,said: “We’re incredibly excited to be taking part in the Heritage Open Day and opening our doors to the city. Everyone in the venue has been working extremely hard to organise the day and we have something for all ages, including backstage tours, dance workshops as well as technical demonstrations running throughout the day. There promises to be something for everyone and don’t forget to enter our competition on the day to win some exclusive prizes!”

High School Musical At The Regent Theatre

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Bethan Shuff || Leah Hamer || August 19th

Eleven years ago, on one Friday afternoon in September, children ran home from school to make sure they were home in time for the Disney Channel premiere of the one and only High School Musical.

On Thursday evening, those same children, now in their late teens and twenties, alongside even younger children who fell in love with the movie, gathered at The Regent Theatre for an amateur production of the movie by local young actors and actresses of The Regent Academy of Performing Arts.

It was clear right from the opening number the passion, energy and love for drama the young performers had. With each dance choreographed and executed tightly and energetically, every song sung professionally with strong stage presence.

If you haven’t seen the story, it’s a little bit Grease-esque. Troy and Gabriella meet on a ski trip, Gabriella ends up moving to East High, discovering it’s Troy’s school and they fall in love. Both of them want to break free of the social constraints of their cliques, the basketball team and the brainiacs, however young love, diva drama and jealousy all become obstacles in their path as everyone believes you should stick to the status quo.

The musical greeted us with nostalgia, it was just like watching the film, practically word for word – meaning that all of us that have watched it a million and one times were able to release our inner sassy Sharpay and act along.

For young performers, the lead roles were incredibly professional, Emilia Braddon playing Sharpay’s role brilliantly, with the perfect balance of spoilt, jealous and comical. Ryan played by Liam Tiesteel was phenomenally sharp, strong and smooth in both his dancing and acting. Between Troy (Isaac Radcliffe) and Gabriella (Raina Proctor) there was an air of nervousness, most likely due to it being the opening night, however this worked in favour of the couple as teenagers tend to be a little awkward. Liam’s vocals were confident and mature, beautifully complimented by Raina’s light, and haunting voice. Together, the couple give you goosebumps.

The second half continued to make us laugh and sing- with the clever script references to later songs and plot lines, hilarious one-liners like, 'Excuse me, Jeremy Kyle!', and the refreshing mix-up of song orders. One of the most impressive elements of the young actors' skill sets, was their complete ease and professionalism during a technical difficulty, that meant the show was paused briefly. The youngsters improvised and carried on, as though they had been in showbiz all their lives. 

As the finale dawned, Liam and Raina poured their lungs out to Breaking Free, as the rest of the cast filled onto the stage for the power-anthem, All In This Together. The lead actors and chorus twirled and jived in harmony, giving everyone a well deserved taste of the spotlight. 

 High School Musical is embedded in the hearts of so many young adults today and the team at The Regent Academy of Performing Arts gave it a new lease of life, making us all feel completely and utterly FABULOUS. 

The final performance takes place this evening at The Regent Theatre. 

Wonderland At The Regent Theatre

Bethan Shuff || July 11th

‘You’re entirely bonkers; but let me tell you a secret. All the best people are.’

From Monday 10 – Saturday 15 July, The Regent is home to a spine-tingling adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass called Wonderland.

As the curtain lifts, a subdued Alice is having the worst 40th birthday ever, and it’s not even midday yet. Her car has been stolen, her ex-husband has announced he is re-marrying, she’s been fired and she’s dropped her keys in the gutter.

While moping about the living room about having no dreams and not wanting to live in the real world, a chaotic white rabbit runs about the room. Alice’s daughter, Ellie, chases him into an out-of-order elevator and they disappear into the abyss. Alice and her neighbour Jack then follow the white rabbit into the lift themselves in order to find Ellie. The newbies get an incredibly warm welcome into Wonderland by all the crazy characters we love including the Cheshire Cat and Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

Alice, Ellie and Jack find themselves exploring Wonderland and meeting each of the characters, from the relaxed and soulful caterpillar with his cryptic advice, the agile and acrobatic trickster – The Cheshire Cat who leads the gang to The Looking Glass.

The sets and costumes are incredible, with a hypnotic and trippy hallucinogenic vibe that’s sucks you into the story and makes you question what is reality and what is Wonderland.

No-one in Wonderland has yet gone through The Looking Glass. Once you go through, you come back as an alternate version of yourself. Ellie is the first to run through, returning as an overly stroppy and sarcastic teen as opposed to her overbearingly responsible and sensible self. Jack finds himself as a hot, confident hero who finally admits his feelings for Alice, who it still too scared to go through. Alice is desperate to remain blind to responsibility and adulthood instead of finding out who she really is.

Ellie then meets the dangerously energised Mad Hatter, a sort of shy and submissive character. For some strange reason, she fails to turn up for her tea party where we finally meet the tyrant that is The Queen of Hearts. Ellie is trying to convince everyone to overthrow the queen, however, the Queen of Hearts is no longer the only problem as the Mad Hatter returns from going through The Looking Glass as a raunchy, power hungry hatter who dictates to the subjects of Wonderland.

Will the queen be overthrown? Will the Mad Hatter rule Wonderland? Who’s head will be off? Will Alice brave The looking Glass and find herself? Will there be a happily ever after? Find out this week at The Regent Theatre.

THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA - STOKE REP. THEATRE

Glenn James

“THERE COULD NOT BE SUCH DEVOTED SISTERS”

Review of “The House of Bernarda Alba”  

                                                                                                                                                         

A seething Mediterranean heat imbues the whole feel of this story of a tyrannical Empress of a mother, dominating and suppressing her daughters. Staged by the Stoke Repertory Theatre Players, this production is something of a triumph.  

Written by the controversial and revolutionary writer Federico Garcia Lorca during the Spanish Civil War, the author was executed by the fascist regime of General Franco, just 8 weeks after completing “The House of Bernarda Alba” in 1936.

Lorca’s play is a taut and catholic production, to be read on many levels, which delve into not only the undercurrents of the family into whose lives we find ourselves privy, but opening out onto the themes and repression of sexuality, religion, tradition, and the brutal regime at the time. It could also be argued that Lorca was expressing his own repression and frustration as an openly gay man during such an authoritarian era.

