The Shadow Factory – Nuffield Theatre

Howard Brenton’s play is an inspired choice to launch the new Nuffield

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Click here to see the review of The Shadow Factory on YouTube

Production shot from The Shadow Factory y Howard Brenton at Nuffield Theatre
The Shadow Factory by Howard Brenton at Nuffield Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Howard Brenton is an inspired choice to launch the Nuffield Southampton’s new theatre. His latest play The Shadow Factory is not only about the city in the second world war, it fills the large space.

The imaginative set has been created by the group of artists called 59 Productions whose impressive pedigree includes video work on War Horse and An American In Paris. Virtually the only elements of the set are tubular lights above that bend and move to recreate brilliantly the sense of planes overhead and maps projected on the floor of the thrust stage to show not only scene locations but the targets of German bombs. Combined with amazing surround sound, the feeling of being under air attack made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

One of Luftwaffe’s targets is Woolston, Southampton, home of the main factory producing Spitfires. After this is blown up, production switches to multiple locations around the area- the shadow factory of the title.

And this is where it gets interesting. The British government, once at war, committed itself to full-on war without mercy or conscience.  In The Shadow Factory, we see them requisitioning property, specifically a local laundry business and a country house, with no care for the owners.

Anita Dobson & David Birrell lead an excellent cast

The central characters are there to give a human face to the story but, I suspect, not meant to distract us from it by tugging at the heartstrings.  Even so, the excellent cast do bring them to life. Special mention here for Anita Dobson and David Birrell playing two vivid characters each.

Dobson is both the laid back, generous aristocratic American Lady Cooper and the indefatigable, humorous grandmother Ma. Both of Birrell’s characters oppose the government in their different ways: Fred Dimmock, the rebellious laundry owner, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding who is too gentlemanly for modern warfare.

The cast are uniformly good. Catherine Cusack also doubles up: Lil Dimmock is on the edge of a breakdown and Sylvia Meinster whose propriety isn’t enough to overcome a foreign name. Lorna Fitzgerald (Jackie) and Shala Nyx (Polly) played two of the numerous strong women in this play who face up to the horrors of war and make their mark. It was a pleasure to see Hilton McCrae take the part of the ruthless charmer Beaverbrook. Daniel York is splendid as the conflicted Len Gooch, likeable local factory manager and reluctant tool of the government.

A chorus of local people appear regularly and, by the device of singing together, create a strong sense of community in the face of German bombardment and government dictatorship.

Sam Hodges’ production of The Shadow Factory hits the target.

The Shadow Factory was originally performed in early 2018. It returns to Nuffield Theatre Southampton from 30 January, 2019 to 2 March, 2019

Here’s my review on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews-

A version of this review has appeared on the Southern Daily Echo website

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child Parts One & Two

Click here for review on YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Photo of members of the cast of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child stage play by Jack Thorne based on idea by JK Rowling Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan

A Worthy Addition to the Harry Potter saga

I’ve read the Harry Potter books and seen the films. If you haven’t, you might be less intrigued than I was by this return to Hogwarts because the past looms heavy in this new adventure.

JK Rowling tells a good children’s story that adults can also enjoy, and she does it again with her stage play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, currently at the Palace Theatre London.

Production photo of the stage play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Her chronicle of good versus evil in the world of witchcraft continues with the sons of Harry Potter and his former enemy Draco Malfoy. Both boys suffer from being the children of well-known parents. That’s why they become friends and go an adventure together, an adventure which is as much about the excitement of problem solving as fighting evil.

Good story by JK Rowling- great play by Jack Thorne

The Cursed Child is blessed with a script by Jack Thorne which is full of humour and emotional depth, especially in the difficult relationship between the adult Harry and his adolescent son, both troubled by the past in their different ways, both feeling inadequate. It’s also fascinating to see the way Draco Malfoy is changed and challenged by becoming a parent.

The story is about the effect of the past on the present. Literally and chillingly,  we see that changing the past can change the present. More interestingly,  what the older characters have or haven’t done previously affects how they are now. It is this exploration that makes what otherwise would be a good children’s show into something of real interest to an adult audience.

Production photo of members of the cast of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan

There are many very good characters well acted. When I saw the plays, Rayke Ayola showed a good range of emotion as Hermione Granger. I especially liked the Malfoys played with relish by James Howard and young Samuel Blenkin, who was the star of the show.

John Tiffany’s production has some excellent theatrical effects: the appearance of the Dementors is spine tingling. The illusions by Jamie Harrison that provide some real ‘wow’ moments such as the split second in which actors seem to disappear into a telephone.

The difficulty for me is that while action adventures told on a stage work well for children, for adults they can seem a little melodramatic. Despite or perhaps because of an existential threat in the story, this is no exception.

That said, this is a magical production and a worthy addition to the Harry Potter saga.

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child can be seen at the Palace Theatre London

Here’s my review from the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Strictly Ballroom The Musical – Review

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

See my review of Strictly Ballroom The Musical on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Promotional photo of the cast of Strictly Ballroom The Musical.
Strictly Ballroom The Musical. Photo: Alistair Muir

I love a good musical and, while Strictly Ballroom at the West Yorkshire Playhouse might not reach the heights of a Sondheim or a Rodgers & Hammerstein for character and depth of feeling, there is an enjoyable love story and some excellent dancing. The good news is, it can be seen in London in 2018.

Anyone who liked Dirty Dancing or Footloose should love this. If you don’t know Baz Luhrmann‘s film, it’s the story of a pair of ballroom dancers determined to express themselves their way, even if that means breaking the rules. Freedom versus the establishment is always a good story. Along the way they inevitably fall in love and equally inevitably face bumps in the road to finally getting together.

