Last Night A DJ Saved My Life – Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton

Last Night a DJ Saved My LifeImage: Linda Lusardi

There is no doubt that attaching the legendary name of David Hasselhoff to a show will immediately get it off to a good start. There are at least three things that people associate with ‘The Hoff’, and that’s the beach, the early nineties and a really good helping of cheese. There are all of these aplenty in this production, which sees Hasselhoff play a somewhat hedonistic but ageing Ibiza club owner and DJ whose estranged teenage daughter comes to visit from Wales. She finds herself embroiled in the drugs scene in her father’s club, and in a romance with the holiday rep who moonlights as an up-and-coming DJ working for her dad.

It’s a simple enough storyline but is a little contrived. From Jon Conway, the creator of the successful hot musical Boogie Nights, which inspired a flurry of similarly popular Juke Box musicals, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life is peppered throughout with hits from the 80s and 90s. Although it could be said that some of the songs are shoehorned rather uncomfortably into the story, this is perhaps done with Conway’s tongue decisively lodged in his cheek. Boogie Nights starred and was co-written by Shane Richie, and although this production lacks his particular version of the cheeky chappy, it is good to see his son stepping up.

Shane Richie Jr, as holiday rep Rik, is not as relaxed an actor as his dad. His performance could even be described as wooden in the show’s early scenes, but his vocal performance is both pleasing and entertaining. As ageing club owner Ross, the equally ageing Hasselhoff was a little stiff at this performance, but physically rather than in terms of his acting. This was perhaps due to a knee injury, but it was a little uncomfortable watching him at times because he looked as if he was in pain. He does, however, deliver the requisite amount of cheese, and the legendary way in which he parodies himself makes many of the scenes delightfully memorable.

Stephanie Webber, who found fame on The Voice, plays Ross’ daughter Penny, who hasn’t seen her father for three years. Her vocals are faultless, and she makes a very good stand-in for Pamela Anderson in a Baywatch scene that doesn’t really fit into the plot but is highly entertaining nonetheless. Kim Tiddy (The Bill, Hollyoaks) is another recognisable face, competing with Penny for Ross’ attention as the DJ’s much younger girlfriend, Mandy.

The real star, however, is not found in any of the recognisable names in the show, but in Tam Ryan who plays Spanish barman Jose. Ryan has the comedy accent, perfect timing and enduring appeal of the similarly hilarious Spanish waiter in Fawlty Towers, but this is no Manuel impression. His character makes the show uproariously entertaining and no doubt leaves audiences wanting to see him again.

More successes of the show are the lighting and audio visual effects, with giant screens showing flashbacks of Knight Rider as the backdrop to a hilarious fight scene, and tweets from delighted audience members, happy to see their selfies projected onto the screen during the interval in what must be said is a brilliant PR move.

It is sad to say, therefore, that the dialogue is about as old at the music, and the storyline is suspended somewhere between a pantomime and an old performance of the Royal Variety Show. Despite all of this, however, the show is both entertaining and gloriously tacky, and by the curtain call the audience is left reflecting on a really fun night.

Three and a half stars

I saw Last Night a DJ Saved My Life at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton on 7th November 2015

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Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense – Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Jeeves and Wooster_R&D

There is a reason it’s called Jeeves & Wooster, not Wooster & Jeeves. The perfect gentleman’s gentleman deserves top billing. He is brilliant, quick-thinking, resourceful and reliable. P.G. Wodehouse’s famous literary toff has his butler to thank for making his life go smoothly, but in this show even Jeeves needs an assistant to really make it work.

In Perfect Nonsense, Bertie Wooster takes to the stage for the first time, having decided that this acting lark could be rather fun. Breaking through the fourth wall almost immediately, he begins to relate a story to the audience but has no real plan of how he will portray the events and the characters. Enter Jeeves, stage right – the unflappable butler who has the knack of ensuring everything works out. Becoming stage manager, props master and supporting actor; managing some truly farcical on-stage doubling, which sees him play two contrasting parts simultaneously, Joseph Chance’s Jeeves truly is the ideal valet.

The plot does seem like a whole lot of nonsense, but that’s the fun of it, having been faithfully adapted by Robert and David Goodale from Wodehouse’s third novel, The Code of the Woosters. Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia tasks her nephew with the important acquisition of a cow creamer, a silver cow-shaped cream jug, but when he meets the father of his best friend’s girlfriend, Sir Watkyn Bassett, in the antique shop, things go a little awry.