Dominated by a vile dictator of a mother and featuring a wholly female cast, the play has echoes in the recent award winning novel ‘The Power” by Naomi Alderman, (ISBN: 9780670919987).  Alderman’s book, devoted to the issues of a role reversal in a world where women have all the physical strength and dominant role in society, has become the first science fiction novel to scoop the Baileys Prize for women’s fiction. This play mentions and features male characters, particularly the dead father who has just been buried, and a very handsome young farmer whom the sisters are either in love with or obsessing over, but they are never seen.

The actors here have a solid conviction in the parts they are playing with a species of perfection. Bernarda is that hectoring, domineering Spanish Donna and the daughters are those frustrated, exploding young women desperate to break free. The mourners are genuinely believable Catholic ladies strictly “Showing Respect”, swarming in like cold black crows.

This is character playing of an extremely high order, from a very strong company, whose names I shall list at the end of the review, and I have not seen such strong portrayals since the triumphant “At The Mountain Top” at the New Vic last year about Dr Martin Luther King.  This is investment in performance which plays high dividends. The observation of body language is particularly spot on, from the arrogant swagger of Donna Alba to the hunched shoulders and smouldering resentment of her children, this was simply perfect.

This is not a happy story, and the cast will forgive me in saying that none of the characters are exactly loveable! Set in Andalucía in southern Spain, a tiny village caught in the blistering heat of a merciless summer, the funeral of Don Alba has just taken place. His formidable widow and her five daughters are making their way back from church as the mourning bell sounds. Encased in black fortresses of dresses the women enter, showing deep catholic respect, and their mother, now gripping her kingdom with an iron fist, announces a period of mourning to last 8 years.

Bernarda suppresses her daughters utterly, but she also locks up her aged and sadly deranged mother, a tragic Miss Havisham figure who eventually makes a break for freedom in a tattered wedding dress, off to have legions of babies.

Sexual longings are barely restrained, and a desperate desire for sexual freedom. Darker levels are hinted at and themes of incest are in the air, and everyone seems to be hiding dark secrets. No-one seems innocent in this play, even if the delightful La Poncia says “Don’t worry, I’m the good bitch!” She is the true mother of the girls, nurse, confessor and protector of their secrets. Even though she has secrets of her own.

But revolt is seething below the surface and revolution due to break out. The eldest daughter, Angustias, daughter of their mother’s first husband, inherits most of their father’s money and is due to marry glamorous local catch Pepe “el Romano”, the most beautiful man in the district. But Pepe seems to want to have his cake and eat it, as he is conducting a seriously steamy affair with younger daughter Adela, and obsessed over by her sister Martirio who is seething with jealousy.

In the prison like atmosphere of their home, things are bound to go from bad to worse, and the conclusion of the story is tragic in the extreme.  With their mother clinging triumphantly to her dignity and respectability despite the ensuing tragedy and collapse of all their hopes. This is a beautifully observed production. The three rooms of the family home are realised with a simple Spanish minimalism which strikes a highly authentic note, from the terrace at the rear of the house with its lovely dining table, to the sewing room. I particularly liked the subtle touches of a portrait of King Phillip of Spain on the wall in one room, and the pre Raphaelite painting of Hylas and the Nymphs in another. Very apt!  

The lighting was just perfect, radiating a golden glow over the stage that suggested the balmy heat of Andalucía. Along with a formidable catholic crucifix and statues of the Madonna, this wove a true feeling of the location, the dust and the heat of a hot Spanish village.

This was an excellent production, and all I can say is that I am glad I caught it. This is a company to watch, they are going to do great things. Congratulations to Director Brian Rawlins and your team, this is a fine achievement.

Cast of “The House Bernarda Alba”

Servant: Gina Brian

Beggar: Cathy Smedley

La Poncia: Ann McArdle

Bernarda Alba: Jane Procter

Mourners: Ann Pope, Celia Richardson and Angela James

Girl Mourner: Charlotte James

Adela: Hollie Burnett

Martirio: Elena Fox

Magdalena: Nicola Chirnside

Angustias: Janie Smith

Amelia: Kerry Sirrell

Maria Josefa: Gill Plant

Prudencia: Christine Birks

THE MODS ARE IN TOWN - ALL OR NOTHING! REGENT THEATRE, HANLEY

Bethan Shuff

Over a tannoy we hear an announcement, ‘ladies and gentlemen, please welcome onto the stage: The Small Faces’. In an eruption of applause, the curtain rose to reveal a four piece band wearing funky patterned jackets and velvet flares playing a gig. Just before a beautiful Gretsch guitar was about to be smashed over a drumkit, the stage froze and a cheeky cockney lad introduced himself onstage: Steve Marriott, former frontman of The Small Faces, played by Chris Simmons, knowns most notably for his roles in The Bill, Eastenders, Doctors and Holby City to name a few. 

The journey we were about to embark on with Marriott was to watch back over his life after his unfortunate death in the infamous inferno. Pint in hand and a mischievous grin, Marriott sat back and enjoyed the show whilst throwing in the odd bit of cockney banter, giving us the ins and outs and encapsulating the rise and fall of The Small Faces. 

Set in the 60’s where the mod phenomenon was pouring over Britain, the musical had it all, the scooters, the haircuts, the fashion and most impressively, live Rhythm and Blues music played by the four charismatic cockneys playing The Small Faces. Marriott watched his younger self through the formation of the band, meeting Kenney Jones and Ronnie Lane; meeting, then kicking out Jimmy Winston (apparently for being too tall) and replacing him with Ian McLagan, the final lineup for the four piece mod band.

A hunger for success led to the band signing into a contract with Don Arden (Russell Floyd), who made the band a roaring success, their dreams becoming a reality as they played Whatcha Gonna Do About It on Thank Your Lucky Stars among and abundance of gigs up and down the country. Exploited and betrayed by Arden, who had spent all of the bands earnings and had started selling them off. Andrew Oldham (played by Joseph Peters, who also played Jimmy Winston) signed the band, with the motto ‘Happy to be a part of the industry of human happiness’. Further exploitation left the band penniless, ‘without a pot to piss in’ as Marriott put it.

A soundtrack of the bands best works were laced throughout the music, from Whatcha Gonna Do About It, to Tin Soldier and Lazy Sunday, and of course All Or Nothing their number one hit. Their music ignited a spark in musicians and became as influential as the likes of The Beatles, with bands like Supergrass and Blur tipping their hats to the band. Despite their small run of just three years, it’s safe to say that The Small Faces did great things for the creative minds to follow them, beautifully portrayed in the musical All or Nothing. 

