Archive for January, 2023


After seeing them several times now, nothing about Birmingham Youth Theatre (BYT) should surprise me, however, each time that I do, the excellence raises another level. And this was again the case with their January 2023 pantomime, Cinderella.

Cinderella — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 15 January 2023

I’m not going to waste words on the plot; it’s Cinderella, for heaven’s sake. However, every version written is individual and this one by Joe Logan was top-drawer. As a writer myself, I praised Logan last year and once again we had a well-written (and extremely funny) script. Contemporary in style but keeping pantomime elements audiences have loved for years.

When recently reviewing Dick Whittington at the Birmingham Hippodrome, I spoke about the differences between professional pantomimes, boasting named stars, and the amateur equivalents. I can honestly say, although both excellent, I cannot separate which I enjoyed best, nor which was the more polished. Because from the opening company number in Cinderella, Get on Your Feet led by Lola Harper as Cinderella, quality oozed from the stage and into the auditorium. And it’s Harper in the title role I must praise first. What a voice! Strong and controlled, superb in Easy on Me and (Ed Sheeran’s) Perfect, duetting in the latter with the equally outstanding Luke Griffiths (Prince Charming).

Cinderella — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 15 January 2023

One of the things I love about BYT is their inclusion and versatility. Last year Lily-Mae Nicholls was “wonderfully evil,” while Maddison Clarke took on the comic fairy role. This time roles reversed with Nicholls as (the not too competent) Fairy Non-Bio, whereas Clarke ranked high in the villainous stakes in the part of the Baroness. Clarke, on the day, gave a great rendition of Confident and Nicholls did likewise at the end of Act One in a superb version of You Will Be Found with Cinderella and the Dance Team.

People who read me will know I have modern views about the portrayal of Pantomime Dames and once again I am delighted with what I saw. Gone, thankfully, are the days where we would laugh at the ugly, hairy-chested man in a dress, now having more trans sympathetic portrayals. Caedon O’Malley (Stacey) and Rhys Bishop (Tracey) were as good as anyone I have seen in such roles. In fact, so well were their characterisations, I had accepted them as female from the off and forgotten the actors were men by Act Two. Juice was amazing and both O’Malley and Bishop in this performance engaged the audience like professionals.

Cinderella — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 15 January 2023

Unless you mess around with the traditional plot (Yes … I did in 2021), Cinderella is full of unrequited love. This time, it wasn’t only Buttons, but Dandini as well. David Morrison was a wonderful Buttons, full of energy and like the dames, interacting well with the audience. There was confidence great to see from one so young and What Makes You Beautiful was as good as any number on the day. The unfortunate Dandini, on the other hand, was portrayed by Carter Evans who made the character his own and I Can Hear the Bells was one of the best songs in the show.

Once again playing a monarch was Dylan O’Connor as the bombastic King Bernard. He gave a good showing in the other Perfect, this time the Fairground Attraction one before duetting well in Act Two with Carter Evans during a poignant Let Him Go. Then we also had great comic foils in Bish, Bash and Bosh (Harrison Doherty, Charlie McRoberts and Andrew Morrison) trying to be a One Direction Tribute but singing a Backstreet Boys song in Everybody instead.

Cinderella — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 15 January 2023

Another of my top numbers in the show was Hammer to Fall. Let’s face it, you can never have enough Queen. This was excellent from Lucie Holcroft (Fairy Nuff) and Charlie Bland (Mysterious Figure, revealed to be Baron Hardup). And if one can’t have enough Queen, there is always room for Abba as well and favourite of the night for me was Angel Eyes (Lola Harper, Caedon O’Malley, Rhys Bishop and Company).

Other named principals were the excellent Saran Sambhi (Principal Godmother), Kitty Smart and Amelia Jennings (Masters of Ceremonies with some witty one liners), Marni Carroll (OAP Princess, proving again how good she is at these comic cameos) and Josh Mills (The Troll with excellent timing). Duos inside the animals were Niamh Flannagan and Sophie Terry (Moo Moo) with Abigail Bell and Cat Allsop (White Horse).