With Bertie relating his story to the audience, much of Wodehouse’s original, beautifully figurative, language remains intact. While he plays himself in the retelling, the two supporting cast members, in the shape of Jeeves and Aunt Dahlia’s ageing butler Seppings, manage to play all the many other parts between them. Jeeves introduces Seppings as a man who is good at impressions, and so he is. Robert Goodale, who co-wrote the play with his brother David, delivers an outstanding performance as the geriatric manservant. Goodale plays Seppings acting as Aunt Dahlia, fascist Roderick Spode and more, and it is sometimes hard to keep up. He seems to have boundless energy and his portrayal of the nine-foot tall Spode is downright hilarious. While Jeeves works tirelessly to get Bertie out of trouble, his assistance from Seppings is key to the success of the show.

Sean Foley’s original direction is ingenious. With slick scene transitions, and even slicker costume changes that are enough to wow even the most experienced theatregoer, the cast keeps the audience on its toes, particularly in the second half of the play. While the pace of the first half struggles a little and Bertie, played by Matthew Carter, takes a bit of time to warm up to, he does personify a newt-impersonating lunatic tremendously well.

Much has to be said of the ever-changing scenery with subtle, but effective, changes drawing delighted oohs and ahhs from the audience. Not to mention a wonderful representation of Bertie’s car waiting at a level crossing that is a moment of pure delight. But this is not a perfect production, nor is it meant to be. With backdrops failing to drop and the curtain falling when it shouldn’t, there is more than a slight nod to Noises Off here.

Without his trusty butler, there’s no doubt Bertie Wooster would be a total disaster, and his first foray into the theatre business no exception, but it is not just Jeeves who pulls it off in this production. Chance and Goodale together make a delightful pairing, and while this play is not perfect, it does make for a spiffingly marvellous night out.

Four stars

I saw Jeeves & Wooster at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton on 5th October 2015

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As You Like It – mac, Birmingham


That famous line, ‘all the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players’, is voiced by Jaques in As You Like It, and yet it seems that in The Festival Players’ production, as in Shakespeare’s time, all the men and women are merely men. Confused? That’s half the fun.

With much of the action set in the Forest of Arden, the play lends itself extremely well to an outdoor performance, and this small-scale but extremely hard working and experienced all-male theatre company are busy touring both this production andHenry IV in an exhausting 75 venues until early September.

The quintessential romantic comedy sees fraternal strife lead to Duke Senior, Orlando and Rosalind exiled separately to the forest, where Rosalind, played by Benjamin Way, takes on the disguise of a young man called Ganymede and then bumps into her beloved Orlando. Joel Daffurn, as Orlando, is a suitably soppy, poetry-writing romantic who woos Ganymede in a vain attempt to cure himself of his love for Rosalind. The irony of the play lies in the fact that Orlando does not realise he is really wooing his beloved Rosalind, and the all-male cast adds to the irony. There are some stand-out performances. Mark Spriggs is a wonderful Touchstone whose crotch-grabbing entrance will stay with me for a while, and Joel Daffurn’s vocal performance is undeniably gifted. However, Paul Giles as the dryly comical Jaques, Orlando’s ruthless brother Oliver, and the amorous shepherdess Phebe is particularly excellent. Every part he plays is both convincing and engaging, and his impression of Spriggs’ Touchstone is inspired.

In his speech, Giles’ Jaques goes on to say that ‘one man in his time plays many parts’, and so they do in this production. Six actors play all the rôles between them, with the some hilarious doubling. One quick change for Daffurn sees him morphing from the lustful goatherd Audrey to the lovesick Orlando. She runs off stage having just been kissed and returns as a somewhat dishevelled Orlando, busy wiping his mouth. The males playing females are, without exception, comical. They overact in a delightfully camp way, and are not in the least believable as real women, but that is where the humour lies. It would be interesting to see this cast play tragic female rôles to judge their ability to pull off more serious scenes.

Michael Dyer’s desire to produce the play in the spirit of Renaissance theatre mostly pays off. The simplicity of the production is a refreshing change in a theatrical world that is so regularly preoccupied with originality and clever experimentation that it sometimes just becomes gimmickry. The Festival Players’ set design is rudimentary and the costumes are simple but effective, lending themselves well to all the quick changes.