All or Nothing will be at The Regent Theatre until June 3rd.

GREASE IS THE WORD! REGENT THEATRE REVIEW

Gabriella Buxton

From the sound of the first on-stage horn, I was excited, bouncing in my seat, grinning from ear to ear… because let me tell you; Grease IS the word at the Regent Theatre this week!

I honestly don’t know where to start with this review, because I am still buzzing with the feel-good vibes from the show a day later. Let’s begin with a bit of a run-down of the show’s plot, for anyone who has been living under a rock since the movie of the same name was released in 1978. Grease is basically a good version of High School Musical, set in the 1950’s. Think slick-backed quiffs, mid-length skirts with a billion petticoats, and cigarettes which actually make smoking look cool (awkward…). The story follows Danny (Tom Parker of UK hit band The Wanted) and Sandy (Danielle Hope who became famous on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy on primetime television’s Over the Rainbow a few years back). It is a pretty classic love story; boy meets girl, both fall in love, boy doesn’t know how to handle his feelings so lies and tells all his friends that girl ‘puts out’, girl finds out, gets mad at boy, but somehow ends up forgiving him and they all live happily ever after. Sorry for the spoiler, but to be honest, the plot isn’t even in the top five most amazing things about the show, so you won’t mind.

Oh, and then there is a whole cast of incredible supporting characters… Rizzo (Louise Lytton, from Eastenders), Kenickie (Tom Senior), Frenchie (Rhiannon Chesterman) and so many more. And a great big shout-out to understudy Anthony Hughes who covered the bit-part role of Eugene with hilarious flair. 

The hair, makeup and costumes were fantastic, and have set me on a real 1950’s style obsession. In fact, I am even considering having my hair cut like Rizzo’s the next time I go for the chop. Do you think I could pull it off? I digress.

Following my experience at Sister Act not long ago, I am so into performances which feature the musicians on the stage, and Grease didn’t disappoint in this respect… The show that was apparently entirely composed on guitar, displayed their rock-and-brass band musicians for the world to see, and the talent there was incredible. It was great to see the band just having a good time with one another, and not a note was out of place. Actually, at one point I was wondering if they might have been ‘miming’ their instruments because the music sounded so close to the original movie soundtrack. Super-impressive.

Let’s dip into the negatives for just a moment, because there has to be balance to every review. I found that there were some un-necessary changes to the plotline, although Lytton’s acting and dancing were fantastic, her voice wasn’t as strong as I’d have wanted it to be, and yes, I accept that Parker is very nice to look at, but considering he was working the main part of the show, I couldn’t help but feel he was totally uncharismatic with again, a weaker voice than I had hoped.

Oh, and without wanting to get into a moan and rant, as a feminist there is a lot in Grease that makes me feel uncomfortable; not taking a woman’s lack of sexual consent seriously (‘Did she put up a fight?!), the constant objectification of the girls (‘We’ll be getting’ lots of titties’) and the fact that Sandy completely abandons her morals in order to become what Danny is saying she is to all of his friends. And I find it really mean that Patty and Eugene get basically bullied throughout. Bleaugh.

But I enjoyed it. Really, I did!

Set design was incredible, and my favorite songs ‘Grease is the Word’, ‘Those Magic Changes’ and ‘We Go Together’ had me dancing in my seat and humming them all around Tesco’s after the show had finished. And the choreography in ‘We Go Together’, ‘Born to Hand Jive’ and ‘Beauty School Dropout’ made me wish I had gone to theatre school, for sure. 

The real stand-out of the show was Hope in her portrayal of Sandy with her earth-shattering, goose-pimpling voice. I would go as far as to say she is BETTER than the original Olivia Newton John. There, I said it. And if you saw the show, you were probably thinking it too!

There are worse things you could do than see Grease this week; trust me when I say, if you only see one show this year, Grease is the one that you want… it is the great way to enjoy the remainder of the springtime and welcome in some hot summer nights. (*Groan, but, I couldn’t help it*)

SISTER ACT IS NUN TOO SHABBY!

SISTER ACT AT REGENT THEATRE, HANLEY REVIEW

Gabriella Buxton

When I heard that Sister Act would be on at the Regent Theatre this week, with no less than X-Factor 2008 WINNER Alexandra Burke playing the lead role, I knew I had to get a ticket! 

I am actually ashamed to say that I have never seen the Sister Act (1991) film all the way through… But by all accounts, Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith were always going to be a tough pair to follow after their portrayals of Deloris Van Cartier and Mother Superior. I am pleased to say, I was completely blown away by the casting choices, and my partner who attended with me (and is somewhat of a Sister Act aficionado) said that both Burke and Karen Mann played their parts to perfection.

The story of Sister Act follows the life of Deloris, a would-be club singer in 1970’s Philadelphia. Her boyfriend, married club owner Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert) is somewhat of a crook to say the least, and when she spots him committing a pretty awful crime (no spoilers here!) she is rushed into hiding by her long-lost-high-school-friend-turned-police-officer ‘Sweaty’ Eddie (Joe Vetch). As a smoker, a singer and a ‘negro’ she sticks out like a sore thumb in church, and although the Mother Superior (Karen Mann) is in on the secret, the other nuns are suspicious. After a hilarious scene where the oldest of the sisters gets very drunk on tequila shots, the Mother Superior gives Deloris one last chance to maintain her safe spot in hiding, and entrusts her to manage the church choir… who are TERRIBLE. As the story develops, the choir improves and Deloris begins to build some lifelong friendships, and there is even a sweet little love story thrown in there for good measure.

Directed by Craig Revel Horwood, the choreography is as phenomenal as expected. The costumes are beautiful, the acting top notch and the songs have got that belting-in-a-gospel-choir get-up-and-dance vibe to them. But surprisingly, my favourite things about this show were 1) The set design which had some pretty effective ornate cathedral-style window silhouettes… and two INCREDIBLE disco balls and 2) The fact that the entire support cast were playing their instruments, live, on stage throughout the whole performance. Honestly, I have never seen anything like it, and knowing that you are watching someone who can sing, dance, act AND play the violin and flute, is pretty inspirational. It was a feature which I have never seen in any other show, and the acoustics of the Regent Theatre only helped to enhance the beautiful quality of sound coming directly from the stage.