As well as writing a brilliant script, Joe Logan was also choreographer and the results on view were well above what you would expect for a youth company. You must remember, all these kids are 19 and under. Ellie Johnstone and Olivia Jefferson were dance captains to the highly talented team of Beatrice Roberts, Bella Hoppner, Hannah Allsop, Ruby Blount, Tabitha Vlok and Tegan Lynch. I particularly liked their movement as the trees in the forest, finding it hypnotising at times.

Cinderella — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 15 January 2023

Completing the ensemble (because nobody deserves leaving out) were Daisy Wright, Edina Bilham-Moore, Emily Green, George Beckett, Kamile Kazlauskaite, Luke Holcroft, Maisie Cotterill, Megan Allsop, Mia Hodges and Sophia Cupples.

The other members of a brilliant production team were Vivienne Morrison (Director) and Chris Corcoran (Musical Director). Morrison can be extremely proud of her work and students in making this a show to remember. There really isn’t a negative word to say about it. And Corcoran once again shows why he is highly rated in Musical Theatre.

July sees Birmingham Youth Theatre taking on Sister Act, again at The Crescent Theatre, which is to be their new home. One of the reasons for this, we are told, is the increase in membership, essential to any company. Praise, therefore, must go to those behind the scenes; the committee, the friends and parents who support and spread the word. The Crescent is a great theatre and BYT fully deserve it to be their new base of performing.

Cinderella — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 15 January 2023

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

As mentioned in my last review, I am not a fan of the last couple of weeks in the calendar year, so to attend two Christmas themed productions in those final few days of 2022, was a fete above and beyond the call. However, like the week before, I thoroughly enjoyed my outing which this time consisted of Nativity! The Musical.

Nativity! The Musical — Birmingham Rep — December 30 2022

Mr Madden, a teacher at St Bernadette’s Primary School is forced to organise the annual nativity play. After a war of words with rival, Mr Shakespeare, from Oakwood School, he vows to bring Hollywood to Coventry in the form of his former girlfriend, Jennifer, who is supposedly a high-flyer in Tinseltown. However, Jennifer’s status is not as grand as she once made out and adding the bizarre and extrovert antics of teaching assistant, Mr Poppy into the mix, Mr Madden has his hands full.

Nativity! The Musical — Birmingham Rep — December 30 2022

Yes, Nativity! The Musical is Christmas, all gift-wrapped and unashamedly full of seasons’ cheer. But even though this is the draw which brings the kids and their families in, it is an enjoyable show. And that’s the important thing. Many of these families may never have even sat in a theatre before. However, after such a good time, the hope is they now develop a feel for the art and will return next year, maybe going onto other theatre offerings in the meantime.

Nativity! The Musical — Birmingham Rep — December 30 2022

A full company opening of Here Comes Santa Claus is followed by sometimes cheesy, but nevertheless, feelgood tunes in Five Star Review/Better Than You, St Bernadette’s, Hollywood Are Coming and especially, Sparkle and Shine which also features at the end of Act One and then in a finale reprise. I particularly enjoyed the Oakmore Nativity (Herod the Rock Opera) with the homage to Jesus Christ Superstar’s guitar riffs. And then there was the St Bernadette’s Nativity: Nazareth, One Look and Good News were all excellent before the story wrapped up with Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and She’s the Brightest Star.

Nativity! The Musical — Birmingham Rep — December 30 2022

Then there are also principal numbers. Ben Lancaster (superbly playing Mr Poppy) shines in Very First Day at School as does Billy Roberts (Mr Maddens) and Daisy Steere (Jennifer) duetting with Wrapped in a Rainbow. And the villain of the piece, the gloriously evil Mr Shakespeare (Matthew Rowland) stood out with Hollywood Never Came.