The use of a single acoustic guitar complements the idea of simplicity that the company is going for, but it is a shame that, with the Shakespearean essence present in the costumes and all-male cast, they could not use a more fitting instrument, such as a lute. However, the music composition is inspired. Johnny Coppin’s melodies are both appropriate and entertaining, making Shakespeare’s often difficult lyrics more pleasant on the ear, as well as exceedingly memorable. Some audience members were even singing along by the epilogue.

There is nothing particularly astounding about this production and on this occasion there were a few moments when the actors stumbled over their lines, which was disappointing, but in such an exhausting tour you can perhaps forgive them a few off days. Nonetheless, it is an entertaining evening and would be a wonderfully accessible introduction to Shakespeare for those who want to avoid the gimmicks.

Three and a half stars

I saw As You Like It at the mac, Birmingham on 27th June 2015

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Spamalot – Milton Keynes Theatre


‘And now! At Last! Another musical completely different from some of the other musicals which aren’t quite the same as this one is. . .’ Spamalot is the musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Mixing the Pythons’ legendary irreverent humour with the musical talents of John Du Prez and the lyrical genius of Eric Idle, this prancing Arthurian parody is sure to delight both diehard Python fans and anyone who is not a dead parrot. The show not only parodies the legend of King Arthur, and contains all the unforgettable lines from the original movie, from which the show has been ‘lovingly ripped off’, but it also cleverly pokes fun at the theatre musical genre. Eric Idle, who has written the stage adaptation, has given the Lady of the Lake a much more starring rôle, singing lines such as Whatever happened to my part? and ‘I’ve been offstage for far too long, it’s ages since I had a song.’ Sarah Earnshaw, as the ‘watery tart’, is a remarkably talented comic diva and completely steals the show on a number of occasions, sometimes just with her marvellous facial expressions.

The number that hilariously mocks the Lloyd Webber school of romantic songwriting, The Song That Goes Like This, is performed by Earnshaw and Richard Meek (Sir Dennis Galahad) like they have channelled Brightman and Ball through the medium of Palin, and the excellent line ‘I’ll sing it in your face, while we both embrace’ is testament to Idle’s poetic brilliance.

The big name in the show is Joe Pasquale, and he does not disappoint as the hapless King Arthur. It is hard to tell if the spontaneous corpsing and asides to the audience are scripted or not, mainly because they are so expertly delivered, and the song where he sings I’m All Alone with his heavily laden little manservant Patsy by his side, waving his arms to signal his presence and singing ‘except for me; is simply superb. Joe Tracini’s Patsy, banging his coconut halves to simulate Arthur’s horse’s hooves, is like a cute synthesis of Baldrick and Rick Moranis with all their comic talent and more. His onstage presence, despite being the smallest of the cast, is immense, and he is definitely a name to remember.

Christopher Luscombe has done an excellent job in reviving this touring production. It is faultless from entertaining start to hilarious finish. The ensemble cast, with some unbelievably speedy costume changes, really gives the show the Python spirit, with cast members morphing swiftly from one part to the next. Josh Wilmot is especially Pythonesque as the cantankerous old Mrs Galahad and the ‘not dead yet’ Concorde; and the French guards who use their flatulence as a weapon against the ‘silly English kniggits’ are raspberry-blowing comedy theatre at its best.

Whether you are a Python devotee or just a fan of laughing, you will have a fantastic night out at Spamalot. Though God features in it, played suitably irreverently by Hugh Bonneville, we must remember it’s not the Messiah, it’s just a very naughty show.

Five stars

I saw Spamalot at the Milton Keynes Theatre on 15th June 2015

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Peter Pan Goes Wrong – Curve, Leicester

Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Dress RehearsalPhoto: Alastair Muir

If there’s one thing that people love to see during a live theatre performance, it’s mistakes. So, to go and see a production full of them is no doubt going to turn frowns upside-down.

Following on from the huge success of The Play that Goes Wrong, Mischief Theatre have devised another hilarious production where everything that can wrong, does. The premise is simple – Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is a theatrically challenged and accident prone company, whose earlier forays onto the stage have been nonetheless disastrous. They candidly recall their re-working of Rapunzel, due to a badly timed haircut; and a fated production of Oliver in which Mr Bumble took a tumble, crushing to death one of the more particularly frail orphans.