Aside from a little hiccup where a mic cut out, a slightly disappointing resolution in the plot which just felt like it could have been acted up a little more, and a little over-acting in the first half (back-seat actor that I am… deep down I know these minor slip-ups are nun of my business… do you see what I did there?), the show was fantastic. We left humming along to songs such as ‘Take Me to Heaven’ and ‘Raise Your Voice’ and even this morning I can’t get them out of my head! I will say though, some of the gentler numbers have really stayed with me such as the hilarious performance of ‘Lady in the Long Black Dress’ to the heart-wrenching rendition of ‘Sister Act’.

Finally I must of course give a mention to Alice Stokoe who has been covering the role of Sister Mary Robert since April 29th. What an incredible voice! She very nearly upstaged the vocal power-house that is Alexandra Burke, and I was covered in goosebumps from the moment she hit her first big note. 

Sister Act was a brilliant way to spend a Monday evening. Absolutely recommend. 

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/sister-act/regent-theatre/

MAMMA MIA! AT REGENT THEATRE, HANLEY

Gabriella Buxton

Kitted out in platform boots and a particularly garish-printed, multi-coloured mini-dress, I collected my boyfriend’s mama on the way to the Regent Theatre on Wednesday the 19th of April, for the opening night of Mamma Mia!.

Brownie points doesn’t even begin to cut it; my boyfriend’s lovely mother adores trips to the theatre, and adores the musical stylings of ABBA even more, so I knew that she’d be game for a bit of a boogie, being the Dancing Queen that she is and all (see what I did there?). 

For anyone that somehow missed the Hollywood film version of Mamma Mia! which was released back in 2008, I will break down the storyline for you. The musical depicts the story of Sophie’s wedding plans on the beautiful Greek island where she was raised by her single mother, Donna (Helen Hobson). In a bid to identify who her ‘sperm donor’ father is, Sophie (Lucy May Barker) commits the cardinal sin of reading her mom’s old diaries from the year of her birth. Imagine her shock when she finds that her father could be any one of three men, all of which seduced Donna during the same summer! Sophie invites Bill (Christopher Hollis), Sam (Alex Bourne) and Harry (Jamie Hogarth) to her wedding in the hope that she will know her dad when she sees him. Needless to say, this doesn’t really happen, cue the hilarious antics of this feel-good spectacular!

The strong storyline obviously isn’t the only thing worth catching this show for; ABBA classics such as Honey Honey, Money Money Money and Chiquitita make Mamma Mia! one of the sorts of shows where you are convinced you are experiencing some kind of earthquake due to all of the tapping feet, humming sounds and chair-bounce-dancing. The orchestra ABBA-solutely nailed it, and the percussionist (the only instrumentalist that is clearly visible from the pit) seemed to be having as much fun grooving along, if not, even more (!) than the audience.

The songs were perfectly matched to the plot of the show and from the first soft note of I Have A Dream, through to the belting cover of The Winner Takes It All, I was immensely impressed to feel that Barker and Hobson have nothing to envy from Amanda Seyfried and the legend that is Meryl Streep who played the leading roles in the film version.

I will say, that I found the younger cast (bar Barker!) to be overacting throughout, and also I didn’t find the character of Sam to be very likeable… this being said, I am not sure if that was Bourne’s fault or if a little tweaking to his script might be appropriate. However, the expertly executed group choreography for larger tracks such as Voulez-Vous and Gimme Gimme Gimme certainly made up for any short-comings.

And how could I finish this review without honouring the show-stopping duo Rosie (Gillian Hardie) and Tanya (Emma Clifford) who played the roles of Donna’s best friends ‘The Dynamos’ to perfection. This pair had us in stitches right the way through, and Mamma Mia! just wouldn’t be the same without their songs Take A Chance on Me and Does Your Mama Know ? I will also admit to huge costume-envy when they took to the stage caked in sequined flares and chunky platforms in Super Trooper.

I would completely recommend going to see Mamma Mia! at the Regent Theatre, if only to dance your butt off in the final two tracks (Dancing Queen and Waterloo)… You will leave with the songs in your head, a shimmy in your step and a smile on your face which won’t budge for at least 24 hours afterwards!

Enjoy!

TAKE THAT MUSICAL "THE BAND" COMING TO THE REGENT

TAKE THAT AND DAVID PUGH & DAFYDD ROGERS PRESENT

THE NEW MUSICAL

THE BAND

WRITTEN BY TIM FIRTH WITH THE MUSIC OF TAKE THAT

David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Take That have announced the UK Tour of Tim Firth’s new musical, THE BAND, with the music of Take That,  will come to The Regent Theatre, Tuesday 28 November 2017 – Saturday 9 December 2017.

The producers made the announcement yesterday, Sunday 2 April, on stage at the Manchester Apollo (where Take That first performed in 1992), following a rapturous reception to a rehearsed reading of the new musical in front of an audience of invited guests, from fans to friends.

Take That said: “We are incredibly proud and excited that our first production as theatre producers is THE BAND – a musical that we think will touch the hearts of not just our fans, but everyone.”

THE BAND is a new musical about what it’s like to grow up with a boyband.  For five 16 year-old friends in 1992, ‘the band’ is everything.  25 years on, we are reunited with the group of friends, now 40-something women, as they try once more to fulfil their dream of meeting their heroes.

The Band will be played by AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Yazdan Qafouri Isfahani, Curtis T Johns and Sario Watanabe-Soloman, who, as Five to Five, won BBC’s Let It Shine.  Playing the parts of Rachel and Young Rachel will be Rachel Lumberg and Faye Christall respectively.  Further casting is to be announced.

THE BAND will be directed by Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder, designed by Jon Bausor and choreographed by Kim Gavin, with lighting design by Patrick Woodroffe, video design by Luke Halls and sound design by Terry Jardine and Nick Lidster.

THE BAND will be produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Mark Owen and Robbie Williams.

DREAMBOATS & PETTICOATS AT REGENT THEATRE, HANLEY

Annabel & Elena Cucuz // April 12

Dreamboats and Petticoats is a jukebox musical (using previously released songs as its musical score) composed of popular tracks from the album of the same name from the 50s and 60s. The production is surprisingly modern; first performed on stage in 2009, it has received mixed reviews but a fond audience due to the feel-good music.