Nativity! The Musical — Birmingham Rep — December 30 2022

Supporting well in the adult cast were Ralph Bogard, Jamie Chapman, Jemma Churchill, Tom Hext, Sydney Isitt-Ager, Cameron Johnson, Callum Train, Eliza Waters and Louie Wood. But I must give a huge shout out to the talented youngsters for whom many, this will have been the biggest production of their lives so far. Over the run they were split into two groups, but I’ll give them all the recognition they fully deserve.

The children of St Bernadette’s were Ava Ayodeji, George Bakel, Frankie Bradbury, Ava Carty-Jones, Madison Davis, Hattie Disney, Matilda Flower (playing the tiniest but brightest star), Seth Foster, Isaac Fox, Felix Holt, Ava Hupperdine-Perrin, Molly Jin, Sophie John, Kyrelle Lammy, Mac Manumbre, Oliver Milchard, Darcie Morris, Alexandra Ngwenya, Mischa Palor, Abigail Salt, William Stafford and Ziame Stewart. Whereas those from Oakmore featured Willow Adamson, Toby-Jay Amphlett, Bronte Ashmore, Zara Bench, Beatrice Carpenter, Amelia Katie Connor, Thomas Cox, Amelie Davison, Alyssa Dewar, Ivy Edwards, Betsy Fahey, Ayana Freckleton, Effie Gell, Isla Granville, Ocean-Flower Hemmings, Jessica Howell, Alfie JenningsNia King, Ava Knight, Will North Lewis, River Mahjouri, Annabel Parsons, Zara Pearson, Max Reekie, Gerline Rosales, Frankie Stephens, Eboni Rae’ Thomas-Witter, Amelia Uma Thompson, Isla-Belle Trimble, Ryley Trimble, Daniel Webley and Iman Wilkins.

Nativity! The Musical — Birmingham Rep — December 30 2022

Debbie Isitt is the writer/musical composer of the show and directed the production. Co-Composer, on the other hand was Nicky Ager and the Associate Choreographer, Rebecca Locus. Musical direction came from Joshua Griffith while orchestral supervision was from George Dyer.

Nativity! The Musical, like Christmas, is over now. However, if as the main subject, it reappears again at the end of this year, I’d certainly recommend giving it a go.

Nativity! The Musical — Birmingham Rep — December 30 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

I need to start by saying that 80-year-old war songs are not my thing. Heck, I even performed in a Wartime/VE Day celebratory showcase once and still, that genre wasn’t my thing. Even more; I loathe Christmas, so attending D-Day Darlings on December 23 did not bode well for me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t write objectively, and if anything, offer an honest appraisal with no personal bias.

D-Day Darlings — Cornbow Hall, Halesowen — 23 December 2022

A Google search tells you The D-Day Darlings are a choir. A bit of a short sell, if I’m honest, because on the evidence I saw, they are so much more than that. Performers with song and dance, humour and audience interaction. Excellent voices with a professionalism delivering an amazing sound welcomed by all, including me, as it turned out.

Launching off the wartime tunes with The Dam Busters, many staple songs were there to follow: White Cliffs of Dover, Pack Up Your Troubles, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Keep the Home Fires Burning, I’ll be Seeing You, A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square, Somewhere Over the Rainbow and the ultimate Vera Lynne tribute — We’ll Meet Again. There were original numbers as well, including a lovely number titled, Mary, which shows versatility in branching out from the traditional. And I do admit to liking a bit of Glen Miller, so I especially enjoyed In the Mood.

D-Day Darlings — Cornbow Hall, Halesowen — 23 December 2022

And Christmas was well and truly represented: Little Donkey, Chestnuts Roasting on the Open Fire and White Christmas were all performed with excellence and received with deserved applause. Best of all, though, of yuletide fun, was a version of Santa Baby with (ahem!) audience engagement which brought the house down.