In Peter Pan, however, the company at least manages to keep everyone alive, though it seems the paramedics are run off their feet. The laughs begin before the curtain opens, as members of the cast and crew seem to be making last minute preparations, including taping off four seats and looking up with worried expressions. Thankfully, I had already educated my nine-year-old on the nature of farce, but he checked out the ceiling all the same.

Many of the onstage disasters are easily predictable, but under Adam Meggido’s superb direction, there are still countless surprises along the way. Not the least of these was the riotously funny way in which Wendy and her brothers take flight, which raises an audible chuckle even as I write this.

Wendy, played by Cornley’s Sandra Wilkinson, played by Leonie Hill (though the play within the play idea sounds much more confusing than it is), employs a truly remarkable acting style that is a mixture of interpretative dance and melodrama. Annie Twilloil (Naomi Sheldon) has an equally comical presence on stage, playing multiple rôles, and her hilariously hasty costume changes provide enough laughs for one evening all by themselves.

The biggest and most uncontrollable belly laughs come, however, when Hook (Laurence Pears) comes out of character to tell the audience to stop laughing. There is nothing that makes one laugh more than being screeched at to stop laughing by a man whose wig keeps falling off. And that’s not the only thing that falls off. There are more falls here than Charlie Chaplin on ice, and they are just as funny. Special mention, though, should go to Ella Walhstrom’s sound design, which adds gaffaws to the giggles, and the ‘real’ stage manager Andrew Owen, who makes all the disasters run so smoothly.

What is brilliant about this production is the way in which the cast carry on regardless. Even after lines are forgotten, actors are knocked unconscious and the set is sent spinning out of control, the am-dram stalwarts still make it to the final curtain call, although a little worse for wear.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are moments of poignancy in the production too. Matt Cavendish, as Max, draws true sympathy with his puppy-dog expressions, and his crocodile is more of an adorable soft toy than Hook’s usual bloodthirsty nemesis.

Despite the director’s insistence that it is not a pantomime but a “traditional Christmas vignette” (produced in May due to a “double booking”), the audience still can’t help but interact in true panto style with roars of “he’s behind you!” and suchlike. But Mischief have not only managed to prove that panto is not just for Christmas, Peter Pan Goes Wrong masterfully transcends the festive season to bring a spirit of joy to even the most grumpy of Scrooges.

Four stars

I saw Peter Pan Goes Wrong at Curve, Leicester on 26th May 2015

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The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ – Curve, Leicester

Adrian_Mole_Pamela_RaithPhoto: Pamela Raith

Watched Adrian Mole tonight. Laughed my socks off because it was dead good. Wanted to watch it all over again, but found out the cast can only do it once a night. Just my luck.

Sue Townsend’s awkward young anti-hero is still adorable. From the very first pages of her 1982 novel, Adrian’s teenage angst, intellectual aspirations and romantic longings have drawn the reader in. His guileless and hilarious diary entries have amused and delighted millions in the three decades since its first publication, and despite the novel’s ability to effortlessly capture the spirit of the 1980s, it somehow feels timeless.

This spanking new musical adaptation carries the essence of the original novel to the stage and brings the iconic characters to life. The ten strong cast includes four youngsters, and all deliver something truly exceptional. The rôle of Adrian is shared by four different actors and, at the performance viewed, Joel Fossard-Jones played the part with sensitivity and perfect comic timing. Bullied by Barry Kent, Adrian confronts him and then deftly and hilariously admits that, “A little bit of wee came out,” to roars of uncontrollable laughter from the audience.

Adrian is deeply in love with Pandora, the politically outspoken new girl at Neil Armstrong Comprehensive School. But so is his friend Nigel. When Pandora chooses Nigel and Adrian’s mother runs off with Mr ‘Creep’ Lucas from next door, Adrian and his dad are both left contemplating lost love.

It is the cast that are the true making of this show. Every single one of them puts in a flawless performance. Kirsty Hoiles, as Adrian’s mother Pauline, does seem to channel Les Miserables’ Madame Thenardier at the beginning of the show, making her seem a little too much like a caricature initially, but as we watch her character develop, her performance gains depth and genuine feeling. Her hapless husband, George, is played by Neil Ditt and, although his vocals are a little weak compared with the rest of the extremely accomplished cast, his portrayal of the rejected and redundant father is unexpectedly touching.