The plot follows a tangled love triangle (more like a many-sided polygon) between the main characters: love-struck Bobby pines after the too-cool Sue who drools over narcissistic Norman who fancies Laura who's head over heels for Bobby. There were times during the production where we were puzzled as to who was dating who; it seemed that the storyline took a backseat in a desperate attempt to fit in so many songs.

The vocals were extremely impressive from the majority of the cast; Sue (Laura Darton) and Donna (Gracie Johnson) particularly wowed us with 'Sweet Nothin', and the male leads Bobby (Alistair Higgins) and Norman (Alistair Hill) consistently delivered a strong performance. The fact that the music was done live on stage along with dancing and acting is notable- however there was something about the marriage of the music to the story that didn't quite fit. A large proportion of the musical was very 'Hopelessly Devoted To You' (Grease) with characters crying over their unrequited love (again and again), which contrasted strangely with the script's attempt of light heartedness.

We couldn't help but think that Dreamboats and Petticoats seems to be going through a bit of an identity crisis. Whilst the production is set in Essex, the musical numbers would be more at home in American productions such as Grease or Hairspray; the forced Essex accents were suddenly thrown across the pond once the music started to play. Each time a song finished, it felt wrong to return back to England, which made for a somewhat uncomfortable watch.

As young adults, we're not going to pretend that we knew all of the songs; which perhaps hindered our enjoyment of the performance. However, the vast majority of the audience clearly seemed to be enjoying themselves- singing along to the music of their youth. It’s clear that the show caters to a certain demographic, so we wouldn’t recommend going to see the musical to younger viewers expecting an interesting storyline with music to match. However, if you lived through the music or fancy an evening full of jukebox tunes, it might be one for you.

ALL OR NOTHING - Smash Hit Musical Coming to REGENT

REBEL EDITORIAL

THE SMASH HIT UK MUSICAL THEATRE SENSATION WRITTEN BY CAROL HARRISON COMES TO THE REGENT THEATRE

ALL OR NOTHINGthe new Small Faces musical sensation, will come to The Regent Theatre, Tuesday 30 May – Saturday 3 June as part of a UK tour. 

ALL OR NOTHING tells the electrifying yet bittersweet tale of Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan, Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott; four charismatic young kids from East London with humour, attitude, passion and above all talent. They became The Small Faces and were rocketed into the big time, only to discover the path to fantastic success is paved with exploitation, betrayal and ultimately tragedy. 

In 1964, a new phenomenon exploded on to the dingy British streets. It was the essence of all that was cool. It was Mod. Mods stuck two fingers up at the class-ridden society and its dull redundant culture. They were working-class free spirits who rode sexy streamlined Italian Vespas or Lambrettas. The sharpest Mod of all was known as a ‘face’. The Small Faces encapsulated all that is Mod, a unique blend of taste and testosterone, neat, clothes obsessed, and streetwise. But these cult sophisticates shared another passion, their dedication to ‘Rhythm and Blues.’

Carol Harrison will play Kay Marriott at certain performances with Stefan Edwards as Kenney Jones, Russell Floyd as Don Arden, Josh Maddison as Ian McLagan, Joseph Peters as Jimmy Winston, Samuel Pope as Young Steve Marriott, Chris Simmons as Steve Marriott and Stanton Wright as Ronnie Lane. The cast also includes Daniel BealesSophia BehnMelissa Brown-TaylorDaisy Darvill, Fran DearloveKatie FayeAlexander GoldDanielle Johnson and Martin Teall

The musical is packed full of all the timeless hits, including the brilliant Whatcha Gonna Do About It, Tin SoldierLazy SundayHere Comes the NiceItchycoo Park and of course All or Nothing.

Carol Harrison said: “It’s a real honour to be able to bring the extraordinary world of The Small Faces back to the fans and to a brand new audience, young and old.  Audiences have embraced the chance to enjoy a bit of mod nostalgia and the critics have all acknowledged the vivid underground vibe on stage as we bring the 60s scene into sharp focus.  Our live band and cast tell the story of the rise and fall of the band, a journey as colourful as their sound, and get to showcase an amazing catalogue of music - hard edged R&B. We’ve found an amazingly loyal fan base and are thrilled to be bringing the show back across England, into Wales and into Scotland for the first time.  Book now– it’s truly an experience of a lifetime!"   

Chris Simmons is probably best known for playing the role of DC Mickey Webb for over twelve years in the long running ITV series The Bill.  He has also appeared in EastEnders as Mark Garland, a love interest for Kat Moon and in the Tracy Beaker spin-off CBBC show, The Dumping Ground.  Russell Floyd first came to public attention as market inspector Michael Rose in EastEnders a role he played from 1996 to 1999, and subsequently played DC Ken Drummond in the ITV police drama, The Bill, from 2002 to 2005. He also starred in Jonathan Ford’s 2016 movie Offensive.

Carol Harrison is an award-winning actress and writer, well known for her theatre and TV work.  Carol is probably best known as the exciting, fiery and passionate Louise Raymond in Eastenders.  The storyline between her and son-in-law Grant Mitchell gripped the nation and it was for this storyline that Eastenders won the BAFTA for ''Best Soap'' for the first time. For seven years she played the incorrigible Gloria in the popular series Brushstrokes, and also starred opposite Ray Winstone as sassy Loretta in the comedy series Get Back. She also starred as Dorothy in two series of London's Burning. Her latest TV movie Martha, Jac a Sianco for S4C won six BAFTA awards.

Tickets are on sale now and available from the Box Office, by calling 0844 871 7649 or visiting www.atgtickets.com/stoke  

FUNNY GIRL AT REGENT THEATRE, HANLEY

Elena & Annabel Cucuz // March 30th 2017

Funny Girl tells the story of Fanny Brice and her journey from Brooklyn to Broadway. Opening with Fanny awaiting her call time, she recalls the story of her rise to stardom, alongside the tale of her relationship with Nick Arnstein, through flashbacks. The show is currently on tour, having just finished a run on the West End in the Savoy Theatre. 