D-Day Darlings — Cornbow Hall, Halesowen — 23 December 2022

The Darlings rose to fame as the UKs premier wartime act after reaching the finals of Britain’s Got Talent in 2018 and now boast over 28,000 Facebook followers. The show I attended was also near full consisting of all ages, bearing out that there is still a definite market for this product.

D-Day Darlings — Cornbow Hall, Halesowen — 23 December 2022

On the night, The D-Day Darlings were founder member, Katie Ashbey supported by Emily Jane Brooks, Nichola Roberts, Kylie Bates and Jessica Hudson. All were wonderful with both formal, colourful and Christmassy costumes. I was the designated driver for my partner on this evening and originally only attended on the promise of a Ghost Hunt of my choice. But don’t tell her — I still enjoyed myself. The outfit are touring again in 2023 and I highly recommend a trip to see them. You may find you like it.

D-Day Darlings — Cornbow Hall, Halesowen — 23 December 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt 

Having been involved in several amateur pantomimes in recent years, it was a pleasant change to watch the professionals in action at one of the biggest venues in the country. So how do they fare against those smaller productions who must make every penny count? Okay, you cannot criticise for having money to burn in comparison, but the top pantos still need to deliver the goods and I’m happy to say this one did in every department.

Dick Whittington — Birmingham Hippodrome — 20 December 2022

Exceptional sound and lighting, impressive sets and costumes full of spectacular colour. However, there still is a major factor with these star-studded extravaganzas as they are also vehicles for those stars, and quite understandable, as many in the audience have come to see them. Therefore, plots are thin with a massive ratio of time spent on stand up and sketches, but that doesn’t make it less of a pantomime. You see, if it is well written (and Dick Whittington was, superbly by headliner, Matt Slack along with Alan Mc Hugh) the audience will go home happy. In fact, pantos are often kids’ first experience of theatre and even if parents aren’t fans to begin with, the whole family enjoy it so much as a unit they do return the following year. And that can lead to a wider love of theatre.

Finally, after many years of being the comic foil in Birmingham, Matt Slack was our Dick, the principal role. And he did not disappoint. Wave after wave of one liners and occasional impressions had me and the rest of the auditorium in stitches. I wish I had written some of them down.

Dick Whittington — Birmingham Hippodrome — 20 December 2022

But it wasn’t only Matt Slack delivering the laughs. Andrew Ryan was sublime as Felicity Fitzwarren. With glorious over-the-top costumes and double-entendres, Slack had great support. Now, pantomime dames are a touchy area for me as I loathe the outdated hairy chested, occasional gravelled voice efforts that are thankfully all but consigned to pantomime hell. What Ryan delivered was female impersonator/drag style that Ru Paul would be proud of. This is a transgender world now and subjects need respectful treatment, which was the result here. But it wasn’t just the nature of the character, the performance was also top-drawer.

Laughter with a local flavour also came from Doreen Tipton in the guise of Doreen the Cat. Now, I can’t honestly say I’ve ever been a fan but with the material given, Tipton was a wonderful addition. And she can hold a good tune as well. Supporting well was ex Hearsay singer, Suzanne Shaw and Dr Ranj from daytime TV. Both were excellent in song and stage, adding an extra celebrity feel to the show.

Dick Whittington — Birmingham Hippodrome — 20 December 2022

Topping the bill, though was former Wet Wet Wet lead, Marti Pellow who had the audience unable to decide whether to cheer or boo at times. Still popular, he proved that love really is all around.

What! Come on, it’s panto. You have to expect the odd bad pun.

Finally, with a cameo interlude by the amazing duo of Spark Fire Dance, this was a pantomime where everyone will have gone home in a happy, feelgood mood.

Dick Whittington was directed by Michael Harrison with choreography from Alan Harding and musical direction in the hands of Robert Willis and Gary Hind.

Matt Slack is already booked to return to Birmingham Hippodrome Christmas 2023 in Jack and the Beanstalk and on this showing, I’d recommend getting your tickets now.

Screenshot_20230110_154138_Facebook

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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