Promotional photo of Sam Lips and Gemma Sutton in Strictly Ballroom at West Yorkshire Playhouse
Sam Lips and Gemma Sutton in Strictly Ballroom at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Photo: Alastair Muir. Photo: Alistair Muir

If that sounds like a formulaic show, I don’t mean it to. It’s lively, inventive, often funny and sometimes moving.  In any case, we don’t need the most original story for a musical to work. What’s most important is the terrific choreography by Drew McOnie (his work includes last year’s brilliant On The Town at the Open Air Theatre).  The dancing and the singing are impressive throughout.

Strictly Ballroom The Musical is playing at the Piccadilly Theatre from 29 March 2018. Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen will perform the lead roles with Will Young playing the newly created role of band leader Wally Strand. Drew McOnie again directs and choreographs. 

Here’s my YouTube review of the original West Yorkshire Playhouse production-

Nativity! The Musical on tour

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Nativity! The Musical- the birth of a Christmas tradition 

See my YouTube review on One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production photo from Nativity The Musical showing Simon Lipkin, Daniel Boys and children
Nativity! The Musical with Simon Lipkin, Daniel Boys and children
Photo Credit: The Other Richard

Nativity! is already one of the nation’s favourite Christmas films, now Nativity! The Musical is destined to become a fixture on theatres’ advent calendars for many years to come.

For this, we have to thank writer and director Debbie Isitt. She did the same jobs on the Nativity films but, before she went into moviemaking, she was a renowned theatre writer and director. And it shows. Ms Isitt knows what works on stage.

So she has taken all the elements that made her film such a hit: the story of the disadvantaged schoolchildren attempting to put on a five star nativity show against all the odds, the memorable characters, the upbeat songs like Sparkle And Shine and Nazareth. Then she’s added many more songs (co-written with Nicky Ager) and some scenes that are pure theatre, such as a satirical number about Hollywood and the nativity show itself,  and turned it all into perfect theatrical entertainment.

You smile all the way through and come out beaming like a red nosed reindeer.

Debbie Isitt knows how to create a hit

This touring production, which I saw at Leeds Grand Theatre, is also blessed with an excellent cast. Simon Lipkin is very funny as the wildly enthusiastic man-child Mr Poppy. Daniel Boys as Mr Maddens finds the same combination of inner sadness, quiet determination and basic niceness that Martin Freeman found before him.

And the children, on whom the show stands or falls, are disciplined, well rehearsed and a total delight- the icing on the Christmas cake.

A bit of sentimental light entertainment is just what you need in the deep midwinter but there’s more to Nativity! The Musical than that. It has something to say about the importance of inspirational teachers, it captures the spirit of Christmas and it’s faultless theatre. Only a Scrooge wouldn’t love it.

Nativity! The Musical is performing at the Eventim Apollo London for Christmas 2018. In autumn 2019, the production will visit Wolverhampton Grand, Aylesbury Waterside, Canterbury Marlowe, Wales Millennium, Theatre Royal Plymouth & Southampton Mayflower. 

Here’s my YouTube review-

War Horse – Theatre Review

Pure Theatre That’s Heartbreaking and Uplifting

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

National Theatre production of War Horse reviewed by Paul Seeven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
National Theatre production of War Horse

If, like me, your first experience of professional theatre was a puppet show, you may be surprised that a story for children featuring puppets should be a huge theatrical hit.

Don’t let anything you’ve seen before put you off. The quality of the puppets in the National Theatre production of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse is extraordinary, a world away from Sooty with Harry Corbett. In the hands of their expert operators, the wooden frames are capable of the most subtle and realistic movements. Using the power of the imagination, it is pure theatre. I would recommend getting a seat close to the stage in order to catch all the detail.

Near the front, you’ll also feel right in the middle of the frightening battle scenes which, partly thanks to Rae Smith‘s imaginative design and Paule Constable‘s dramatic lighting, create the horror and chaos of war before your eyes.

The direction by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris and the script by Nick Stafford deserve credit for turning Morpurgo’s brilliant story, which was written from a horse’s point of view with children in mind, into a tale of love, courage and hope that resonates with all ages.

While telling the story of a farm animal enlisted by the army to take part in the First World War and his owner’s attempts to find him, it is also the tale of the common humanity of the people who were forced to fight each other.

Before we are transported to France, we experience wonderful heartwarming scenes conjuring up the pre-war age of a countryside where working animals were at the heart of farming.

War Horse is uplifting at times and, at others, heartbreaking. Make sure you take a hankie.

War Horse is touring the UK until autumn 2019. Here are some dates-

Glasgow SEC
15 January – 2 February 2019
Book tickets for Glasgow SEC

Sunderland Empire
06 February – 23 February 2019
Book tickets for Sunderland Empire

Canterbury Marlowe Theatre
27 February – 16 March 2019
Book tickets for Canterbury Marlowe Theatre

Stoke-on-Trent, Regent Theatre
27 March – 6 April 2019
Book tickets for Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent

Dublin Bord Gais Energy Theatre
10 – 27 April 2019
Book tickets for Dublin Bord Gais Energy Theatre

Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong
10 – 26 May 2019
Book tickets for Lyric Theatre

Auckland New Zealand, Civic Theatre
21 – 30 June 2019
Book tickets for Auckland Civic Theatre

Liverpool Empire 
31 July – 17 August 2019
Book tickets for Liverpool Empire 

New Theatre, Oxford
22 August – 7 September 2019
Book tickets for New Theatre Oxford 

Curve, Leicester 
18 September – 12 October 2019
Book tickets for Curve

More details at www.warhorseonstage.com