The musical was first brought to Broadway in 1963, with Barbara Streisand as Fanny; a role she also reprised on the West End in 1966 and on film – extremely big boots to fill. However, Natasha J Barnes performance as Fanny was flawless and gained an extremely deserved standing ovation. Her vocals were impeccable, and every emotion was portrayed with such conviction that it was hard to believe she was acting. The chemistry with on-stage husband, Nick Arnstein (portrayed by Darius Campbell) was electric, particularly during ‘You Are Woman, I Am Man’, where Barnes’ goofiness left the audience in stitches, and Campbell’s charm left us swooning. Darius’ voice was a perfect complement to Natasha’s, and they came together wonderfully in more tender moments, such as ‘Who Are You Now?’

Despite the show focusing on the ‘Funny Girl’ herself, Fanny’s lead is supported superbly by her mother, Mrs Brice, along with her poker-playing friends, Eddie Ryan, and Florenz Ziegfeld; people who are all pivotal to Fanny’s escalation to stardom and married life. As a whole, the cast were extraordinary. The ensemble never seemed to fade into the background, and at many points took centre stage- whether that was as performers on Broadway at the Ziegfeld Follies, or during a party at Mrs Brice’s saloon.

The orchestra were impeccable- the Overture was flawless and set the tone for a night of classic show tunes, along with heart-wrenching ballads executed flawlessly. Despite not having heard many of the songs before, I came out of the show and instantly downloaded the soundtrack, in order to try and relive what I’d just seen on stage. The soundtrack clearly shows the development of characters, particularly Fanny’s; the contrast between the upbeat and funny ‘I’m The Greatest Star’ and the heart-wrenching ‘The Music That Makes Me Dance’ showed Natasha Barnes’ versatility as an actress. Fanny sings “I’m the greatest star, I am by far, but no one knows it” - by the end, everyone in the audience knew.

Ghost At The Regent Theatre

REBEL Editorial // 24th March

‘Ghost’ has touched all of our lives and had us crying into a tissue at some point, and if not you’re missing out on a giant sob fest. Lucky for us, the Regent Theatre has given us the golden ticket to allow all generations, young and old, to relive the romantic and heart wrenching fantasy-thriller in the live musical version of the film.

Andy Moss plays our main character, Sam, originally portrayed by Patrick Swayze who unfortunately comes to an abrupt and tragic death. His co-star, Carolyn Maitland seamlessly plays the grief-stricken Molly as we watch their journey through life and death as they both try to deal with the aftermath of Sam’s murder. Carl, played by Sam Ferriday and Oda Mae, played by Jacqui Dubois gave a show-stopping rendition of their characters and had every viewer running through a whirlwind of emotion.

The Regent Theatre has been notorious through the years for its incredible band and special effects, and Ghost the Musical was a prime example of what they can do. With actors floating in slow-motion in mid-air before crashing down into the stage, walking through doors and being dragged to hell, it’s an incredible showcase of what years of experience can do. From lighting, to sound and to the perfect choreography, there wasn’t a moment when the team wasn’t going all out to wow the audience and it shone through into every moment we watched.

Jacqui Dubois was a true gem of the performance, her portrayal of Oda Mae was tear-wrenchingly funny and added the light-hearted humour needed to break up the sobbing the rest of the show created. Throughout the performance you watch her change from a cocky ‘medium’ out to take the money of the vulnerable, to an annoyed message sender of the dead, to a caring individual after befriending Sam. Dubois makes this transition perfectly, whilst Moss and Maitland seemed to have a real emotional bond that made the performance so much more real. During the tear-jerking pottery scene where Sam, as a ghost climbs behind his beloved Molly, there wasn’t a dry eye in sight and real shivers ran down the entire of my body and as I drew my eyes away from the stage, I felt everyone I looked at was experiencing the same emotions.

Knowing the story from the film original, I went in believing I would leave the theatre sad and depressed, but in reality I left exceedingly happy and thoroughly enjoyed the entirety of the performance. The band, actors and the entire crew behind the scenes created an incredible, jaw-dropping experience that you’d expect to view in a giant-budget West End show, a performance that makes you truly proud to be a part of such a thriving creative city. Every song, every characters line and every dance just oozed with passion and created a truly memorable performance.  

Circus of Horrors at Victoria Hall

Strawberry Blonde Photography

Strawberry Blonde Photography

Bethan Shuff || March 14th

Back in 2011, Circus of Horrors made it through to the finals of Britain’s Got Talent, but have since developed their performances into massively weird and wonderful live shows.

Before the show began, we were greeted by Camp Dracula, a brutally honest, blunt, sweary vampire who took a liking to audience member Dan and tried to read his mind ‘are you going to allow me to come inside you?’ he asked Dan. The audience were roaring with laughter. After failing to read Dan’s mind, he ran off and a voice shouted ‘I am not Alice, and this is not Wonderland’. Over the speakers was a voice like out of a horror movie, entertainingly presenting the house rules and adding ‘this show is not for people of a nervous disposition, sissies, or chavs’.

Strawberry Blonde Photography

Strawberry Blonde Photography

 The show had a musical based narrative and the entertainers sung some classic rock songs throughout the show as the performed. There was a scene that looked as though it was based on the film The Exorcist, with a performer writhing in bed whilst other performers sung Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics. The girl on the bed was risen into the air, revealing that the bedspread was actually a gorgeous long gown. When returned to the ground, the girl performed a contorted gymnastic routine, and even balanced her entire body weight on her teeth.

In the next scene we met a steampunk sword swallower, who had had all of his ribs surgically broken, his tongue forked, and more ink on his skin than blood in his veins. Volunteer Dan was dragged back up onto the stage by Camp Dracula and the girls. There was a comedic scene featuring an argument which resulted in Camp Dracula being thrown into a giant washing machine and being ‘shrunk’. At the end of the wash cycle, the door opened and out climbed a dwarf. A dwarf that likes to get his private bits out… a lot. He ate a glass light bulb, opened a bottle of beer with his eye socket and ran around the stage with a Henry Hoover attached to his hoo-har.

Strawberry Blonde Photography

Strawberry Blonde Photography

They threw the miniature Camp Dracula into the washing machine and with a huge bang, out climbed four gymnastic skeletons. The four men were incredibly strong and were able to get into some outstanding balance poses and lifts. Some of them didn’t look humanly possible. These guys returned later in the show as warriors performing a really energetic routine of dancing and flips, as well as a lift that involved one guy head-standing on top of another guy’s head.