It is the insight into the parental relationships and the ability to see through the eyes of the other characters that takes this production beyond Townsend’s initial perspective. Hearing more voices than just Adrian’s helps to bring a greater depth to the story, even if it is not completely true to the diary form. What Jack Brunger has been careful to keep in his adaptation, however, is all those memorable lines from the original text, a great many of which he and Pippa Cleary have set to song. Adrian’s beautifully eccentric poetry sounds yet more genius when sung and the repeated refrain of “Pandora! I adore ya,” just warms the heart somehow.

Some of the musical composition seems fairly prosaic, but other numbers are simply outstanding. (Grandma) Rosemary Ashe’s performance of How Could You early in the second act is a stunning performance from a consummate professional, and the ‘experimental nativity’ number performed by the whole company is expertly choreographed by Tim Jackson. Appropriately and uproariously irreverent, the gospel vibe along with the comical lyrics and the hysterically funny birth of the baby Jesus are all magnificently memorable.

Director Luke Sheppard has definitely produced a winner here, greatly assisted by brilliant casting by Will Burton and a beautifully versatile set by Tom Rogers. It is the perfect treat to entertain the family; a show that starts well and just gets better and better until it ends – leaving you wanting to see it all over again.

Four and a half stars

I saw The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ at Curve, Leicester on 17th March 2015

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Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

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What is noteworthy about Jools Holland is that he seems to relish every minute of performing, and there is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is exceptionally good at it. However, one notices pretty soon at a gig with his 15 piece Rhythm & Blues Orchestra that it is clear Holland is not the only consummate talent on stage. Every one of the brass section, which consists of five saxophones, three trombones and three trumpets could easily hold the stage on their own, as is evident when Holland showcases their solo performances, and that’s just for starters. Christopher Holland, the other pianist in the orchestra, gives the former Squeeze musician a run for his money, but Jools is not at all fazed and actually seems genuinely in awe of his talent; but then they are brothers.

The show begins with a high energy number and Holland delivers everything we expect, finding his musical offering matched with an accompanying roar from the delighted crowd. The music parades through blues, swing, boogie-woogie, rock and roll, jazz and gospel numbers and at times the orchestra is like a mighty wall of harmonic sound. You can choose to tune in to the intricacies of the arrangements or the expertise of an individual musician or you can simply drink in the whole effect and be astounded.

Holland’s newest and youngest band-member, his daughter Mabel Ray, has a sweet but unique quality to her voice, which is very fitting for her rendition of “Sweet Bitter Love”. She lacks the confidence of Louise Marshall and Ruby Turner, but she definitely is one to watch, because her raw talent is unmistakable. Resident vocalist, Louise Marshall, and special guest, Rumer, sparkle almost as much as Rumer’s dress. Her rendition of “God Bless the Child” is sultry and smooth and her version of “Accentuate the positive?” is cheeky and fresh. Marc Almond, Holland’s other guest vocalist, virtually capers onto the stage and boy does he still have it. It is at this point that the gig really hots up. He opens with “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” before plunging into an inspiring performance of the Edith Piaf song “If You Love Me, Really Love Me”. Of course it wouldn’t be right without “Tainted Love”, and Holland’s arrangement is simply superb. The audience are on their feet, and so is Holland, and there is a real sense of joy in the room as Almond astounds and delights the happy throng with the realisation that he is no 80s has-been, but an impeccable talent. He runs across the stage with all the enthusiasm of a child at Christmas and his energy lights up the room.

At this point in the show the sheer fun on stage is infectious. Holland introduces Ruby Turner as “The Boogie-Woogie Queen”, but it doesn’t do her justice. She takes it to another level, giving it everything she has and more. As her honeyed tones reach higher and greater levels the audience is astounded and when she is finished it seems like she has nothing more to give, but two minutes later she is back leading the encore.

As always, this is not simply Jools Holland. Yes, he might be the big name on the front of the programme, but this is a collective. A collective of jaw-droppingly, toe-tappingly, show-stoppingly fine musicians who together urge audiences to ‘Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think’.

Four and a half stars

I saw Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra at Symphony Hall, Birmingham on 17th December 2014

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