Following the skeletons was a roller-skating duo performing some incredibly dangerous stunts. Lifts are difficult enough to perform static, but putting the act on wheels is just crazy. At one point, the girl was swung around in the splits position by the man’s neck!

I will mention now that the show isn’t one for someone with Coulrophobia. As a duo sung ‘I hate that clown’ the audience’s attention was flung to the back of the room where a clown was laughing in the centre of the stalls. He made his way to the stage and everyone was watching the front. Before we knew it there was a plague of clowns climbing over our seats and terrorising audience members. The poor bloke beside me had a clowns arm down the back of his jumper and was getting tickled.

The sword swallower performed some stunts that would be fatal if they were to go wrong, swallowing a 90 degree angled curved blade, a saw and swallowing blades whilst hanging upside down in the air. The ringmaster tells us of how dangerous this act is, and how, should it go wrong, he would pierce his oesophagus… again.

Each scene in the show was more intense and exciting than the next, a girl swung from the ceiling by her hair, the clowns sawed one of the girls in half and finally there was a huge all-singing all-crazy finale. This is a show for thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies, but definitely not one for the faint-hearted.

Strawberry Blonde Photography

Strawberry Blonde Photography

017 Dance at The Regent Theatre

Bethan Shuff || March 2nd

The 0 dance shows are now in their 16th year with the show 017 Dance: Around The World Festival. This theme engages with different cultures and links with the Stoke on Trent bid for City of Culture 2021. The show runs for five days from 28 February – 4 March and involves a number of dance and performance schools, clubs and companies. REBEL contributor Bethan Shuff was at the opening night.

As the screen rose it revealed a stage misted with smoke under a red light. Aruna Kailey stepped elegantly onto the stage in a beautiful red and gold Indian skirt and top which fanned out as she twirled around and shook her hips in a Bollywood solo. Her husband, Sohan Kailey, joined her during the first song wearing a headdress that matched his wife’s skirt, and the couple continued with their exciting and bounce dancing. The couples’ routine filled the stage and was a brilliant opening number for a culturally inclined show.

 Hostess, Samantha Dowd, emerged from an archway in the stalls and headed onto the stage, explaining a little more about the show and introducing the next act: The Regent Academy of Performing Arts.

A single spotlight on a young girl centre stage opened the routine along with the echoing words of ‘I am not a child’. Rows of chairs at her sides filled with more dancers as the leading lady said goodbye to her mother and boyfriend before she set off to travel the world. All of the dancers grabbed their suitcases and rummaged through as a washing line was lowered from the ceiling filled with clothes. This narrative musical theatre routine highlighted the opportunities and challenges one can experience when travelling as the main character experiences some difficulties on her travels. There was a very exciting and well-choreographed tango performance. The academy used songs from musicals to create ‘a musical within musicals’ and it worked brilliantly combining classics like West Side Story, Les Misérables and The Lion King.

Next was the ‘eclectic fusion’ from Celtic Butterfly at Butterfly Dance Studio, which featured modern twists on traditional Irish dancing. Carnival style tail feathers and leotards complete with glitz and glitter took over the stage to Copacobana before running of and being replaced by an older group in blue velvet dresses who Irish danced around the stage in a series of intricate steps, flicks and kicks with some tap incorporated. The blue dresses were whipped of and never in my life did I ever expect to witness a group of people Irish dancing to Gangnam Style, but it was brilliant.

St. Edward’s Church of England Academy was the fourth act of the night with their piece entitled ‘The Power of Nature’. It was quite a contemporary piece that the children had helped choreograph themselves. It started as a mass of intertwined bodies and lifts and moved smoothly and as one. The piece featured a lot of nature symbolism and blackouts where the dancers would create a distressing scene and have the lights flash back up. Their use of canons was a prominent feature in the routine and dancing with hoops as props was very innovative.

Extracts from The Nutcracker’ was a piece from the young dancers at St. Werburgh’s Primary School, which incorporated dances from all over the world to songs from The Nutcracker. The routine was an exciting mix of Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, and Russian with exotic coloured fans and acrobatic cartwheels and mini lifts, which was very impressive for 5-11 year olds.

The last act in the first half of the show was by Dappa Dance, performing ‘A Whole New World’, sung by Jessica Wheatley, who played Jasmine. Dancers danced around her in colourful, jangly Indian dresses before the music cut into Never Had A Friend Like Me and the ‘genie’ was rolled out of the magic carpet on stage and performed a very acrobatic routine. There was a comical narrative and a mixture of talents in the Dappa routine, and host Samantha said that the group win the award for being the most glittery.

The first half of the show ended with a finale of the dancers from the first half, dancing and cheering to K’naan – Wavin’ Flag, after which there was a short interval.

Opening the second half was Westwood First School’s Year 3 class. Their piece was called ‘The Wonders of the World’ and was based on natural beauties like Mount Vesuvius and Niagara Falls. The routine featured a lot to do with balance and reactions, and how one thing can cause something else to happen. It was very clever in its choreography. Their music cut into an instrumental version of Hall of Fame by The Script, which had people singing along and got the audience all warmed up for the rest of the show.

Kidsgrove Care Solutions were next on stage. The company provide day opportunities, support and activities for adults and young people with disabilities in Staffordshire. The group got us feeling ready for our summer holidays as they used sign language to sign the lyrics of Summer Holiday by Cliff Richard, and did some lyrical dancing to Hot Hot Hot and Tequila. The group were clearly very excited about performing and gave it their all with masses of enthusiasm and passion for performing.

‘It’s A Small World’ by Blythe Bridge Dance Academy was a fusion of contemporary, street and bhangra, featuring exciting group work, great technique and interesting chair work. A young man in the group was particularly talented and had phenomenal flexibility and control. The choreography was quite feminine due to it being a predominantly female group but it looked brilliant. The group is a gifted and talented group, and this definitely shows in the skill and professionalism of the performance.

The next performance was by 2Fly Dance Company who named their piece ‘Canada’s Most Wanted’ and included a range of styles, starting with a sassy commercial jazz section, moving into a performance from some of the younger dancers, followed by a street group. The versatility of the dancers is great to watch, especially in one piece where a dancer has to transform themselves from a jazz dancer to a hip hop dancer in the space of a few seconds. The audience were mesmerised by a boy doing a breakdance solo centre stage, spinning and flipping around on the floor, which takes immense upper body strength and lots of conditioning training to achieve. The whole group came on for a mini finale to dance together. At the end of the routine, dancers from the group, Kira, Shannon and Eden were interviewed by Samantha about their routine and the song choice, and the girls expressed their love for performing.

Closing the show was NULC Dance Company with ‘One Way Ticket To Dance’. They, like Dappa Dance, started their routine with some singing, and then moved into Irish dancing wearing green dresses to link in with Ireland. As well as Irish dancing there was some ballet point thrown in, and some high kicks in the Can Can and urban Beyonce routines. For a bit of fun the group threw in the Mannequin Challenge, which has featured heavily on social media in recent months as the new craze – not a single muscle was moved; not at least until the next track came on.

Finally, there was the part two finale, where the groups from the second half came back on waving flags to ‘We Are One’ by Pitbull.

The 017 dance show’s opening night really set the standard for the rest of the week, and is a brilliant opportunity to showcase the talents of local dancers. In the rest of the shows you can catch dancers from Stafford College, Cheshire Academy of Performing Arts, Leek School of Dance, Steelworks and Stoke-on-Trent College, Urban Vibez and many, many more.       

Romeo and Juliet

The Iconic Play Was Performed At The Repertory Theatre

Bethan Shuff || December 27th

The tale of Romeo and Juliet is a love story that most are familiar with; one of William Shakespeare’s most famous works.

The confusing, old-english text had always baffled me, however, this new, modern version of the play makes the story a lot more accessible and exciting for those who are put off by the Shakespearean jargon.

Set in a dystopian world, the Montague’s and Capulet’s are at war from the get go, with realistic fight scenes and actors literally flinging themselves across the stage and to the ground. This modern play features punks and drugs, bringing forth more issues than just the Love vs. Hate struggle.

Juliet, played by Sophie Wood, is a cute and casual character, lounging in her bedroom in converse and denim shorts listening to music whilst her mother, Lady Capulet snorts cocaine whilst shouting her so that she can tell her all about the man she wishes for Juliet to marry, Count Paris.

The next scene is a house party at The Capulet’s household, where Juliet in a white dress, yet still sporting converse, meets Paris, but catches the eye of Mr Montague and falls instantly in love with Romeo, played by Thomas Waldron. Energetic and thrilling dance choreography separates Romeo and Juliet, but it is not long before one of the most iconic scenes.

Romeo, oh Romeo, where for art thou Romeo?’. Why must she love someone that she must hate? So much innocent new love and excitement fills the scene in which a smitten Juliet and lovesick Romeo share an intimate moment with the intimate crowd.

Leo Capernaros plays a brilliant Mercutio, a cheeky character with a street-wise and punky attitude, and when slain by Tybalt, performs an incredibly realistic and convincing death that has you on the edge of your seat.

The first act ends with Benvolio regretfully admitting that Romeo was responsible for Tybalt’s death, leaving you itching to watch the rest of the show.

The second half of the show portrays the real struggle for Romeo and Juliet, and how they are forbidden to be together. A passionate and angry Juliet is told of the heart-breaking news, and is comforted by the Nurse before her father’s anger only makes her love and will to see Romeo stronger, all the while, Juliet’s marriage to Paris is fast approaching.

A final scene sees the famous death of both lovers, where Romeo sees Juliet lay upon the spot-lit stage in a death-like state, and injects himself with poison and Juliet awakens and kills herself as well.

Absolutely brilliant acting from the whole cast, particularly Romeo, Juliet, the Nurse and Mercutio. The modern day twist took the traditional story to a totally new level, making it exciting, despite knowing the story line.

Cinderella

Monique da Silva || December 11th

It’s the most wonderful time of the year….. Jonathan Wilkes has returned once again to his home town for Cinderella, impressively his eleventh Pantomine at the Regent Theatre. He is joined once more by comic Christian Patterson, which makes it his eighth appearance. It is great to see these personalities return year in year out for what is always a fantastic Pantomime. Together on stage they have an explosive and infectious rapport which infiltrates all those around them making the show completely and utterly enjoyable by all.

After the success of last years Peter Pan, Christian has once again written the script, a brilliant adaptation of Cinderella’s traditional story, with a pinch of Stoke-themed fun and relatable jokes alongside a twist of popular songs ranging from Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud, Wizard of Oz classic If I Only Had a Brain and Dirty Dancing’s timeless I’ve Had the Time of My Life. He even managed to include a plug for our bid for City of Culture 2021.

The audience was an equal mix of young and old(er), with a truly festive, family feel all round. For the first time this year I finally felt festive. The atmosphere was magical and spectacular all at the same time. There were smiling facing all around.

The cast was charming and extremely likable. An impressive combination of recognisable actors, adorable local school kids and incredibly talented individuals from the Wilkes Academy. The casting was perfect, Finley Guy’s depiction of Cinderella was perfectly innocent and charming, The Ugly Sisters - Simon Nehan (Rihanna) and Christian Patterson (Beyonce) were a perfect duo on stage and hilarious all round. Not to mention the hysterical Ian Stroughair who played the wonderfully camp Dandini. Lets not forget Jonathan Wilkes as the ever funny Buttons. Ey up me ducks!

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The comedy throughout had a perfect mix of innocent slapstick and silliness for the younger members of the audience, and riskier innuendos for the adults to enjoy. There was a great community feel to the production, the endless local references and jokes kept it all very personal and somewhat warming. From the locations within the story mirroring locations around the city to jokes centered on local football rivalry and recent political happenings (both UK and US) it all provided a wonderful mix of ordinary and extraordinary. One of my favourites has to be Rihanna stating to Cinderella that “talking to yourself is the second sign of madness.” When asked what was the first she responded, “believing that Brexit was a good idea.”

The sets were truly stunning, somehow each managed outdo the last, each time the curtain was raised there was a new sense of amazement from the audience. The last scene before the intermission really topped it off – we have a beautiful winter scene illustrating Cinderella’s transformation, pumpkin into a carriage and so on. This scene is met with not only snow on stage but also magically landing on mesmerized audience members.

This Pantomine managed to transform Stoke into a magical land for those few hours, a perfect form of escapism which put me right in the Christmas spirit. Do yourselves a favour – go and watch it!


Cinderella will be running at The Regent Theatre until January 8th 2017.
For tickets, call the box office on 0844 871 7649.

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